Archive for the ‘education’ Category

Sins of the Father Belfast Launch 15th September at 7pm

September 14, 2011


The Tory Dream Future for UK Higher Education Begins. Or, Inequality Commodified

June 5, 2011

David Cameron, Gideon “Call me George” Osborne, and David “No Two Brains” Willets must be wetting themselves with excitment. Their plans to open up third level education to private providers (including from the US) have received a major boost with news that a new private university has been founded in London with the aim of soon ranking alongside Oxford and Cambridge. Fees will be £18,000 per annum. The new university is called New College of the Humanities. Its website boasts that

New College of the Humanities is a new concept in university education. It offers education in excellence and an outstanding academic environment in the heart of London. The College was founded by 14 of the world’s top academics

Who are these 14 academics? It is a list drawn from people who currently work (and from the looks of things will continue to work) at some of the world’s best-known universities, including Oxford, Cambridge, Harvard, Princeton, and University College London. It is filled with well-known (and some might say annoying) names including AC Grayling, Niall Ferguson, Ronald Dworkin, Steve Jones and Richard Dawkins. All these people will teach, and if you are one of the lucky few who can afford it accepted, you will soon be on first name terms with all your fellow students and the staff. I’m sure that those who turn up expecting weekly one-to-one tutorials with the likes of Richard Dawkins will in no way be disappointed. Actually

New College has a world-class team of Professors with a stellar reputation for academic excellence, supported by a young, talented team of tutors and other teaching staff. All of them are committed to teaching and research.

Our Professors and tutors are international experts in their chosen fields. You will meet and hear these world-leading academics. You can attend Professorial lectures even if they are not in your own subjects.


All this for £18,000? A bargain you might think, especially if you are lucky enough to get one of the full scholarships, or to have your fees reduced by two-thirds. No numbers for these are available on the college’s website at this time, but they say more than a fifth of students will have scholarships or exhibitions, meaning no fees or reduced fees. The scholarships are means tested: the exhibitions are by competition. In other words, the richest person in the world can get one, and feel that they earned it, without having to trouble themselves about how inequality may have contributed to such a situation in the first place (to pick up a theme from Walter Benn Michael). I may have missed it, but I didn’t notice any reference to the scholarship including living expenses.

And just look at the Advisory Board.

Members are drawn from public and academy schools as well as from the private sector, and are chosen for their expertise in relevant areas.

Filled then with the heads of several of the most elite schools in England, and some random people from business, publishing and media. No need, obviously, to explain what relevant expertise to a university education they are bringing. I am sure the head of a secondary school or a publisher knows loads about running a university or teaching in one. It certainly couldn’t be that they expect the atmosphere at this new institution to be like a cross between public school and Oxbridge, and are therefore getting on board people who understand how to pander to the needs of their target audience.

Nick Clegg and the Lib Dems have also been firmly pushing this idea of opening up higher education to alternative providers. Clegg has also attached the use of old boy networks and unpaid internships. I wonder what he thinks about this reason for choosing the new institution. From the message of AC Grayling, the Master of this new institution.

Professional Skills will give you the tools to write well, present your ideas, lead and work in teams, read a balance sheet, and understand the worlds of finance, business and employment. You will be ready to make an immediate contribution in business, government, media or the arts following graduation. You will have a dedicated member of College staff who will arrange vacation internships for work experience. They will help you with CV preparation and securing interviews with leading firms as graduation approaches.

I guess you get what you pay for. But what is it, exactly, that you get? The answer is that the new institution will not, in fact, be awarding degrees of its own. It will be awarding Diplomas. The degrees will come from the University of London, and students will have access to University of London facilities.

So what we have is a private institution that will not in fact award degrees of its own, but award you the same degree that you can get from several other institutions across London, and where there seems to be as good a chance of ending up being taught for a substantial period by a world-class scholar. Maybe the Tories and their yellow LibDem allies shouldn’t be getting over-excited after all.

Kids, Have the Day Off. We Can’t Afford to Teach You

February 7, 2011

Education. The key to social mobility, the big society, a fair Britain, and whatever other buzzwords you can think of from the Con/Dem coalition. Unless of course you slash budgets, and force councils into drastically reducing their services. North Ayrshire Council in Scotland is responding to the order to make cuts by considering cutting the number of school days to four, and delaying children starting school until the age of 6. Think of the consequences of this for parents suddenly needing to fund extra child care, not just one day a week, but for a whole year as well.

Carol Kirk, the council’s education director, said any plans to alter the current system would be “fully investigated and discussed”.

“The option for children to start primary school at age six has been widely discussed by education professionals across the UK for several years now and is already in operation in many other European countries,” she said.

“The option to deliver the statutory 25 hours of education per week over four rather than five days is also being explored by other local authorities in Scotland.”

I guess that the aim of returning the UK to Victorian times is going swimmingly then.

Keep you’re head down and keep running

December 8, 2010

Sometimes, life is cruel

Privatised Eleven Plus in Postcode Lottery Non-Shock

October 9, 2010

Good story in the Belfast Telegraph demonstrating how far a child’s chance of getting into a grammar school is determined by geography. The story concentrates on the fact that in some schools in places like Belfast, only children with the top grade were accepted. While in other grammar schools, children from every grade were accepted.

What the story doesn’t do, however, is link the question of geography to class, which remains the main determinant of getting access to a grammar school education. That is the real lottery here.

Most Unexpected Sentence Ever?

January 28, 2010

Just spotted the following sentence in a column by Simon Jenkins in the Guardian for January 27th. I love it.

It was a typical Thatcher lurch into Leninism.

Suffer the Children

January 22, 2010

The Righs of Free-born English (middle class)men in peril

Yep. You read the headline right. Someone has had the audacity to claim that Labour’s education policies are hurting and belittling the English middle classes. And not just any someone. It was Richard Cairns, head of Brighton College, which had the “best A-Level results of any co-educational school in England”. Brighton College, unsurprisingly, is a fee-paying institution (and therefore benefits from Labour’s decision to preserve its charitable status), and its schedule of fees for the current academic year can be found here (I particularly admire the fact that things like music and support from its dyslexia centre cost extra. Clearly the sort of forward-thinking we need in education). Quoted in the Daily Telegraph (where else you might ask),

Mr Cairns said: “We do need to raise working-class aspirations but at the same time we need to celebrate the success of middle-class children and celebrate that fact that we have so many parents out there spending their time instilling the necessary soft skills and values and in their sons and daughters that they need to do well in life.
“The Government seems to think that the only way to raise aspirations in the working-class is to have all sorts of quota systems that, in turn, damage the middle-class children. That’s muddle-headed.
“There are only 12,000 places at Oxford. Instead of finding more extravagant ways to engineer admissions we should be expanding our best universities and raising the aspirations of all pupils to get into them on merit.”

In fact,

The threat of “quotas” to dictate admission to leading universities risks blocking the chances of hard-working children from relatively wealthy homes, said Richard Cairns, head of fee-paying Brighton College.
He called for the brightest working-class pupils to be given “elite” training – outside ordinary state comprehensives – to allow them to progress at the speed often reached by more affluent peers.

In other words, middle-class and upper-class parents can afford to pay for their children to go to exclusive schools where they get more attention and better facilities and resources, and it’s only right that their ability to pay gets rewarded in the universities their little darlings attend. Not that we might see any irony in the head of a boarding school talking about how middle class parents spend their time to instill their children with the necessary skills to succeed in life. Lest we be cynical about the headmaster’s philanthropic intent, it’s important to bear this in mind

Currently, Brighton College provides free sixth-form places to bright pupils from Kingsford [community school]. Five are currently at the fee-paying school and another three have already been through the scholarship programme.

I had a quick look round the Brighton College website but didn’t see any total student numbers, so I am unsure what proportion this is. It might be a very large proportion. Or it might not.

I would certainly agree that there is some muddle-headed thinking on display in this article. But I might place it somewhere differently than he does. I might of course be being unfair. It could be his speech included a long analysis of the relationship between class, money and educational attainment, and of how by the time you get to university level it is too late to try and even out the differing educational chances caused by economic inequality. I have my doubts though, especially given this remark.

Speaking before a conference in east London on Friday, Mr Cairns said: “India and China have a middle-class that seems to have doubled in size over the last 10 years, yet here we have a political system that seeks to reduce and diminish the ambitions of children born into middle-class homes in an attempt to raise the aspirations of the working-classes.”

Hmmmm. I wonder if the rapid economic development from a comparatively much lower base in those countries over the last ten years might have played a part in his gaining an impression of a rising middle-class compared to the UK. As for the children of the middle-class in often over-priced and over-rated fee-paying schools, I’m fairly confident that the 7% or so of children from fee-paying schools will continue to dominate access to the UK’s elite educational institutions (at a rate of about 7 times their proportion of the school population). I’m think they’ll manage to muddle through into the same types of well-paid jobs and lifestyles that their parents have envisioned for them, even if a few who have been well drilled to over-achieve in exams and interivews miss out on Oxford and Cambridge because of the nasty lefties trying to even out the advantages that the money of the dedicated and caring parents of the English middle class in no way provides.

Also posted at Cedar Lounge Revolution

The Poor will always be with you. Just not in your schools

September 20, 2009

Yesterday’s Irish News has details of the transfer test that will be used by the Catholic grammar schools in the north. A link to the story is here, although it will work only for a week without subscription. The Post-Primary Transfer Consortium, 34 overwhelmingly Catholic schools, is organising this test. There is of course a separate test for the state grammar schools, which are attended overwhelmingly by protestants. This “catholic” test unlike the previous test is completely multiple choice, and does not include science. So we are seeing a return to something along the lines of the old Eleven Plus that the likes of me sat, based on maths and English. The introduction of science reflected a desire to broaden the curriculum and prepare children better for secondary education, and give them a greater appreciation of the world around them. So this represents a narrowing of things tested.

That’s not the only narrrowing that will happen as a result of this private transfer test.

Parents have been provided sample mathematics and English papers and encouraged to help their children prepare.

Now, how do parents help their children prepare? Well they can do it themselves, by sitting and helping them. The new-old type of test will prove more parent-friendly than that being replaced. Or, more likely, they can hire someone to do it for £20 an hour or more. Around a third of a single person’s weekly job seeker’s allowance, to put that in perspective. So again we return to the importance of class in the transfer system. Those who can afford private tuition will pay for it, and their children are as a result much more likely to do well. This is on top of the unquantifiable educational and cultural advantages that middle-class children tend to have over their working class counterparts.

I’ve been following the debacle over academic selection since I started this blog about a year ago. Each post seems to anger me more than the last. The naked aggression of bourgeois parents seeking to protect their own dominance at the expense of working-class children doesn’t surprise me. The abject failure of those responsible to stop this happening infuriates me. Only political representatives dedicated unambiguously to the interests of the working class can offer any real alternative to the injustice of capitalist society in education or anywhere else.

Teenage Kicks: Sex Abuse and Violence Rife Among Teenagers

September 5, 2009

Just saw this disturbing story from a few days ago on the BBC website about teenage relationships in Britain.

A third of teenage girls suffer sexual abuse in a relationship and a quarter experience violence at the hands of their boyfriends, a survey suggests.

One in three of the teenage girls questioned in England, Scotland and Wales said their boyfriends had tried to pressure them into unwanted sexual activity by using physical force or by bullying them. The NSPCC said the unwanted sexual activity ranged from kissing to intercourse.
A quarter of the girls interviewed for the survey had suffered physical violence, including being slapped, punched or beaten.
Only one in 17 boys reported having been pressured or forced into sexual activity but almost one in five had suffered physical violence in a relationship.

To say these figures are shocking is a gross understatement. What sort of society is this? Teenage girls are clearly being pressured and beaten into submission on a massive scale. Only a society that is failing to instil in young people basic respect for others could produce these figures. It seems that in schools and in culture generally the principles not only of feminism but of common decency are failing to be passed on to the next generation. The state must act. Not only through education, but through heavy sentences for those engaged in this type of violence.

We’ve Abolished the Eleven Plus, But You’ll Have To Sit It Anyway

September 3, 2009

Thank you very much Catriona Ruane and your party