if you click on this link (above), you'll see the Storify....please do have a look!
rThere is a fabulous UCU/Edge Hill University/Birmingham City University project, ‘Transforming lives and communities’ which you can read about here….(http://transforminglives.web.ucu.org.uk/about-this-project/). One of the main authors, Dr.Vicky Duckworth, who is a good friend of mine, has been involved in FE for many years. I admire Vicky massively, because as well as being a superb academic, teacher and researcher, she has always kept her feet on the ground – she really understands learners’ needs and goals, and their communities and families. This project, which Vicky has been involved in with Dr. Rob Smith from BCU, aims to understand and provide evidence of how the further education sector is vital in transforming lives and communities in 21st century Britain. The study provided students, teachers, parents and employers with the opportunity to tell their stories, linking the distinctness of FE to the impact it has on individuals, society and the economy. The study also emphasises the role of the teacher in making a difference to transformational teaching and learning.
There has been a great UCU booklet on the project, which includes inspiring stories of transformation in learners’ lives, and of teachers caring, supporting learning and facilitating the transformation. I am really pleased to have been able to contribute to this booklet, and I’ve learned a lot through reading it, too. The booklet is here; it’s worth spending a bit of time looking at: http://transforminglives.web.ucu.org.uk/2017/06/05/sharing-transformational-approaches-to-teaching-and-learning/
Born out of this project was a conference and I was lucky enough to be invited to attend it. So yesterday I was at the ‘Reimagining FE’ conference, which was organised into group conversations in six thematic strands. There were also some fabulous keynotes (from Drs. Rob Smith and Vicky Duckworth; from Prof Lyn Tett and from Prof Maggie Feeley), and the whole day had an upbeat and buzzing atmosphere.
On the way home on the train, with sore feet but nibbling at my treat of M&S macaroons, I was wondering about a number of things:
The reasons that the conference was invigorating was that it had the atmosphere of collegiality that is so often found in FE. People share their ideas and time generously and willingly. There is an atmosphere of respect and caring. And as well, there is a shared understanding of the constraints at local, national and international levels that impact on transformational education, and a shared vision of wanting to facilitate transformational education for the benefit of our students.
Transformation was a great word to use – so many of the stories which we heard and shared were stories of ‘quiet caring’ making a difference, of learners seeing the possibilities of new identities and agency that transformative education offered them, their families and communities. So many of us are working with students to try and make things possible that the students might have imagined to be impossible; we all had that shared aim. It might not be the qualification per se that is key – instead, we talked about how the qualification might give students ‘permission’ to knock at certain doors or to dare to think about certain jobs or careers. We talked about how the processes of education and of the concomitant identity change in our students were what we really valued as teachers.
It was also great to hear Maggie Feeley from the University of Dublin speak. I didn’t know Maggie’s’ work, but ever since I was first introduced to the work of Nel Noddings I have focussed on the importance of caring in education, so I was fascinated to hear Maggie’s keynote. She suggested that it was ‘obvious’ that we had to care – or should be obvious. She said ‘being cared for in a general way helps us to learn’. As human beings, we know that that is true; we certainly see it in our everyday experiences as educators. Maggie also put forward a conceptual model of learning care, which included care relations at a number of levels and which she explains in her book, ‘Learning Care Lessons’. The book details her ethnographic exploration of learning care carried out with adult survivors of institutional abuses in the Irish industrial schools.
Caring for each other as workers in education was a development of the theme which we were careful not to ignore. All too often there is no-one to care for the carers, and for those of us who have worked in different sectors, there is a sense in which this vacuum feels a lot more empty in FE than in other sectors.
Yesterday’s conference was a good example of how good FE teachers are at caring. Sometimes it’s done noisily, when we need to make a point, perhaps about the ways in which education or Further Education and Training in particular is often ignored; but so much of our caring for students and others is through ‘underground’ or ‘corridor’ working. It’s the coffee bought for a colleague who has been working hard with a distressed student; cakes baked for the whole department after the assessments have all been marked; figs and water being offered to those students who are breaking their fast in our evening classes. Or perhaps just a quiet smile, or an email saying ‘thanks’. Teachers are good at all those things, and FE teachers especially so, in my experience.
So I wanted to stay at the conference, because of caring, because of transformation, because of participation and respect.
So my second question has answered itself. Themes of respect, transformation, caring and participation. What a lovely few words to be writing next to each other! And they really do encapsulate the day.
Finally, moving on. It’s important that this kind of energy and work carries on and that we use it to affect policy and practice. We might need to start thinking about developing a toolkit for working with and recording ‘caring’. We need to move government and policymakers away from their reliance on quantitative data and RCTs, so that they can see and understand the value, the depth and the richness of qualitative data, of narratives, of learners’ stories. And we need to work together to share and write up our experiences, our research and our practice, and to empower each other in so doing.
Today I’ve been at the Reimagining FE conference. What a great day – here are some of the tweets from the conference.
I’m fascinated by the ‘Outstanding’ Michaela inspection. You can read it at http://mcsbrent.co.uk/wp-content/uploads/2017/06/Michaela-Community-School-OFSTED-report-final.pdf.
The school is in Brent, a disadvantaged area of North London and has a high proportion of students from ethnic backgrounds.
The school isn’t yet full (I think it has just years 7,8 and 9 at the moment), and when it is will be a small secondary school (that's got to be a good thing in itself), with about 120 pupils in each year group. The fact that it’s not full means that no – or few - external examinations have been sat and hence there is no comparative data for GCSE results. My personal experience of Ofsted has been that if results are good, they focus less on the teaching, and that if teaching is outstanding, then results also have to be good to warrant an outstanding grade. So an ‘Outstanding’ result now may or may not augur well for the future, if an Ofsted ‘Outstanding’ is something to which a school or principal might aspire.
So, apparently at Michaela there is less ‘marking’ by teachers and a lot of self-assessment. That might, or might not be a good thing, depending. And certainly from the school website it looks as if there is a good deal of responsibility put on parents to police, monitor and check homework. There may be some value in this, but it won't work for every child, and that may not be the child's fault. Discipline seems to be strict, with punishments for attending class without a pencil, for lateness and so on. Again, let's hope there are sensible exceptions made. There also appears to be a lot less active, constructivist learning and much more whole-class instruction. While a move away from a prescriptive 'you must do active learning' Ofsted approach is indubitably welcome, if the move is to whole-class direct instruction, I welcome it not. We should be developing critical thinkers, independent learners, not mini-encyclopaedias robotically reproducing what they've been taught.
This combination of teaching activities and support for learning may of course produce 'results' in the short term. And the school does put an emphasis on pastoral work, on caring and so on – for example, they have ‘family’ school lunches where students serve each other and the staff, pass items ‘politely’ and clear up after themselves and each other. I wonder how important that really is? No doubt these are skills that it’s not a bad idea for children to have – what used to be known as ‘domestic’ skills for which I'd have got a Brownie hostess badge when I was a young girl. But in the scheme of life events, is that this important? Perhaps some form of critical pedagogy, teaching children about social justice, and its links to identity, and about concepts of equity and equality, would be of more value long term than learning which side the napkins should be placed when setting the table?
This morning there was a meme going round about how children who had survived the Grenfell fire disaster had been turned away from school by the headteacher. This was allegedly reported by the Daily Mail. It turns out, as far as I can tell, to be fake news and I can't find any trace of the story on the DM or other websites.
So what is that all about? In fact, there are some true stories of a pupil turning up the morning after the fire to sit a GCSE Chemistry exam. (It was a young women named Ines Alves, reported here: https://www.theguardian.com/uk-news/2017/jun/15/grenfell-tower-fire-teenage-survivor-exam
It's interesting that 'being turned away from school for not having uniform despite tragedy' is the kind of story that people would make up - and perhaps even more interesting that it is, in this current neoconservative climate, believable. But of course the (probably fictional) headteacher and local authority were vilified on social media- which may be a measure of the current anti-establishment feeling which has been engendered by the Corbyn election campaign and post - election events (the Prime Minister's supposed 'unfeelingness' in not meeting fire victims, Andrea Leadsom's support of her, and so on). I'm not too sure what to make of all this, but certainly the 'Fake News' issue, which has been made so clear by Trump and his comments on the inauguration day crowd photographs, is one that needs to be held firmly in mind.
A Montessori school in Sussex? In the early 1900s my grandmother trained as a Montessori teacher, so it is interesting to see the idea coming back 100 years on. The concept of alternative schooling for many is embodied in Summerhill school - as well as in various forms of alternative provision which exist for 'naughty' children or those for whom it is deemed that mainstream- or academy provision, (increasingly less mainstream) is not appropriate. I'll watch this development with interest- I like the idea of children, and adults, deciding what to learn based on a 'spark'.
In today's TES Ed Dorrell talks about how a period of calm in education ( and 'no' government' ) might well be better than bad government. Certainly social media reacted very strongly earlier this week to the backstabber Michael Gove's surprise Cabinet appointment to Environment. The feeling was that he had already messed up Education and Justice - and that a move to the environment, when Gove had tried to make sure that climate change was not on the curriculum in schools, was not seen as positive - lots of Twitter mentions of 'Minister in Charge of wheatfields', alluding to The PM's 'naughtiness', garnering retweets. But Justine Greening has on the whole been quiet, and since her reappointment as education secretary, has stayed so. Thank fully.
I am hoping that there will be no re-election in September , which might well be disastrous as the students will not be in their university constituencies at that time, but that October will be when it is called. In the meantime, perhaps we can have some time to rest, take stock assimilate and think forwards before the Autumn term arrives.
Post written Monday 5 June 2017, three days before the general election.
Things are hard in schools at the moment. Things are hard for teachers, and they’re even harder for many children.
Many of the teachers I work with tell me how they spend their own money on supplies for school.
In fact, nearly two-thirds of teachers spend over £120 a year on supplies for school; partly because school budgets don’t always run to ink for printers or coloured paper for projects, and partly because 73% of children in both primary and secondary school are coming to school without the basic equipment they need for lessons (1) . Maybe, this lack of preparedness is a result of the fact that nearly 30% of children in the UK live in poverty.
As well as teachers buying pens, paper and glue sticks, what I am now seeing is teachers buying food for their pupils; teachers are buying fruit and cereal bars to put in ‘help yourself’ boxes on their desks – and the boxes are regularly emptied by hungry pupils. At one school, the staff regularly bring food in so children from disadvantaged families can collect a small ‘bagful’ to take home– because with no income from employment and no benefits, that’s the only way they can afford to eat.
A recent Guardian article (2) tells of other indicators of child poverty that teachers see; surely buying sanitary towels for pupils shouldn’t be necessary? Indeed, in a caring state where we strive for equity and social justice, it wouldn't be necessary. But under our current right-wing government, and with proposed Tory policies predicted to drive up child poverty and make disadvantaged families even worse off over the next three years (3) , the situation is unlikely to improve. We must move, and move fast, towards a socially responsive agenda and a reversal of short-sighted policies to ensure our children aren’t hungry in school, that girls can afford basic sanitary towels so as not to avoid school , and that young people can concentrate on learning, not on their empty bellies.
I was a psychology and social sciences teacher for many years and now I am in the throes of a teaching and research career in HE. I care passionately about education. This blog will show you why and how.