Educating the British: Gove, choice and free schools

October 25, 2013 in Blog

"Deputy PM and Education Secretary visit Durand Academy" by Cabinet Office (Flickr - CC BY-NC-ND 2.0)

“Deputy PM and Education Secretary visit Durand Academy” by Cabinet Office (Flickr – CC BY-NC-ND 2.0)

Much has been made about the spat between deputy prime minister Nick Clegg and education secretary Michael Gove regarding the latter’s plan to liberate Free Schools and increase their numbers by authorising them to employ non-qualified teachers and set their own curriculum.

Michael Gove will have us believe that in order to raise standards and improve school effectiveness such that Britain can outshine its G8 neighbours in economic competitiveness, schools and those who run them should be ‘free’ from the shackles of locally elected representatives of the people whom we charge with the responsibility to ensure that every child matters and that there is a good school for every child in every community, capable of delivering to every child their educational entitlement in accordance with International Human Rights Law.

Nick Clegg, on the other hand, believes that ‘it makes no sense to have qualified teacher status if only a few schools have to employ qualified teachers’ and that free schools should have to stick to the national curriculum and provide school meals ‘that meet standards set by the Government’. Read the rest of this entry →

Racism, tokenism and totemism: the disturbing case of Doreen Lawrence

August 4, 2013 in Blog

Print screen from the BBC's website (URL: http://bbc.in/19LxEAn)

Print screen from the BBC’s website (URL: http://bbc.in/19LxEAn)

In April this year I wrote a blog which I titled ‘To Iconize and Canonize – the State We’re In 20 Years after the Murder of Stephen Lawrence‘. In that article, I examined the process of iconizing Stephen as the victim of a racist murder and canonizing his mother, Doreen. That canonization is now pretty much complete with Doreen being made a Life Peer of the realm in the last week.

In one sense, if one is disposed to be especially generous, this mother of all gongs could be seen as the expression of a ‘Big Ben’ of a ‘mea culpa’ on the part of the British establishment. I fear, however, that is much more sinister than that.

In the last few days, I have had many people from the Global African Diaspora, women especially, express their delight that ‘Doreen is now the Right Honourable Baroness Lawrence’ and that ‘there is one more of us in the Lords’. They all thought I was being churlish and as one put it ‘typically anti-establishment’ when I made the same arguments I was prompted to write in April, not least the following: Read the rest of this entry →

“To the barricades!”

May 20, 2013 in Blog, Gus talks, Open letters

On 13th May 2013, Diane Abbott MP put out a call to the 10th London Schools and the Black Child (LSBC) Conference: “Black Children & Education: After Gove, where next?”.

"Michael Gove at Chantry High School" by Regional Cabinet (Flickr - CC BY 2.0)

“Michael Gove at Chantry High School” by Regional Cabinet (Flickr – CC BY 2.0)

For the past 13 years, the Communities Empowerment Network (CEN) has been campaigning for equality and justice in schooling and education and against the practice of excluding a disproportionate number of African heritage children.

Diane Abbott has demonstrated a passion for schooling and education over very many years, especially on account of the schooling experiences of children of African heritage.  In 1999, she held two conferences in her constituency the London Borough of Hackney on ‘Hackney Schools and the Black Child’.  In 2000, the third of these was held which, like the previous two, attracted some 400-500 people.  In 2002, Abbott joined forces with the newly elected London Mayor, Ken Livingstone, and started the London Schools and the Black Child conferences which ran annually until 2009.

Those conferences proved very popular with African parents, teachers and community activists, some 2000-2,500 of whom attended most years.  However, although the focus of the conference was schooling and the ‘black child’, fewer than 50 black school children attended in any one year.  The conferences generated a great deal of heat and excitement, but typically very little action.  They allowed for no resolutions or demands to be put to government and each succeeding conference failed to focus upon whatever action those who attended in the preceding year may have taken in their communities in response to the issues debated.

Meanwhile, the Labour government of the day continued to pass laws, whittle away rights and allow schooling practices which were as detrimental to ‘the Black child’ as anything the Conservative administration had done prior to the Labour victory at the polls in 1997.  Yet, year on year, the Education (or Schools) Minister would attend Diane’s conference to tell ‘the black community’ what the government was doing to raise standards and tackle the endemic underachievement of African Caribbean children in the schooling system.

Diane Abbott intends that this conference would address the question: “Black Children & Education: After Gove, where next?”.  Some of us might think it even more pertinent to ask the question: “‘Before Gove, what?“.  Read the rest of this entry →

Play the accordion with Sir Michael Wilshaw

February 28, 2013 in Blog

Sir Michael Wilshaw, head of Ofsted, is passionately committed to closing the gap between high performing schools and those struggling to deliver meaningful and saleable schooling outcomes to children. He rightly identifies school leadership as a key factor in this. But, he appears to want to widen an already existing and pernicious knowledge and skills gap within the membership of governing bodies in the very attempt to raise school standards and narrow the achievement gap. Clearly, one of his lesser known abilities is his prowess with the accordion.

Ofsted's channel on YouTube (http://www.youtube.com/Ofstednews)

Ofsted’s channel on YouTube (http://www.youtube.com/Ofstednews)

There is though a certain logic in Wilshaw’s position. If the nation’s schools are increasingly multimillion enterprises run by magnates or entities capable of putting up a couple million pounds of their own to be matched by 15 to 30 times that from the public purse while they retain control of the lot and are answerable to no one but themselves, then surely the composition of the corporate boardroom (the non-executive directors) must match up to the task of ensuring that the enterprise produces value for money and could beat off the competition.

The ordinary parent, shopkeeper, grassroots football coach or bus driver cannot be assumed to have the knowledge, understanding, skills or social and cultural capital to monitor or direct what the captains of that marketized schooling industry do, far less the temerity to hold them to account. Read the rest of this entry →

Repeating the lessons of History by failing to learn from them

January 11, 2013 in Blog

On Monday 29 December 2012, just as many in the nation were reflecting on the closing year and hoping that better would come in 2013, the Daily Mail published an article indicating that worse would continue and be compounded.

In that article, Jonathan Petre commented on ‘leaked drafts of the new history curriculum to be published in the New Year’ under the headline:

Screen capture from the Daily Mail (http://bit.ly/10n5A2j)

Screen capture from the Daily Mail (http://bit.ly/10n5A2j)

Highlights of the article included:

• Historic figures, including Winston Churchill, Oliver Cromwell and Lord Nelson will again feature in history lessons;
• The ‘back-to-basics’ shakeup will see overhaul of social reformers like Jamaican-born nurse Mary Seacole;
• Fears that the reforms, spearheaded by Education Secretary Michael Gove, could anger equality rights activists;

The Daily Mail was itself fuelling the ‘war with equality activists’ by singling out Mary Secole and Olaudah Equiano and making them and ‘politically correct’ teachers who teach about them in the history curriculum the thrust of its story.

‘The likes of Oliver Cromwell, Lord Nelson and Winston Churchill had been dropped from history lessons under the last Labour Government in a move critics said was driven by ‘political correctness. But under a new ‘back-to- basics’ shake-up, pupils will again have to study these traditional historic figures – and not social reformers such as Jamaican-born nurse Mary Seacole and former black slave Olaudah Equiano, who were introduced into the 2007 curriculum’.

Directly beneath this statement, however, are the images of Mary Secole, William Wilberforce, Amy Johnson, Olaudah Equiano and Florence Nightingale.

Commentary I have seen and heard about these proposed changes to the curriculum have rather missed the seriousness of what Michael Gove is seeking to do, i.e., to write out of history the evidence that we do not all subscribe to the narrative of history involving Britain that this nation and its schooling and higher education system has been ramming down our throats for generations. Read the rest of this entry →