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 →

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 →

“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 →

Why did they have to rain on our party?

May 14, 2013 in Blog

On Tuesday 23 April 2013, at about 3.00pm, serious youth violence in London claimed two lives, that of Derek Boateng who turned 16 that very day and of his 15 year old assailant (who cannot be named for legal reasons). Derek was stabbed to within an inch of his life on the 393 bus and had to be airlifted to a specialist trauma unit in hospital where he died the following day, surrounded by his family. He was an only son and had two elder sisters.

The air ambulance landed on the Astroturf pitch of Highbury Grove School on Highbury New Park, not far from the 393 bus stop.

Born in Homerton Hospital, Hackney in 1997, Derek lived all his short life with his family. His schooling career was clearly troubled. Having attended Brook Community Primary School in Hackney, he joined the Jack Petchy Academy, also in Hackney. He moved to Highbury Grove School two years ago but was excluded after just one year.

He later started attending Camden JobTrain, a vocational training facility catering for excluded students and run by Westminster Kingsway College. He had been at JobTrain for 15 months until 23 April when, having shared a birthday cake with students and staff at that centre, he left to start his fateful journey home.

His father, Davis Boateng, is reported as saying: “He was practical, rather than academic, but he was bright. He did distract the class sometimes, but it was a phase. He was starting to fulfil his promise, he wanted to be an engineer, and at his last parents’ evening the teachers praised him. He was starting to think about making a life’. Read the rest of this entry →