Education, economy and society – blog comment from Martin Allen

January 19, 2012

Latest unemployment figures speak for themselves

Filed under: YOUTH UNEMPLOYMENT — sitemananger @ 8:43 pm

Latest  ONS  figures for the period Sept to Nov 2011 show:

  •  1.04 million – 22.3% of ‘economically active’ 16-24 year olds are unemployed – up by 53 000.  
  • 829 000 –   20.8% of ‘economically active’  18-24 year olds are unemployed – up by 44.000.
  • 729 000 unemployed 16-24 year olds ‘not in full-time education’ – up 8000.  
  • 28 000   less 18-24 year olds are employed.
  • 2.68 million 16-64 year olds unemployed – up 118.000.
  • 57 000 less people in full-time employment.
  • 1.31 million  working part-time because they could not find a full-time job – up 44 000                                                          

January 16, 2012

Curriculum Wars ?– Gove goes again!

Filed under: Coalition education policies — sitemananger @ 8:50 am

In a widely reported speech, Michael Gove tried to project his ‘moderniser’ credentials to an audience of ‘techies’at the recent BETT show. Describing ICT lessons as being ‘off-putting’ ‘demotivating’ and ‘dull’ Gove is removing ICT’s status as a core National Curriculum subject – it will, like technology and citizenship, now just be part of the basic curriculum and encouraging teachers to innovate and use their professional expertise to create a situation where

‘Instead of children bored out of their minds being taught how to use Word and Excel by bored teachers, we could have 11 year-olds able to write simple 2D computer animations using an MIT tool called Scratch. By 16, they could have an understanding of formal logic previously covered only in University courses and be writing their own Apps for smartphones’ (

Yet other parts of Gove’s BETT statement, particularly his more general comments about learning, are more contradictory if not laughable, telling us that :

‘Education has barely changed… A Victorian schoolteacher could enter a 21st century classroom and feel completely at home. Whiteboards may have eliminated chalk dust, chairs may have migrated from rows to groups, but a teacher still stands in front of the class, talking, testing and questioning ‘

This is not only a blatant exaggeration; it’s an insult to the thousands of teachers who have tried to develop much more egalitarian and compassionate relationships with their students. In sharp contrast to the Victorian bullies–but also many of the grammar school teachers Gove seems to admire. While the education minister lectures us about education’s potential as an emancipator and ‘teachers freedom over what and how to teach’ Gove continues to use the culture and ethos of another age as his catalogue. Favouring a ‘kings and queens’ curriculum, school uniforms for all, standing when the teacher enters the class, not to mention detentions without notice; hardly puts him in the BETT ‘learn everywhere and anywhere’ tendency – does it?

Gove also joins the (now tedious) debate about education and the changing economy:

‘Our school system has not prepared children for this new world. Millions have left school over the past decade without even the basics they need for a decent job. And the current curriculum cannot prepare British students to work at the very forefront of technological change… Where once car manufacturing plants housed lines of workers hammering and soldering and drilling, now a technician controls the delicate operations of a whole series of robots’.

Yet in the US, Labor Bureau date shows just over 1.3 million people fitting this category predicting a 300 000 increase by 2018 – in sharp contrast to the 4 million increase number in ‘care’ workers for example. ( or the million plus increase in shop work or ‘food services’. In the UK 1 in 18 employed people ‘work in the IT’ (1.52 million people) as a whole – with 860 000 in the industry itself ( – well below even the number who still work in the dwindling manufacturing sector.

Much of Gove’s speech is just spin – designed to attack teachers and schools as much as promote an accurate picture of employment demand. Coming the day before government proposals to make it easier to sack ‘incompetent’ teachers were announced and when Gove is losing the arguments about ‘enforced’ academies; we need to keep all this in perspective.

Martin Allen

January 5, 2012

Curriculum Wars? A brief comment on new National Curriculum proposals

Filed under: Coalition education policies — sitemananger @ 6:38 pm


Though published just before Christmas, it’s still rather alarming that the ‘expert’ report on the National Curriculum passed almost unnoticed. Michael Gove has announced no changes will begin until 2014 so as to ‘allow for further debate with everyone interested in creating a genuinely world-class education system’. Having said this though, the report’s proposals reflect the general line of travel already outlined in the White Paper The Importance of Teaching. There are some key themes.

As with the White Paper, there is an argument for a greater correspondence with ‘successful’ education systems – those in South East Asia, but also Poland and the Canadian state of Alberta. Like the White Paper, the report argues that at key stage 4 in particular, the curriculum in England and Wales is too narrow.

Secondly, the report argues for a more subject and content based learning. In otherwords moving away from what is described as the “transferable knowledge and skills approach” advocated by influential groups, “such as the Royal Society of Arts and the Campaign for Learning” (Report: 2.10) and establishing a “curriculum representing the accumulated experience of the past and the representation of this for the future” – where knowledge is something to be ‘mastered’ rather than explored – transmitted, rather than ‘constructed’.

Thirdly, like the White Paper, the report argues for reduced centralisation – giving teachers greater freedom to use their ‘professional judgement’. New subject specifications will be less prescriptive and concentrate on ‘essential knowledge’ with a reduction in the number of attainment targets. Some curriculum areas, like technology and citizenship, but also rather surprisingly, ICT, will be relegated to the ‘basic curriculum’ – their content, likely left to schools to decide.

These arguments however have been presented in a highly selective manner. While asserting that high performing countries give particular emphasis to their education programmes, the review authors struggle to identify clear consistencies and accept that factors such as “family culture, the length of the school day, additional tutoring and teacher quality sit alongside other explanatory and ‘control’ factors” (8.9) in promoting success. In other words, their recommendations could be construed as being as much ideological as being based on reality.

It’s also difficult to see how the proposals will increase professional autonomy significantly. Curriculum specifications may become lighter, with students now being required only to learn ‘fewer things in greater depth’; but schools will still be subjected to a pile of external constraints. If anything, the compulsory Key Stage 4 curriculum additions will result in another form of narrowness. In accordance with E-bacc requirements, history, geography and modern foreign languages will now be statutory.

Making these subjects mandatory requirements for state schools (though not for academies and free schools of course) is not necessarily a retrograde step in itself – many schools have stripped down the curriculum offer for key stage 4 students. However, in what can be seen as a return to the ‘cultural restorationist’ and New Right era of the 1980s (Ken Jones, 1989: Stephen Ball, 1990 ), Gove, following his fondness for the post-war grammar school, has made it clear what sort of history should be taught and which authors should be studied. Unless there is a major debate on what counts as ‘valued forms of knowledge’ (1.4) and a variety of learning styles are defended, large numbers of young people will be further alienated from school.

Martin Allen

Create a free website or blog at


Get every new post delivered to your Inbox.

Join 283 other followers