Education Bill

Memorandum submitted by Professor Lori Beckett (E 18)

1. I welcome the opportunity to put suggestions to the Public Bill Committee in order to improve the Education Bill, but first may I introduce myself and my work.

2. I was recruited from Australia to work at Leeds Metropolitan University in 2005 as a Professor of Teacher Education and to establish a school-university partnership in a network of disadvantaged schools. I brought considerable experience working as an academic partner in schools who had been party to the Disadvantaged Schools Program (DSP) in New South Wales. My commitment is to support teachers’ professional learning about disadvantaged pupils, engage joint intellectual work, and develop action plans that are locally sensitive and contextually explicit.

3. In the last 5+ years in Leeds I have collaboratively established a number of school-university partnerships, which are being scaled up as the ‘Leading Learning’ project with the support of Leeds City Council to buttress a city-wide professional learning community keen to build knowledge about working in challenging settings and developing considered responses.

4. Launched on 30 March, 2011, this project sits well with the Cameron-Clegg Coalition Government’s educational reform package with respect to high standards and closing the gap between rich and poor and the aim to help for disadvantaged pupils. Better qualified teachers have been identified as one facet of reform. The research evidence suggests that apart from family background it is good teachers who make the difference to improving student outcomes.

5. This is precisely the focus of our ‘Leading Learning’ school improvement project. We are guided by a practical question worth mentioning: how can we support good teaching in order to narrow the gap in achievement?

6. I am currently project Director and academic partner to two National Challenge high schools and serve on their Governing Bodies, which enables me to provide advice on the intellectual work required in schools to ‘close the gap’. In one school this includes liaison with the Co-Operative Group of Businesses as an Academy Sponsor.

7. The DfE invited me and my teacher partners to the ‘Research active schools workshop’ in London on 21 March, 2011, and requested a visit to Leeds before Easter, 2011, in order to see research activity in our partner schools. This follows the commissioned work I did for the DCSF in 2008-09 on the gender aspects of the attainment gap, and my attendance at the UK’s four-nation Strategic Framework for Research in Education (SFRE), which articulated approaches to evidence-informed policy and practice. In my capacity as Convener of the British Educational Research Association (BERA) Practitioner Research SIG, I was twice invited to participate in and contribute to the deliberations.

8. I am well qualified to provide advice in the form of constructive feedback to the Public Bill Committee because, as the Secretary of State The Rt Hon. Michael Gove outlined in the Second Reading on the Bill, I too want to see the education system reformed to take account of the challenges facing England: the current economic crisis, the scandal of declining social mobility, and educational decline relative to competitor nations (Hansard 8 Feb 2011: Column 164).

9. This tripartite focus is an intelligent construction of the Coalition’s educational reform, straddling both conservative and progressive agendas. Given the overarching vision, my concern is with what is spearheading the reforms and how these are being prioritized and executed.

10. Many of the reforms are welcome, especially when they focus attention on the country’s future and lessons from other systems, notably concern for children from poorer families (Cameron & Clegg’s Foreword to 2010 Schools White Paper), and when they address the achievement gap between rich and poor and the injustice of deprivation (Gove’s Foreword to 2010 Schools White Paper).

11. There remain some tensions and contradictions in the major statements such as the 2010 Schools White Paper, the Bill, and the Secretary of State’s announcement on 21 January, 2011, of a National Curriculum review.

12. The predominant emphasis is on educational achievement as measured by international test comparisons with competitor nations, which shows the influence of what has become known as the globalised policy field on the Coalition’s policies. This demands careful consideration and analyses of globalisation, especially as it plays out in the domestic sphere both nationally and locally.

13. The Secretary of State’s mention of a well-educated, capable and highly skilled work force (Hansard 8 Feb 2011: Column 164) and economic success and a response to the economic crisis (Hansard 8 Feb 2011: Column 165) dovetails with globalisation and its core economic activities but this must not neglect the other functions of an education system: it must simultaneously attend to global and national/local agendas, mediate what gets played out in real schools in real communities with real families, and shape democratic future possibilities. The preoccupation with international competition risks forfeiting the national/local agendas, forgoing the interests of English society, and yielding on democratic possibilities.

14. The Secretary of State mentions generating long-term economic growth for prosperity and social justice but with a caveat that it is appropriate to a liberal democracy (Hansard 8 Feb 2011: Column 164). Again, these aims dovetail with globalization to the extent that the terms of their realization are governed by the scale of social and economic organization that is impacting on the ways England can operate as a liberal democracy and promote its version of social justice.

15. The Secretary of State makes much of the individual, providing every child with chances and opportunities and an education for liberation from constraints so young people are enabled to choose a fulfilling job, and shape society (Gove’s Foreword to 2010 Schools White Paper). There are conditions to fulfilling this promise to the individual: it must take into account the global and transnational influences that impact on what is possible for children and young people in England; the Coalition should try and ameliorate any fall-out from a multi-national agenda with sometimes devastating consequences for individuals like youth and/or graduate unemployment and attendant poverty etc; and the Coalition needs to restore the democratic ethic of self-governance for England in the local and national interest, and harness and promote the democratic energies of young people and staff working in the system.

16. Social justice in the form of social mobility for disadvantaged pupils is seemingly inspired by William Ernest Henley ’s (1849–1903) poem Invictus , where the lines ‘I am the captain of my soul, I am the master of my fate’ are discernable in the Secretary of State’s directions for educational reform (Gove’s Foreword to 2010 Schools White Paper).

17. Care needs to be taken so that all hopes are not pinned on promoting individual aspiration because, given global and transnational influences, social mobility requires robust social and educational policies.

18. Likewise the Secretary of State’s call for ‘urgent, focused, radical action’ in reply to injustice and deprivation (Gove’s Foreword to 2010 Schools White Paper) could stall in Part 2 of Bill with Discipline as one of the lead arguments for educational reform, which signifies the mainstay of the educational reform project.

19. An alternative approach would be to build England’s collective capacity to address the achievement gap, hosting informed professional conversations about pupils from disadvantaged backgrounds, and jointly developing collaborative whole-school-focused interventions. This requires more democratic ways of working in education, and schools.

20. In our ‘Leading Learning’ project we are jointly developing a considered response to the complexities of work serving school-communities with deep needs: white British working- and under-class families, many with experiences of intergenerational unemployment, and multi-ethnic and multi-lingual families whether British born or immigrants, refugees, and asylum seekers who have experienced trauma and dislocation. These are the preoccupations confronting challenging schools: social and cultural diversity marked by disadvantage, poverty, deprivation, social inequities and social problems that very often result in reluctant if not resistant learners.

21. Addressing inequality and ‘closing the gap’ receives mention in all the major statements but the singular focus is on poor performance, attainment, and human capital development. This constrains the Coalition’s joint education policy agenda, and over-privileges the conservative concern with national economic performance. This is at the expense of a more progressive agenda concerned with addressing social inequalities like poverty and its impact on disadvantaged pupils’ schooling, the unequal social arrangements for such pupils in so-called underperforming schools, and the perpetuation of these social inequalities.

22. These ‘contrasting logics’ can be worked out at the national/local levels. In the ‘Leading Learning’ project we demonstrate this as we create opportunities to work together, find the common ground, conjoin practice and research intelligence. This shows a commitment to the traditions of English democracy but with due consideration to contemporary conditions of globalization.

23. In our Leeds project we strive to ensure our own practices of democracy are not just passive but substantive and involve local school communities in discussions about productive educational work in this new globalised world and the sort of city/society we want to build, locally and globally. This requires thinking about what democracy is in English education and what it might become.

24. Much is made of ‘The Importance of Teaching’, teaching standards, teacher quality and quality teaching (Cameron and Clegg’s Foreword to 2010 Schools White Paper), and quite rightly provokes consideration of teacher education both pre-service and in-service, which relates directly to the Bill Part 3 14 The Abolition of the Training and Development Agency. This is a risky move, necessitating depth analyses of the national interest in relation to neo-liberal globalization, further de-regulation, privatization, and the Americanization of English education.

25. The TDA is a necessary professional body that serves the teaching workforce, in spite of its shortcomings apropos previous Governments’ insistence the TDA tightly tie Initial Teacher Education and Continuing Professional Development to Professional Teaching Standards and prescribed National Curriculum. This effectively stifled the profession’s capacity for intellectual activity, and a common complaint was that it did not always prepare student teachers for work in challenging schools.

26. Rather than abolition of the TDA, such a body could provide resources to mentor and support teachers’ professional learning and development, provide guidance for doing school-based research, develop English initiatives on poverty and education, and encourage/monitor this as a national initiative: there are no short cuts to ‘closing the gap’, only the need for focussed research efforts in ITE and CPD that requires adequate resourcing from the centre and local City Councils.

27. In our ‘Leading Learning’ project, we request the families of schools to nominate a small group of teachers to join other participating teachers and once per half term attend the series of public seminars geared to knowledge-building in the first year, teachers’ action inquiries in the second year, and school improvement in the third year.

28. Additionally teachers get an opportunity once per half term to work with academic partners to jointly build local knowledge and identify those areas of the school that need improvement. Clusters of teachers across the families of schools and/or the city work with a designated academic partner on their action inquiry projects under umbrella headings - previously identified by teachers across Leeds - such as curriculum, pedagogies, white British under-achievement, BME under-achievement, pupil health and well-being, and critical interpretations of data - to harness school-specific findings and provide directions on contextualised school improvement.

29. The Secretary of State expresses considerable concern about OECD data (Hansard 8 Feb 2011: Column 167) and the Bill Part 4 lists International comparison surveys, with a requirement for schools to participate, which reverberates with his intention to reform the English education system to generate economic growth and compete effectively (Hansard 8 Feb 2011 column 167) and to institute the sorts of reforms seen across the developed world (Hansard 8 Feb 2011 column 168). This shows more evidence of the influence of international and supranational forces on English policy decisions, and some steering beyond England from the globalised policy field.

30. The question is whether or not such reforms benefit England? Successive Tory and New Labour Governments reformed the English education system in like-ways over decades, so that now it resembles shared global organizational forms and processes. Witness the education/school markets, devolution and de-regulation, governance and management, performance, testing and corporate interests in schools. Is this the best way - or the only way - to organize the system?

31. The Coalition needs to be mindful of the effects of these global pressures and globalised education policies because they do not always work in England’s favour, nor do they honour English traditions and ways of organizing schooling and its support networks.

32. This is most evident in my work in the university classroom, a concern that is shared with many of my compatriots. With experiences in different education systems abroad, we agree that there is a problem with students coming into higher education in England. They are predominantly passive learners, so used to ‘teaching to the test’. They show some reluctance if not resistance to the intellectual work required for participation in higher education, employment and training, which comes from teaching that favours memory work for students in order to pass tests.

33. The aspiration, expressed by the Secretary of State, to educate every child to a high level (Hansard 8 Feb 2011: Column 167) is threatened by the over-emphasis in England, over a long period of time, on educational standards coupled with performance, testing, attainment, measurement, and the punitive approaches to school performance. One result is a proliferation of what is called ‘performance pedagogies’, which apparently has not delivered the desired results if international data is anything to go by!

34. In turn ‘performance pedagogies’ provoke much resistance among disadvantaged pupils, especially those who do not reap benefits and rewards. This adds to England’s concerns about so-called under-performing schools, which appear too tightly bound to external pressures, targets, inspections, league tables, and threats of closure and/or sponsorship, which tends to prompt crisis management as their modus operandi. All of this is at the expense of time for teachers to consider more productive educational work.

35. The Secretary of State’s identification of the related challenge to remove bureaucracy (Hansard 8 Feb 2011: Column 173) suggests the dismantling of the education system via the abolition of the quangos to encourage private provision and stimulate economic recovery. This is worrying. As for the TDA, the Bill Part 3 The Abolition of the General Teaching Council for England is risky. What we need in all schools, and particularly those serving disadvantaged pupils, is a school workforce with more and better qualified teachers.

36. While there is merit in the introduction to ‘Teaching and Leadership’ in the 2010 Schools White Paper, I hesitate with the proposals for an Americanized model of teacher education and training without coordinated national/local bureaucratic support because in my experience this is so necessary to improving academic and social outcomes from schooling.

37. The Secretary of State’s criticisms of the QCDA (Hansard 8 Feb 2011: Column 174) is surprising and the Bill Part 4 23. ‘Abolition of the QCDA’ is another risk, especially given its international reputation for high quality work in curriculum development. I witnessed a showcase of this work at the launch of the revised National Curriculum in July, 2007, at Lord’s Cricket Ground. Invited by CEO Dr Ken Boston (former Director General of NSW Department of Education and Training), I was impressed by speakers including teachers and the progressive curriculum thinking that underpinned the then National Curriculum. I would not be surprised if the QCA provided a model for the newly established Australian Curriculum, Assessment and Reporting Authority (ACARA) and its National Curriculum work.

38. The emphasis in England needs to be on a school system that allows for teacher and pupil qualities like imagination, ingenuity, inventiveness, creativity and resourcefulness, and the ability to think in innovative ways synchronized with curriculum processes like research, inquiry, questioning, critical analysis, problem solving, so all concerned can transfer their learning, define issues, identify and consider complexities and devise action plans (see NSW Board of Studies).

39. These should be in line with an English version of ‘productive pedagogies’ and complimentary assessment practices as they promote intellectual quality, connectedness, supportive classroom environments and respect and valuing of difference (See Queensland School Reform Longitudinal Study).

40. The Secretary of State’s intention to tackle Ofsted with an intention to refocus inspections on ‘what really counts’ (Hansard 8 Feb 2011: Column 174) is in many respects welcome, on the provision that inspections recognize the complexities of working with disadvantaged pupils and teachers’ depth knowledge and understanding of their pupils’ social and family backgrounds including cultural heritage to engage them in teaching and learning.

41. The refocus could be lost when it comes to Standards in the Bill, notably 43 ‘Schools causing concern: powers of Secretary of State’, Special measures and a likely ‘performance standards and safety warning notice’. Coupled with the idea of ‘failing schools’ (see ‘School Improvement’ in 2010 Schools White Paper) and the intention to raise targets to 35% suggests an over-reliance on authority and control. As for pupils, experience shows that such disciplinary measures do not always win the ‘hearts and minds’ of school Heads and teachers. Moreover, I find that schools serving disadvantaged pupils in England are very successful at what they do to retain these pupils and keep them focused on productive work.

42. The refocus could also be lost in the Bill Part 5 ‘Educational Institutions: Other Provisions’, by reducing the capacity of Local Authorities and repealing the provision of School Improvement Partners. This is yet another risk and an instance of what is called ‘the globalised, economised agenda for education’. Again, these cut-backs could work against the Coalition’s interest to build a world-class system and national capital because it is local civil servants, like academic partners who work closely with schools, who have intimate knowledge of the local context, the school’s work, and embedded practices, and who can share this regionally and nationally and also re-distribute knowledge produced elsewhere.

43. In our ‘Leading Learning’ project we build teachers’ capabilities to bring to the fore the knowledge they need to teach well in particular local school community contexts, supported by optional accreditation in Masters’ and professional doctorate programs. We do this work in carefully constructed time allocations for intensive professional learning and development with academic partners, who bring international research perspectives to bear on the tasks at hand. It is this intellectual replenishment that ensures teacher education and training goes past parochial offerings to consolidate England’s place in globalised society.

February 2011