Sunday, 21 January 2018

Let's bully state education with 'social mobility'!

State education is used and bullied by people claiming to want 'social mobility' when 3 things are designed specifically to prevent any form of level playing field: a) tax evasion/tax havens b) private education c) inherited wealth. State education can't beat those three!

And let's not forget that the whole idea of 'social mobility' is based on a mythic idea that the people down below can and will 'move up' a ladder but why would people up above 'move down' the ladder to give them room? The point is a) tax evasion/tax havens b) private education c) inherited wealth are designed to prevent 'moving down'.

Meanwhile, some of us think there shouldn't be a ladder in the first place!

Let's make 4 year olds into GCSE apprentices

1. Create international tables which claim to be able to compare a country's level or standard of education.
2. Make it hard for people to find out how the samples who are tested are selected. Rely on the media to ignore it anyway.
3. Produce league tables which do not make instantly clear that the differences between placings on the table are sometimes tiny. Rely on the media to ignore this.
4. Ignore the fact that a tiny sample taking the test cannot and do not represent a whole country's educational 'standard. Rely on the media to do the ignoring.
5. Use the tables as a means by which to bully state education on the matter of 'competitiveness', which is a weasel way of drawing a whole country into the matter of how big business competes with other big business, and indeed that this global warfare is less and less about countries and more and more about global corporation. Even so, 'competitiveness' is useful for politicians peddling 'national' solutions. Rely on the media to peddle this.
6. Apply 'competitiveness' to education, which means sidelining educational ideas about learning through cooperation, invention, investigation, interpretation. Rely on the media to peddle this.
7. Do all you can to create a GCSE curriculum that is massively loaded with facts ('knowledge').
8. Do all you can to use this as the determinant for what the whole curriculum from Reception (4 year olds) upwards must 'work towards'. In other words Reception class should be full of GCSE apprentices.
9. Put all children from the time they enter the state system on to tables sorted by 'ability' or 'achievement' or 'attainment'.
10. Call the tables 'blue' and 'green' and 'yellow'. Or 'sparrows' and 'rabbits'. Or both.
11. Bring back behaviour modification charts to deal with the 4 year old kids who won't sit down.

Friday, 19 January 2018

Why didn't Nick Gibb and the Government do all they could to bring this about?

"Whether rich or poor, residents of the United States or China, illiterate or college graduates, parents who have books in the home increase the level of education their children will attain, according to a 20-year study led by Mariah Evans, University of Nevada, Reno associate professor of sociology and resource economics.

For years, educators have thought the strongest predictor of attaining high levels of education was having parents who were highly educated. But, strikingly, this massive study showed that the difference between being raised in a bookless home compared to being raised in a home with a 500-book library has as great an effect on the level of education a child will attain as having parents who are barely literate (3 years of education) compared to having parents who have a university education (15 or 16 years of education). Both factors, having a 500-book library or having university-educated parents, propel a child 3.2 years further in education, on average.

Being a sociologist, Evans was particularly interested to find that children of lesser-educated parents benefit the most from having books in the home. She has been looking for ways to help Nevada’s rural communities, in terms of economic development and education.

“What kinds of investments should we be making to help these kids get ahead?” she asked. “The results of this study indicate that getting some books into their homes is an inexpensive way that we can help these children succeed.”

Evans said, “Even a little bit goes a long way,” in terms of the number of books in a home. Having as few as 20 books in the home still has a significant impact on propelling a child to a higher level of education, and the more books you add, the greater the benefit.

“You get a lot of ‘bang for your book’,” she said. “It’s quite a good return-on-investment in a time of scarce resources.”

In some countries, such as China, having 500 or more books in the home propels children 6.6 years further in their education. In the United States, the effect is less, 2.4 years, than the 3.2-year average advantage experienced across all 27 countries in the study. But, Evans points out that 2.4 years is still a significant advantage in terms of educational attainment.

For example, according to the U.S. Census Bureau’s American Community Survey, Americans who have some college or an associate’s degree, but not a bachelor’s degree, earn an average of $7,213 more annually than those with just a high school education. Those who attain a bachelor’s degree earn $21,185 more each year, on average, than those with just high school diplomas.

The study by Evans and her colleagues at Nevada, UCLA and Australian National University is one of the largest and most comprehensive studies ever conducted on what influences the level of education a child will attain.

The researchers were struck by the strong effect having books in the home had on children’s educational attainment even above and beyond such factors as education level of the parents, the country’s GDP, the father’s occupation or the political system of the country.

Having books in the home is twice as important as the father’s education level, and more important than whether a child was reared in China or the United States. Surprisingly, the difference in educational attainment for children born in the United States and children born in China was just 2 years, less than two-thirds the effect that having 500 or more books in the home had on children (3.2 years).

The study, “Family scholarly culture and educational success: Books and schooling in 27 nations,” was published in the journal, Research in Social Stratification and Mobility
(Science Direct)."

My thoughts:

I gave the full text of this paper to Schools Minister, Nick Gibb, several years ago. If you were the Schools Minister, you might think - '" could change the face of education with this. I could bring about a sea-change in how children access education. I would try to see how with the use of school libraries and local libraries and local bookshops and second hand bookshops, I could make it happen so that children who don't have access to books at home could and would. It would be my social, educational and political priority."

When I said this to Nick Gibb he said, 'But we don't do "directives" any more. They do. This just happens to be a directive they don't do. In fact, I'm not in favour of directives either. The way round that would have been to make it a requirement for schools (ideally in clusters) to develop a reading-for-pleasure policy - and implement it - whilst cutting back on assessment and the curriculum.

Instead, reading-for-pleasure is on a kind of wish-list from the government and often seems to teachers like yet another thing they have to do on top of all the box-ticking and working for the ludicrous assessment timetable. Understood.

My 20-point set of suggestions for creating a Reading for Pleasure school

If you are trying to create a Reading for Pleasure school, then this might help you: my 20-point set of suggestions:

Just copy that link and paste it into your browser. 

Sunday, 14 January 2018

Interpretation - not limited to 'retrieval' and 'inference'

The SATs comprehension questions are limited to 'retrieval', 'inference', chronology and presentation. In fact, 'interpretation' is a more flexible, nuanced and more profound response than is allowed by SATs comprehension questions.

Retrieval: 'Billy had a blue hat. What colour was his hat?' 

'Blue' 'Correct'. 

'It was raining. Why was he wearing a hat?' 
'Because he supports Chelsea.' 
'Wrong, that's interpretation'. 
Inference says 'Because it was raining' is the one correct answer allowed.

If children choose books and read them for pleasure, they effortlessly absorb the patterns, conventions, forms , tactics and motifs of written language. They develop *interpretation* of these. This is high order thinking.

Interpretation involves the many processes of 'reader-response' that I've outlined in a 'matrix' 

(see May 22 2017 on this blog 

If you want to make 'interpretation' explicit then James Durran from NATE turned my matrix into a set of 'trigger' questions, here:

or in my booklet 'Poetry and Stories in Primary and Secondary Schools' available through my website

or from Bookmarks Bookshop, Roving Books or Newham Books. 

Thursday, 14 December 2017

Phonics 'first', 'fast' and....'ONLY' ???

Some enthusiasts of systematic synthetic phonics get quite cross with those of us who suggest that the principle advocated is 'first, fast and only'. We raise our eyebrows at the 'only'. They say that they don't really mean 'only'. We have disputes about this! T

Here's are a few lines from a book that's just come out:

"...once children can decode accurately, they can use their reading skills to independently access the rich and motivating texts...' James Clements 'Teaching English by the Book'.

[btw is this using 'decode' and 'read' interchangeably?]

The word 'once' seems to imply indeed that Clements advocates 'first, fast and only'.

He goes on:

'It is...vital that discrete phonics teaching takes place within a rich text-based curriculum' 

'While children are learning to word-read, they will continue to listen to and enjoy a wide range of books'

If Clements has chosen his words carefully here, he is conjuring up a picture that teachers should do SSphonics first, fast and only, while providing a 'rich text-based curriculum' which children 'listen' to. 

He seems to be saying: only when they've 'got' the alphabetic code, are they allowed (?) to look at the texts (the words) themselves.


Justine Greening, 4 year olds, diktats and language.

Justine Greening has made a statement about social mobility, focussing in part on Reception children.

1. How dare these politicians make interventions and devise policies like this from the heart of the DfE in consultation with the Tory Party? Anyone starting from scratch would devise ways in which Reception teachers and researchers working with these teachers were at the heart of devising any policy.

2. Greening has made reference to the 'word gap'. What's involved here is a misconception of what language is. Language is not 'words'. It's how and why words are grouped. Any policy based on the idea that 'words' equals language is doomed. What matters is language in action and use, children planning, playing, discussing.

3. It's worth observing that there is a weakness in a good deal of research about children's language: it's based on adults asking children questions without this being cross-referenced with children talking to each other with no adult being present. I get my students (usually teachers) to compare transcripts of children answering questions asked by adults, with children discussing (e.g. a poem or picture book etc) with no adult present, with/without trigger questions given beforehand. Only if we nuance research like this, do we really find out what children can or can't do in language. Don't expect this kind of work is present in what Greening is saying.

4. I can see people already saying, 'Oh there's some good things in what Greening has said'. This is a re-run of every dictate coming from the DfE since 1988. It all misses the point. Since 1988, successive governments have worked to a regime of gathering trusties together, and delivering policy by diktat. It's not the only or the best way to do things. There is even another model, another way: the Language in the National Curriculum Project pioneered a participatory way of arriving at policy. After several years work, it was junked at a cost of many million quid. The point about all these policies is that they are devised because of the immediate political need of the party in power. In this case, the demand has gone out to all ministers that they should appear 'caring' and interested in the fact that their policies have caused poverty and a bit of plaster can make it seem as if they are dealing with this. We should not accept that devising education according to the political needs of an unpopular Tory Party is the best way to proceed.