Education, schooling, Gove and Gramsci

‘Education’ is rarely out of the news these days, with a conveyor belt of reviews and reforms. Some recent social media exchanges have highlighted the distinction, made by the Marxist theorist Antonio Gramsci amongst others, between ‘education’ and ‘schooling’.

While we should acknowledge and welcome the fact that existing funding for adult and community learning was protected in last week’s Comprehensive Spending Review given the current economic climate, it seems that most of the reported policy discussion about ‘education’ is actually about ‘schooling’. The main focus appears to be on ideology and control in primary and secondary education.

Speaking at the recent Sunday Times Festival of Education, Prof. A C Grayling suggested that, “Teaching to the exam has squeezed out education in favour of schooling” (Earlier this year, Grayling placed a bid to open a free secondary school in Camden.)

In this context, it’s interesting to remember that Education Secretary Michael Gove told the Social Market Foundation of his admiration for Gramsci in a speech in February this year.  There’s a profile of Gramsci and his work at http://infed.org/mobi/antonio-gramsci-schooling-and-education/.  Comparing and contrasting Gove and Gramsci’s thinking on education is a thought-provoking exercise.

Gove & Gramsci

The purpose of education continues to provide fertile ground for critical inquiry but adult educators argue that there should be a much greater emphasis on lifelong learning beyond school within policy debate and development.

There are many compelling reasons why education for all stages of life is important – not least so that parents and carers can support their children’s education and improve their attainment. We can’t rely on schools to educate children in a vacuum or assume that we’ve learnt all that we need to know or understand for the remaining 60+ years of our lives after we have left school.

Although it was published in 2009, Tom Schuller and David Watson’s report, “Learning Through Life: Inquiry into the Future for Lifelong Learning” (http://shop.niace.org.uk/ifll-learningthroughlife.html), shows that education is relevant throughout life and should not be defined narrowly as ‘schooling’ for children and young people.

Family learning and pupil premium funding

Writing in the TES FE Focus , Stephen Exley reports on Ofsted’s conclusions that ‘pupil premium’ funding is not being spent effectively. The funding amounts to £623 for every child who is entitled to free school meals. You can read the feature at: http://www.tes.co.uk/article.aspx?storyCode=6315806

David Hughes, Chief Executive of NIACE, the National Institute for Adult and Continuing Education, suggests that schools might use the funding for family learning.

Why might this be a good idea?

This extract from a Department for Education article, The role of parents in a child’s learning, from 26 April 2012 provides some background:

….research shows that parental involvement in children’s learning is a key factor in improving children’s academic attainment and achievements, as well as their overall behaviour and attendance.

The role of parents during a child’s earliest years is the single biggest influence on their development. Good quality home learning contributes more to children’s intellectual and social development than parental occupation, education or income.

A parent’s attitudes, aspirations and behaviour are all important, as is their ability to:
• understand their child’s day-to-day progress
• undertake family learning together
• talk regularly with their child about their learning.

For some parents, developing this confidence can be difficult – especially if they also need help with their own literacy, language and numeracy skills.

http://www.education.gov.uk/childrenandyoungpeople/families/a00203160/role-of-parents-in-childs-learning

The WEA has a tradition of working in many partnerships with parents, carers, schools and children’s centres. We know the benefits that come from working with two generations at the same time. Education doesn’t just take place during school hours and it’s to everyone’s advantage that a child’s home environment is supportive of their learning.

Adult and community educators can work closely with schools to engage and support adults who have written themselves off in educational terms and who don’t engage in their children’s learning because they don’t know how to do so. There are countless stories of adults who flourish and become better parents of children with raised educational attainment.

As a Commissioner on the current Independent Inquiry into Family Learning (England and Wales), I’m seeing a range of evidence being presented, including statistics, stories and some very impressive case studies and I’m looking forward to the Inquiry’s fndings being published later this year. We should wlecome this focus on family learning as it has significant impact but can fall between government departments, education sectors and funding streams.

You can find out more about the Inquiry at: http://www.niace.org.uk/current-work/family-learning-inquiry

Schools will want to spend the pupil premium funding flexibly, making local decisions and there are many demands for extra resources, but persuasive arguments can be made for family learning as head teachers consider the options.

Educational Thinkers’ Hall of Fame – John Hattie

I’m including John Hattie in the Educational Thinkers’ Hall of Fame because of his reputation for research into positive influences on students’ learning. He was already a well-known academic when he made an international impact with his 2009 book, ‘Visible Learning: A Synthesis of Over 800 Meta-Analyses Relating to Achievement’.

Hattie Visible Learning

Visible Learning – 15 years of research
He based this book on the biggest ever collection of evidence-based research into the most important influences on school-aged students’ achievements. He considered many factors. These included the influence of home, school, curricula, teachers and teaching strategies. His findings are relevant to adult education too.

He analysed all the evidence that he had collected and ranked the various factors in order of their ‘effect-sizes’. Some of his variables, such as ‘feedback’ or ‘acceleration’ can mean different things to different people and Hattie explained them more fully in his narrative.

Hattie’s average effect-sizes
He used the following descriptions to explain ‘effect-size’ as used in the table below:
• An effect-size of 0.5 is equivalent to a one grade leap at GCSE
• An effect-size of 1.0 is equivalent to a two grade leap at GCSE
• ‘No. of effects’ is the number of well-designed studies producing effect-sizes that were averaged in the table’s right hand column.
• An effect-size above 0.4 is significant and above average for educational research.

This extract from a table of his findings shows some of the highest scoring factors that Hattie identified, ranked by their average effect-sizes. Some of his results seem to be highly significant given his explanation that a score greater than 0.5 can raise students’ GCSE grades. His analysis identifies feedback as being massively influential.

effect-size-table-john-hattie

Hattie’s conclusions
Hattie is careful not to use his research to produce superficial ‘how to’ guides for teachers but he outlined some signposts to excellence in education in the last chapter of ‘Visible Learning’.

He came to important conclusions about the power of teachers and feedback, developing a model of teaching, learning and understanding based on his ideas of ‘visible teaching and visible learning’. He concluded that we need teachers who are empowered by being educated about how learning is best achieved and who are enthused about their position and responsibility in helping students to achieve as much as possible. He proposed that the best teachers have a powerful sense of personal agency and a belief in their ability to intervene and to make learning happen.

More recent work
Hattie continues to update his research and findings. He has written a follow-up book, ‘Visible Learning for Teachers: Maximizing Impact on Learning’ and, in December 2011, he published an updated version of rankings in his table of classroom interventions based on 141 more meta-analyses, adding 14 more variables to his new list.

The highest new entry of high-scoring influences, in fourth place, was ‘teacher credibility’. This factor wasn’t listed in his original study.

“The key is the students’ perception that teachers have credibility in enhancing their learning,” he said. “Students are very perceptive about knowing which teachers can make a difference to their learning. And teachers who command this credibility are most likely to make the difference.”

“The effects on achievement are high and the reason is that teachers who constantly show students they care, and know about the difference and impact they are having on them, are ‘visible’ and welcomed.”

About John Hattie
johnhattieJohn Hattie is a Professor of Education and Director of the Melbourne Education Research Institute at the University of Melbourne, Australia and was until recently a Professor of Education at the University of Auckland in New Zealand. This is a very brief and basic introduction to his work, which is current and developing.

A feature in the Times Educational Supplement on 23 September, 2012 (http://bit.ly/R47OJj} described Hattie as, “one of the most divisive figures in world education.” It went on to say that, “Opinion is split between those who know of the New Zealander and praise him as the author of teaching’s “holy grail”, and those who know of him and accuse him of being an “egotistical, self-serving” academic, too keen to bask in the limelight.” Strong stuff!

Some readers might have met John Hattie, heard him speak or been influenced by his work. Please feel free to add any further information or links to more resources – or to add your thoughts on the impact and usefulness of Hattie’s research in improving teaching, learning and assessment.

Educational Thinkers’ Hall of Fame – Paulo Freire

And so to Paulo Freire (1921-1997), a towering figure in adult education for social purpose.

Freire was the Brazilian educator, political philosopher and writer, best known for developing his highly influential Pedagogy of the Oppressed. He used his own experience to shape his educational practice, having suffered from poverty and hunger as a child and imprisonment and exile as an adult. He spoke movingly about how hunger had limited his own ability to learn in school – an issue that’s all too relevant for some children and schools today.

A persuasive man with an impressive intellect and strong convictions, he was determined that the world’s poor and exploited people should have better lives, especially in his native Brazil.

Freire believed that education has an essential role in relieving poverty and transforming lives. He developed methods of encouraging literacy while also raising social and political awareness through his educational work with impoverished Brazilians. He showed that oppressed people could become involved in democracy even if they hadn’t known about the concept before. He won poor people’s trust and attention, convincing them that they should and could have a say in the day-to-day decision-making that affected their lives.

Freire firmly opposed the idea that an education system should be like a bank, with students expected to withdraw specific types of knowledge that more powerful people had decided were necessary. (E.g. UK education policies of recent years?) Instead, he believed that there should be dialogue between the student and teacher and that the teacher should never impose their views of a problem on a student.

In Freire’s approach, literacy workers studied their students’ lives and derived a curriculum that promoted their sense of dignity and self-worth in their own knowledge. The educators encouraged students to develop literacy skills while they explored issues of exploitation, the meaning of culture and the power of written language through critical action learning. He and his colleagues created more than 20,000 ‘culture circles’ throughout Brazil using these principles. They worked on the basis that ‘understanding the world was as important as understanding the word’ and that students’ increased awareness of political matters could provide a basis for action to improve community wellbeing and resilience. (These concepts are highly relevant to the current review and development of the WEA’s curriculum .)

Freire proposed that the use of his ‘see-judge-act’ student-centred methods could raise critical consciousness and create change by inspiring students to:

  • see the systems that preserved injustice
  • judge the assumptions that maintained those social systems
  • act to achieve equality and democracy.

The Paulo Freire Institute was created in Sao Paulo in 1991. It brings scholars together to foster dialogue about new educational theories and interventions in a Freireian tradition.

Freire was a brilliant thinker and his ideas about education and society were original and effective, so it seems odd that his writing (or his translators’ interpretation) is unexpectedly complex for someone so interested in making ideas more accessible to the masses. Evidently he wasn’t a fan of dumbing down. He didn’t patronise the poor, but worked with them to broaden their horizons and to make sure that they could be involved actively in democratic processes.

This is a very condensed summary of Freire’s work. Please feel free to add any comments about his relevance to current educational policy developments at a time of austerity, pointers to other resources or any other thoughts on Freire’s contributions.

Pedagogy of the NEETs?

Cathy and Sarah talk about family learning

WEA students Cathy Thomas and Sarah Nichols spoke at the launch of the Independent Inquiry into Family Learning last Friday.  NIACE organised the event on the theme of Forgotten Families: How learning in families contributes to a range of policy agendas.

Their tutor, Tracey Martin, and WEA Organiser, Trish Hollies, accompanied them as they joined the Princess Royal, members of the House of Lords, family learning practitioners, government department representatives and other adult students. I was also invited to speak about Family learning and its role in widening participation in adult learning.

There’s more information about the Inquiry at http://www.niace.org.uk/current-work/family-learning-inquiry.

Carol Taylor from NIACE interviewed Sarah, Cathy and Emily Fearn, another successful adult learner from Croydon, as part of the event. Their moving first hand accounts showed the impact of family learning.

(L-R) Emily Fearn, Carol Taylor, Cathy and Sarah practise for the formal interview session

Cathy and Sarah, who are both from Yorkshire, wrote their own pen portraits before the event:

Cathy in her own words

Cathy with her tutor, Tracey

I’m a 33-year-old, married mother of three. I left school at 17 after having my first child and thought that was the end of my academic history. After having another two children and doing some short courses to keep my mind busy I enrolled on a course with the WEA.

Shortly afterwards I did another WEA course with my son which was all about people realising their potential and entering Higher Education.I always thought Higher Education was out of my grasp but this course showed me that I could do it. I applied to do a Preparation for Higher Education course.

After gaining a distinction in this course I have now gone on to gain a first class honours degree in Childhood Studies at the University of Leeds and am on a waiting list to start my MA in Social Work.

Sarah in her own words

This is Sarah; Sarah is a 27-year-old mother of three. She lives in a three bedroom house on her local council estate with her partner and kids. She is severely dyslexic and also suffers with post natal depression.

Every morning at half past four her alarm goes off just in time to wake her partner and get him up and sorted in order to be at work for six to start his 12 hour shift. Then at 7 she wakes her children, gets her eldest boy (6) and her little girl (4) fed and dressed for school and her youngest son (14 months) ready for his day…..to either be spent with his grandma/friend/or respite at the local sure start centre.  She then gets herself ready to go volunteer  in school for the day.

Sarah

This may seem like hard work but Sarah and her partner thrive off the hard working life as not so long ago their lives were mixed up in a world of unemployment, drugs and violent abuse.

Sarah and her partner met through their drug dependency. Her partner had started taking drugs at just 13, Sarah however had been introduced to them whilst at university studying towards her teaching degree. In her second year she became pregnant with her eldest son, and consequently had to give up on her dream of becoming a teacher and drop out of university.  After he was born her relationship broke down and she lost her job, she soon learnt to rely on drugs as a coping method.

During this period of time she met her current partner Adam who is the father to her two youngest children, their relationship has had its ups and downs as Sarah gave up drugs when she found she was pregnant but Adam never kicked the habit, they had to contend with constant arguments about money, a gambling addiction and then Adam began an affair with his drug dealer’s daughter.  Sarah could no longer cope and asked for help.  Subsequently her two children were placed on the ‘at risk’ register through Social Services.

Sarah then decided to get her life back on track, she found she was pregnant with her youngest son and decided as soon as he was born she would return to education.  She enrolled on a WEA course at her local Surestart Centre (Healthy Families) and the day her son was born her family was discharged from Social Services.

She continued her education with the WEA enrolling on another course – Practical Parent Helpers, after she went onto the WEA Volunteers Helping in Schools and Volunteers Helping with Special Educational Needs course. Through this she now volunteers sixteen hours a week within her local primary school and not only has she her own life back on track but it has given her partner the confidence and drive to go to work.  Sarah insists if it wasn’t for her local sure start centre and the WEA she would never have got to where she is today and neither would her family.

Making the most of their visit

Cathy, Tracey, Sarah and Trish celebrate their success

Sarah, Cathy, Tracey and Trish enjoyed their time in London, having had to travel from Yorkshire on Thursday for an early Friday start.

Ruth Spellman, the WEA’s General Secretary, met them on Thursday evening and they were able to do some walking and sightseeing between Southwark and Covent Garden. The wet weather didn’t dampen their enthusiasm.

Now that the Inquiry is underway, Commissioners want to hear more evidence about how family learning changes lives for adult students and their families.

Testing times in education

The comparative merits of GCSE, O level and CSE qualifications have become unexpectedly newsworthy this week.

It’s symptomatic of our times that so much of the media coverage has focused on tittle-tattle about relationships between politicians and their aspirations rather than on young people’s life chances (and the impact on adults studying for GCSEs). Educational analysis has focused on the measurement, rather than the substance, of learning and on the presumed needs of current employers. Little attention has been given to education’s role in preparing people for all aspects and stages of their lives.

Some pundits have used various statistics and anecdotes to argue for a return to the segregation of students for O level and CSE type assessments, describing GCSEs as ‘one size fits all’ exams. Others have reminded us that GCSEs are differentiated with higher tier exams leading to grades A* to D and a foundation tier with a grade limit of C-G. Students enter for different tiers in individual subjects based on their predicted grades. An unclassified grade means that there aren’t ‘prizes for all’.

We don’t know what skills will be needed for jobs in 10, 20 or 30 years’ time or how the world will have altered, but we need a more measured, forward-thinking and informed approach to public debate on educational policy instead of reducing it to a simplistic ‘either / or’ comparison of assessment options that have been tried already.

Spokespeople for some employers recognise that times are changing and that education needs to adapt. Some of them are stating publicly that learning to learn is more useful than learning to pass tests. John Cridland, Director General of the Confederation of British Industries, is on record as saying recently, “What is clear to the business family is that what was right for the 20th century, may not be right for the 21st century. There is something about this GCSE funnel that produces a prescribed form of learning which seems to be teaching for the test, which frustrates teachers because it stops them delivering that inspirational classroom experience and you see young people being switched off.” (http://www.cbi.org.uk/media-centre/news-articles/2012/05/gcses-not-up-to-the-job-bosses-say/) Keith Attwood, Chair of the CBI’s education committee, has also said that employers place greater value on hiring “rounded” individuals who are able to write reports and speak confidently.

Raising the age of compulsory participation in education in England to 17 in 2013 and then 18 in 2015 offers opportunities for more considered approaches to developing a rich and stimulating curriculum and encouraging the most inspiring teaching and learning. It also provides a chance to plan for students’ progression from a rounded general education to specialisation and expertise, regardless of their backgrounds or family income.

These issues shouldn’t be reduced to gimmicks, sound bites or point-scoring by any political party or the media. Set alongside controversial fee policies for further education, it is important to think about what kind of future awaits teenagers who don’t measure up in whatever exam system prevails. Even those who do achieve good grades aren’t guaranteed jobs.

What happens in schools will have a knock-on effect in adult and further education and on society in general.

What do you think?