7 Fascinating Things To Read About Education (July Edition)

29th July 2013

1.      Scotland vs. England: Who educates best?

Written for an American audience, this simplistic piece strips back complexities and sets England and Scotland’s education systems against each other. For those unaware of what is happening above the border, you may be surprised to learn that Scotland is thinking of scrapping exams at 16 and is pursuing a more ‘holistic’ curriculum – a direct contrast to the tightening of prescription in England’s exams and curriculum.

“So what are we to make of these two, very different, approaches to curriculum within Great Britain?  My own reading of the experience of the countries with the most successful education systems suggests that the Scots are more likely to produce superior student achievement across the board than the English, using the strategies just described”


2.      Why not agreeing with someone does not mean you are ‘maintaining the status quo’

Gary Rubinstein, one-time TeachForAmerica participant and now perpetual thorn in their side, takes the TFA leaders to task for arguing that anyone not on the side of their favourite reforms are inevitably on the side of ‘the status quo’. Rubinstein forensically takes apart this argument and shows that not agreeing with reform does not mean that you think nothing should be done, nor that doing something is inevitably better than whatever currently exists. His reasoning resounds for many UK debates too.

“If ‘status quo defender’ means, as Villanueva-Beard implies, someone who thinks we should do ‘nothing’ different in education, then I say that she is directing her frustration against an imaginary boogeyman.  There is not one person in this country who is knowledgeable about education who thinks that everything is as good as it can possibly get.”


3.      Do children ‘inherit’ GCSE success?

In anticipation of upcoming research, this Telegraph piece argues that genes have a greater impact on GCSE scores than teaching. It’s not a new argument, but that it is rearing its head again – and that is even being considered by the DfE – is one to keep an eye on. Why such research is an irrelevance for teachers is sensitively explained here by blogger OldAndrewUK. When read in unison, the two pieces give plenty of food for thought.

“Prof Robert Plomin, from the Institute of Psychiatry at King’s College London, who carried out the study, has now been called into the Department for Education to brief ministers and senior officials on the outcomes of his research. It is believed that the DfE is seriously considering how some of the findings may be used to influence education reforms in the future.”


4.      What the numbers (worryingly) show about “Schools Direct” 

The government’s plan to move teacher training recruitment from universities and into the hands of schools is stalling. John Howson has tracked the numbers of applicants and recruits throughout the year. This blog synthesizes his findings showing how things were going awry right from the start.

“With so many applications to choose from you might expect School Direct to have filled all its places by now, just as Teach First has already closed its door to applicants for this year. But, you would be wrong, if data from the DfE web site is correct. Over the Easter weekend only between 7% and 45% of the salaried places were filled”


5.      How can you know if a headteacher is lying?

Governors are the ‘overseers’ of schools. By monitoring heads and checking  progress they are supposed to keep watch and flag for help when necessary. Problem is: how do you know if the information being fed to you by the headteacher is the truth? Jan Rush’s thought-provoking piece asks if you’d have foreseen problems in the information one headteacher presented….

The data to back this up is presented, collective sigh of relief that this year looks OK and we haven’t failed them. And then of course the results come out.”


6.      Why ‘hard facts’ just won’t do when persuading teachers 

When presenting evidence it is possible for some people to agree with it while others do not. Question is: how do you convince the non-believers to give up their (often tightly-held) view and start believing in what you say? David Weston’s detailed blog explains how such persuasion is not just about presenting cold hard fact. Emotions are important too. People need opportunities to about-turn with dignity and on the basis of trusted relationships.  His step-by-step ideas are gold for anyone getting frustrated with current policy debates.

“To those who are used to arguing very intellectually and claim to be basing their decision on logic then this may all seem very shallow. However, without an understanding of the cognitive processes that mitigate against successful adoption of ideas then you might as well be shouting in an empty room”


7.      The Boys Who Camped As Girls

America’s traditional summer camps have this year been extended to include a camp for gender non-conforming boys. This Slate article includes a series of photos and explains the aim of the camp. Sadly, the article doesn’t question the representation of femininity being used at the camp (from the photos, ‘girl’ seems to equal ‘frilly dresses & make-up’) but the articles drawbacks are partly what makes it so interesting.

“The camp, “You Are You” …is for “Parents who don’t have a gender-confirming 3-year-old who wants to wear high heels and prefers to go down the pink aisle in K-Mart and not that nasty dark boys’ aisle,” Morris said with a laugh.”


And Now For Something Completely Different….

Each month I will select one article that’s not about education but which highlights an issue in a thought-provoking way. This one was particularly high on my radar as it asks a question I’ve never even thought of yet, when you think about it, is actually quite important:

8.      Why Do Bond Villains Need Facial Scars?  – Written by rights campaigner Victoria Wright, this pithy piece rightly questions the notion that facial scars equal evil. After all – who kills people with their skin?!


And that’s it until next month. Enjoy.