Independence in Schooling, Except from Gove!

February 6, 2014 in Blog

Prime Minister David Cameron and Education Secretary Michael Gove open the new Perry Beeches III Free School. <br/>Credits: Number 10/Flickr (CC BY-NC-ND 2.0)

Prime Minister David Cameron and Education Secretary Michael Gove open the new Perry Beeches III Free School.
Credits: Number 10/Flickr (CC BY-NC-ND 2.0)

There is a stirring in the soul of Michael Gove that does not augur well for the nation’s children and the schools to which parents are legally bound to send them. The Secretary of State appears to want to bombard the schooling system with at least one new policy initiative per week. It would not surprise me, therefore, if his next target is ante-natal clinics and the monitoring data they could produce on children yet unborn.

Michael Gove is clearly fixated on the role of schooling and education in determining Britain’s economic competitiveness in the global market. The view of schooling he projects, therefore, is of children who should be regarded as economic units from birth, whom schools should process into products that can guarantee the nation’s economic competitiveness. The ‘independent sector’, as reconfigured by Gove to include academies, free schools and state maintained schools that would mirror the traditional independents, is clearly considered to be better at honing those economic units than local authorities and the voluntary aided sector could.

But the one issue Mr Gove seems determined not to pronounce upon, other than the market oriented utilitarianism of schooling, is ‘what is education for’? Read the rest of this entry →

Making the future we face the future Britain we want

January 7, 2014 in Blog, Gus talks, Papers

In 1970, a full thirty years before The Commission on the Future of Multi-Ethnic Britain, sponsored by the Runnymede Trust and Chaired by Professor Bhiku Parekh published its report (which was speedily buried by the British establishment), the late CLR James ended a rousing address to three hundred black youths at the Metro Youth Club in Notting Hill with these words:

‘Your future is Britain’s future and Britain’s future your future.  If you succeed, Britain will succeed.  But, if Britain fails you, it will have a hell of a job saving itself’.

(In Police Power and Black People, 1972, Derek Humphry and Gus John, Panther Books Ltd)

Between November 2011 and October 2013 Race on the Agenda (ROTA) delivered the Shaping the Future seminar series, which considered some of the main challenges facing London’s Black, Asian and Minority Ethnic (BAME) children and young people and their families, following a difficult economic period and wide-spread policy reforms and public spending cuts.

In August 2014, Professor Gus John will have been 50 years in the UK, having arrived in 1964 as a theological student.  In contributing to the seminar series, Gus drew upon his many decades of political activism, community development and academic research, including his tenure in the London Borough of Hackney as the UK’s first black director of education and his seminal study of youth policy and youth and community work in 16 towns and cities in England:  ‘In the Service of Black Youth -  a study of the political culture of youth and community work with black people in English cities’ (1981)

We strongly recommend the final report of the Shaping the Future seminars which is now available from the publications pages of ROTA’s website. Read the rest of this entry →

Free schools failing on equalities, new research shows

November 9, 2013 in Blog, Gus in the Media, Press Releases

Fenton Classroom, by Wolfram Burner (Flickr)

Fenton Classroom, by Wolfram Burner (Flickr)

Race on the Agenda (ROTA) has published new research that shows that free schools are failing to comply with statutory requirements on equality.

The research appears soon after the recent Ofsted inspection of the Al-Madinah free school in Derby, which found that statutory requirements, including those on equality, were not being met.

The Equality Act 2010 requires all schools, including free schools, to fulfil the public sector equality duty. By 6 April 2012, all schools should have published information to demonstrate their compliance with the duty, and should have published one or more specific and measurable equality objectives. Read the rest of this entry →

Michael Gove is running Britain’s department for inequality

November 6, 2013 in Gus in the Media, Print

The political spat over free schools is diverting attention away from the fact that our most vulnerable children are being failed.

Much has been made of the spat between deputy prime minister Nick Clegg and education secretary Michael Gove regarding the latter’s plan to liberate free schools by confirming their right to employ non-qualified teachers and set their own curriculum.The noise in the media was about the fact that Gove and Clegg seemed to be sending different messages, rather than about the role of central government, in coalition or otherwise, to ensure that schooling provision is made with regard to the needs of all children.

"Michael Gove at Conservative Party Conference" by Conservatives (Flickr - CC BY-NC-ND 2.0)

“Michael Gove at Conservative Party Conference” by Conservatives (Flickr – CC BY-NC-ND 2.0)

While Clegg’s protest about unqualified teachers and freedom from the national curriculum is to be applauded, there are even more fundamental concerns about the ideological nature of Gove’s free school agenda. His construction of schooling as a commodity – paid for by the state in the case of free schools and academies – rather than as a public service managed by communities and taxpayers and those they elect, eschews all considerations of equality, educational entitlement and the purpose of schooling.

The real issue between Clegg and Gove is how does freedom to appoint unqualified teachers who can “inspire” children and freedom over the curriculum ensure that free schools meet the needs of all children in accordance with equality and human rights legislation.

It is inconceivable that any health secretary would contemplate allowing unqualified paediatricians to run a children’s hospital, however inspirational they might be. Why should it be assumed, therefore, that shaping children’s minds, facilitating their learning development and acquisition of values and of personal and social skills, their identity formation and their academic development, are pursuits for which no particular training and competences are required?

If the claim is that free schools raise standards by being able to exercise freedom over teaching and the curriculum, why not set free every school from the national curriculum and let schools be run by people from all walks of life, irrespective of their values and dispositions, let alone their teaching ability?

There once was a correlation made between the quality of teaching and teachers’ understanding of how children see and relate to one another, and their capacity to form relationships with and teach those children (because they are not all the same). It would appear that with free schools comes the freedom to debunk all that and raise standards by doing whatever they think works, with the schools inspectorate Ofsted the only thing standing in their way.

That would be bad enough if it were commonplace for government to put equality and human rights at the heart of its schooling and education agenda. But for decades a disproportionate number of children from African-Caribbean and mixed heritage backgrounds, along with children with special needs and disabilities, have been excluded from school. Read the rest of this entry →

Where Now for Black History Month?

November 3, 2013 in Blog, Gus talks, Papers

"African Diaspora" by beautifulcataya (Flickr - CC BY-NC-ND 2.0)

“African Diaspora” by beautifulcataya (Flickr – CC BY-NC-ND 2.0)

Most every year at this time, a debate ensues about the purpose, merits and direction of Black History Month (BHM), a debate fuelled in the main by frustration about the focus of BHM programmes over the preceding four weeks. 

On Thursday 31 October 2013, some 1,000 people gathered at the Church of Christ the Redeemer in Allenbury Road, Greenford, for the funeral of the publisher and political activist Jessica Huntley and to acknowledge and celebrate her distinctive contribution to British schooling, British social history and Black History over the last half a century.

One of the many educational and inspirational events Jessica organized and contributed to in the period before her death was a debate in November 2012 about ‘the way forward for Black History Month in the UK’.  On 22 February 2013, Nubian Jak organized a symposium at the Africa Centre in Covent Garden, London, on a proposal for an annual ‘African Heritage Month International‘ celebration in February.  On February 23rd, the 8th Huntley Conference was held at the London Metropolitan Archives. This also marked Jessica’s 86th birthday and turned out to be her last conference.

I was unable to contribute to the Huntley debate but wrote this paper for the Africa Centre symposium.  I reproduce it here because among the very many discussions that took place around Jessica’s funeral about the many projects she was actively involved with up to the day before she passed on, was one about her take on the future of Black History Month. Read the rest of this entry →