Sunday, March 29, 2009
Really this is no big idea. It solves none of the actual problems that schools currently face. All it is is a smartened-up Ofsted report, with the Achievement and Attainment Tables and the school prospectuses thrown in for good measure. Somehow it's meant to stream-line the whole process, whilst at the same time adding more categories for assessment and not even doing away with the Ofsted report or presumably for a school prospectus either. Ho hum. So, yeah, on the face of it, this plan only scrapes a D on the cutting-the-red-tape criteria.
And the plan is bad to useless on every other account too. It is nigh impossible when you really come to think about it, to work out the point of this whole exercise. Who, for example, is it really meant to serve?
According to the stated aims, it is meant to make it easier for parents to understand how well the school is doing. Let's say, for the sake of argument, that it really did do just that, what would be the exact purpose of that then? Most parents don't get a huge amount of choice about where to send their children to school and if their school is doing badly overall, are they going to be able to stride in of a Monday morning and demand that it be set right and then seriously expect to see a huge change in the situation?
But more importantly, this type of assessment card won't actually make it any easier for a parent to tell whether their child is receiving an appropriate education. Look at the pretty pink bar graph of ridiculously broad categories on page 5. Would that really tell you whether your child had been listening during maths class this morning. Oh COME ON, and yet let's not forget, parents are responsible for ensuring that their child is in receipt of a suitable education.
Parents could most likely get a slightly better idea of whether a school would suit their child just by walking round the school with the child or get a better grasp on whether Johnny had been listening by trying to have a conversation about the maths lesson over tea, though heaven knows this is still such an appalling way of assessing any actual theory growth in the mind of another.
By way of demonstrating the spurious nature of trying to work out beforehand what will engage a learner, I could give the example of our experience of going to two recent lectures with my son. I feel I know my son very, very well and often think I sense that we have similar learning styles.
Not long ago, we visited an engineering museum where we received a lecture from a very softly spoken, elderly engineer with a pleasantly obsessive bent that would earned him the full aspergers' diagnosis had he been schooled in this day and age and no props other than a few largish lumps of corroded metal dotted with a few hinges and some rusted dials. My son and all four of his close companions listened intently for two solid, buttock-squishing hours, while I fidgeted, tried to attend, got quite desperate and started doing an 18 times table in my head just for the fun of it.
More recently, we attended a workshop that was funded by a space technology company. The lecture, which was relatively short and sharp, was glorious to look at. Every possible mod-con produced a visual feast of sheer beauty and the speaker had a great store of engaging one-liners. A lot of the parents were enthralled. The boys however contrived in this relatively short space of time, to fidget, bounce about, pass notes, whisper sweet nothings, engage in a momentary tussle over something and then slump in increasingly unlikely angles in their chairs.
I have to say that I was all the more surprised that DS remembered what seemed like every word of this second lecture, despite giving absolutely EVERY single appearance of not having listened to a word of it.
Heck what do I KNOW? When that HE inspector comes knocking at my door, would I really be able to give him an honest answer about what happens in the head of my child? And yet I could be jailed you know, jailed for failing to ensure that my child is in receipt of a suitable education. Ho hum.
Which brings us back to the point here. The law (Section 7) and this School Report stuff is just so much epistemic hogwash. I can neither force my child to learn, nor can I reliably tell whether he has learned it. Heck the learner himself doesn't reliably know what is going on in his own head. I claimed the other day to have failed to have understood almost all the Latin I was ever supposed to have learned, and I honestly believe that is mostly true, but I was pleased when I didn't do badly last night (I've just checked) with the Latin bits in Auden's New Year Letter, which I have to say, surprises me enormously! (Not so incidentally perhaps, I should report that this poem floored me with it's allure and I really wasn't expecting that either. Anyone feeling dull of spirit, go read Auden and then throw in a bit of Keats for good measure.)
And if you can't reliably gauge what is going on in the head of the learner, nothing else about this Report Card makes sense. Just as it won't help parents, it won't help teachers, the school governors, the School Improvement Partner, or anyone else with a genuine interest in the growth of knowledge. It might help the government look as if it is doing something about education, it might work to pull the wool over the eyes of the odd tax-payer here and there, but where it really matters, ie: in the head of the child, it will almost certainly not make a blind bit of difference.
And before we let the matter of faulty epistemology drop, we should also note that even when there is a growth of knowledge, are we quite certain that we always want knowledge to grow in predictable, measurable ways? Reading Auden's Lullaby, last night, I felt I had an intuitive, personal relationship to that poem that meant so much to me. I don't know quite why but I then googled the poem and read a university lecturer's critique of it. I veered from feeling truly sorry for the man, to furious, to quite desperate that my private relationship to the poem had been so violated. Had it been necessary, I hope I would not have sacrificed what felt like my genuine understanding of this poem to get a good grade, for surely this would have been to lose something by way of valuable knowledge.
Human knowledge is not predictable, not measurable, works by fits and starts, by fitting ideas to problems, by discarding useless theories, by repeated failure, by provisional success. You can't pour it predictably into the head of another. You cannot force it in either. The learner must always develop the theories himself. We shouldn't be putting so much emphasis on trying to measure it. Instead, education should be about provision and enrichment, about failing as much as succeeding, about recognising the epistemological uselessness of attempts at compulsion, about removing compulsion and allowing for the birth of personal efficacy.
Thursday, March 26, 2009
Anyhow, it set me thinking: it really needn't be a whole other report, but if you insist!
Now that the government is obsessed with the question of the shape of 21st education, wouldn't it be a good time to suggest, deferential cough from the back row, "Hey sirs, we think we know the answer! We've been working on something for the last few decades. It works and we believe there are useful lessons to be drawn from home education, particularly the autonomous home education model."
So how could we apply that model to cater for all those children whose parents can't make a commitment to educate them personally?
Howse about this then:
You take your local school, gut it and start over.
You get the community involved in how to design a community learning centre.
You find out what people of all ages want to learn.
You provide the resources for them to do this which will probably include a wireless learning centre with video-conferencing, PCs and laptops, an art centre, a science lab, a photography room, a multiplex cinema showing anything from historical documentaries to Japanese film noir to Futurama, a theatre, a restaurant and a kitchen, a wall for murals, a field for organic and a field for GM, a garden, a zoo, a waterworks plant, a space to build sculptures, a space lab, a gym, a swimming pool, a trampoline and a football pitch.
You respond to project-based needs, sorting out apprenticeships and other forms of job training.
Then you let your learners loose with enough sensible people thrown in to offer tentative theories about how to proceed. Learners can come and go as they please. The distinction between those who learn in school and those who learn otherwise disappears. Education is no longer compulsory. You offer people genuinely attractive opportunities, and my bet is they will take them up.
You explain how a learner's skills can be applied to real world problems and again, my bet is you will find they take up the challenge.
You forget about broad and balanced education, though of course the learner may manage this if they so choose. Study after study is showing that we only get really good at something if we put in the hours of *focused* study. According to Gladwell in Outliers, you have to put in 10, 000 hours.
You stop fretting about exam results and instead let learners progress to doing something useful when it became patently clear that they had achieved a functional competence in a certain field. You don't shoe-horn learning into standards or set targets for achievements, as you accept that this is poor epistemology: you can never reliably assess learning, and you can't reliably predict where it will end up, and obviously, you don't want to constrain your learners to predictable ends since we need new creative solutions.
As someone familiar with thinking out the box once said: "We can't solve problems using the same kind of thinking we used to create them."
These community centres can hook up with one another to work on collaborative projects anywhere in the world. They stop competing with each other and instead can set out to solve big global problems.
Yep that's about right and that's my suggestion.
The answer to question 43 also seems to be revealing. It appears to refer to the Elective Home Education Guidelines (which have been in place since Nov 2007) as a draft document. If there is anything that home educators would call for as a result of this review, it is that these guidelines be taken seriously by the LAs.
= = = = = = = = =
Q1 Name of LA
Educational Welfare team
Q6 List all teams / professionals involved in supporting home educating families
Child and Family Mental Health team
Youth Offending team
Special Needs team
Vulnerable Children's Service
Q7 List all teams / professionals involved in monitoring home educating families
Educational Welfare Team
Q8 Describe how you ensure collaboration and communication between these teams / individuals
The Educational Welfare team and Learning Services have established roles and procedures for communication between these teams
Q9 How many children are currently home educated in your local authority of primary age (Registered with LA)
Q10 How many children are currently home educated in your local authority of primary age (Non-registered with LA)
Q11 How many children are currently home educated in your local authority of secondary age (Registered with LA)
Q12 How many children are currently home educated in your local authority of secondary age (Non-registered with LA)
Q13 Total (Registered with LA)
Q14 Total (Non-registered with LA)
Q15 Are these figures accurate or based on estimates?
Q16 If accurate, where do you get this data from?
Learning Services and educational Welfare team databases
Q17 If accurate, how do you know the data is accurate?
The database is updated termly and paper copies are kept with reports of visits.
Q18 If estimated, what data have you used to arrive at this figure? (List all sources)
Q19 How confident is the local authority in the accuracy of this data?
Not very confident
Not at all confident
Q20 How often does the local authority get updated data? (List frequency for each source separately)
The educational welfare team refer pupils when necessary and schools are required to notify the EWT within two days of receiving a deregistration letter from parents.
Q21 What proportion (as a percentage) of your home educated population is statemented for SEN? (please state whether accurate or estimate)
Q22 What proportion (as a percentage) of your home educated population is non-statemented for SEN (please state whether accurate or estimate)
Q23 What proportion (as a percentage) of your home educated population is from Gypsy, Roma and Traveller heritage (please state whether accurate or estimate)
Q24 What proportion (as a percentage) of your home educated population is made up of other Black and Minority Ethnic (BME) groups
Q25 Please list which BME groups.
Q26 Do you believe the local authority knows about all the home educated children in your area?
Yes, we are confident we know about all home educated children in the area
We think we know about the vast majority of home educated children in the area
We probably do not know about a fair number of home educated children in the area
We probably do not know about a significant proportion of home educated children in the area
Q27 Do you think that you will be better able to track children in your area in the near future? e.g. planned changes to your own systems, ContactPoint, other system improvements?
Q28 Please use this space to add detail to the answer you have just given
Many home educating families do not enter the school system and are not obliged to inform the LA but Contact Point will identify those with no place of education.
Q29 How does the local authority ensure families know about their rights and responsibilities in relation to home education? (List all approaches used)
Web site information (To be reviewed)
Initial visit from the Educational Welfare team who supply information on EHE
Q30 What support does your local authority provide to home educating families? (List all forms of support offered)
Lists of local and national organisations for EHE
Lists of suggestions for enhancing curriculum provision
Provision of a room facility for half a day a week
Annual review for statemented children
Youth and community service support
Q31 How does the local authority let families know about the services provided to support them in home educating their children? (List all approaches used)
Initial visit by EWT
Annual visit by Learning Services representative (More frequent if required)
Q32 Following the initial assessment visit, are further monitoring visits made to a home educated child?
Q33 If yes, how often, on average, are these carried out?
More than twice a year
Twice a year
Once a year
Less than once a year
Q34 Please use this space to add detail to the answer you have just given
Visits would be more frequent if there was an identified need.
Q35 On average, how often is the child seen when a visit is made?
Always, at each visit
Usually, but not always
Depends on the child / circumstances
Q36 Please use this space to add detail to the answer you have just given
Sometimes the child is severely autistic and meeting them is not appropriate
Sometimes the child is emotionally or mentally scarred and has issues with authority so it may be necessary to meet parents away from the home.
Q37 If the child is seen, where is s/he usually seen?
In the home
At the home, but do not go inside
Depends on the child / circumstances
Q38 Please use this space to add detail to the answer you have just given
Q39 If you are not permitted access to a child, is any further action taken?
Q40 If yes, what further steps are taken?
EWT team may be informed if this is deemed appropriate.
Q41 How is the suitability of the education provided to the child assessed? (Please describe
Through home visits and by using the authority's checklist and report pro-forma.
Q42 Is the local authority clear about what the definition of a 'suitable education' is?
Q43 Please use this space to add detail to the answer you have just given
As defined in the draft guidelines for LAs paragraph 3.15
Q44 Does the local authority have systems in place to track the educational progress of home educated children?
Q45 Please use this space to add further detail to the answer you have just given
The LA monitors the provision but does not at present have any system for the assessment of pupils except for those on statements
Q46 Of the home educated children in your area of whom you have knowledge, what proportion (as a percentage) in your estimation is receiving a suitable, full time (20hrs a week) education? (Please describe)
Q47 Does the local authority take any further steps if a home educated child's education was found to be unsuitable or not full time?
Q48 Please use this space to add further detail to the answer you have just given
Recommendations are made to parents to improve and develop provision but if they do not respond the case is referred back to EWT
Q49 Does the local authority face any challenges in assessing whether home educated children receive a suitable education?
Q50 If you answered yes to Q49, please describe the challenges and what you think could be done to overcome these
If parents ignore communications or do not allow visits and fail to provide detail of educational provision.
Q51 Thinking about your local area, in the last five years, how many cases have you come across that use the premise of home education as a 'cover' for child abuse, forced marriage or other aspects of child neglect?
Q52 Please use this space to add detail to the answer you have just given. Please include the number of Serious Case Reviews you know about that have a home education element.
Q53 Do you think the current system for safeguarding children who are educated at home is adequate?
Q54 Please use this space to add detail to the answer you have just given
TThe children who are not known to the LA because they have never attended school are not monitored.
Q55 Do you think that home educated children in your local authority are able to achieve the five Every Child Matters outcomes? Please say why you think that for each of the five outcomes
Be healthy - Yes -The home visits by Learning Services
Stay safe - Yes -The home visits by Learning Services
Enjoy and achieve - Yes -The home visits by Learning Services, links to Youth Service and monitoring of GCSE outcomes and tracking of NEETs.
Make a positive contribution - Yes -The home visits by Learning Services and monitoring of GCSE outcomes and tracking of NEETs.
Achieve economic well-being - Yes -The home visits by Learning Services and monitoring of GCSE outcomes and tracking of NEETs.
Q56 Do you think there should be any changes made to the current system for supporting home educating families?
Q57 Please use this space to add detail to the answer you have just given
Development of the LA website and the provision a more detailed parental guidance policy.
Q58 Do you think there should be any changes made to the current system for monitoring home educating families and ensuring that home educated children are able to achieve the five outcomes?
Q59 Please use this space to add detail to the answer you have just given
A review of policies and procedures is being undertaken to ensure appropriate provision and to more closely monitor the progress of individuals
Q60 Has the Director of Children's Services and the Lead Member for Children and Young People seen and agreed with the answers you have given above?