Archive for the ‘Education’ Category

What about a career in science?

September 8, 2011

According to a report in today’s edition of The Guardian a study, using data from the Higher Education Statistics Agency, by researchers Birmingham University concluded that too many rather than too teenagers  may be studying engineering and sciences. This suggests that the advice that the government has been giving students may be wrong.

The study showed only 55% of chemistry and physics students were in jobs related to their degree. Photograph: F1 Online / Rex Features

Only about half of all science graduates find work that requires their scientific knowledge, a study has shown, casting doubt on the government’s drive to encourage teenagers to study the subject at university.
A study showed 46% of engineering students and 55% of chemistry or physics students were in jobs related to their degree six months after graduation.

The researchers from Birmingham University analysed data from the Higher Education Statistics Agency on students who graduated from UK universities in 2008 and 2009. About a quarter of engineering students were in roles that did not require a degree six months after graduation, and 12% were in sales or admin work, the researchers found. Engineering and science degrees are among the most expensive for universities to run.

The study – Is there a shortage of scientists? A re-analysis of supply for the UK – argues that there may be too many science graduates for the labour market.

Ministers from all political parties and the Confederation of British Industry have argued the opposite for many years.

The government has protected the funding of places on science, technology, engineering and maths degrees, while spending on other courses has been cut. The Council for Industry and Higher Education told ministers in 2009 that it could not “stress too forcibly our concern at the critical shortage of graduates and postgraduates with science, technology, engineering and maths capabilities”.

Could this be the result of our politicians really have no business advising pupals what subjects they should study? Could it be that the advice they have been giving is based only pm a hnch that advising young people to study the sciences is right.  It certainly goes down with the electorate.

Emma Smith, professor of education, equity and policy at Birmingham University and one of the study’s authors, said the drive to boost the number of science graduates might have led to “too many people studying science for the labour market to cope with”.

She said that while it was possible that the problem might lie with the quality of science graduates, it was more likely that the scientists were not in work related to their studies because “the shortage thesis is wrong and there are no jobs waiting for all of them”.

She added: “It is astonishing … that so few new graduates go into related employment. The figures suggest it is not easy or automatic for qualified engineers to get related employment in the UK, despite the purported shortages.”

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Join the army and see the classroom.

October 8, 2009

The announcement, at yesterday’s Tory Party conference, by schools spokesman, Michael Grove, that his party, if elected, intended develop a Troops to Teachers programme which would see military professionals becoming teachers draws some caustic comments  from Simon Hoggart in his sketch for today’s edition of The Guardian.

Grove’s avowed intention, which Hoggart considers to be one example of one of  the “stark staring bonkers”  ideas the party can come up with from time to time,  is  “to get the professionals in the army who know how to train young men and women into the classroom where they can provide not just discipline, but inspiration and leadership.”

In other words, he wants to send the army into our schools. Men and women in battledress dashing down the corridors, yelling “cover!” as they race to secure the playground! And he announced it without any preliminaries, or indeed any explanation, as if it were something perfectly obvious to everyone, an ambition the whole country could unite behind, like healthier school dinners and better facilities for sport.

What on earth did he have in mind? Just a single NCO per classroom?

“Jordan Blenkinsop, you’re a horrible little girl. What are you?”

“A horrible little girl, sarn’t!”

And what did he mean by “providing discipline”? “Now then, what I have ‘ere in my hand is an SA80 standard issue rifle. If I don’t get a bit of hush, you’re going to be looking down the wrong end of it, and I hope you bleeding well catch my drift, you shower.”

Will there be military classes too? Laying down ground fire? Landmine dispersal? How to conduct a field amputation with a Stanley knife from the art room? None of these matters was addressed. And how will it change those recruitment ads they run on the television? “Could you fly a £15m jet aircraft at twice the speed of sound? Could you drive a Centurion 2 battle tank into the heart of the action? Could you cope with 9C in the last period on Friday afternoon?”

Breaking the code.

September 15, 2009

I’m not all that sympathetic with teachers in England are who complain that the  profession’s watchdog, the General Teaching Council for England (GTC), is going too  in introducing a code conduct – which comes into force next month –  which says teachers must “maintain reasonable standards in their own behaviour that enable them to uphold public trust and confidence in the profession”

 It seems to me that if teachers want to be trusted and respected, they should earn that trust and respect by their public conduct.

Of course, I would not wish to see this “conduct unbecoming” code being used as an excuse to exclude teachers from fully participating in the body politic. Nor would I like to see a return to this

 I am intrigued by the NASUWT’s opposition to the code of conduct. When I joined NAS in the late 60s they issued me with a handbook of moral and social imperatives. My favourite was “A teacher should not get drunk on Saturday night or answer the door in his braces”

Peter Baker, Leicester

(The Guardian Tuesday 15.09.2009)

Balls and the Sats fiasco.

July 23, 2009

Nothing in this report comes as a surprise to those who believe that this government has long had a penchant for micromanaging things it knows little about. What may surprise just a little is lengths to which it is prepared to go to ensure that what it believes to be right is done – in other words,  how far it will go to impose its will on those who probably know better .

 Ed Balls‘s interference increased the likelihood of the collapse of the Sats system, according to MPs in the first report to officially accuse the schools secretary of playing a significant role in the fiasco.

His department micromanaged the system and prevented the Qualifications and Curriculum Authority (QCA) from reforming the tests, the report says. But ministers later claimed that they had not been involved and could not be blamed when the tests failed.

The parliamentary committee responsible for schools said Balls and his ministers knew of the problems earlier than has been acknowledged and established a testing system on a scale that made it vulnerable to failure every year. The marking of Sats – taken by 1.2 million children in England – collapsed last year under the auspices of the American firm ETS, which had its contract terminated.

An independent inquiry commissioned by the Department for Children, Schools and Families and the exams watchdog Ofqual, led by Lord Sutherland, said ETS was ultimately responsible, but heaped blame on the QCA for failing to prevent the escalation of the problems. Balls subsequently scrapped all tests for 14-year-olds and science papers for 11-year-olds.

Ken Boston, the then chief executive of the QCA, had his offer of resignation refused and was eventually fired after Sutherland reported last December. Boston accused Balls of being more involved than had been acknowledged and “sexing up” evidence against him when he appeared before the select committee in April. The report largely backs his version of events.

Barry Sheerman, the chairman of the children, schools and families select committee, said: “The whole process got muddled because there wasn’t a clear line of responsibility. This led to a situation where this [the QCA] was clearly not an independent organisation.

“It’s too easy for Ed Balls and Jim Knight [the then schools minister] to say ‘It wasn’t me, guv, it’s an independent body’. QCA wasn’t independent. If someone is looking over the QCA’s shoulder all the time watching and observing them, even if it’s informally, quietly, beneath the radar, you can’t claim it’s independent.

“Ed Balls and Jim Knight were ultimately responsible for the quality of these bodies. In a system of ministerial responsibility, Ed and his ministerial team can’t escape totally.”

I don’t suppose for one moment that this will make any difference to what either Mr. Balls or his cronies  think or do in future.

Labour and damning statistics.

July 16, 2009

There was a terrific article by Jenni Russell in the 14h of July edition of The Guardian in which she examined why measuring-by-statistic-mad new Labour are still failing to understand why the electorate are ungrateful, even when all the statistics show that it’s spending on schools and the hearth service is higher than it ever was, its commitment to economic regeneration demonstrably serious, its commitment to reducing crime figures unquestionable.  

The conversations I have had recently with senior civil servants, advisers and Labour ministers have often had a plaintive tone. Why, these people want to know, aren’t the electorate more grateful for what’s been done for them? Where’s the political reward for all the money spent on schools and hospitals and economic regeneration? Why doesn’t the country appreciate the fall in crime figures? How could voters be flirting with the cost-cutting Conservatives, when Labour’s statistics show that spending money produces measurable and improved results?

These sound like the right questions, but they aren’t. What the questioners really mean is not “Where did we go wrong?” but “What’s wrong with all of you?” And what’s wrong with us is that we’re not the automatons New Labour thought we were. We’re not remote and dispassionate observers of our society, making cool calculations about its success or failure on the basis of government-generated numbers. We’re complicated, vulnerable, emotional creatures, and we live with the consequences of official decision-making every day of our lives. What matters to us aren’t the figures we’re fed, or the targets that get hit, but what the experience feels like to us. Yet that part of the process has been almost completely neglected in official eyes….

As one reads this article, one realises that big lesson that Labour did not was the lesson Simon Caulkin was, but is no longer,  preaching Sunday after Sunday in his column for The Guardian‘s sister paper, The Observer, and that is that Labour has, since it came to power, insisted on using the wrong measures.

 It thought it was being modern and innovative by treating the country as if it were a business, where all outcomes could be measured by putting money in and getting targets out. It made the false assumption that building a school or a sports complex was automatically an investment, just as it would be if the government were in the business of mechanising chicken factories or building car plants. It thought it could close police stations or post offices in the name of cost-cutting, with as little effect as if it were Coffee Republic shutting down some unprofitable shops. It didn’t stop to remember that the business of all public services is dealing with the needs of people, and that those are never just mechanical, but social and emotional too.

Governments cannot afford to take a business’s narrow and mechanistic view of people’s requirements, because it’s not just a collection of service providers. A government’s wider duty is to frame and structure the society in which we live. Rebuilding society was one of Labour’s explicit aims, in contrast to Mrs Thatcher’s infamous reference to there being no such thing. Yet our encounters with the state are profoundly important in shaping our culture, and every time we run up against the wooden indifference, public lies or robotic responses of officialdom we shrink into ourselves, and the bonds between all of us are weakened a little more.

Labour thought that what we prized above all else was economic efficiency. Clumsily, it tried to give it to us and, even when the evidence showed it wasn’t delivering, it went on attempting to give us statistics instead. But the priorities were wrong. What we all prize in our encounters with others is a sense of our value. We are social animals, alarmed by the uncertain world in which we live, with a profound need to be recognised, respected and responded to. We want public services to respond to us as people, and to give us the sense that we matter. It is the deepest human need, and yet this government has been oblivious to it.

When it wonders why we’re not grateful to it, the answer’s really simple. It’s the experience, stupid.

Yes indeed we do “want public services to respond to us as people, and to give us the sense that we matter”, and as an adjunct to that we want our newspapers and periodicals to employ and retain people who will articulate those wants in forceful ways. What we do not want is influential newspapers to rid themselves of our most eloquent spokespersons at the very moment we need them most in the way that The Observer rid itself of Simon Caulkin

Licence to teach.

July 2, 2009

There were reports yesterday that Michael Gove, the shadow schools secretary, is strongly opposed to Schools Secretary, Ed Balls’s proposal – outlined in a new education White Paper which deals with a  package of measures designed to boost school standards parental power – that teachers will be required to get a licence – renewable  every five years – to ensure they are fit to teach in English state schools.

Mr.Grove said; “Instead of real steps to improve teaching, such as giving heads the power to pay bonuses to specialist teachers or reforming teacher training, Ed Balls proposes yet another huge bureaucratic measure that will cost a fortune and cause all sorts of problems. We don’t support it.”

Balls proposes that this “licence to teach” should be introduced for newly-qualified teachers from September 2010 and for remaining staff in coming years. Licenses – based on teachers competence in the classroom – would be issued by individual headteachers, and the General Teaching Council, which regulates the profession, would monitor the process and would have the power intervene if schools fail to impose rigorous checks.

Balls said: “It may be that we will discover some teachers who don’t make the grade … We want this to be a profession which is continually learning and developing, and that will be central to the licence.

“It’s saying we want to ensure the best teachers in every classroom in every part of the country.”

Balls’s proposal is, to my mind, by no means a bad one.  My first instincts tell, however,  me , that while the introduction on renewable licencing may be no bad thing, there is no good reason to be at all sanguine about Balls’s proposal that the issue of licences be the preserve of headteachers.  One suspects that Balls,  in trying to avoid creating another bureaucracy to administer “bureaucratic measure”, has not fully considered the implications of giving the headteacher of a single school would licencing, or refusing a licence, based on that teacher’s performance within that school and that school only. That part of his proposal must be more carefully thought through. I’d say.

Reading for pleasure.

June 19, 2009

According to Polly Curtis, education editor of The Guardian, it’s taken Ofsted three years to find  that 30% of English lessons are not good enough and that little attempt is made to encourage teenagers to read for pleasure. I’m sure that if you two had been paid what it cost for Ofsted to come up with that information, you would now be considering early retirement

Too many teachers appear to give up on pupils once they fall behind, the report suggests, with white working-class boys most likely to suffer. In some lessons writing tasks had “no purpose other than to keep pupils quiet”, inspectors found.

The report was based on inspectors’ visits to English lessons in 122 primary and 120 secondary schools across England between April 2005 and March 2008. It praises recent developments, including better use of roleplay and drama, and reading in primaries. But test results have hardly improved since 2004.

Inspectors found that “at best” in secondary schools, only year 7s were encouraged to read for their own enjoyment.

Anthony Browne, the new children’s laureate, said: “If children are not encouraged to read for pure pleasure, if they are dragged away from reading books they enjoy – including picture books – and pushed into reading educationally worthy books, then we are in danger of creating a generation of non-readers.”

What I wonder is who has been ultimately responsible for children’s not reading for pure pleasure and being “pushed into reading educationally worthy books”. Nothing to do with Ofsted, I’ll warrant.

Management should learn from the past.

May 31, 2009

In his column in today’s issue of The Observer Simon Caulkin, draws his readers attention to The Puritan Gift  by  brothers Will and Kenneth Hopper in which theyargue that up to the 1970s, US management was living “on the strength of its Puritan inheritance, part of which (with idealism, mechanical aptitudes and unparalleled ability to galvanise energy behind a single aim) was a belief that the coherence of the collective was more important than any individual”

But from the seventies onwards, America, forgetting what had served it well in the past, went in altogether different direction.

 Managers abandoned true north in favour of “neo-Taylorism” – quantitative techniques, “the cult of the expert”, of which the temples were business schools, and heroic CEOs. Raging self-interest and the malign influence of shareholder value did the rest;

Managers in the UK were all too easily persuaded, or could persuade themselves all to easily, to follow suit:

….. lacking their own tradition and burdened by inferiority complex, UK managers were all too easy to drag in the same direction.

Caulkin ends his piece by saying that that the Hoppers’ book does end  on a note of “qualified optimism”

Just as the French had to go to the US to reintroduce resistant vines after their own had been wiped out by phylloxera, so the most thoughtful Anglo-US firms are relearning what they once knew from Japan, inheritor of the human-centred US tradition via Deming and others after the war.

The Puritan Gift2

For those who may have never heard of Deming, a good place to start learning about him and his work is The W. Edwards Deming Institute.

Teaching Shakespeare to the young.

May 12, 2009

I suppose that there was always something of an inevitability about it, but it is still disappointing to note that many schools have taken the government’s decision to drop SATs at key stage 3 as a signal that they can abandon the teaching of Shakespeare the 7 to 9 age group altogether.

The haste with some schools are dropping the study of Shakespeare, just because a familiarity with his work is no longer expected as part of a test has been reported, as part of an investigation of how performing companies who helped school introduce Shakespeare to key stage 3 pupils are fairing now that tests have been removed, by Chris Arnot in today’s edition of The Guardian.

One state school has apparently sold off its year 9 Romeo and Juliet texts to a nearby independent school because they “won’t need them any more”.

Apocryphal or not, that story sums up what Ian McNeilly of the National Association for the Teaching of English calls the “short-sightedness” of schools and local authorities who are “so geared to league tables that any activity that doesn’t provide measurable results immediately moves down their priorities”. Hence the sharp decline in CPD (Continuing Personal Development ed.)  courses for teachers and visits to schools by theatre professionals. No sooner had the government announced last October that testing would no longer be compulsory at year 9 than phones began to ring at the RSC Royal Shakespeare Company). Around 50% of its Inset (in-school education training) and CPD courses at Stratford-on-Avon and London’s Roundhouse were cancelled.

Those of us who believe SATs should be got rid wanted this because we believed that teaching for SATs alone, which is what many teachers were being forced to do, was wrong. When we saw the key stage 3 SATs being abandoned, we believed that schools and teachers were bein freed up to be more creative in the way they approached the teaching, not being given a licence to abandon a subject altogether. Ah, how naive can we be?

Royal Shakespeare Company

Headteacher and his bonus.

April 28, 2009

There are some things that one picks up in the course of one’s reading that hardly need explanation or putting into context.  I would say that this  item, extracted from the Notebook column in The Guardtian – Education section –  is one of them.

• Sir Alan Davies, headteacher at Copland school in north London, didn’t return any of Notebook’s three telephone calls last week. Which is a pity, because we wanted to ask him why he has suspended the NUT representative at his school, Hank Roberts. We know, of course, that Roberts recently revealed Sir Alan’s £80,000 bonus last year, bringing his salary to £160,000, and £50,000 bonus the year before. But given that it’s public money, we assume Sir Alan believes the information ought to be in the public domain. There must be a simple explanation, and if Sir Alan cares to email it to francis@francisbeckett.co.uk, Notebook will report it next week.

I cannot wait till next week.