Tuesday, April 03, 2007

Britain: Class bias a reality

SOME of Britain's leading universities are secretly operating selection schemes that can discriminate against applicants from good state or independent schools. Internal documents show that six of the 20 elite Russell Group universities are identifying applicants from schools with poor exam results or from deprived areas based on their postcode. Admissions tutors are then advised to favour them over equally well-qualified candidates from better schools or backgrounds. The schemes, revealed under the Freedom of Information Act, will fuel criticism that universities are attempting to socially engineer their intakes. It follows government pressure to increase the number of students from poorer backgrounds.

There have been previous controversies over ad hoc schemes introduced by universities or departments such as at Bristol University. However, the documents show some universities are now routinely filtering applicants. The trend is expected to accelerate under plans by the Universities and Colleges Admissions Service (Ucas). It has already decided universities should be told if applicants' parents went to university, and a working group is currently devising national schemes to identify applicants from weak schools.

The documents show Nottingham University tells all its admissions tutors that they should treat applicants from a socioeconomically deprived postcode or from a poorly performing school more favourably. They are told to drop a grade in their offer to applicants whose predicted A-level scores would mean they would normally be rejected.

Newcastle University has introduced a traffic-light system in which forms have symbols added by the administration office to rate applicants' socioeconomic or educational background. Tutors are told they should make lower offers to students whose predicted grades would normally rule them out. Where tutors want to reject such applicants, the advice states: "Applicants whose forms indicate two or more `contextual factors' should be routinely reconsidered within the faculty to confirm (or otherwise) the reject decision."

Newcastle also runs a scheme for applicants from certain postcodes or schools with poor results that allows tutors to make lower A-level offers. Such applicants have to attend a two-week summer school. In addition, administrators write on Ucas forms the percentage of students at the applicant's school that have gained five or more GCSEs at grades A* to C grades. The advice to tutors says: "The lower the average performance of the school, the more weight may be given to the candidate whose past examination performance significantly exceeds their school's average performance."

At Warwick, applicants from "low participation backgrounds" are asked to submit extra information that will be considered alongside Ucas forms. Liverpool, Southampton and Bristol all suggest admissions tutors take account of "contextual factors" such as educational opportunities or personal circumstances.

John Marincowitz, headmaster of Queen Elizabeth's grammar school in Barnet, London, said: "Selection should be based on academic results and the extracurricular achievements. You can't assign values to factors such as school exam results."

Nottingham University said it had introduced a "flexible" admissions policy, but that had meant applicants being asked for grades of AAB rather than AAA at A-level. The policy did not appear in the prospectus, but applicants were informed.

Newcastle University insisted its policy was fair. A spokesman said: "Admissions tutors have always taken into account available contextual information when assessing the academic potential of applicants to the university."


British schools drop Holocaust lessons to avoid "offence"

A sad day when the truth has become offensive

Teachers are dropping controversial subjects such as the Holocaust and the Crusades from history lessons because they do not want to cause offence to children from certain races or religions, a report claims. A lack of factual knowledge among some teachers, particularly in primary schools, is also leading to "shallow" lessons on emotive and difficult subjects, according to the study by the Historical Association.

The report, produced with funding from the Department for Education, said that where teachers and staff avoided emotive and controversial history, their motives were generally well intentioned. "Staff may wish to avoid causing offence or appearing insensitive to individuals or groups in their classes. In particular settings, teachers of history are unwilling to challenge highly contentious or charged versions of history in which pupils are steeped at home, in their community or in a place of worship," it concluded. However, it was concerned that this could lead to divisions within school, and that it might also put pupils off history.



Subsequent reports indicate that the above applies only to ONE school.

Decayed Australian mathematics teaching

It's been figured out: our numeracy is not what it should be, writes Kevin Donnelly

In March 2004, 26 Australian academics wrote an open letter to then federal education minister Brendan Nelson about the parlous state of primary school literacy teaching as a result of Australia's adoption of outcomes-based education fads. Among the concepts was whole language, whereby students are made to look and guess instead of learning the relationship between letters and sounds. The rest, they say, is history.

Nelson set up a national inquiry into literacy. The subsequent report concluded that state and territory curriculum documents, teacher training and professional development had been captured by the whole-language approach and a greater emphasis on teaching the traditional phonics and phonemic awareness was necessary.

Not to be outdone, Australia's mathematicians have organised an open letter to the Prime Minister, to be delivered next week. It has been signed by more than 440 local and international academics concerned about the parlous state of mathematical sciences in Australia. Signatories include Terry Tao, the recent winner of the internationally acclaimed Fields Medal; John Ball, president of the International Mathematical Union; and many of Australia's most qualified mathematicians and statisticians.

The open letter cites the fact that many universities are closing or reducing departments of mathematical sciences, that the shortage of graduates is so acute that "it inhibits the work of business and industry", and that the quality and rigour of mathematics teaching in schools and universities have been severely undermined.

The letter argues that there has been little, if any, action at the commonwealth [Federal] level - notwithstanding the release three months ago of Mathematics and Statistics: Critical Skills for Australia's Future, a report summarising the findings of the national strategic review of mathematical sciences - and that the time for action has long since passed.

In short, the report of the national inquiry concludes that the supply of trained mathematicians and statisticians is inadequate and decreasing, that Australian academics are becoming increasingly isolated and under-resourced, that not enough Year 12 students undertake more difficult courses (participation in higher-order mathematics fell from 41 per cent in 1995 to 34 per cent in 2004), and that high school mathematics is taught by teachers with inadequate mathematical training.

The report does not only concentrate on the negatives: it also offers a number of recommendations for improving the situation. They range from strengthening Australia's research base to guaranteeing funding for organisations such as the Australian Mathematical Sciences Institute and the International Centre of Excellence for Education in Mathematics (funded at present by the Department of Education, Science and Training) and rebuilding mathematical science departments.

Given the concerns aired in these pages over the past two years about the quality and rigour of Australia's school curriculum and doubts about teacher effectiveness, it's hardly surprising that the report on mathematics and statistics also highlights the need to strengthen secondary school mathematics courses and to ensure teachers have a thorough grounding in the discipline.

Reading between the lines - and as noted in a submission to the inquiry from Tony Guttmann of the Australian Research Council Centre of Excellence for Mathematics and Statistics of Complex Systems - it is obvious, in the same way that subjects such as history and English have been dumbed down, school mathematics has also suffered.

Guttmann argues that the type of feel-good approach to education associated with Australia's adoption of outcomes-based education, where the word "failure" is banned and promoting self-esteem is considered paramount, has led to students being unable, or unwilling, to master so-called hard subjects. Guttmann says: "An attitude is being bred in schools that it does not matter whether a student succeeds in mastering a concept, so long as an effort is made and that effort is rewarded. The concept of failure is considered to be potentially damaging to the self-esteem of students, and so must be avoided. This attitude is particularly problematic for subjects in which a substantial body of knowledge is assumed and built upon."

In order to strengthen mathematics teaching, the report suggests teacher training must be improved. Although it does not go as far as to argue that all teachers should complete an undergraduate degree in their specialist discipline, followed by a diploma of education, thus ensuring that graduates have a firm foundation in their subject, the report suggests that mathematical science departments should have a greater involvement in teacher preparation.

Research shows that one of the key determinants of successful learning is a teacher's mastery of a subject. There is increasing concern that the type of general bachelor of education degree designed and taught by schools of education fails to provide such grounding. As Guttmann points out: "The training of teachers can be improved by making sure that mathematics teachers have a mathematics degree, followed by a diploma of education or equivalent. Their mathematical education should not be provided by education faculties, but by discipline experts."

In an election year, it is obvious the two main political parties see education as a significant issue and that Kevin Rudd and Stephen Smith have successfully repositioned the ALP by staking the territory once the preserve of the conservatives. It is also obvious that Australia's continued high standard of living and international competitiveness depend on the quality, rigour and effectiveness of our education system, especially in the areas of mathematics and related fields such as engineering, science and physics. In the same way that Nelson, when education minister, acted quickly to address falling standards in literacy and concerns about the quality of teacher training, one hopes that the federal Government will also move quickly to address concerns about mathematics.



For greatest efficiency, lowest cost and maximum choice, ALL schools should be privately owned and run -- with government-paid vouchers for the poor and minimal regulation.

The NEA and similar unions worldwide believe that children should be thoroughly indoctrinated with Green/Left, feminist/homosexual ideology but the "3 R's" are something that kids should just be allowed to "discover"

For more postings from me, see TONGUE-TIED, GREENIE WATCH, POLITICAL CORRECTNESS WATCH, FOOD & HEALTH SKEPTIC, GUN WATCH, SOCIALIZED MEDICINE, AUSTRALIAN POLITICS, DISSECTING LEFTISM, IMMIGRATION WATCH and EYE ON BRITAIN. My Home Pages are here or here or here. Email me (John Ray) here. For times when blogger.com is playing up, there are mirrors of this site here and here.


1 comment:

Anonymous said...

...where the word "failure" is banned and promoting self-esteem is considered paramount, has led to students being unable, or unwilling, to master so-called hard subjects... The concept of failure is considered to be potentially damaging to the self-esteem of students, and so must be avoided.

The old LG,AS syndrome - "Looks Good, Ain't Shiite" - in action. Substance still matters. Putting lipstick on a pig won't change the pig into something else.