This is the text of a Guardian article by Sarah Marsh looking at alternatives to GCSE provision that was stimulated by a consideration of the provision being developed at Bedales school.
Here is some of an email that I wrote to the Guardian when they asked me about alternatives to GCSE provision.
But yes, there is certainly a perception amongst some people that iGCSEs are easier and I believe that a significant proportion of (particularly independent) schools offer them as an alternative. I don't know enough about the independent sector to comment in detail, and I have no first hand experience, but I believe it may be the case that independent schools do try to offer extra curricular or enrichment or extension activities to their pupils, designed to develop skills such as problem solving, negotiation, leadership, and thinking skills. There are, of course, a number of reasons why it might be easier for independent schools to offer this kind of curriculum than for schools that are not in the independent sector.
However, it is not just the independents that are doing this - I know of some 'free' schools and academies, as well as state maintained schools, that are trying to develop the curriculum in this way. There is a raging debate about free schools and academies, as you know, and there are all kinds of issues about them which you won't want to put into your article, I am sure. But what I do think is that the best teachers and leaders in education are often critical of the 'banking' model of education and are constantly trying to develop curricula which are about balancing process and product, and which are also concerned about praxis (in Freireian terms, praxis is about informed, committed actions which are concerned with enhancing community and building social capital, and which can shape the world in a dialogic fashion).
The 2017 GCSE changes will have an effect, yes. I couldn't even begin to speculate on what might be happening by then, to be honest. Quite what the general election will bring, who knows, and if Hunt is our next education secretary, then there will be more calls for him to think carefully about the education system. In education, the world is moving so fast that the issues we are considering and thinking about are changing even as they are being worked on.
This is what I said to Sarah Marsh of the Guardian when she asked me about low level disruption in classrooms. The link to the article is here
It's not always the case that a silent classroom, or even a quiet classroom, is a good classroom. Narrating and articulating thoughts and actions can be a valuable part of the learning process for some children, and for many adult learners, too. And of course, what's 'disruptive' by some people's definition isn't disruptive for other people.
If we think about the importance of process and of praxis in educating young people to become valuable citizens, engaging in worthwhile and fulfilling activities, we'd surely expect some chatter and moving about by learners to go with those ideas about the nature of curriculum.
It's sometimes hard, when you are in a classroom, to judge whether and when noise and activity are constraining or hindering others' learning - or even the learning of the individual himself or herself. Sometimes, it's almost impossible to make that judgement. Sometimes (by no means always), low level disruption is an indicator of students not being engaged, perhaps because of the lesson content or mode of delivery. But it can also be an indicator of the time of day, day of the week, or even of the weather. Or of pupils being tired, hungry (sometimes chronically so), or disaffected as a result of the interplay of a myriad complex factors. Or, of them being interested, engaged, and enjoying themselves.
Working as I have done for years with NQTs and in initial teacher education, I would say that 'behaviour management' is one of the hardest things for beginning teachers to 'get right'. And of course, as lifelong learners, we are always developing our knowledge and skills in this area; and we are always trying to ensure that we see each child as an individual, who lives in a social context (family, friends, etc) as well as in a wider political context, where sometimes 'being quiet' is seen as desirable, perhaps because a 'banking' model of education is being promulgated, where children are passive banks for knowledge. If we think that, then we may be less tolerant of chat, moving around and children being actively involved in their learning than if we reject that kind of model of education.
My search for authenticity and for critical space
I am very interested in my feelings as I start to put this story down. I have done a fair amount of reading on narrative inquiry and auto-ethnography. I think I am starting to realise how much this matters, not only at a personal level, but also because I am concerned that my research should matter, too.
I hadn't ever really considered my position as a woman in research. Coming as I did from a liberal middle class home, I was always aware of my privilege as being middle class and white. But I was also taught that being female was a good thing, too. I never really realised for many many years that some women had a rough deal. I spent some of my childhood in a rough overspill area of Manchester. I remember my parents talking about a woman who had been hit by her husband, and they talked about how her previous husband had also battered her. My mum talked about how some women keep on going back to abusive partners and how others choose abusers again and again. That whole concept was a revelation to me, and it was the first time I think I realised that men and women were different in terms of power.
When I went to Manchester to study for my first degree I read psychology. I still think I was lucky that I was brought up as a social scientist; at that time this was a relatively tolerant arena and so gender politics were really an irrelevance to me; for a very self centred point of view I didn't feel that I had lost out because of being a woman, nor that I was misunderstood or that I was discriminated against. Perhaps I was falsely conscious. I don't know..... although looking back now thirty years I see that the undergrads were 80% female and only one of the lecturing staff at the time was female - Elena Lieven who is now a professor. I was also lucky enough to be studying at a time when Erica Burman was a postgrad and I took some of her seminars. She came to talk to my EHU psychology 3rd year group last year about deconstructing developmental psychology. An amazingly inspiring woman and one whom I admired then and still do now. But the whole patriarchal system stuff passed me by. I was concerned about race and about disability, and about the politics of developing countries, but my interest in sociology was really in the field of symbolic interactionism, where Wes Sharrock and John Lee both had a huge impact on my thinking. I loved reading Szasz, Laing, Wittgenstein, Searle and Winch. But again, feminism in no way really impacted on me.
As I write, I find this story I am about to tell really interesting from a feminist point of view. My mum was working in FE as a lecturer in English when I was about ten. She was a fashionable woman and had worn a trouser suit to work. A smart trouser suit, as befitted a young lecturer in the 1970s. She had two or three; striking colours, beautifully tailored and they suited her. Not long after she had started her job at the local FE college she was called in by the principal and told that if she wore trousers again to work she would be sacked. I was only young so I wasn't party to the discussions that she and my dad must have had that night, but she DID wear a trouser suit the next day, and indeed she was sacked. That started a big, big row. The press were involved and sat outside our house for weeks. My father got hate mail accusing him of being a terrible man who could not keep his harlot of a wife under control. In the end my young brother and I were sent away for a few days to our grandparents' so we would be less upset by the furore. Mum gave interviews on TV and to the papers, all the time wearing trousers. In the end, she got her job back, at which point she resigned, and a local head teacher phoned her and offered her a job immediately. That head teacher became a good friend and in many, many ways a guardian angel for my mother for thirty or forty years after the 'trouser suit' events.
There's a research paper here that I'm determined to wrote....
Why teaching is the best job in the world- I got this from one of my ex-teacher trainees yesterday....if I ever needed a reason to do what I do, this was it.
I got this from one of my ex-teacher trainees yesterday....if I ever needed a reason to do what I do, this was it.
Hope you are well.
Just to let you know, today I had an amazing lesson. I love teaching. I am very lucky to have a very enthusiastic group of learners. I am becoming very attached to them all.
This is what I want to share with you.
One of my learners is having a rough time at the moment. At the end of the lesson she waited until everyone had gone to tell me this; she said that she really didn't want to get up out of bed today, however, she thought, I love my Wednesday psychology lesson, Wednesday is my best day, I feel uplifted and I leave the class "buzzing all day".
My learner is a sweetheart but also "true grit". and without stereotyping " you wouldn't mess with her or get on her wrong side lol". I felt so overwhelmed and proud.
Then I remembered, days when I felt like that. However I would say the same in my head, "its janets lesson", and I knew I would be going in because I was going to your class. and I would always feel better when we were all together. I wanted to let you know that I thought of you.
Really hate the paperwork, struggle to keep on top of it if I am honest, but I remember you saying how rewarding teaching is, and wow, I felt that today. Thank you for not only being a teacher but taking the time to listen to my fallen days, I will never forget you.
Your friend who you inspired x
Vicky Duckworth's book on the learning trajectories of adult basic skills learners - very powerful and important.
Let me tell you a story….
Yesterday, I was privileged to be invited to attend a seminar given by my good friend Dr Vicky Duckworth. I have had many fabulous conversations with Vicky over the last few years, and I have always been impressed with her work and thinking. I was flattered and honoured recently to be given a signed copy of her book, which is essentially an adapted version of her thesis. The book- and the seminar- are entitled ‘Learning Trajectories, violence and empowerment amongst Adult basic skills learners’.
My own research is concerned with the lived realities of teachers’ lives, and one of the things that interested me is the integration – or lack of it between personal and professional identity in teachers. I’m also interested in the dual nature of professional identity – or sometimes even the hybrid nature of professional identities. As I've got to know Vicky better, I have been amazed at how she, in common with many other women, juggles a personal and a professional life; in fact she juggles more than one professional life, one as a teacher educator of note and one as an academic, with impressive list of publications, including peer refereed journal articles and books, to her name.
Vicky’s paper, at the prestigious department for educational research at the University of Lancaster, concerned the learning trajectories of adult basic skills learners in Oldham, and uses Bourdieu’s thinking tools to consider issues such as symbolic violence and empowerment in such learners. The research is participatory action research. This is partly because, I guess, of the nature of the topic, but also it reflects something about the Vicky’s ontological and epistemological stance, about her approach to life, her inclusive approach to her students and to the nature of learning. As well, it illustrates Vicky’s belief that if she is asking students to give so much of themselves in relation ot their learning and the participatory research, she has to give a good deal back. Sometimes, this is in terms of the amount of work, preparation, and energy she puts into her teaching, and at other times this message may be more personal self-disclosure about her own learning journey.
Unusually for a formal seminar given at one of the top 10 universities in the country, Dr. Duckworth brought with her and had invited a number of significant people who were important to her. I was one of those people, and perhaps in many ways that is not so surprising, as I am myself working in the field of educational research; I do consider myself to be a friend of Vicky’s, but I might well have attend such a seminar anyway. However, a very close and old friend of Vicky’s, Michelle, who is working in community health, also came to the seminar, as did Vicky’s 10-year-old daughter, Niamh; and Sophie, a young relative of Vicky’s, who took an active and interested part in the seminar butt was also interested in looking round Lancaster University as it was a possibility that she might study there in the future.
As well, two of Vicky’s teacher trainees from her initial teacher education course had made the journey to Lancaster to attend the seminar.
In addition to these people, there were a number of well established and well-known researchers from the University of Lancaster at the seminar, which was videoed and which will be published on University website. So all in all, it was a varied, interested, knowledgeable and supportive audience.
One of the things that is a theme in Vicky’s work, is the idea of education as empowering; and the book as well as all of Vicky’s work, is an impassioned and exceptionally powerful account of the learning journeys which learners in in a marginalised community in a northern mill town undertook, and of the the barriers and struggles which beset them along the way.
I have myself struggled with a lot of the work of Bourdieu, but Vicky uses his thinking tools with facility to analyse and explain the narratives of the basic skills learners with whom she was working, and to put a significant amount of emphasis on the capitals which are held and developed by such learners and which both constrain and enable some of the individuals in their learning journeys through the education system. Vicky’s own journey was something which was also mentioned, and which is significant. Vicky grew up in the same town, in a family where she was one of the first to go to college and university, having had a background where education had not been a priority. She started off as a nurse and midwife, and then became a tutor and program leader delivering literacy in a large FE college in the north of England. She is now a successful teacher educator, author, academic, friend, wife, mother; a multiplicity of roles which she carries out with facility, authenticity and integrity.
The seminar itself was fascinating; talking to Vicky about her work always is, and always makes me think. However, the thing is I can’t get over, is how what Vicky was saying about empowering her adult basic skills learners, and in their developing resistance to some of the agendas and to the constraints of some of the factors which impact on their lives, was also being played out very graphically in microcosm, in front of us.
Vicky’s younger daughter, Niamh, was with this. She is an intelligent young woman; although still at primary school, she has a wisdom which belies her years. What was fascinating was to see that this young woman was completely at home in the rather rarefied environment in which she found herself. Being only 10, of course she was fascinated with a laser pointer. But she also chatted to participants of the seminar in an articulate and friendly fashion. Unlike the stereotypical 10-year-old, she sat and listened to her mother’s presentation (and quite clearly had listened), throughout the initial presentation. And then when the questions were being asked, Niamh raised her hand. The chair, Carolyn Jackson, is Professor of education, with a particular interest in gender and education, asked Niamh to speak. The question which Niamh asked was one which would have done any of the participants for the seminar proud. It concerns labeling.
One of Vicky's points is that Bourdieu’s concept of symbolic violence has limitations in that it does not really engage with the nature of labelling as a symbolic act of violence. Vicky expands and draws on Bourdieu’s notion of symbolic capital to include the work of sociologists such as Howard Becker and Erving Goffman and their work on labeling.
Vicky’s work refers to and analyses the dominant symbolic power of schooling and labeling which had in many ways pathologised the learners with whom she had worked. Niamh’s question was very perceptive. She asked whether there were in fact any learners in her mother’s classes who had not been labelled, and if so what had been happening to them, how had they behaved, and she wanted to know whether the non-labelling was significant. This is an important question, and one which would bear a considerable amount of further analysis. Vicky, the academic as well as the mother, answered this question thoughtfully, courteously and she, as well as the rest of us acknowledged the importance of the imput from this young woman.
As I drove home, there are many things which came to my mind. But the one image that I will always have in my mind, is an almost eidetic image of a young 10-year-old woman, raising her hand in a seminar of distinguished people, to ask a question of her mother, also a significant academic and thinker. If I learned nothing else yesterday, I did see, in very concrete terms, that the cultural capital which was gained by Vicky in her time in education as well as subsequently, interacting with the social and other forms of capital capital, had resulted in her daughter having a significant amount of social capital which gave her the confidence to ask a question , and one which was sensible, in what was in many ways a very intimidating environment; and to be able to hold her own in an environment where many young women of Niamh’s age might has been sitting drawing, playing a game on a phone, or possibly listening to music quietly in the background.
If a clearer demonstration of the fact that capital reproduces, and education is empowering and emancipating, were needed, then I cannot think what it could be. It was intensely emotional and moving to watch Vicky and her daughter interact in what could have been a very intimidating environment for Niamh, and it demonstrated so clearly that Vicky’s own resistance and empowerment had resulted in Niamh having such capitals.
We know that there is a distinctive cultural pattern of social reproduction in relation to learners’ choices in many cases, and the example of Vicky and Niamh, show that in fact Vicky’s own resistance and learning journey resulted in her developing a relationship with her daughter where her daughter was empowered to ask a relevant, articulate, and interesting question about labeling in a seminar.
I wish I could explain in a more articulate way how powerful and moving that was to see, and what a wonderful illustration Vicky and her family and support network are of her own thesis, and how she and her relationships with her family and her friends exemplify the empowering nature of education and of caring capital. That picture will stay with me forever.
Thank you, Vicky and Niamh.
Details of Vicky's book can be found here .
Dr. Vicky Duckworth
This is an interesting TES article, which I find quite comforting.
'Ofsted’s evidence is based on a flawed inspection framework unduly reliant on questionable data'0
Started by: TES_opinion 11-12-2013 • 14:30
Colin Richards, a former HMI and a primary sector specialist adviser to Ofsted, writes:
I’d like to believe many of the points made in "The battle against mediocrity" – the stunningly dismissive title of Sir Michael Wilshaw’s commentary to his Annual Report.
I’d like to believe that “the landscape has improved”, that “nearly eight in ten schools in England are good or better”, that “the best academies and multi-academy trusts use their new freedoms well, that a good lesson is one where children “make progress” and that “the quality of leadership is improving”. I’d like to, I want to, but can I be sure?
I agree with his closing remark that “I want educational opportunities open to the most fortunate children to be available to all”. Who wouldn't, except perhaps for those many of us dubbed by the chief inspector “mediocre” in our practice and poverty-stricken in our expectations?
The validity of Sir Michael's comments should derive not from the prestige of his office, nor from his previous experience as head of an apparently successful academy, but from the quality of the evidence on which they are based. That evidence is based on a flawed inspection framework, which is unduly reliant on questionable performance data, which ignores large parts of the curriculum, which de-emphasises the non-measurable, which unrealistically expects its users to be able to judge progress in twenty-minute slots and which relies on schools not so much teaching-to-the-test as teaching-to-the inspection.
With some justice, the chief inspector claims that an educational lottery turns children into “lucky” or “unlucky” pupils depending on where they go to school. It has been so, it remains so and to a lesser extent it will inevitably remain so, despite his messianic claims. Neither teachers nor inspectors can compensate for society, though they must and should try.
But there is also an inspection lottery; this turns teachers into “lucky” or “unlucky” recipients of inspection depending on the quality of the team visiting their school. Inspectors are fallible human beings who too often are tempted in the heat of an inspection to equate “performance” with “standards” and “data” with “quality”. They too vary in quality, in much the same way as the schools that they inspect.
It is surprising but gratifying that at long last the chief inspector is at least making positive comments about English schools. It is a pity that this is marred by his arrogant assumption that Ofsted in general (and he in particular?) are largely responsible for the improvement.
But questions do need to be raised. Part of his case is that, of the schools inspected in the last twelve months, a significant proportion have improved their rating compared with their last inspection. However, such a comparison is invalid, since the inspection criteria have been changed, as have the membership of the inspection teams visiting any particular school. Like is not being compared (positively in this case) with like.
However, perhaps it is encouraging that 80 per cent of schools are now judged good or outstanding? But that raises other issues. Inspectors directly employed by Ofsted (HMIs) are increasingly not as involved in the direct inspection of schools as once they were; that is being left much more to additional inspectors (often employed by a contractor) who may be less rigorous in their judgements; they certainly receive less rigorous training. Schools are ever-more aware of the high stakes involved in inspection and are becoming increasingly expert in "gaming" the process. Then there is the political imperative on Ofsted to paint a much more positive picture of school performance with an election not far off and with Ofsted's and Sir Michael's own future to be determined.
In conclusion, Sir Michael makes much of “mediocrity”. Can he be quite so confident that the battle he proudly claims to be winning against mediocrity is being successfully fought within his own organisation, staffed as it is by those inevitably tainted by association with the putative “mediocre”, pre-Wilshaw regime?
In 2000 those of us teaching A levels found ourselves in the unenviable position of reaching September and being faced with a number of students to reach, but with having no specification to teach, and few clues as to what might be on the new spec or how it would be assessed. There was a lot of gossip, but not much else. At the time as well as teaching I was working for one of the major examination boards and even they had no idea what was going on. I just hope this latest review does not turn into such a fiasco.
Gove keeps on trying to get rid of GCSEs. The E-Bacc has come (well, sort of) and gone.... so what next...ah, the I-GCSE. An Apple sponsored product, one wonders?
It looks as if teachers themselves haven't been - and aren't to be consulted and changing the name of the exam (which has to be done as in Wales they are keeping GCSEs) and marking the exam with grades 1-8 instead of giving UMS marks or grades A* to F is hardly innovative.
Getting rid of coursework from all subject except science really does not tak account of the differeing learning styles of learners. Nor does it allow for in depth and developmental study of a topic over time.
If there is to be a radical overhaul, surely it should be guided by evidence, and informed by teachers' experiences and by modern educational theory?
It'll be interesting to see what happens to this proposal.
I love this quote, and really identify with the sentiment....sometimes it feels as if we are living in a culture of 'if it moves, measure it, and if it doesn't move, measure it in case it moves later'. And then teachers are judged on the most inappropriate and bizarre criteria. The new CIF and the way that the new policy has been enacted by inspectors (particularly, I suspect, additional inspectors) has not helped in this regard.
I was talking to an eminent colleague yesterday who said that they had been in discussions with one of the Tory education team, and that all evidence, academic or expert opinion and so on was ignored in favour of biased bigotry, along the lines of 'well it never did me any harm'. Tosh.
End of rant.
On a lighter note, I have had two papers accepted for presentation at BERA this September, so if you are going to be there, please come and chuck tomatoes. It's in Brighton, at the University of Sussex! Very excited and happy. I've also been contacted by a researcher from Estonia who is doing similar work to my own and we have been corresponding. Tallinn is such a wonderful place, some collaboration would be great! Good day!
On Friday I submitted two abstracts for consideration for presentation at the BERA (British Educational Research Association) conference in Sussex in September. One is based on a pilot case study i have just done on identity in early career teachers. The other is a Marxist Feminist critique, using an epistolary methodology, of the new managerialism in education, and my co-author, Dr Vicky Duckworth and I, are really proud of it. Fingers crossed that one or both of these gets accepted! April 5th is when we will find out.
Today the government has announced further cuts in Whitehall spending so they can fund a school building programme. When this crazy coalition came to power the BUilding Schools for the Future programme, which was hardly perfect but which was in full swing, was decimated. Millions of pounds were wasted as projects that were imminent were axed and other necessary work that was in the planning stages was stopped. And now,only a few years on, with the academy programme muddying the waters between the LA and central government control, more money is needed for school buildings. In the intervening years many pupils have been taught in substandard accommodation. Some have tried to do their learning in corridors, quite literally.
When I started my first job in management I was told to 'keep your eyes and ears open and mouth firmly shut' for some months- ideally the first year. It is a shame that this government's mouth was similarly silenced and its hands tied....if not forever (ideally) then at least for a year to stop these knee jerk 'decisions' which soon need reversing and which come at a cost- taxpayers' money and students' educational opportunities.
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.