Co-operative Education Against the Crises – REGISTRATION IS OPEN!

Registration is now open for Co-operative Education Against the Crises.

If you would like to attend the event please register and pay by following this link.

It’s shaping up to be an interesting event with a great line-up of speakers including Prof. Mike Apple (University of Wisconsin-Madison), Mervyn Wilson (Co-operative College), Dave Carter (MDDA) talking about the maker movement, Britta Werner (Unicorn Co-op Grocery), and Prof. Mike Neary (University of Lincoln & Social Science Centre Lincoln) plus more yet to confirm.  The day will bring together academics and practitioners to think about Co-operatives and education from a range of perspectives including political strategy, pedagogy, agendas for research and the practical steps of building the Co-op school movement. The afternoon will be given over to participatory discussion sessions where participants will be able to raise issues and ideas they would like to discuss with others.

The fee for participants is £25 and £7.50 for PhD students (10 places).

For more information check out the website.

James Duggan

Professor Sir Tim Brighouse speaks out the ‘Government’-induced crisis’ in Initial Teacher Education

Professor Sir Tim Brighouse is a teacher, professor and educator to whom everyone should listen. His experience of education across the UK is second to none, and he has done a range of jobs that most of us could only dream about. He is also prepared to call a spade a spade, which is a refreshing change for an academic in my experience. On the view occasions that I have heard him speak live, I have been impressed by his vast knowledge and wisdom, his ability to bring humour into different discussions and also his compassionate humanity.

For all these reasons, the publication of this statement by Sir Tim is an important marker in the current political debate surrounding initial teacher education. I would urge you all to read it carefully. For those of you that feel that I’m sometimes provocative, intemperate (just too grumpy) and perhaps prone to exaggeration, I’d encourage you to listen to this highly informed and well respected voice. These are some of the key points that Sir Tim makes:

  1. There is a Government-induced crisis in Initial Teacher Education. It is not the fault of the sector itself. It has been caused directly by ill-informed and careless handling of educational policy by Gove and his new puppet Charlie Taylor;
  2. There is no one person or central agency that can ensure a sufficient supply of of trained teachers nationally, or an efficient local distribution of training places covering all subject areas. The distribution of places is now ‘startlingly haphazard’;
  3. QTS is no longer seen as a necessary requirement for becoming a teacher in the English state education system (unless you work for a LA-maintained school);
  4. Charlie Taylor, the new Chief Executive of the Teaching Agency, is overseeing a new system (Schools Direct) that Ofsted believes produces significantly fewer outstanding courses in teacher education;
  5. Many universities have now lost all their PGCE provision and are wholly reliant on schools choosing them to partner with for School Direct places (and what happens when they don’t);
  6. Many universities have, or will, withdraw from the provision of ITE and PGCE type provision because it is both financially and politically too unstable and too risky to carry on their involvement;
  7. Partnership approaches between universities and schools have been the bedrock of the UK’s provision in this area for years, but this is no under threat. HEIs bring much of value to this partnership that, once undone, will not be easily replaced.

I expect that Gove will dismiss Sir Tim’s paper as more ‘yada yada’ from a leftist academic. However, I would encourage you to read Sir Tim’s paper carefully. It comes from a responsible and respected pillar of the UK education system whose opinion we should take very seriously.

This post is re-posted from Jonathan Savage’s blog – click here to read more.

Project Meeting Leuven

The post below is re-posted from the GAMBALOA project blog (read here):

On 25th, 26th and 27th February the GAMBALOA project partners met in the historic university town of Leuven.  The British (Nicola WhittonClare Hamshire and James Duggan) along with the German (Bernd Remele, Mattias Matic, Rainer Gaupp, and Katja Sustrate) partners were warmly welcomed, fed, watered and kept busy by our Belgian hosts (Nathalie CharlierLien Van Der Stock and Evelien Luts).

photo-1The purpose of the meeting was to plan and implement the dissemination stage of the project.  Dissemination is an increasingly important but typically tricky part of research projects.  The partners decided to host an end of project meeting to be held in Berlin in June.  The event will bring together a select group of academics and policy and practitioner organisations to engage with three briefing papers on games and motivation, health and business.  As everyone is being forced to count the pennies and cents we are going to stream the conference online and enable virtual participation in the event.  Watch this space for further details!

This was my first trip abroad with the games-based learning people and it was great to see the effort and care invested in building great working relationships.  Nathalie, Lien and Evelien organised a pervasive game where we used Kickbikes to navigate our way around Leuven solving puzzles and then on the next day we worked in teams to make world-famous Belgian pralines. photo

All of that energy fuelled the discussions of what the partners should work on beyond GAMBALOA.  One of the more difficult tasks of developing funding is finding the right partners, especially when it comes to the broader and bigger EU applications.  If you don’t have the right partners different perspectives, difficult personalities, and unexplained agendas can prevent anything being achieved when tasks and work packages are divided up and shared.  This is why working with such a great bunch of people is a joy and hopefully it will continue with ideas from using games to reduce homophobia because that seems really important, to using Lego… because Lego is awesome! Again, watch this space for further details.

James Duggan

Save the Date! ‘Co-operative Education Against the Crises’ Event – 4th July 2013

These are precarious times. We are still reeling from the financial crisis of 2008, facing rising inequality and social discord, and there is a lack of trust and faith in democracy and existing accountability structures to engage with these issues.  We have climate change, peak oil and scarcity of resources in an increasingly competitive world to look forward to.

Education should be a focus of and force for change towards a more sustainable, socially democratic and meaningful society yet educational policy reflects a narrow view of what education is (rote learning of facts), who is best placed to provide it (the private sector), and what are the problems (public sector workers and a lack of aspiration).  Education policy, like health and other areas of public policy, reflects a crisis of the public as more and more sectors and services are turned over to the private sector.  We appear to be entering the final stages of the privatisation of the public sector and public education.  Always ideological this process seems ever more wrongheaded given the theoretical, moral and practical bankruptcy of the neoliberal project, and irrelevant in light of the crises we face.

The question as ever is what to do?  There has been endless critique of the neoliberal project to little noticeable effect, with recent examples having been labeled ‘bad academia’ by the Secretary of State for Education, teachers and academics write letters, and unions pass votes of no confidence yet the reforms roll on.

We propose an alternative course, to develop a Co-operative approach to education and following on from this to the rest of the public sector and society also.

The project takes as its starting point Michael Apple’s (2006) chapter ‘Interrupting the Right: On Doing Critical Educational Work in Conservative Times’ in which he argues that the right wasn’t always so powerful, that they strategically and effectively articulated the current orthodoxy and learning from this process it would be possible to articulate and develop a credible and powerful alternative. We want to explore the Co-operative movement as the vehicle for this change.

The first step to develop a Co-operative alternative is an event to be held in Manchester at MMU (Didsbury Campus) on the 4thJuly 2013.

The event will feature keynotes presentation from Prof. Michael Apple (University of Wisconsin-Madison) and Mervyn Wilson (Co-operative College).  The day will feature inform and inspire sessions from a range of different types of Co-operative organisations to demonstrate the potential, ways of working and practical challenges.  In the afternoon the assembled academics and educators will discuss and plan how to realise the potential of the Co-operative School Movement in the UK.

Check the website for more information.

James Duggan

Kim Allen has been awarded a British Academy/ Leverhulme Small Grant.

Congratulations go to Kim Allen who has been awarded a British Academy/ Leverhulme Small Grant.

The grant will provide funding for a new project entitled: Revisiting ‘Blair’s Babies’ in new times: contemporary female subjectivities from New Labour to the Coalition.

This project will build on Kim’s current work on aspirations, youth transitions and neoliberalism (Celebrity and Youth), and longstanding interest in configurations of young womanhood in the contemporary.

Specifically it will see Kim return to interview some of the young women who took part in her ARHC- funded doctoral research who, aged 16-18, were engaged in further education provision in the performing arts and contemplating their futures under New Labour.   Revisiting them in their mid-twenties, this project will trace their transitions and experiences of education, work and motherhood, and the significance of class, gender and race to shaping these. The grant facilitates a unique longitudinal insight into how contemporary young womanhood is negotiated and understood over time.  Returning to a group of women who can be understood as ‘Blair’s Babies’, now living under the Coalition and in an age of austerity, the research will reflect on the continuities and shifts in the conditions of young womanhood under two political and economic regimes. In doing so it responds to recent calls for new research attending to how changing socio-political contexts shape the positioning of young women in contemporary Britain.

James Duggan

Watching the watchmen watch the watchmen

The significant media coverage over the last three to four weeks of the the 100’s letter raises questions regarding both ‘impact’ and what it is to ‘engage the public’[1]. Furthermore, as some commentaries have already pointed out, are we to deduce from this that the only impact deemed valuable and viable is that which is not politically contentious or disruptive to policy?”[2]

As Research Associate, “enemy of promise”, and one of the one hundred signatories of the letter from academics across the field of education research to the Independent, 20th March 2013[3] I would like to explore a few ideas with you, my “knowledge hating contemporaries[4]”, in the hope that you will have your own points to make on this issue. What the letter set in motion, antagonisms, may at some level seem rather predictable. However, what seems particular, in and amongst the agitation expressed through the conservatively aligned media, are some rather curious notions of ‘common sense’, epistemic certainty, notions of nation, vertical pedagogies, conflations of schooling and education, and bullish attempts to silence critical considerations of the state of affairs, by referring to it as ‘bad academia’[5].

The general argument of the letter sent to the Independent[6] , drew attention to the narrowness of Gove’s schooling agenda, suggesting that it would ignore the learner; take little account of children and young people’s potential interests and capacities; and provide little time or space for them to explore the ways in which the abstract ideas they should ‘learn by heart’, would relate to their experience, lives and activities.

However, this moderately toned, and clearly positioned letter was described as ‘terrifying’ in an article in the Telegraph , entitled “Children can’t think if they don’t learn facts – The academics who criticised rote learning are wrong – it is at the heart of all knowledge”. The article, penned by an alumni of North Bridge House prep school, Westminster School, Magdalen College and the  Bullingdon Club , positions ‘academics’ on a sliding scale of perversely idiotic cotton-headed-ninny-muggins to rampant Marxists who are killing reason with ‘Ideology’. However, the piece raises the important question, albeit through schoolboy latin: ‘Who will watch the watchmen?. From listening to seminars and presentations within the field of educational research, the watchfulness and  governmentality already enacting and acting upon the ‘watchmen’ seems to require a repositioning, if not of the question, then of the subjects and objects the question pertains to and the role of critical thought, and thinkers, in organising that question.

Sarah Dyke 

Chetham’s School of Music child protection report horror: “pupils report that they are happy and feel safe and secure in the school”

As the painful disclosures from one of the (other) educational beacon institutions of Manchester and the North West are cognate with much of my research and writing over the last decade, a brief reflection on the publication today of two critical reports on its child protection procedures seems in order. Sadly it is necessary to preface what follows by stressing that: I take child abuse and protection very seriously (it having been my specialism as a previous social worker); I recognise the damage done by inappropriate and abusive relationships; I deplore any exploitation of children through power and charisma; and I feel huge sympathy for all those coping with the hurt and grief caused by recent tragic events.

This being said, there is something grimly predictable about the apparent focus of the negative reports, and the way they are being covered by the media. Following a successful prosecution of a staff member for historic abuse, further police inquiries, and further (mainly historic) allegations, Chetham’s finds itself in the eye of an immediate storm, with another and longer-term one about to pile-in.

I have no brief to defend the school and those responsible for it at a senior level – and from one perspective it could be concluded that there has been a degree of carelessness in some areas of ‘safeguarding’. It is surprising these days to find a school where even a small number of CRB checks are outstanding, and clarity about whether pupils should and actually do ever receive instrumental tuition in teacher’s homes seems a reasonable expectation. However, most of the shortcomings picked-up by national and local inspectors are essentially bureaucratic and procedural – reflecting the mechanistic and form-filling approach to child protection which now dominates what is called ‘good safeguarding practice’. The danger of this approach is that it concentrates on means rather than ends, and actually protects adults and their employers at least as much as it really protects children. Acting out safeguarding, so senior managers can feel safer, does not necessarily deliver safety. While it is true that incidents of abuse have occurred (and obviously all are properly condemned), it is far from clear that they would have been prevented by the School having been better at performing child protection in the prescribed manner. What is clear is the pupils’ reported feeling of security quoted in the heading above – and that type of feeling does not come from filling in the right forms. Risk is unavoidable, and conducting risk assessments (and filing them away as evidence) is no substitute for fostering a culture characterised by wisdom, good judgment, trust, and open-ness.

The obvious danger is that Chetham’s, like others before it, comes under such pressure that it ends up throwing out the baby with the bath water. Just as many teachers reported during research that they felt professionally hamstrung by guidelines and regulations specifying exactly how they could (or actually could not) touch children in their care, and sports’ coaches described their anxiety and hurt at in effect being treated as potential pedophiles, there is a risk that the interpersonal and institutional alchemy of musical education at the highest level will be destroyed by the juggernaut of routinised and bureaucratic approaches to safeguarding.

So, while my heart goes out to the casualties from any incidents of abuse, I also feel for the senior staff of an estimable specialist school, who will need to keep a very clear eye and firm grasp on what really matters in music education – which uses a different language from that which their critics are likely to be speaking. Obviously, choices are not black-and white, and there are fine judgments to be made – but such is the moral heat and media attention stoked by all reports of child abuse that the senior staff at Chetham’s will be really earning their salaries in the coming months. It would be good if everyone recognised that the huge majority of teachers are not interested in the sexual abuse of pupils, and also that it is not in schools where children are at the most risk.

Heather Piper

Reflections from Future Everything for the Future of Education

I guess we’re never sure if we’re speaking for our own prejudices or capturing broader sentiments but you’d (i.e., an academic might) imagine that an event that brought together cutting edge art, music and a summit of ideas for the future might lack critical engagement with ideas.  An audience of early adopters, futurologists, designers, brand strategists and open data activists might be thought to be a forum for champions of change, change, change.  You might think this but you would be wrong.  As one of presenter’s (Dan Hill) slides explained it, “Hipster urbanism, yes but…”

hipster urbanismMy second outing at Future Everything, reminded me of the benefits of going beyond the field of educational research for new ideas and in particular to observe the parallels between debates on ‘smart cities’ and the future of education.

The smart city describes a vision the technology-enabled city of the future.  Due to the huge sums of money involved, multi-national corporations have developed a range of services that promise city planners and mayors a range of benefits from increased efficiency to ensured safety.  Anthony Townsend posed an interesting question, why are mayors buying these services? What benefits do they see?  (His answer was, “City mayors are buying into smart city technology… hoping for remote controls to the city… to sit like gods on mount Olympus”). And, what happens when we substitute real people for the blurred approximations in the corporate videos of the future?

Screen shot 2013-03-29 at 20.18.38Of the urge to make cities ‘smart’ Usman Haque (read his notes) identified in the pursuit of ever more data on which to base decisions the Enlightenment belief in the inevitable progression from data to information, to knowledge and finally wisdom.  Drawing on Borges’ metaphors of the map, library and encyclopedia he explained the reasoning that “infinite data, merely needs an index and our problems will be solved.” Yet cities are ‘super wicked problems’ that defy easy definition or simple solutions.

To a lesser extent but still in substantive ways, schools are turning to data management systems to mediate the relationships between staff and students, and headteachers and teachers (e.g., SIMS, Frog, and Real Smart).  This is not to say that more data in schools is a bad thing but, as with smart cities, we should ask why are schools buying these services and what is the experience for staff and students when they are put into use?

This discussion about the role of data relates to the recent discussions on the role of evidence in education policy.  Ben Goldacre calls for the application of Randomised Controlled Trials (RCTs) in education – read about it here and see Mary James’ response here.  His intervention appears to be based on the assumption that educational research has the wrong sort of evidence, which reflects Michael Gove’s “bad academia” gibes.  More data in schools is akin to the notion that we need RCTs to give scientific assessments of ‘what works’ in education.  More data entails better decisions.

This reminds of something that Martin (2005) wrote of the contrasting fortunes of evaluation and the ever more influential inspection regime.  According to Martin, politicians preferred the simple messages from inspection about  ‘what works’, shorn of explanations why, to be preferable to the complex and potentially challenging views emerging from evaluation studies.  Inspection is also quicker, an arguably imperfect snapshot of a school in a few days in comparison to evaluations that can take years to plan and implement.

The rise of data in schools presents the opportunity to provide instant feedback, open to analysis and display, on ‘what works’ in education.  A teacher could pilot a new teaching method and review the ‘results’ in real time.  Similarly, headteachers, academy chain managers and educational policy makers could introduce new policies or approaches to teaching, set the dials and see what happens.  This is a potential smart school and school system administered and run by algorithm.

Rolling data collection makes periodic Ofsted inspections seem almost quaint.  What about the real-time performance-based pay for teachers?  Further, where does this leave critical educational research, let alone evaluation, when there is some much clearer evidence about ‘what works’?

I believe it is crucial to respond to our critics (see here for an example) and make the case for critical educational research:  That education and schooling is more than simple matters of learning, explicable through neuroscience.  That children do not instantaneously appear in a classroom devoid of context, history and identity.  That policies have complex interactions and are biased by ideology that constrain and prevent even the simplest processes. I say this because somewhere there is a corporate video of smart education with dull, unblinking systems aggregating data and indexing ‘what works’ giving headteachers, heads of academy chains and the Secretary of State for Education the remote control to schools… leaving critical educational researchers to do what?

James Duggan