Tag Archives: schools

Schoolboy error

Settle down at the back, there. Today we’re going to learn basic numeracy.
Do pay attention, Sir Michael Wilshaw (Chief Inspector of Schools, head of Ofsted, the agency that inspects schools…) This will be on the test.
On Breakfast TV this morning, you said that UK schools were failing to keep up with the rest of the world, and that one in 5 ten-year-olds were failing to reach the average.
LOL, LOL again.
Nobody on BBC Breakfast challenged this. The discussion continued as if he had said something both meaningful and scary. (And, of course, nobody said – “Surely this slide down the world’s literacy league tables coincides with the past decade’s massive expansion of school inspection activity?”)
OK, I naturally assumed the “average” word was a slip of the tongue. I told quite a few people because I was amazed that the chief inspector of schools didn’t understand the concept of a mean. But, on the BBC website, some more savvy person (maybe someone who’d studied Maths at the age of 11, as Sir Michael clearly hadn’t) had changed the reported words to refer to expected standards. Maybe I’d dreamt it.
But it turns out that Sir Michael had said the same thing on Newsnight the night before.
As the Guardian reported, a flurry of well-earned Internet derision followed the Newsnight speech. Ofsted press office said it was just a “slip of the tongue”.
Impossible that he and his press office didn’t spot any twittered mirth. But, there he was on BBC Breakfast, this morning, with his tongue still slipping wildly and disgorging the same scare story, using the same silly “average” word.
To misquote Oscar Wilde, to misuse one statistical concept may be a misfortune, to misuse two begins to look a lot like innumeracy.
I’ll be charitable and take it that he “really” meant “expected standard” but was more interested in getting in a soundbite than in communicating meaningfully. (In that case, of course, he’s failed basic literacy requirements instead.)
As the Guardian blog showed, Sir Michael isn’t alone in his innumeracy. The Secretary of State for Education is equally challenged by the statistical concept of averages. This is priceless:

Chair: One is: if “good” requires pupil performance to exceed the national average, and if all schools must be good, how is this mathematically possible?
Michael Gove: By getting better all the time.
Chair: So it is possible, is it?
Michael Gove: It is possible to get better all the time.
Chair: Were you better at literacy than numeracy, Secretary of State?
Michael Gove: I cannot remember.

This sort of thing would normally inspire pity. He’s obviously not very bright but, in a fair world, he could probably get useful work that didn’t need academic skills. In the real universe, he’s Secretary of State for Education.
In which role, he’s hellbent on promoting the ludicrous Academies. These obviously make perfect sense if you’re a business person who wants to get your hands on public money that’s earmarked for education but make no sense to anyone else.
The process seems to be –

  1. Ofsted “inspects” a school
  2. They declare it to be “failing” and in need of “special measures”
  3. The school has to choose between becoming an Academy or being closed
  4. An Academy is set up, it gets the money that the local authority would have paid to the school
  5. The school becomes Outstanding in the next inspection

But there’s a hiccup. A few awkward schools are refusing.
Heads are rolling resigning or knuckling under. And now, intransigent (locally elected) school governors are being dismissed and replaced by government appointees – who by an amazing coincidence turn out to be very pro-academy. (Downhills Primary, Nightingale Primary):

“We have therefore decided to appoint an interim executive board to give the school the leadership and expertise it needs to improve.
“Those connected with the school will then be consulted on whether the school should convert into a sponsored academy under the leadership of the Harris Federation.”
The hand-picked interim executive board will be chaired by Les Walton, the chairman of the the Young People’s Learning Agency – the academies’ funding body.
Other members include the head of the Harris Federation, Dr Dan Moyniham, and Dame Sylvia Morris.
Dame Sylvia has just retired as head teacher of St Saviour and St Mary Overy Primary School in Southwark. She was made a dame in the Queen’s New Year’s Honours for services to education, and mentors new head teachers in four London boroughs….
At a parliamentary committee hearing in January, Mr Gove labelled campaigners against the academy plan for Downhills “Trots”, claiming they were politically motivated and linked to the Socialist Workers Party. (from the BBC)

One can only hope that Mr Gove is himself politically motivated. Otherwise, the whole operation looks a lot like straightforward theft.

Security sense

This is quite an astonishing news item.

East Lancashire youngsters see film on terrorism danger
More than 2,000 10 and 11-year-olds will see a short film, which urges them to tell the police, their parents or a teacher if they hear anyone expressing extremist views.
The film has been made by school liaison officers and Eastern Division’s new Preventing Violent Extremism team, based at Blackburn….
The terrorism message is also illustrated with a re-telling of the story of Guy Fawkes, saying that his strong views began forming when he was at school in York. It has been designed to deliver the message of fighting terrorism in accessible way for children. (from the Lancashire Telegraph)

(h/t Bruce Schneier’s blog)

No, really. It’s a real news item. You can check. I didn’t make it up.

It seems that the area around Lancashire is quite fertile territory for anyone trying to get kids to do free police-work. This blog item is also about kids being recruited to provide low-level spying services in their community. A Sefton school designed posters for a Community Information Box initiative. These are displayed in libraries, buses and so on. Sadly, I can’t find an image of the winning poster online but I’ve had my attention drawn to one.

The poster presents a list of things that public-spirited citizens should look out for and drop anonymous notes about in their local Community Information Box. The list is bizarrely inclusive: from swearing and dog-crap through to real crimes like physical attacks and terrorism.

(I hope that the anonymity is designed to protect the kids from life-threatening comebacks if they accidentally inform on some really vicious people. However, this only works if you assume that really vicious people are not just vicious but are also too stupid to make inferences about who reported them, from the content, context and timing of information. And I rather suspect some of them may have those skills. So, I hope that they also have a child witness protection programme in place. )

I really hope that the school students generated the volunteer informer’s checklist, rather than some adult with no sense of perspective. Because, although I am still womanfully resisting a fear of terrorism that is used to manipulate us out of any concern for our civil liberties, I can’t help but be filled with the fear of creeping totalitarianism.

What a wonderful tool for any authoritarian state – compliant children, ready to report any odd behaviour or unorthodox opinions to the authorities out of fear of potential terrorism.

So, what a good job that our democracy is so secure. It’s not as if real extremists – say, people promoting a myth of indigenous ethic Britishness, frinstance – are getting any spurious legitimacy as a result of a British population that has been driven half-mad by its fear of dicey expenses claims, or anything……… Well, that’s OK then isn’t it?

Mathematically Challenged Education Authority

What hope do the children have?

In the UK we suffer a very bad obsession with league tables in which the performance of every public body is graded (on an arbitrary scale) and compared against others – rarely in a like for like but that is another matter.

As you can imagine, schools bear the brunt of this. Parents are understandably determined to get their children the best education possible, often moving across the country to be in the catchment area of their chosen school. Most of this one-upmanship is derived from the school tables, helpfully published on the BBC website.

All the trust has to be placed in what ever body is responsible for collecting these numbers. Are they up to the task?

Idly surfing the web, I came upon this educational report on the BBC. It is the stats for an infants/primary school (ages 3 – 11) in Shrewsbury. All normal. Have a look at the stats and it seems like its a reasonably good school – it performs above the average for its educational authority, which is also above the average nationally.

Then have a look at this:

PERFORMANCE
37 eligible, 18.9% of whom had special educational needs

At first glance it seems normal and slightly low compared to some schools.

Then look at the numbers.

18.9% of 37 is 6.993.

This means that 6.993 students have special educational needs. How is that possible? Is this just a rounding problem? No, because 7 pupils would be 19% in any normal formulation.

Either the organisation who collates the stats is mathematically challenged, or they have massaged the numbers to make it look lower than it is (and are ethically challenged).

Whichever it is, how much faith can you have in this system?

I blame teh skoolz

On the Radio 1 news today there was a snippet (I am not going to look it up but it will be on the BBC website) about some truly stupid youngsters. Apparently, Police in Scotland have become the first in the UK to target people who admit to crimes on social networking sites such as Bebo and Facebook. (*)

Now, for me, I think this is a good idea. If people (mostly “yoofs” according to the news) are stupid enough to commit a crime and then boast about it online they need to be taken out of the gene pool urgently. One of the young lads interviewed had apparently put up pictures of himself in a balaclava carrying a knife. Why he went to these lengths to remain anonymous, then outed himself online is beyond me.

The most frustrating part, and a good example of how taking away the “classical” education has failed children was a young retard complaining about the police scouring social networking sites to find offenders. He actually had the gall to say it was an invasion of his privacy for the police to look over his Bebo page to find out what crimes he has committed. Flabbergasting.

For me, it weakens the real destruction of our privacy when people think things like this are an invasion of privacy. It is like putting a full page advert in a newspaper and then complaining that people reading it are invading your privacy. Idiocy reigns.

* Oddly I cant find this on the real BBC news so I may have dreamed it – but I hope not as I was driving at the time…

Educational Standards

It seems that teaching in UK schools hit the news a bit over the bank holiday weekend (for overseas visitors, I was proven correct this weekend, when I said the May bank holiday is generally the wettest time of the year…).

Nullifidian discusses an article in the Times which reports that the Religious Education Council (REC) is trying to remove a parent’s right to remove their children from a religious education class. This is pretty shocking and as you might imagine the arguments put forward by the REC are riddled with nonsense. It seems they have a “Good Idea” and the best of intentions (and it would do them well to remember the road to hell here…) but, as with most things Religious types get involved with, the practicalities and implementation sucks. When I was at school, RE was 95% Christianity, 4% Judaism and 1% Islam. I don’t recall any other world religion being mentioned, but it was good in teaching me the nonsense and sheer “woo” being spouted by theists. Thank [insert deity of choice] for Science classes…

Also looking at Education, Alun Salt has an excellent discussion about the loss of “Ancient History” as a subject in the UK  (Heather has also mentioned this). It is sad that at the same time the Religious nutters are advocating more and more religion be taught, the basis of a “humanist” society are no longer going to be taught. Will we go to a future where people think the Battle of Thermoplye was a fictional tale? Will we have a society where people think Alexander was actually Irish? This may seem trival, but the lessons (and understanding of society) provided by the classics still underpin the values we live by today. Removing their teaching can only be a step back to the medieval period.

Are Rights ‘Different’?

Again, over the course of the next few weeks I am going to be spending a lot of time listening to the perennial source of annoyance that is the Radio. Today, understandably, the Virginia Tech shooting is pretty much the most dominant news item. This is a terrible event and my heart really does go out to those who have lost loved ones, friends and family in, what appears to be, a senseless act of violence. I am not “touched” by this [*] as much as some people and this blog wont deliberately have a day of silence on 30 April, but I can see why others will.

As could have easily been predicted, an incident like this reinvigorates both sides of the gun control debate. Here in the UK, it is always presented with a touch of amazement that guns are so “easy” to get hold of in the US, and killings like this are trumped up as further reasons to prevent the average person having easy access to firearms. Interestingly on one of the radio news items there was a piece from the US pro-gun lobby going on about how if the students had been allowed to have guns, they could have defended themselves. Ironically the university was, apparently a “gun free zone” which resulted in the law abiding students being unarmed, and the nutcase being armed.

Now, while this is an appealing line of reasoning, I am somewhat uncomfortable with the idea of a “wild west” style shoot out in a university and, for once, this is not the main reason behind this blog post. Following on from the radio debates over gun laws, I am curious as to whether or not some rights are considered more fundamentally important than others.

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The Faust in faith schools

The BBC reported on some research on faith schools this week. LSE researchers supposedly found that faith schools got better results where there was competition for pupils. This isnt exactly surprising, league tables of exam results being so crucial now. Any school that needs to attract pupils has got to show it gets good results – something of a circular process.

This competition thing confirms that a lot of people aren’t sending their kids to “faith schools” because of faith.

It makes me think about the concept of selling your soul. Parents are selling their children’s souls to the highest bidder – the religion that can offer the best GCSE and A level results wins the prize. These must be the cheapest Faustian deals ever recorded. Didn’t the going rate used to be lordship of the earth or eternal life or something of that magnitude?

There were two interesting paragraphs, one encouraging and one depressing.

The research is published as the ATL teachers’ union attacks faith schools for a lack of accountability – and calls for them not to “discriminate” in their admissions process.

Conservative leader David Cameron and Shadow Chancellor George Osborne have recently said they intend to send their children to faith schools – a choice also taken by Prime Minister Tony Blair.

The first paragraph indicates some opposition to the apparent increasingly widespread supportfor religious schools, in our generally pretty godfree society. The second one shows how politicians – who can certainly afford to send their children to the most sought-after secular private schools -feel that it’s a better vote – winner to choose the religious option.

They know that people resent them buying their kids a “better” education. So they don’t want to be seen to send their kids to Eton any more. But, they are not going to risk their precious little Cressidas and Julians in the target-driven qualification factories that all parties are keen to turn state schools into. The faith school thing gets them off the hook, plus it hints at hidden depths of religious belief and morality.

That is, they are painting themselves of people of such deep faith that they won’t risk their children’s moral upbringing in non-religious state or private schools.

They must feel that this will make us trust them more.

It just makes them look even shadier and more hypocritical.

Dawkins links to anti-faith schools e-petition

Well this is two of our favourite blog topics in one, so I couldn’t let it pass.

On Richard Dawkins’ own website, there is a link to an e-petition against faith schools of any kind in the UK.

I know it will get a patronising refusal to pay any attention but I still think it’s worth adding your name to it, if you are a UK resident and you have a problem with paying tax to segregate kids by religion….

Although, it’ s probably fair to warn you. Google your name when the petition’s closed and you’ll probably find it with the topic of the petition and a few names of people who signed before or after you.

If you live in a notably faith-obsessed or evn fundamentalist community, you might find that your local priest or imam starts to take an unhealthy interest in your opinions. OK. It’s not exactly going to be on a par with the sort of comebacks that Kareem experienced in Egypt. But education can become a real battle-ground. “Give me a child before the age of seven”, and so on.

(Dawkins’ own blog seems self-evidently worth looking at, and I’ll probably come back to discussing it soon.)