05 July 2008

Education Education Education

Time we started a blog debate on this very important topic.

The Borders Party ranks include several professional educators. I agree that this is an important area and that for many people the education provided to their children is the most crucial council service.

It has suggested that public meetings be held to consult. But before that we can chat online and hopefully folk interested in education in the Scottish Borders will join in. This will at least help to identify the areas of greatest concern, before any public meeting.

I feel that the new SBC policy, yet to be adopted, of saving money by combining headships and reducing the number of promoted posts will save small sums at the expense of risking the culture in well run schools by spreading management too thinly. It will give financial savings on paper but may lose value in terms of educational outcomes.

Is this a Borders Party theme? To take account of value rather than just cost?

It is much easier for the Council to listen to the bean counters and look narrowly at cost, but a Borders Party administration will look more widely at value for money, which involves listening, thinking and making balanced judgements.

Already, parents are reacting angrily to Transforming Children's Services as cost cutting dressed up as something else. Surely, it is all too typical of modern government, local and national, to try to hide the truth under a layer of spin.

Another favourite tactic is to bewilder the public by providing such a weight of argument as to defy all opposition. That's weight as measured on the scales rather than in the halls of debate. I have been sent a pile of Transforming Children's Services documents as part of the public consultation exercise and I guess I'll have to try not to get bogged down thinking about how much it cost the council taxpayer to print and distribute these glossy 48-page tomes and start ploughing through.

Borders Party thoughts on education hitherto have been:

a) to retain local schools in rural areas wherever possible

b) to oppose entering into Public Private Partnerships, which entail long-term debt

c) to stress value above cost.

Of course the council has to take account of cost but it is just as important to recognise value. As has been said elsewhere, flinging money at education has clearly not worked. This has been true nationally in the last ten years or so, where expenditure has risen enormously, standards are seen by many as falling and teachers feel so wrapped up in targets and testing that they cannot teach! I'm told of a sign in a teacher's office which read 'The more I test, the less I teach. Soon I will know with absolute certainty that they know nothing!'

One of the problems with national targets and an over-centralised education regime is that local education authorities have less and less room for maneouvre. Our challenge is to identify ways in which resources in the Borders education service can be used more effectively for better outcomes for Borders youngsters.

Over to you.


Richard Havers said...

Raymond, we clearly need some radical thinking to change the steady downward trend in our school's results and I'm not sure - no I'm certain - I don't have the answers. However, what is clear to me is that we have so confused the issues with change for change's sake that one aspect of our policy ought to be - just say no to change. Would it not be better for teachers to be allowed to teach their pupils rather than constantly debate new things to do?

Indeed, change is the curse of modern life. Managers introduce change to show that they might be doing something, whereas it might be better to leave it well alone. Others may say it's broken so it needs fixing, rather than the other way around. However, what is broke about our teaching? It seems to me that inspectors reports are a major yardstick of how well things are going and like much of what passes for scrutiny in our crazy mixed up world it's increasingly about opinion.

Well in my opinion we seem to be turning out youngsters that are not inspired by the teaching they receive. Results of course are important, but above everything else we should seek to inspire our young. To me that's where we have to get radical. We need to see education in a holistic way, that takes it out of the classroom into after school, extra curricular and non-traditional ways. As I say, I have no solutions just a belief that children need to be inspired above all else. Achieve that and we will have a better future to look forward to.

Raymond said...

Richard, I think we are in agreement that outcomes are measured too narrowly.

For a local authority trying to save money, a better policy is one which saves money. For a government which has established national league tables and educational targets, a good educational outcome is measured by every student obtaining five good qulalifications or whatever level is deemed necessary for the UK to remain competitive in a global market.

I quite agree that a good educational outcome for an individual is that she or he leaves school feeling inspired. To learn from life, to seek out whatever interests them, to strive for their own goals, not those set in Whitehall or Holyrood. Or indeed not to strive but just to 'be' if that is what they want.

And yes, we are plagued by change for change sake. It is true that no human enterprise is perfect and therefore by definition there is room for improvement. But that should not mean that we move the goalposts, change the rules, sack the referee and build a multi-million pound new stadium just to up our game!

We have heard that Physics is dying out as a secondary school subject and there is at least reason to believe that some local education authorites are steering youngsters towards 'easier' subjects such as Media Studies as they seek to improve their league table standings.

Ironically, is's Physics that teaches us that, at the particle level, we cannot measure without changing what we measure. I say ironically, because in a different way the same applies at the level of human endeavour.

If you are going to pay GPs for what they do, you will of course change what they do. Their behaviour will change according to what is measured, and the same seems to apply in education. So if you keep changing nationaly set targets, then you will cause a massive disruption in schools. I wonder if this effect partly accounts for the reported low morale among teaching staff?

With reference to my original blog, EIS whinging, I am not attacking teaching staff. I simply mean that a statement that teachers need better pay to attract better qualified people into the profession is predictable and does little to take the debate forward. In any case, there is little a local authority can do to influence teachers salary scales.

I hope this blog attracts contributions from teachers and others with an interest in the education of our young people. Which should mean everybody.

Richard Havers said...

Raymond, like you I'd love to know what teachers think. My gut feeling tells me that teaching is in the hands of administrators not teachers. I'm not saying that teacher always knows best, but that's where we ought to start in finding out about what we need to do. And I bet they know better than most!

I'm a living breathing example of someone who was inspired by teachers but did rubbish at exams - three attempts to get five o levels would consign me to the scrap heap of today's world. Yet I managed to work away and eventually ended up on the board of a company of 40,000 people; since then I've managed to do all sorts of fascinating things. All the while I thought about how my school taught me about opportunities and about life. Yes they were disappointed that I did so poorly in exams, but they should be proud of the inspiration they've given me.

• What do teachers want to see happening?
• What do pupils feel is wrong with school? (Cynics may say we will get the obvious answers, but there may just be some nuggets)
• Is there a role for people outside the teaching profession to mentor groups of children?
• How is sport being treated in school?
• How can we scrutinise SBC's budgets to see what is happening with our money and education?

Stowite said...

I hear what you are saying but I have to disagree with some comments.
I know some schools were penalised in the budget of this year because they had, through good management within the school, saved up a bit from their DSM money to go towards some capital project that the head teacher had earmarked as necessary.
We allknow what the infrastrcuture is like - even Cllr Bhatia seems to know!! but this money was used to calculate how much of a cut each school could withstand - in other words a penalty for good management of their budget.
On the teaching side and ond the consumables side there is little room for movement but i agree there is bound to be some admin reduction but thereis a blizzard of initiatives coming from Westminster, Holyrood and Newtown and there have to be carried out before anything else can get done.
Standards in secondary education are appallingAn HNC nowadays would dhardly have been an ONC d15 years ago and it is done because it is tick the box assessment and that is wrong.
We are seeing now the children coming through the schools who have never been told they are wrong, who have never been allowed to be competitive who have been rewarded for failure since play group. This cannot be right.
We need to return to some aspects of rote learning after all we learn to walk, speak and communicate by repeating what we hear and see over and over until we get it right and that is the greatess learning curve of all!
I hear tonight on the news that 50% of children cannot speak propoerly at age 5. That is because their parents do now speak to them, do not read to them and don't spend time with them. As usual it is somebody elses fault and somebody else has to cure the problem and that falls on teachers - bot the administrators or the managers.
The one thing that really bothers sme about "tranforming children's services" is the promotion prospects of teachers will now be reduced unless. To lose so many PT posts so quickly means any kind of incentive through promotion is effectively whipped from under the tacher's feet. They will try to push the "chartered teacher" thing but that is not popular and I doubt if the teachers themsleves will go for that idea.
This is an interesting exercise and there are good bits in it but fundamentaly it is to reduce costa an dthe edcaation budget.
There my first blog and I am on a good old rant!!

Raymond said...

Stowite, I do not feel that we are all that far apart really. I am sure that Transforming Children's Services is about saving money and I fully agree that standards are falling.

If education authorites continue to let standards flounder then chidren are being let down. Unfortunately, I don't have the answers because it seems that, as you say, with all the 'initiatives' coming through from government there is less and less room for maneouvre.

How much power do local education authorites have to decide what will be spent on education and, even more important, how much power do they have to decide how the funds will be spent?

Let's have a few answers.