Oct 092009
 

Working class kids are dumb.

This seems to be the view of John David Blake, who lays into the Tories’ recent statements on education with particular zeal, in ‘The Terrifying Face of Tory Education’. (‘Terrifying’! Really!) He is, as he says, a history teacher, so he knows all kinds of shit about shit.

As it happens, I too was once a history teacher, so I too know all kinds of shit about shit.

Let’s see how his shit and my shit compare, shall we?

A quick low-down on personal backgrounds first, though, since that matters a great deal to Mr Blake. He used to teach at a grammar school! *gasp*

Now, first off, a confession – probably best to get this out of the way: I spent two years working in a grammar school. Gnash your teeth if you wish…

But don’t give him too hard a time, y’all. At least grammar schools are still funded by the state, so he was earning an honest living off the toil of the taxpayer, just as every honest man should. I, on the other hand, have always worked in private, fee-paying schools, taking no penny of my salary from the taxpayer, unless perhaps indirectly by teaching the children of government employees.

You might say, actually, that Mr Blake has combined the worst of both worlds: living off the sweat of others whilst teaching only the privileged, well-behaved and brightest of the country’s children. In his eyes, one of those is a sin. Three guesses which.

But backgrounds are important to Mr Blake; a sticking point for him is that Tory education policy was dreamed up and announced by some guys who were educated in selective, sometimes expensive schools and then went on to university at Oxford – thus disqualifying them from any credibility:

Baker, Gove and Willetts seemed inordinately fixated, for a group all of whom were educated at Oxford after (respectively) public, private and grammar school educations, on the notion of “real skills”. Since “real skills” clearly aren’t currently being taught in schools (otherwise why the need for the new technical colleges?) I can’t help but wonder what the phrase actually means. Did Baker pick up no “real skills” at St Paul’s? Did Gove’s have no “real skills” as President of the Oxford Union? (part 2)

Yeah, those guys have no idea what they’re talking about. ‘Cause nobody who has ever been involved in Labour’s education policy went to selective schools (*cough*VernonCoaker*cough*) or Oxford (*cough*EdBalls*cough*KevinBrennan*cough*) or was president of the Oxford Union (*cough*MichaelFoot*cough*) or all three (*triplecough*TonyBenn*cough*).

But the ad hominem strategy was never going to be a good way to prosecute an argument, so let’s move on to Mr Blake’s problems with the policies.

First, creating new grammar schools. Mr Blake deploys the common complaint that they take away bright kids from other schools, thus depriving the dim kids of the company of their intellectual (or perhaps just hoop-jumping) superiors:

Obviously, where grammars continue to exist they cause problems (especially, say, Kent, which has an appalling record of educational achievement and has been run by the Tories since the dawn of time) – they can drain the brightest kids away from other schools, they often gobble up resources unfairly… (part 1)

I could almost buy this, except for the fact that bright kids do not exist to help dim ones, nor should we be treating them as if they ought to. ‘Brightness’ is not catching; the only benefit bright kids have for dim ones is that their general attitude toward learning and work ethic might inspire. The hope that this might happen is not a particularly good reason to keep bright kids in classes with slower learners, or more disruptive pupils, than themselves, mostly because the influence tends to flow in the other direction: weak or difficult pupils inhibit the learning experience for the bright ones far more than the bright ones enable it for the weak and disruptive. I mean, should doctors force healthy people to hang around the wards in the hope that their positive attitudes might improve the attitudes of the sick? After all, healthiness is no more catching than brightness.

As I say, I could almost buy that, except Mr Blake then carries on to say this:

…[grammar schools] generally result in a divide between middle and working class children in education (which often mirrors a racial divide).

Now, anyone may correct me if I’m wrong, but my understanding of grammar schools was that they took in the bright kids irrespective of background. This was sort of the point of them: any kid bright enough, working class or no, could attend. Grammar schools divide the bright from the dim; apparently they also divide the middle class from the working class. By analogy, then, Mr Blake thinks the working class are dim. If they can’t get into grammar schools, and all you need to do to get into grammar schools is be bright, then working class kids must not be bright. Or ‘ethnic’ kids, for that matter, since grammar schools cause (?) highlight (?) a racial divide.

This attitude of Mr Blake’s is frankly insulting.

I do not think it remotely true that the working class, or the non-white, cannot benefit from grammar schools. All you have to do is be clever, and cleverness knows no class-based or racial boundaries. The problem at the moment, of course, is that there aren’t enough grammar schools to service all the bright kids. The other problem, one which is nothing to do with the education system per se, is that children from deprived backgrounds, of whatever race, tend not to be brought up in environments in which learning is prized. Either nobody bothers to tell them that education can improve their minds and lives, or they are actively discouraged by immediate peers and role models from pursuing it in the first place. Send grammar school representatives into these areas to recruit, and the class/racial divide such schools cause (?) highlight (?) will disappear. The ‘problem’ of separating the bright from the weak will persist, of course.

The only way grammar schools would become a massive issue in education again is if someone proposed building dozens of them in every local authority in England and Wales.

Which is effectively exactly what Kenneth Baker is proposing.

Hurrah for Kenneth Baker. One issue solved: there will be enough grammar schools to service the bright kids. Now just send them out to recruit.

And, incidentally, don’t include behavioural history as part of the selection process. My own experience as a teacher – and this is anecdotal of course – is that most of the behaviour problems in schools are caused by bright kids who are bored out of their fucking minds. Personalise their education, allow them to pursue their scholastic interests, and put them in small classes where they can get lots of attention from the teacher, and bingo. No more bad behaviour.

Then there are the proposed vocational diplomas:

Diplomas force children at 14 to choose between academic and vocational education – the decision to study GCSEs or Diplomas is the defining issue around which everything else is then shaped in their lives, because it determines how many other GCSEs they can do, which in turn affects what they can study at Sixth Form (can they do A-levels if they decide the diploma isn’t for them? Well, possibly, but not the “hard subjects”), which shapes what, if anything, they are able to do at university level.

This is just silly. Why the hell do we have FE colleges, if not to enable people to go back and do GCSEs and A-levels after they have done something else for a while? Education does not have to stop at age 16 or 18 if a person doesn’t want it to. What’s to stop somebody from doing a vocational diploma as a teenager, working for a while with it, then going back on their own time to do some GCSEs and ‘hard’ A-levels? Nothing.

But of course, this is not really about learning. This is about evil Tory LEAs stuffing all the ‘difficult’ kids into vocational schools where they don’t bring down the league table ranking:

[Baker] wants each local authority in the country (about 100 of them) to set up separate schools which will take children with an interest in vocational work – so popular will these schools be, said Baker, that soon local authorities will want more of them. And indeed, which local authority run (as most of them are today) by Tories wouldn’t want a school into which you can legitimately dump at 14 every difficult child in every other school in your area?

This strategy would apparently isolate kids from everybody who knows them and make sure they know their place forever:

Take them out of that environment and put them into a new school where no one knows them and everyone has an incentive to keep them just where they are for as long as possible and these children will be cut off from the higher levels of academic achievement throughout the rest of their school career at the age of 14 (and, let’s be honest, if that happens, very few of them are going to go back in their own time later in life). Worse, they will be earning qualifications which, the history of educational qualifications in Britain would suggest to us, are less likely to be highly regarded by universities or employers (the reason we have a GCSE today was because employers were only interested in the “academic” O-level not the “second-class” GCE). Students will be divided by outcome; and not the outcome of the same set or a similar of examinations, but at different qualifications entirely, within a system which is already set up to favour those who follow the traditional route.

Oh, I see: they won’t go back to school later in life, after being sequestered in the vocational schools to keep them out of the classrooms of the privileged middle class kids. They’ll, like, not go to university! Or get jobs!

Again: silly. They’ll get jobs. Maybe not hugely remunerative ones, but they’ll get them. They won’t go to university, but hey, lots of people don’t. It’s not for everybody. It helps if you want office jobs, or academic jobs, but not everybody wants those.

And if we’re being honest with ourselves, if employers insist on job candidates having GCSEs these days, it’s probably because that’s one of the few ways to confirm that an applicant is functionally literate and numerate (and even then you can’t be sure). If we had fewer problems at the pre-secondary level – if kids could definitely all read, write, and ‘rithmetic by the age of 11 – employers would likely have less of a box-ticking mentality about the GCSE.

The US model is a good one to look to: although vocational schools are few and far between, they offer the core curriculum alongside the vocational skills. Half the day is spent doing English, maths, history, and science, and the other half in the workshop. If that was done here, kids in vocational schools could get GCSEs easily. It might take them an extra year or two, but they’d have them by the age of 17 or 18.

This has nothing to do with improving education for the least well-off in society; this is about saving Home County parents from having to send their children to school where working class kids also go. That’s Kenneth Baker’s offer: build a new sink school, local authorities, and the rest of your schools will drained of the poor, the problematic and the needy. Wave goodbye to the black and the backwards, it is Grammar schools for everyone (who already votes Tory).

And your argument, Mr Blake, has nothing to do with children’s needs, despite your protestations about pastoral care and attention. It has everything to do with class warfare, in which the person who appears to hold the lowest opinion of the working class is not Kenneth Baker, but you.

Moving on, we get into the arena of ‘real skills’, which we’ve already seen Mr Blake doesn’t think well-educated Tories are fit to judge.

Leaving aside their rather optimistic faith that the only thing required to turn around our most disaffected youngsters is some time with power tools, or the fact that they were just making jobs up out of thin air (not everyone who leaves the new technical schools will be guaranteed a job unless the government starts interfering with the economy in a fashion that “David” and “George” are not going to be happy with), what we seem to be talking about here is a vision of education which relates solely to the things you can do practically at the end of it. I have real problems with this, largely because as a History teacher, I find that when people say “skills” they mean “things that will obviously make you money” rather than “things that will allow you to assess, understand and work to alter yours and other people’s place in the world”. (part 2)

So: the Tories want to fix education so that people can better themselves; Mr Blake thinks the purpose of educating a child is so that he can better other people. Who’s right?

A good education is not something that can be shared, in the sense that, once you’ve got one, you can’t siphon off a little bit to someone who hasn’t. In that respect, education is very much a selfish endeavour: you want the best possible one you can get, which will accrue to you the greatest possible benefit. But ‘benefit’ is a fairly subject value; some people feel benefited by ‘making money’, others by ‘assessing, understanding, and working to alter their and other people’s place in the world.’ But ultimately, it’s up to the individual to judge that. In fact you might say the purpose of education is to provide the individual with the critical skills necessary to make that judgment.

But the Tories just want to educate you so that you can ‘ make you money’, those evil bastards. This from the guy who was just whinging about people being ‘guaranteed a job’! Make up your mind, Mr Blake! Should they be guaranteed a job (and thus make money, how horrid), or should they assess, understand, etc? Or, perhaps, they should somehow be getting non-paying, world-altering jobs. I dunno. I’m confused. You complain that these kids won’t get jobs, but then you say education shouldn’t be focused on enabling them to make money. So somehow education should be focused on enabling them to get jobs that don’t make money. I don’t get it.

But this allows us to move into another of Mr Blake’s critiques, which is that the Tories aren’t promising jobs. Leaving aside for the moment the absurdity that anyone should be guaranteed a job (is this a new human right?), he says:

Unless someone gives building firms, engineering firms and others a great deal of money, there aren’t going to be any jobs for these young people to go to. The banks haven’t got any money, and David Cameron is ideologically opposed to government giving any money…

Excuse me, but the people who should be giving these firms ‘a great deal of money’ are their customers.

Finally, Mr Blake carries on to rail against fee discounts for university students who repay their student loans early:

…when our bright, articulate working class youngster gets to the dreaming spires, or the solid red brick, or the upcoming 1992 university, she will discover rich people will be getting their university places for cheaper than she is.

Willetts, a beaming smile on his face, guaranteed that 10,000 new university places would be provided by giving students who paid back their debts early a discount on their fees. (part 3)

I must admit, I don’t really know how this policy operates, given that the fees are paid at the set rate before the student begins to pay back his debts. Perhaps he will be given a discount on the repayment interest rate. But it was my understanding that all (English) students at all British universities pay exactly the same amount of money in tuition and fees. Getting a cheaper interest rate on your student loans hardly translates into ‘getting [your] university places for cheaper’.

Government-funded student loans represent a market failure anyway. The reason we have them is because banks don’t like to give out loans to people with no collateral who are likely to default. The government absorbs that risk via the taxpayer – but still attempts to obviate the risk by garnishing a person’s salary for repayments as soon as he ceases to be a student and gets a job.

Now, one could argue that since we want to encourage people to go to university, whether they are rich or poor, these are reasonable government policies. But surely it would be better for students to borrow from a private lender, with the state acting as guarantor, than for the state to lend the money and then garnish wages.

It was also my impression that student loans were means-tested, so this complaint is a little odd to me:

There are student now who manipulate the student loans system by taking out loans they are entitled to, sticking the money in a high interest savings account, and then getting through their university with handouts from mummy and daddy. Now, fantastically, they’ll actually get to keep not just the interest from that cash, but some of the money too. It’s like a lottery only rich people can win.

If there are ‘rich people’ getting student loans, maybe it’s time to change the way those means are tested. They do it in the US – it’s called the FAFSA. It’s pretty harsh. Even some people who are low on means indeed have trouble getting government aid. Of course, they take a different view of paying for university in the US; grants are swell, loans are tolerable, but if you expect to go to uni for fucking free you’d better get a scholarship. Most American university students I knew worked at least part-time throughout their course (including me). British university students appear to take their government money, pay their rent, and spend the rest on beer. There is no shame in tending bar or waiting tables whilst studying – and I’m sure many British uni students do – but give me a break. If the government is stupid enough to give you a loan you don’t need, and you stick it in the bank to collect interest, good for you. The fact that not everybody can do that is no reason to start bitching.

Meanwhile, those students who do have to pay something but really need the loans face the prospect of not claiming their discount. But, you cry, presumably they can go into high paid jobs? Then they can pay it back faster. Well, possibly … although one would think the Milk Round is going to be a little curdled for a while, and besides, why should the decision to enter teaching, or medicine, or nursing, not be a reason for a discount on your fees, whilst a decision to enter banking or corporate law saves you money? It is an absolutely naked piece of government welfare to the class from which all three of these men, and their leader and their shadow chancellor, are drawn.

The government has every reason to incentivise people to go into high-paying jobs. That lovely welfare Mr Blake and Don Paskini like so much doesn’t come cheap – it requires money. To put it bluntly, for every graduate who pays off his loans early by getting a high-paying job, the government expects to soak him for the maximum possible tax and National Insurance contributions. These people are the wealth creators (well, not from lawyers, obvi), and government can hardly hand out generous welfare without access to some, y’know, wealth. Doctors, nurses, and teachers are not wealth creators; they are at best wealth enablers, ensuring that people are healthy and knowledgeable enough to go out and create some; they are at worst wealth drainers, as some teachers especially are so bad at it that they simply suck up taxpayers’ money without even giving their kids some decent book-learnin’.

But as it happens, this is kind of something I agree with Mr Blake about. If the government is going to mandate the same tuition fees at East Buddhafuck Polytechnic as at Oxford (’cause to do otherwise would just be another example of the Tories fucking over the poor kids by making only crappy universities affordable to them), then the amount the students are made to pay back should be the same across the board, too.

On the other hand, the policy doesn’t really sound to me like aid for the Tory class. Mr Blake spends a bit of time pointing out that they don’t have any ‘real skills’ because they’ve worked in politics and its subsidiaries all their adult lives. From what I’ve heard, that career path doesn’t pay very well until you claw your way up the ladder. Conversely, lots of normal (read: non-toffs) people leave university to get productive jobs, found companies, etc. ‘Discounts’ for those who go into the paid professions, rather than the work-for-peanuts ass-kissing professions, seems to me like it might help working-class graduates rather than hurt them.

But as Mr Blake reminds us, this isn’t about class warfare, despite the fact that he thinks working-class kids are stupid, badly-behaved, and likely to go into low-wage jobs if they manage to get as far as university:

And what [Cameron’s] men are is spivs. Men on the make. Bright, articulate, desperate for power, uncaring of how they get it, and determined to look out for their own. They don’t give a damn about you or anyone like you, and for ten years that total indifference to the real concerns of the British people kept them out of power. But they’ve worked it out at last: they’ve dressed their education policy up, like their health and benefits policy, as the reforms for working people Labour never gave you.

Hmm. Change a couple of words, and that paragraph would read:

And what Brown’s men are is spivs. Men on the make. Bright, articulate, desperate to cling onto power, uncaring of how they do it, and determined to look out for their own. They don’t give a damn about you or anyone like you, and for ten years that total indifference to the real concerns of the British people has been demonstrated whilst they’ve been in power. But they’ve worked it out at last: they’ve dressed their education policy up, like their health and benefits policy, as the reforms for working people the Conservatives would never give you.

This is obviously not about the substance of the Tories’ proposed educational reforms; it’s about the Tories themselves. And why should the voter give a good goddamn where the Tory leadership went to school thirty years ago? All a voter should care about is whether the policies will work. I don’t think they will; they’re so milquetoast that I doubt they’ll have any effect if enacted. Cameron’s men aren’t being radical enough.

This is about hatred for the Tories, in their incarnation of The Privileged, and finding every way possible to insinuate that they’ve got it in for people who aren’t like them. To what end, I ask you, would they do this? Is it really in the Tories’ interests to foster an ill-educated, poverty-stricken underclass who would (a) simply have to be supported on benefits anyway, and (b) never ever vote again for the party that robbed them of all chance at social mobility? Perhaps Mr Blake thinks this is just the beginning, and eventually the Tories will strip away the benefits too, so that everybody who’s ‘not like them’ will starve to death, thus ridding the country of an inconvenient burden?

I’m sure Mr Blake doesn’t actually think that. What he also doesn’t think is what has actually happened: that social mobility has worsened under Labour, educational achievement has worsened under Labour, and enough people realise this that they’re likely to vote for the very party that supposedly fucked everybody over back in the eighties.

Finally, Mr Blake is invoking the kind of political cant that was the standard 25 years ago. Is he appealing to new voters, young voters, the very people who would be most affected by some of these policies? No – a voter turning eighteen next spring will have been born in 1992. Too young to remember how evil the Tories were. Too young to know anything but thirteen years of Labour government. The only people these days for whom ‘toffs! class warfare!’ is going to work as an electoral rallying cry are the ones who were bitching and moaning around the place in 1984 and who think all Tories are exactly like Margaret Thatcher, despite the fact she’s been out of power for twenty years.

If you want people to take your criticisms seriously, Mr Blake, then make some serious criticisms. Don’t stand or fall on the ancient reputation of the Conservative party and a bunch condescending remarks about how haaaaard everything is for the, by your implication, stupid and unemployable working class.

  37 Responses to “Working-class kids are dumb”

  1. Yaaa…. nice piece, but if (good) teachers and doctors don`t create wealth then the definition of wealth creation probably doesn`t have much meaning in a modern economy.

    The big scandal here is a teacher promoting the idea that the majority of people going to university will go into high paying jobs… there are only so many history graduates telling everyone else their place that the system can stand…

  2. Lots to argue with here, but I suppose at least it means someone bothered to read everything I wrote. In order to point out how wrong most of your attacks are, I’ll have to put up some more posts, but in short:

    1. I don’t care that Gove etc went to Oxford – I did too, it wasn’t a bad education (although the teaching of history at Oxford is actually pretty woeful). I’ve no doubt all three of them learnt skills in their education or by going through the Union or whatever, in fact that was the point I was making (not least the skills they acquired was of standing up and making bullsh**t sould convincing). What I object to is their suggestion that education is skills-based, and that some people are suitable for academic skills and others for vocational ones, and that this is apparent at 14. I don’t see why an interest in carpentry should require you to be educated in an entirely different school where you won’t have access to GCSE History, for example. I don’t object to teaching children the think and do things which will allow them to get successful careers, but I do object to hiving off all those areas of the curriculum that a driven by the need to inculcate conceptual understandings that allow self-reflection. In a democratic society that part of education isn’t a privlege or a luxury, it is a necessity and a right.

    2. I obviously don’t think working class kids are stupid; Ernie Bevin is the greatest man the Labour movement in Britain ever produced and they don’t come any more working class than that. What I do think, and think the evidence backs up very clearly, is that the tests designed to divide children into those suitable for “academic” and “vocational” educations don’t achieve this. Instead, they divide them into “middle class” and “working class”. It is one of the reasons I left my last school – we had 2 children on Free School Meals. Not 2%, just 2 children. Nor do I think stuff is too hard for working class kids – I teach History, it is very hard, I believe it can be successfully taught to students of all backgrounds, that’s why I do the job I do.

    3. Your economics is appalling and you apparently weren’t listening to George Osbourne telling us that we, consumers, have to save more: if that’s the case, and the government doesn’t stimulate the economy, we’ll be saving more of less money. In that case, there won’t be any customers to give companies more money, in which case there won’t be any jobs for our newly-skilled but actually unqualified students to have. The only way out of this recession is to grow the economy. Read Duncan’s Economic Blog (http://duncanseconomicblog.wordpress.com) to have this explained far better than I could.

    4. Your views on what student life at university is like is wrong: most students in British universities work, either in term time or in the holidays or both.

    5. I don’t think all Tories are like Margaret Thatcher, just the ones whose policies aim to massively fuck over working class people for the benefit of people who are already rich, well-educated and vote Tory, or those who are likely to become so. Of course a number of Labour ministers have the same background as Gove etc, but they’ve used 10 years in power to massively invest in public services designed to help everyone and tax credits designed to help the poorest. That is, to say the least, not what the Tories are going to do.

    • Hi John! So pleased you commented. I shall try to respond to your points.

      1. If you don’t care that Gove et al. went to Oxford (or selective secondary schools), why mention it so many times with such an obvious implication that, as a result, they couldn’t possibly know what is best for working-class kids? Just askin’. Regarding separating kids into ‘academic’ and ‘vocational’ schools at 14, I actually have a lot of sympathy with your point, which is why I suggested in the post that vocational schools could also teach core subjects for half of the day (and I included history in that list).

      2. That you think working-class kids are not stupid is not ‘obvious’ to me at all and I think I explained why pretty adequately. However, I’ll take your word for it. If you really think the problem is the tests used to select children for grammar schools, why did you not say so in your post? Tests are easily changed. I also suggested sending grammar schools into deprived neighbourhoods and schools to recruit, and taking ‘behavioural’ issues out of the selection process. Would you be more kindly disposed toward grammar schools if the selection bias against clever but deprived children were fixed? If so, then I’ll believe you don’t think the working class are stupid.

      3. My economics are not appalling. It is George Osbourne’s economics that are appalling. Growth in the economy comes from adding value: extracting more resources more cheaply, using them more cheaply, and generating products and services people want to buy. Growth in the economy does not come from moving around a stagnant pool of money, which is what government ‘stimulation’ does in relatively open economies. It’s all about the multiplier. I’ve glanced through Duncan’s Economic Blog, and he doesn’t have much to say about it, so here’s a link.

      4. My views on what student life at university is like come from my time as a student at a British university. My British friends, with one notable exception who interrupted his course for a year to work, lived off their loans or their parents. I realise that is anecdotal, but I do have some idea what life at a British uni is like, since I lived it.

      5. I’m not entirely sure how you can defend the Labour government as having ‘helped everyone’ and ‘helped the poorest.’ Yes, Britain is wealthier now, thanks to a decade of growth (which the government is not responsible for, so don’t start giving them credit), but Labour have done some frighteningly stupid things in their time, tax credits being at the top of the list. There would be no need for tax credits if Labour stopped taxing the poorest workers in society. There would be no need for tax credits of Labour had kept the 10p tax band, which was one of its few good policies. Tax credits are what you get when the government wishes to make a big show out of giving poor people more money. Poor people don’t need government handouts, they need not to be poor. When Labour starts enacting some policies that might actually achieve that, then I’ll believe they give a shit about the poor. Meanwhile, I ask again why the Tories would wish to fuck over everybody who is not rich and well-educated. That would be a stupid idea, as the voters in this country are overwhelmingly neither.

  3. Smack on the button, Bella.

    On JDB’s blog the “about” page says “My name is John Blake, and I am a teacher and trade unionist activist with the National Union of Teachers. I live in Harringay in Tottenham, and work in Camden. I am a Labour Party activist and think that the Labour government has been quite a good thing”.

    For these reasons alone he is clearly an odious, brainless cock, so the ordure he has spouted – and you have so pleasingly and clinically fisked – should come as no surprise. He should fuck off to China or Cuba and live in a socialist nirvana. Cunt!!

  4. @ Hungry Horace, I’m not sure what you mean by this:

    The big scandal here is a teacher promoting the idea that the majority of people going to university will go into high paying jobs… there are only so many history graduates telling everyone else their place that the system can stand…

    Neither I nor Mr Blake have promoted the idea that all graduates will go into high-paying jobs. Being teachers – a famously non-high-paying profession – we probably know this better than most.

  5. @John – You’ve been comprehensively fisked – twice! Get out before it gets too painful. Your website reveals all – Labour propagandist.
    @Bella – go for it!

  6. and a (believing) member of NUT(s). ‘Nuff said.

  7. Bella, thanks for the response. This was supposed to be brief, but it’s not:

    Oxford, selective schools and Gove etc.: To clarify this point – what I don’t believe is that the type of education they have received disqualifies any of them from commenting on state-funded and supplied education (although I occasionally wish that, across the political spectrum, people who have not themselves received state education ought would speak about how it is delivered and the challenges it faces with greater thoughtfulness and humility). The point I was making with my references to their educations was to underscore that they do not believe “real skills” are currently being taught in state schools, despite them all following (more or less) a similar curriculum to the one they learned under. As such, they are suggesting that any of the skills and understandings they developed in their education are, in some way, not “real”. This I profoundly object to, because the logical follow-on of this is that there are two different forms of education, academic and vocational, which produce different types of skilled people: the one suitable for higher learning and standing in front of podiums lecturing the electorate, and the other, building things and fixing things. Now clearly, there are a broad range of diversified skills and understandings one can develop at school and woodwork and history clearly don’t provide the same set of skills and understandings, but what I don’t accept is that there is something inherent in children that tends them to one set of “skills” (in so far as that is a useful term, and in history, I abhor it, but I don’t have time to go through that now) over another – children who are successful in English Literature can also be successful in Mechanics, and the opportunity to do both should be available to all students. As such, I can’t accept that it is sensible to divide students at 14 in vocational or academic careers – it is why I don’t like the Diploma programme (although I think it is better than the technical colleges idea because, as I said in my original post, the system is being managed within a school where the context of the child is known). I would argue that your suggested modifications don’t erase this problem, and it would be better to construct schools where both academic and vocational learning can take place, and to devise qualifications that allow students to mix and match such learning as is appropriate to them. This would also have the added advantage of solving one of the great problems of education, which is the overwhelming middle-class-jobs bias in schools, which I do believe is a real problem: every school in this country has specially-designed classrooms and expensive, complicated equipment to allow you to study the subjects necessary to become a doctor (Science labs etc.); barely any of them have specially-designed classrooms and expensive, complicated equipment that would allow you to study the subjects which would allow you to become a car mechanic (although the provision of technology buildings has improved under Building Schools for the Future): this is profoundly problematic, as despite all of the careers rhetoric about allowing children to be whatever they want to be, the set up of classrooms and the curriculum renders this “whatever you want to be, as long as it is the sort of thing middle-class people do”. This is especially problematic for working class kids, to whom we are often saying in effect not “reach for the starts, you can be what you want” but “reach for the stars, because you don’t want to be a failure like your old man who is a brickie, who does a job that we don’t value in school, even though it is a good career that has highly technical aspects, and we need more of.” Obviously, I’m not saying that working class kids shouldn’t be encouraged to aspire, but the bias in the sort of jobs teachers and schools often suggest are worthwhile, not just in their language but in the whole set up of the school, is clear, and it is wrong. But I don’t think you solve that by dividing the school population at 14 – firstly, because all students should have access to both vocational and academic qualifications; and secondly, because the division won’t work anyway.

    Grammar schools and selection: Which leads me on to my second point – you ask if I would agree with selective schooling for everyone if the middle-class bias of the test could be taken out and behavioural issues were not a factor. The short answer is “yes”, but sadly the longer answer is “yes, but that won’t ever happen, because it’s impossible”. You say we should just change the test, but it really isn’t that simple: the holy grail of grammar schools is an admissions test which can’t be prepped for by expensive tutors and which doesn’t favour children from middle class homes. However, it has never thus far been achieved (hence the Free School Meals statistics at my last school), and I don’t think it ever will be: you will never be able to stop middle class parents paying tutors to drill their kids in the manner and form of the tests; the only way to even out the score would be to provide the opportunity for working class kids to do likewise – but working class kids often do not have a space at home where they could receive tutoring; you could provide it centrally, say after school, but still time becomes a factor (can you get the kids to stay behind – harder than you’d think) and they’d still be outstripped by the amount of time other kids would be able to spend in practice without the tutor at home. You could teach the test in school, but primary school teachers would argue (rightly) that this isn’t there job and that teaching to the test doesn’t constitute education. You could base it on the SATs results at the end of primary school, but these are deeply, deeply flawed (I’ll be putting stuff up about this on my blog soon). Clearly, this working class-middle class divide is not absolute here (there are some middle class kids who won’t put the time in, and some working class families who will ensure the child has everything they need to do well, and indeed there are other more complex problems and opportunities, although almost all of these are based on class) but sadly the statistics bear out the fact that the result is the same: grammar schools are colonies of the middle classes. If you could find a way of making that not so, I would be interested – although I still think you have the questions about wholly vocational vs wholly academic (although you could solve that within grammar schools by providing both). But my interest would still be tempered the issue that even if we could find a way to objectively and fairly distinguish the brightest children, without class prejudice, from the less bright at 11 in whatever test is come up with, that still doesn’t guarantee they’ll be the brightest in all the subjects they are to study – the test at my old school was, broadly, in English, Maths and Critical Thinking: we got kids who’d ace Maths and be rubbish at History, or kids who crawled in at the bottom of the list, and went on to be the most amazing Musicians. Given that, I think I’d rather they went to a single school, where they might be set for certain subjects (if teachers, rather than the government as the Tories are proposing) judged it appropriate. Setting I don’t have much of a problem with, provided you get small bottom sets and children can move between them when the teacher judges it appropriate (although setting has real issues in history, for example, and needs to be carefully considered). Very briefly, on the behavioural thing, technically that isn’t used as a dividing line now, but of course, children with difficult behaviour are often not able to illustrate their intellectual ability at the appropriate moment, so get siphoned off anyway.

    Selection and the new technical colleges: Interesting as the grammar school argument is, the new technical colleges, so far as I can see, won’t face the problem of having to make their tests fair, since there won’t be any. Given that, I suspect all of the biases about behaviour and class will be at the fore in the selection of which children to send to them, which is why I think they will be so bad.

    Economics: This post is now massively long, and economics is not my forte: suffice to say, I agree with the Keynesians (or possibly the neo-Keynesians) – certainly, I don’t see how Osbourne’s savings (which are tiny in respect to the actual deficit) will achieve anything but a reduction in consumption, which will harm the economy and thus reduce savings in total, even if the percentage of salaries saved goes up. There are plenty of things the government could and should invest in which are legitimate for governments to invest in and which we need – like an ever more spectacular schools building programme, for example. If the Tories were proposing that, I could see where their vocational students were going to go – at the moment, I can’t: if they had qualifications, maybe they could travel abroad and repatriate money, but since they won’t apparently have anything to show they are qualified, I don’t see who would employ them.

    University life: I spent three years involved in my university student union, and ended up (nominally) running it. I’ll be honest, I wasn’t very good at it, and much of the information I ended up with was anecdotal as well. However, one thing I know for sure is that more students work now than they used to, and they work in term time (although not all of them). I also don’t think it is illegitimate for them to spend some time, even quite a lot of time, drinking and conversing, I think these are legitimate ends for university students, even if they end up in massive debt. I don’t mind if they work really hard, makes loads of money, and pay back their student loan five minutes after they leave (even if they have manipulated the system) – that’s the price of a service which catches those in need. What I do object to is people who will earn more money getting university education for cheaper than people who won’t.

    Labour and tax: Again, I’m not going to pretend to any great knowledge of the tax system. I am attracted by arguments that it should be simpler, although not those arguments that suggest it should be simpler by being less progressive. In the first set of arguments, the role of tax credits often comes up – I’m not against reforming them, but I do know that they currently help tens of thousands of people out of poverty. I was not in favour of getting rid of the 10p tax, I’m not going to defend it, but I’m also not going to vote for a government of a different party who would never dream of building a properly progressive taxation system. Labour has helped the poorest, and helped everybody, in different ways: one example is saving the National Health Service from total collapse, which was not far off if the Tories had been re-elected in 1997 (something of a cop-out answer, at this point, I know, but this is already three A4 pages long, and I hope to address some of these improvements in my blog as time goes on). I do agree with you that poor people need not to be poor, and government should aim to do that and that getting people off benefit is a legitimate aim (indeed a fundamental purpose) of the Labour Movement: earning your own living through your own labour is good for you, that’s why the party’s called “Labour”. As a quick example, I think Labour Councils should do huge amounts to get people who are not in desperate need off the social housing register and into privately rented accommodation, through rent deposit schemes; doing that effectively, however, so they don’t just fall back into the system, costs money – it is an investment, but it isn’t cheap; the same is true of getting people off incapacity benefit and into work: legitimate, necessary, but more expensive than maintaining the current system in the short term. The Tories are not going to make the investments necessary to make these things happen, because they are spending the money on hand-outs to wealthy university students, corporate welfare providers and people who own incredibly expensive houses. Why they are doing this, I don’t know – in part, I think it is because they genuinely don’t like poor people and think it is their own fault they are poor, an argument that is entirely vacuous since it doesn’t actually suggest any effective solutions – personal agency and social circumstances are a combined factor in poverty and pretending it is just one or the other creates bad policy. Labour has been guilty in the past of pretending it’s the second one, although at least that meant they found money to invest in social projects which benefited large number of people. The Tories are pretending it’s the first one, and are therefore going to fuck over people – maybe they don’t realise, maybe they just don’t care, maybe they are desperately putting together a policy agenda which unites the completely disparate parts of their party to cover over the deep and abiding divisions on Europe and social liberalism. I don’t know for sure, but I do know for sure that the effect of their policies will be disastrous on the poor and that we will all feel the effects of that.

    • Whew. John, you’re right: that is totally not brief. I’ll try to hit the high points.

      The point I was making with my references to their educations was to underscore that they do not believe ‘real skills’ are currently being taught in state schools, despite them all following (more or less) a similar curriculum to the one they learned under. As such, they are suggesting that any of the skills and understandings they developed in their education are, in some way, not ‘real’. This I profoundly object to, because the logical follow-on of this is that there are two different forms of education, academic and vocational, which produce different types of skilled people: the one suitable for higher learning and standing in front of podiums lecturing the electorate, and the other, building things and fixing things.

      Yes, that is a very logical follow-up. But nobody’s making it except you. I have never heard a Tory, or anyone else, say that a vocational education makes one unsuitable for higher learning or standing in front of a podium. Case in point: some of the most successful Labour politicians of the century, and one or two of the Conservative ones, had no ‘higher’ learning but possessed ‘real skills’ in spades.

      I would argue that your suggested modifications don’t erase this problem, and it would be better to construct schools where both academic and vocational learning can take place, and to devise qualifications that allow students to mix and match such learning as is appropriate to them.

      Considering that’s exactly what I suggested, I don’t understand why you’re continuing to argue with it.

      every school in this country has specially-designed classrooms and expensive, complicated equipment to allow you to study the subjects necessary to become a doctor (Science labs etc.); barely any of them have specially-designed classrooms and expensive, complicated equipment that would allow you to study the subjects which would allow you to become a car mechanic

      Yes. This sucks. But you have continued to bang on about the importance or learning the kind of stuff, e.g. history, that enlarges you as a citizen and makes you a responsible member of democracy. And you have continued to bang on about how even kids who want to learn vocational skills need this stuff; so why all the surprise that it gets over-emphasised in schools?

      Obviously, I’m not saying that working class kids shouldn’t be encouraged to aspire, but the bias in the sort of jobs teachers and schools often suggest are worthwhile, not just in their language but in the whole set up of the school, is clear, and it is wrong.

      And yet here you are doing that very thing, claiming the problem with vocational schools is that they’ll keep working-class kids from going to university and being ‘guaranteed’ jobs. I don’t understand: do you want them to be encouraged to be brickies like their old man, or do you want them to be encouraged to go to university and become doctors?

      you ask if I would agree with selective schooling for everyone if the middle-class bias of the test could be taken out and behavioural issues were not a factor. The short answer is ‘yes’, but sadly the longer answer is ‘yes, but that won’t ever happen, because it’s impossible’.

      Pessimist, much?

      the holy grail of grammar schools is an admissions test which can’t be prepped for by expensive tutors and which doesn’t favour children from middle class homes.

      You then go on to suggest all sorts of alternatives which you then shoot down: central tutoring groups, teaching the test in school, SATs results – but you miss out the most obvious alternative, which is an interview combined with an essay. Yes, you can still prep for that, but not as easily; and besides, the skills involved in writing an essay are ones that are being taught in school anyway. Yes, an interview is more subjective than a test, but I’m willing to bet there are kids who’d shine in an interview when their test-taking skills might be less than perfect.

      In the end, there is no perfect way to remove testing bias; you’re right about that. But at least if the state built more grammar schools, then according to probability if nothing else, more kids would be likely to get into them.

      Setting I don’t have much of a problem with, provided you get small bottom sets and children can move between them when the teacher judges it appropriate

      Yes, good, I’m totally on board with this – and with your caveat that the teachers, rather than the government, should be the judge.

      the new technical colleges, so far as I can see, won’t face the problem of having to make their tests fair, since there won’t be any. Given that, I suspect all of the biases about behaviour and class will be at the fore in the selection of which children to send to them, which is why I think they will be so bad.

      Selection tests are bad, an absence of selection tests is bad – make up your mind.

      There are plenty of things the government could and should invest in which are legitimate for governments to invest in and which we need – like an ever more spectacular schools building programme, for example.

      Weirdly, I’m kinda with you on this. Kinda. There do need to be more schools. Where I’m not with you is the conviction that the government has to provide them.

      if they had qualifications, maybe they could travel abroad and repatriate money,

      ‘Repatriating money’ is what you do when the place you’ve come from is poor and the place you’ve gone to is rich. I’d weep to see skilled Britons going abroad to work and ‘repatriating’ their money.

      suffice to say, I agree with the Keynesians

      About what, precisely? You say a reduction in consumption will harm the economy, but you seem to support policy that takes money out of the pockets of consumers and puts it in the hands of the government. ‘Government investment’ is not the sort of consumption that drives growth.

      I spent three years involved in my university student union, and ended up (nominally) running it.

      What, OUSU? Why ‘nominally’? The only thing of note OUSU did while I was at Oxford was produce some pretty career booklets whilst hosting student nights at Zoo Na Na. My friends who were successive business managers could probably tell me more stuff they did, but the fact I don’t know means it wasn’t exactly having a significant impact on the average student.

      What I do object to is people who will earn more money getting university education for cheaper than people who won’t.

      This remains silly. Yes, it will be easier for those who earn more money to pay their debts back more quickly; but let’s face it, the student debt in this country is nothing like what it is in the US, for example (can get up to $120,000 plus interest) for four years, and people seem to be able to pay that shit back on $25,000pa salaries. People who want a discount on their debts, even if they aren’t earning buckets, will make it happen, either by living frugally or paying back more than the minimum monthly requirement. You hardly have to have the salary of a city banker to do it.

      Again, I’m not going to pretend to any great knowledge of the tax system.

      Economics is ‘not your forte’, and you have no great knowledge of the tax system. What makes you so certain, then, that current Labour policy is so bloody fantastic? You ‘know’ it helps tens of thousands out of poverty, yet all the evidence demonstrates that this is not so. You ‘know’ Labour has helped everybody (your words), but your only example is saving the NHS from putative collapse 13 years ago. I put it to you that there are lots of people who believe Labour has actively done them, and poor people, harm. Many of them have a great knowledge of the tax system and claim economics as a forte. Are their expertise and personal experience inferior to your stated ignorance and faith?

      The Tories are not going to make the investments necessary to make these things happen, because they are spending the money on hand-outs to wealthy university students, corporate welfare providers and people who own incredibly expensive houses.

      And Labour are giving it to the banks, African dictators, and European kleptocrats. Hey, here’s a novel idea – maybe the government could just stop giving hand-outs to everybody! Then at least we could dispense with this non-sensical, stupid fucking argument about what sort of people deserve government largesse the most.

  8. @Ghillie China and Cuba aren’t socialist anythings, they are repressive dictatorships which appalling human rights records. China has achieved some pretty impressive economic feats, some of which may even be useful for Western countries to study and emulate, but they also run their citizens over with tanks. Cuba has achieved some impressive feats in health and education, but then so has Costa Rica, and they’re allowed to vote there.

    The notion that the Labour Party has tried to build anthing remotely comparable to the repressive machinery of the Chinese state is simply wrong.

  9. […] Leave a Comment Categories: Uncategorized The commentators at the bottom of this post on the bella gerens blog tell me I have been Fisked. Which I suppose is nice – at least […]

  10. To be honest, thinking about it, I`m not to sure what I meant either.

  11. Once the sh*t stopped flying this was a really good, informative article. I have a friend, no not the bearded lady, who would probably agree with every word

  12. @ John Blake – why is it, then, that all Socialist states end up as – what were your words – ah yes – “repressive dictatorships which [sic] appalling human rights records”? Like Cambodia? North Korea?

    Oh, and why use one word when 5 will do?

  13. @Bella – congratulations for
    1. Having the gumption (guts?) to wade through his turgid prose – again.
    2. Fisking it – again.
    BTW – stop giving handouts to anybody.

  14. @John Blake – Of course testing is imperfect: so’s the human race. It will remain so even given the left-wing imperative to [an impossibly idiotic] perfectibility.

  15. For 5, substitute 12.
    @John Blake: try this
    “the reactionary forces on the Left will insist that their definition of equality – everybody should get what <they need(s), even if their need has been created by their own irresponsibility – is superior to the progressive one, which holds that everybody should be guaranteed a chance to take as much responsibility for their own life as they possibly can.” – Janet Daley [editing italics solely to remove any suspicion of sex bias – noting that gender is purely a grammatical term, not a biological one]

  16. @Bella – this shorter, but not much:

    Gove IS saying that vocational education makes you unsuitable for higher learning (and this is, as you say, contrary to the evidence available from the political history of the UK) – that is why they are proposing to take students who they deem fit for vocational education out of schools where they will have access to the qualifications necessary to get you into university. You agree that both sorts of learning ought to be available – that isn’t what the Tories are saying. And our proposals aren’t the same: you’re saying educate the “mainly” vocational kids separately but with some academic subjects, I’m saying just do both together and children can mix and match their subjects as suits them, rather than the constraints of a particular form of schooling.

    If I bang on about history, it is because I am a history teacher, and history as a subject in schools has been under threat for 30 years from one variety of educational illiterate or another: either Tories who think history should be the facts of the grand march of British democracy or headteachers who don’t believe history is a useful subject at all (because it doesn’t teach “real skills”) and have therefore carved it up in Integrated Humanities or reduced the Key Stage 3 curriculum to two years, or both. History needs to be defended for all students. That doesn’t mean those students also shouldn’t have access to more vocational education, and I’ve never said or acted otherwise.

    The point I am making about working class kids and their education is that they should have the choice about their career futures, and that such a choice should not be pre-conditioned by the sociology of a schools system that looks down on manual careers. Every child should have that choice – just because your parents are doctors, doesn’t mean you shouldn’t want to be a plumber, but we don’t have a schools system that currently endorses that idea fully (even where it might do so rhetorically), and we won’t do if we ship all the working class kids out of mainstream schooling and deny all middle class kids access to vocational education, which will be the effect of the new technical colleges.

    Interviews and essays I didn’t deal with in my last post, because I couldn’t believe anyone would suggest that as an effective way of removing selection bias: they are an appalling way to choose who should go to which school at the age of 11, or even 14, and they can be prepped for even more effectively than the current sets of tests, as well as allowing in biases tests can obviate, such as race and gender. Any single event (interview, test, essay, SATs result) which has such ferociously high stakes as schools admission will attract attempts to undermine it in favour of those who can deploy the necessary resources to do so. My preferred form of school admissions is blind banding: everyone sits a test, the stakes of which can’t ever be high enough to justify tutoring (because there is no guarantee of a particular school coming with a particular test outcome), and then all schools receive an equal number of students from each band of outcome in the test.

    And when I argue that the absence of selection tests for who will go to technical colleges is bad, it is because whilst I think tests are problematic (as suggested above) simply relying on headteachers won’t achieve fair outcomes. The incentives and punishments heads face at present, especially when magnified by the Tories’ policies, will suggest to them a child who is difficult and unlikely to succeed at GCSE, whether they have any aptitude for vocational education or not, will best be educated anywhere else. The technical colleges will provide a suitable home, so off they will go. It isn’t about the morals of any particular head, just the obvious outcome of that set of punishments and rewards for GCSE outcomes.

    If the government takes money out of the hands of people who are not going to spend it, and spends it providing the capital necessary for companies that cannot access capital at present because the banks have utterly fucked up, the economy will begin to grow.

    I’ve spent enough of my life defending OUSU; I’m not going through all those arguments again. Suffice to say: it does (or did whilst I was involved) more than you suggest (some of it very well, especially representation on academic matters), but I’m not surprised you don’t know about all that, OUSU suffers the same weaknesses as the university within a collegiate system: people don’t understand what it does, and don’t care when it tells them.

    University fees stuff – you’re talking nonsense; people who become teachers will not find a way to pay back their fees, especially not whilst on their PGCE, because they’ll be trying not to starve to death on the tiny bursary they are given. And it still doesn’t deal with the problem that people who go into careers which we don’t need more of (corporate banking, say) will pay off a smaller debt (not just a debt they can pay faster, but a smaller debt) than those who go into professions that we need lots of (medicine).

    The reason I didn’t go on about economics is that I’d rather, as you charmingly put it in your first post, compare my shit with your shit, rather than have an argument via endless rounds of Wikipedia links. I’ve explained why I think government spending money now would be a good idea – as do lots of other very clever people who make arguments which make sense to me (Duncan corrals a number of these points here: http://duncanseconomicblog.wordpress.com/2009/10/09/bloomberg-on-cameron/).

    “And Labour are giving it to the banks, African dictators, and European kleptocrats. Hey, here’s a novel idea – maybe the government could just stop giving hand-outs to everybody! Then at least we could dispense with this non-sensical, stupid fucking argument about what sort of people deserve government largesse the most.”

    Right, this is the really mad bit of what you say: Mad Bit 1 – a) Labour has given money to the banks to stop them going under and destroying the economic system we are all living under and plunging us into another Great Depression; b) I take it the second bit is a reference to international development money – I’m not going to give this argument another tangent to follow so I’ll just say international development is a good thing, for the people of the devloping world and for the greater security of the UK, and stopping spending on it wouldn’t transform our finances; c) I’m not a big fan of European expenditure, the CAP is quite a shit idea, but not all our money goes to Europe, and not all of that money is spent badly. Mad Bit 2 – stopping government welfare payments created by the current Labour government and not implementing those proposed by the new Tory government if they get in is not asking for an equal sacrifice: not giving people money for having finished university and then becoming a corporate lawyer, is not the same thing as not giving families with several children money necessary to keep their family fed.

    • 1. Are you sure Gove said that? Can you provide me with a quote? Because I think that’s your interpretation, not his words.

      2. I don’t mind you banging on about history; the history curriculum in this country is seriously flawed. I’d be happy to hear more of your views on this.

      3. Yes, every child should be able to choose his educational path. But (a) that creates huge administrative headaches for any government, and (b) generally we, as a society, don’t grant children the agency to make life decisions until the age of 16. So someone has to choose for them. I’d rather it were the parents than the state, but of course, then we run into lots of problems with parents who make bad choices for their children. I’m not sure what the solution is, but it seems a bit silly for all schools the facilities for everything. It would be a massive waste of money, especially in what you might call ‘middle-class’ areas, where the children who might want to learn plumbing will be pushed by their parents into doing 11 academic GCSEs anyway.

      4. I’ve never heard of ‘blind banding’ – I’ll have to give that some thought.

      5. No more economics, okay. I guess you didn’t like reading about the multiplier.

      6. You became a teacher. Did you pay back your fees? Or were you lucky enough to attend university back when it was still ‘free’? Anyway, the PGCE is not necessary for teaching. I haven’t got one, and nobody seems unduly bothered.

      7. I’m mad for suggesting that government shouldn’t hand out cash to favoured groups? Have you even looked at the rest of this blog? (After all, I’ve read yours.)

      Anyway, your assertions wouldn’t even stand up on a GCSE. Labour has given money to the banks – but it does not then follow that they saved us from a Great Depression. Asserting it does not make it so. You say international development is a good thing, so development money is a good thing. Again, this does not follow. We’ve been giving development aid to Africa for years now, with no appreciable improvement in their ‘development.’

      Finally, I am not asking for an ‘equal sacrifice’ – god, what a noxious idea. All you people on the left preach about sacrifice and need and it is so depressing. The best way to stop people wrangling over who gets government cash is to stop giving government cash out. Or, if that’s too mean, give the same amount of cash to everybody. But this scrapping like stray dogs over who’s being financially favoured by the state is undignified.

  17. 1. Of course it’s an interpretation, Bella – Gove is hardly like to have said it outright, but it doesn’t mean it isn’t the sum total of what he and others have announced about education under a future Tory government (if I’m being really generous, maybe I might believe he simply doesn’t realise because he hasn’t thought this through). History deals with the trading of interpretations and the establishing of their validity: my interpretation is Gove wants to divide students at 14 into academic and vocational schools; my evidence for this is that he has stated he wants to do this; my interpretation further asserts that the consequence of this will be that those students who go to vocational schools will not receive an education which would allow them to aspire to attend any academic course at university; my evidence for this is that David Willetts said they wouldn’t be receiving “paper qualifications”, which I take to include all forms of such qualifications, including those in English and Maths; I further suggest, on the basis of the evidence of class-based divisions appearing in selective systems, that the students who end up in vocational schools will be working class kids, who will therefore be denied access to the academic qualifications which will allow them to attend university.

    2. I will be writing more about the history curriculum in time. Pleased to receive your comments when it’s up on the blog.

    3. One of the solutions to this is to encourage schools to form federations and consortia; the school I teach in is part of a consortium with 3 other, near-by schools. This works very well in London (lots of schools close together); doesn’t work so well in rural Norfolk (one school for 40 miles). It will be expensive, but it should still be provided: diplomas are a way of attempting this (although as I say, I still don’t think they have the checks and balances built in for kids who change their minds about their path). Middle class parents might want their children to do 11 academic GCSEs which frustrates these outcomes; that’s why I would rather have had the Thomlinson Diplomas, which I think would have alleviated this problem in time.

    4. I’d be interested to hear your thoughts when you’ve looked at it – it currently operates in Brighton’s local authority. Banding is more common (without the blind bit), and was used to be used a lot in London under ILEA.

    5. I don’t like reading anything on Wikipedia – I’m with Oliver Kamm on this.

    6. My university experience cost me a grand a year – I will pay it back in what is, in effect, a progressive graduate tax. I spent four years campaigning against this system, believing it would damage access. Turned out I was wrong (although a straightforward graduate tax would still be a better way of funding universities). So I’m not unhappy with that. What will really piss me off is when those who followed me through a history degree and into teaching have to pay back a larger debt than those who go into higher paid professions: I don’t care if the wealthy pay their debts back faster (provided they are being taxed at an appropriate level), but I do care they’ll be paying back a smaller debt just because they chose to go into high paid professions. And you need a PGCE to teach in any maintained school in England and Wales – independent schools don’t require it. The PGCE system is not perfect, but I do favour teachers having to go through a professional qualification in teaching (I would prefer a three year MA, where you received teachers pay, and took on an increasing amount of teaching and saw a reduced amount of time at the university as the course went on).

    7. I have read your blog – I think quite a lot of it is mad; interesting, but mad. My assertions were just that, I acknowledge. They are so because I don’t really want to have another, different argument on this thread about the banking crisis or international development. But I’d be intrigued if you could outline, possibly in a different post, what you think would have happened if we hadn’t bailed out the banks, or if we weren’t giving international development aid.

    Labour doesn’t give money to poor people because they are “favoured”, like some intriguing pet discovered in the garden, but in an effort to make them less poor – I get that you don’t think that’s happened, I agree with you that the ultimate aim of government policy ought to be poor people being less poor, I can’t comprehend how you think this is going to happen if we stop providing housing benefit, unemployment insurance and health care to people who would live utterly impoverished lives (and hand such impoverishment on to their children) and possibly die without these things. I am happy to see an argument about how best we shape benefit programmes to get people off them in the long run, hence my desire (where appropriate) to get people off the social housing register and off incapacity benefit and into work, but some Scrooge-like desire to stop government pay-outs tomorrow and let the remnant starve is not a serious contribution to political debate.

    • 1. I appreciate your commentary here. I assumed that when you said ‘Gove is saying’ you meant ‘Gove is saying.’ I see now that you meant ‘I think the consequences of what Gove is saying are x.’

      2. Good; I look forward to it.

      3. As you say, consortia wouldn’t work well in rural areas. Perhaps in that case further expenditure is justified.

      4. Will get to it.

      5. and 7. Since you don’t like reading things on Wikipedia, I shall suggest something else. For information about the multiplier, read Keynes himself. (Or Friedman, if you can bring yourself to do so.) For what would have happened without the bail-outs or aid money to Africa, read Harry Shutt’s The Trouble with Capitalism. It explains both of those things much better than I ever could.

      6. A graduate tax is an interesting idea, especially since you point out that not all graduates go on to make loads of money. But as far as paying loans back faster = paying less back, well, that’s the way loans work. The faster you repay, the less you repay, because the debt generates less interest over smaller amounts of time. I don’t really see how you propose to get around this unless you are suggesting interest-free student loans. And frankly, if the government is the lender, I’d support that policy.

      The PGCE is a nonsense, or so I’m told by my colleagues who have done one. It raises the barriers of entry to the profession, which is a bad idea when we haven’t got enough teachers. In effect, it forms a guild with a specific cost of membership (the fee to do the qualification) and job protection for those already in the profession. Neither of these things encourage people to go into teaching.

      Finally – nowhere did I say we should stop government pay-outs tomorrow. In fact I even offered up the alternative of government paying everyone the same amount in hand-outs. This would not only help people living utterly impoverished lives, but it would be so scrupulously fair that nobody could complain of others being enriched at his own expense. What’s your opinion on that?

  18. Tories education plan: The plan Willetts announced wasn’t to pay back less because you paid it back faster, therefore not having to pay interest – I don’t have a problem with that, since the payment schedule is progressive and student loans currently are interest free (or rather, the interest matches inflation); what Willetts is suggesting is that you pay back less than the capital you borrowed if you pay back early. That isn’t fair – it is government giving money to people who do not need it, and is essentially a punishment for going into lower paid graduate careers.

    PGCE: I wouldn’t call it a nonsense, but as I say, I think it needs reform – the history-themed parts of my PGCE were excellent; the general educational stuff was fairly crap. I’m perfectly happy with there being barriers into the teaching profession, as I am with barriers into the medical profession. However, they do need to be the right barriers – even in a time of teacher shortage, the professional standards of a profession should not be compromised, and understanding of the best practice should be required. The PGCE at the moment doesn’t put the right barriers up: its costs are absurd, it forces you to live like a hermit for a year whilst expecting you to operate as a professional, and there isn’t a sufficiently high-level academic requirment to pass. As I’ve said, I’d prefer a three year MA, split between academic training and school experience, with the split between the two increasingly favouring school experience as the programme went on.

    Government hand-outs: Giving out exactly the same amount of money to everyone is disingenuous – since although the sum might be identical, the value to the person is not: £50 to me is a decent night out with my other half; £50 to a stock-broker might be the lowest amount he’d paid for champagne; £50 to a single mother with three children is a significant portion of her total income. Need is a legitimate determinant of government benefit. I have already explained that I would like government programmes that got people off benefit and into jobs, but that costs money and cutting benefits won’t achieve it. Unless you are suggesting the government takes everyone’s money and divides it out entirely equally, which would be hilarious but which even I would argue would have a deleterious effect on economic growth.

    • I’m perfectly happy with there being barriers into the teaching profession, as I am with barriers into the medical profession.

      Yes, but an untrained teacher isn’t a danger to anyone’s life. You said independent schools don’t require their teachers to have a PGCE; independent schools tend to produce better results than state schools. I know correlation isn’t causation, but really! I’ve been teaching for four years without a PGCE, my students’ exam results are excellent, and my school is very pleased with the job I do. Why should I be made to take a year off work, live like a hermit, and pay an absurd cost to do the PGCE, simply to go back to doing the job I was already doing fine without it?

      And a three-year MA is only going to raise those barriers further, even if you are paying the candidates the equivalent of a teacher’s salary whilst they do it. That ends up being six years of post-secondary training to become a teacher. Even fewer people will do it then than they do now, especially when they know it is currently done in a year, and could be done (as Labour have admitted by shunting ex-bankers into the profession) in six months.

      Giving out exactly the same amount of money to everyone is disingenuous – since although the sum might be identical, the value to the person is not:

      I don’t see why this matters. What we need to do is determine what the ‘living wage’ is (some people have suggested £12,000 annually) and pay that to every person over the age of 16, regardless of circumstances. It would be a lot more than unemployed single mothers currently get, for example, and it would act as unemployment insurance, child benefit, and what-have-you for everyone already earning more than that amount.

  19. Good lord. So much banter.

    The only thing that makes a child achieve – regardless of their intellect – is how much effort their parents put into their education.

  20. And, being a grumpy sod, my PGCE didn’t train me to teach.

  21. Nick, I don’t agree – Dennis Mongon (of the School of Education at the University of Manchester) talked to the last NUT National Education Conference (a surprisingly good event that all teachers should go to, regardless of their attitude to the NUT in other things) about the significance of teachers: he quoted statstics that the strongest correlation for student success is teacher quality. This makes sense to me – after all, if teachers weren’t capable of shifting students out of the furrows class, parental interest and other background factors had created, then the social mobility of the past century would be inexplicable [to ward off obvious response: I am not saying all working class parents want their children to fail, but class is the second-most significant determinent of educational outcome].

    The leads me nicely on to my point in response to the disdain for the PGCE. First, to re-iterate, I am not saying the current PGCE system is a good system, I don’t think the best way to encourage teachers to teach is to demand they survive on a bursary which is only 1/3 of the lowest starting salary they will face. The government acknolwedges this and has created other ways to enter the profession in maintained schools: TeachFirst and Gradute Teacher Programme, for example. Although these give people a salary from day one, it minimises the academic content of the training, which I think is both sad (the academic aspects of history education are facinating and hugely enjoyable to study) and wrong (teachers should have this professional knowledge – that’s why it’s a profession).

    Bella, what independent schools choose to do or not to do is entirely their own affair. I’m not going to question your success or your abilities, but I don’t think you should be allowed to work in a maintained school until you have undergone, or rather are undergoing and being moinitered about, a professional training in teaching. I imagine in your current school, you are being observed, assessed and performance managed and being offered appropriate opportunities for continuous professional development. All to the good – if the MA I envisage existed, all your school would need to do is register these things, ensure their levels of assessment are comparable to other institutions, and you’d be on your way to a professional qualification and an MA. Maybe you don’t want one – but the logic of my response to Nick seems clear: teachers might not be able to actually kill a student (or rather, professional training is unlikely to prevent this – my PGCE did contain a very brief “don’t hit them” instruction, which was pretty much all that was needed) but since good teachers can make such a positive difference to a child’s life, bad teachers can make a negative difference. As such, a professional qualification aiming to ensure that basic professional standards are met, and that opportunities for professional growth can be provided and appropriately recorded which doesn’t improverish those who are trying to become professionals seems to me both good and necessary. [On the bankers thing, getting them to become teachers won’t work – it happened at the end of the 1980s in recession, so I am told by those older in the NUT than me, and most of them left because it was too hard.]

    Surely, your plan would act as a massive disincentive for the single mother to actually get a job? I want welfare money to be paid to support people and prevent their impoverishment whilst encouraging people to work for their living – I don’t want everyone to be employed by the state to do nothing. And I am so confused by the idea that a libertarian would suggest this that I am sure I must have missed something.

    • John, this is a nonsense. If I am already doing the job, doing it well, and being monitored in my performance, what is the point of the qualification? So that I have a piece of paper to prove it all? That’s what my employers’ references do. If a school hires me to teach and they don’t think I’m doing a good job, well, I’m not a member of a union, so they can go ahead and sack me for sucking. Surely what’s significant is not my professional starting point as a teacher, but the outcomes my students get. If they are as successful as the students of a ‘qualified’ teacher, that must suggest that the teacher’s qualification is entirely beside the point.

  22. “The leads me nicely on to my point in response to the disdain for the PGCE. First, to re-iterate, I am not saying the current PGCE system is a good system…”

    Good, because it’s not.

    As far as I am concerned, you can take your PGCE and stuff it up your arse—and, in fact, you may as well do for all the good that this pathetic qualification does for the children that you are supposed to be teaching.

    The fact that over 50% of the people in this country are of “low literacy”—and, of those, that 20% are functionally illiterate—is a fucking disgrace to the teaching profession, and a shocking indictment of the political policies governing education in this country.

    Frankly, I am as fed to the back teeth of you bloody teachers’ excuses for your utter failure to do your jobs as I am of the doctors’.

    Your ability to do the job for which you are paid seems to decrease in proportion to your qualifications.

    DK

  23. P.S. As someone who has made a career without actually needing to get a degree, I consider you people who are not only so stupid that you need a piece of paper to make a career but who were also stupid enough to put yourself into debt for it, to be… well… pretty fucking stupid.

    Or can it be that the reason that you went to university was not because you wanted to become a teacher, but because you wanted to spend other people’s money on your own selfish mental masturbation?

    Oh, and because you wanted to hang about playing with yourself for another three years, rather than do some work?

    What I’m saying, John, is that you went to university because of your own selfish desires and not because of some oh-so-noble community-minded, socially-responsible motivation.

    And, having made productive people pay for you to play with yourself for three years, you would now like them to have to support you in perpetuity; on top of that, you would now like to protect your turf—and shore up your salary—by ensuring that anyone who comes after you has to invest even more than you had to.*

    DK

    * This is called “rent-seeking” and—apart from being personally spiteful and immoral—it is a deeply stupid way to run any business or profession.

  24. Yes, Devil, we should abolish university and everyone can grow up and become freelance web designers and write streams of ill-thought out profanity on the interweb. I can see the future of history teaching: delivered by conspiracy theorists, post-modern relativists and other whackjobs who’ve never been trained in the historical craft, it’ll be great.

    Suffice to say, I don’t agree that your charaterisation of the educational problem in Britain: literacy and numeracy have increased in the past 10 years. The SATs results are utter cobblers, but the OECD’s comparative (and much lower stakes) tests confirm the general trend of improvement, if at a much less impressive rate than SATs suggest. The continuing failures to educate everyone to a standard considered acceptable is sad, and in certain ways reflects poor choices about education made by both major parties; however, it also reflects profound social inequalities in the UK which have left generations of people in poverty. No doubt you’d think that this constitutes some sort of excuse-making for failure – so be it, but if you aren’t willing to engage with the profoundly complex social context of education in Britain, then I’m not going to take any of your comments on it seriously.

    Bella, if you don’t want my notional MA, then don’t get it, your school don’t seem to need any teaching qualification to employ you, they’re private, good on them. But without a professional teaching qualification, you won’t be able to work in a maintained school, and I would argue that is perfectly acceptable. Results are not the sole determinent of teacher quality – getting an A* in GCSE History doesn’t necessarily mean you’re a good historian (although History GCSE has improved significantly since its creation, with the requirements now being closer to those of proper history); getting an A* also doesn’t necessarily mean your teacher is very good. As you say, your school makes the judgement about whether you are the cause of your students’ results, and whether you are also teaching them beyond the curriculum (if that’s what your school wants) – you’re happy with that, fine. I, on the other hand, would rather have a system where the school’s decision is not the final arbiter, but instead that other qualified professionals and academics make a decision about the professional quality of a teacher, one which is comparable across the country, rather than one decision made by one school (which is the point of the qualification, indeed of all qualifications, that they are portable and trusted). I believe that is a good thing – teachers making the decisions about what constitutes good teaching on the basis of diverse experience and academic training, rather than government or management (who have quite different desires and interests). It also involves other teachers in making decisions about what is bad practice in teaching, which can thus be removed – teachers aren’t currently very good at policing the borders of our own profession and disposing of the crap (of which there is some, although not nearly as much as the ignorant would like to believe).

    Of course, this does constitute a form of guild – I have no problem with this (there are, after all, other players within the education system to balance the powers of teachers); it also favours me, since it protects my profession and my pay (assuming I am found to be a good professional) – you’ll just have to take my word for it that I’d be in favour of it even if it didn’t.

    • O the futility! History GCSE is better now (but an A* doesn’t mean the student is a good historian); literacy, numeracy, and exam results are better (but results are not the sole determinant of teacher quality); professional teachers and academics decide best practice (but teachers aren’t good a policing their own profession). I suppose you’ll say these are better than no standards at all, but I can’t help but wonder why we change exams, hope for better exam results, and police one another if these things don’t constitute an accurate measurement of anything.

      There must be better ways, but people like you are so busy arguing that since ‘no standards’ is the only alternative you can imagine, these highly dubious methods of determining quality must remain. Why must it be the status quo or nothing with you?

      And frankly, John, your colourless prolixity is starting to bore me.

  25. I haven’t suggested anything is futile, I’ve just suggested it is complicated. I haven’t favoured the status quo, I’ve repeatedly suggested improvements to the systems discussed. If I have been colourless, it is because I decided to include actual evidence, analysis and argument rather than spewings of foul language and ignorance.

    How ironic, Bella, that this dialouge, which began with you accusing me of ad hominem attacks and attempting to avoid things that were too “haaaaard”, has ended with you making ad hominem attacks and complaining that these things are quite difficult to understand.

    Farewell.

    • This may be a futile gesture after that melodramatic ‘farewell’ but: saying I find your prolix prose boring is not an ad hominem attack, as I wasn’t attaching it to the quality or accuracy of your argument. You must be aware how long your comments are! Neither of us has all day, you know. But like all over-sensitive types, my lack of appreciation for your writing style translates in your mind as ‘she’s calling me colourless!’ and my observation that tiny modifications to the status quo system are futile becomes ‘complaining that these things are quite difficult to understand.’

      That’s not ironic; that’s you getting pissy. And instead of saying, ‘Ha, yes, my remarks could use a little tightening up’ – you know, like a robust person would do – off you run. *shrug* Have it your way.

  26. Bloody hell, that took some ploughing through.

    @John Blake. Your comments may be set out grammatically with full paragraphs, but they would be a lot easier to read on screen, and then digest, they were much shorter.

    FWIW Gove used the wrong term when he talked about vocational training as it implied no further academic training. Whether this is what he meant I don’t know, but John appears to have taken it that way.

    Whilst I am a failure of the Grammar School system and my son failed the 11+ I still support the concept, but not the one envisaged by the Tories.

    Where I grew up we had a 3 tier system – Grammar, Technical and Secondary Modern. The 11+ was as much about aptitude as academic ability at that age. This was because the pace learning in each school differed and they were trying to fit pupils into what suited them best.

    The Grammar was an academic hot house which taught at a ferocious pace. There was little in the way of vocational training (carpentry for example) because the pupils were unlikely to use those skills, mainly because they were nerdy types, and there wasn’t time. It was also unforgiving of those who couldn’t keep up, no matter how middle class their parents.

    Technical schools were slower paced but still provided all the academic subjects. However they tended to concentrate on the more practical side. Teaching electronics instead of physics – one and the same but starting with the problem and explaining the theory afterwards, for example.

    Secondary Modern schools recognised that their pupils may have had ability but it was the pace that defeated many of them. They still taught all the subjects to those who could cope, but also had fine woodwork and metalwork rooms, taught car mechanics,paining and decorating and other practical skills.

    I knew of people who moved between them at 14 and also many who left Secondary Modern schools to go to University.

    I found out from experience, and against the wishes of my parents, that Grammar Schools weren’t for me. Yet at the one I ended up at there was a cross section of society. More than a few were from single parent homes (unique for the 60’s and many for from working class backgrounds. This wasn’t a surprise since it was Harold Wilson’s alma mater and they encouraged children from working class areas.

    I accept that it wasn’t a perfect system, it failed me, maybe 11 is a bit too young for such a divisive test, but I am prepared to bet that the products of all three schools were better educated academically and socially than they are by throwing them all into one heap and treating them as academic equals.

    Here’s another observation. The only real bullying I saw at school was at the Comprehensive I eventually ended up at. The bullying was by those who were in the lower (Secondary Modern) steams of those in he upper (academic) streams. I’m convinced that because of this some of the brightest were hiding their abilities and so under achieved.

  27. Bella, bit of history for you: the reason the old secondary modern (=vocational) vs grammar (=academic) school system – and there was a third type , technical (=err, technical), but it was never widely implemented. Anyway the reason it was busted was that middle class parents of dim kids found they went to vocational schools while the smart kids of the lower orders were sent to grammar schools above their station, where they would get a first-class education and outcompete the dim kids for the best things in life. Such disgruntled middle classes played the envy card and hey-ho the job was done. Another compelling reason to tke all government out of education entirely – qualifications, accreditation of teachers, the lot.

    PS Won’t happen, but any progress towards would be good

  28. you lot need to chill da fuk outtttt

    May I suggest smokin da ganja?

    Toodlepip!

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