Saturday, 1 July 2017
Thursday, 6 October 2016
The case, as best I can tell, for summative assessment as revealer of outcomes is this. Teachers teach, students learn then summative assessment takes place. It is diagnostic and while it may inform future practice it cannot, logically, change something that preceded it.
The assumption that assessment measures and does not change is built into our model for judging the performance of schools. We look at the grades children had on entry, the grades they got at the end and whether their families are below a certain poverty threshold. In this view Education is an operation performed on children, by schools. Children are of a measurable quality and their results show how well or badly this raw material was processed.
When you think about school on a day to day basis though the idea of students as the inert objects of teaching does not reflect reality. Students have agency and even if their choices are limited by strict behaviour policies to collaborating with their teachers and learning what they can, or resisting attempts to teach them and refusing to learn, they always have at least those two choices. A satisfactory answer to the question of whether outcomes are affected by assessment needs to account for why students might choose the latter.
To do this let's examine the experience of school from a child's perspective. Say there was a boy called Ricky, whose parents are not neglectful or abusive but neither are they bookish or preoccupied with toddler Ricky's language acquisition. Aged seven, something Ricky has long suspected is confirmed, his level, his attainment, is below the expected standard, below that of his classmates. This experience will be repeated again and again, with increasing frequency as Ricky’s education continues. Does that one-note tune, you’re worse than the other children Ricky, not affect Ricky’s motivation to try his best?
Perhaps it does but it shouldn’t. Ricky shouldn’t compare himself to others, he should focus on his own learning. After all, most tennis players are better than me but I don’t let that stop me playing tennis. The problem with this argument is that my income and social status are not dependent on my tennis ability, whereas they are intimately bound up with my academic performance as a child. We remind kids of this all time, we tell them you need good grades so you can go to university and get a good a job, but though we always state the case in the positive, the negative is just as clearly true, if you get bad grades you won’t go to university and you’ll get a bad job. Asking Ricky, a sophisticated primate but a primate nonetheless, not to care about his low position in our social hierarchy is like asking him to not be human.
The people who make decisions about Education come from all kinds of backgrounds but they invariably share the fact that they themselves did well at school. It’s easier for them to relate to the children who are succeeding as they as they succeeded and are positive about school as they were. Add in the fact that the children told they are failures are often disobedient and rude and the empathy gap grows. The former group, whose grades prove to the world they are the best, are motivated and work hard; the latter, whose grades prove they are the worst, are disaffected and defiant. That’s not a coincidence.
Sunday, 18 September 2016
Sunday, 11 September 2016
Sunday, 17 July 2016
Saturday, 19 March 2016
A Curriculum for Equality
Sunday, 28 February 2016
Our population is aging, within fifteen years the number of people over 65 will rise by over 50%. Our economy is changing as automation threatens to replace anything between a third and a half of the workforce with machines. These are not primarily demographic or economic challenges, they are social ones. The question in need of an answer is not can we find replacement jobs at a level of productivity sufficient to pay for the care of the elderly, it is can we do that before our society tears itself apart?
The core idea behind the rise of Jeremy Corbyn and on the Left in general is that Austerity is a choice and cuts have been compelled by ideological, not fiscal, necessity. This idea is dangerously half true. The Conservatives exaggerated the need to reduce spending in 2010, but it’s not the case that governments can freely choose any level of spending they want. Public spending is limited by the value of the goods and services produced by working people which can be appropriated from them while maintaining their consent to be governed.
In order to pay for the pensions and healthcare of a larger retired population, each worker has to be more productive to generate a bigger surplus of goods and services beyond those the worker expects to keep for themself. Automation could deliver those productivity gains but it will likely put that surplus in the hands of multinational companies and super rich individuals who are best placed to avoid the giant tax bill of the elderly populace.
While the profits of automation may disappear offshore the problems left in its wake will not. Failure to leave education with useful skills or qualifications was a set of personal tragedies when the people affected had to spend their lives doing mundane, low-paid work. When there is no work at all it stops being just their problem and becomes everybody's problem. And our school system guarantees that some will be in this position. We judge all pupils by the same narrow criteria and for all the pressure we pile on teachers to see that their kids don't fail, some of them have to. If everyone passed the exams would have no rigour.
How will the hundreds of thousands who graduate each year into a society with no use for them react? After the riots in 2011 a concensus quickly developed that, having no political ideology, the rioters were mere criminals and could be dismissed as such. But ideologies can spread at the speed of a retweet, their absence is not what is significant. The lack of respect the rioters showed for their fellow citizens and their property is far more alarming. We live now with people who will loot and burn if the spell of law and order is broken and we plan on reducing their chances of finding jobs at a time when paying for the care of the elderly will make funding even our shrunken benefits system a challenge.
Where should the missing respect for society come from? Should teachers inspire it while telling poor children they are failures, underserving of professional success? Should their parents teach them to respect a society that offers bright futures to others, but not them? People treat others the way they have been treated, so isn’t it madness to expect respect and support from those whose formative experience of society is a humiliating lesson in their own worthlessness?
The situation may spiral out of control. Each subsequent riot erodes support for measures to improve the lot of the economically left behind, while increasing demands that money and manpower are devoted to the unproductive activity of locking people up. Waiting for the next storm to hit all but guarantees a counter productive response. Working class jobs went from something you were proud to do, to something you just did and society carried on, but the difference between a good job and a bad one is far smaller than the difference between a bad job and no job at all. It would be tragically ironic if we reached such technological heights we lounged in machine-made luxury for a moment, before our bestial refusal to treat others as worthy of the same led them to burn it down around our ears.
In 1789 France was the richest country in Europe but its government was broke, having foolishly exempted the richest citizens from tax. The elites tried a mixture of tax increases and money printing to honour their promises and maintain their hold on power. In the chaos that followed they, and thousands of others, were killed. Victims of fiscal incompetence and refusal to give up undeserved privileges.