Sunday, March 01, 2009

Many students from British government schools not well enough prepared for Cambridge

State school students are missing out on places at elite universities because their grades are not good enough, Cambridge admissions chiefs said yesterday. The 'critical obstacle' to an official crusade to widen the social class mix of students is their poor performance compared with private school pupils, it was claimed. In a veiled attack on Labour's record, the university said it had failed to break the 'pernicious link between deprivation and educational attainment'.

Research commissioned by Cambridge found state school pupils make up 86 per cent of A-level candidates but only 63 per cent of those achieving three As in academic disciplines. In an analysis, Dr Geoff Parks and Richard Partington said this figure was 'unlikely' to rise 'unless their exam performance improves'.

Areas which still had grammar schools dominated the top of a table of authorities with the most state school pupils gaining three As at A-level, they added. More than 27 per cent of state pupils in Reading, which has high-performing grammars, achieved three As in 2006, compared with none in Southwark, said the analysis. Many sixthform colleges also did well. But, said Dr Parks and Mr Partington, the research showed the real barrier to top universities was an 'uneven' education playing field and the link between a child's prospects and their social background.

The research follows a Commons inquiry which found that almost 400million pounds has been spent on boosting recruitment of working-class students to university with barely any effect. Cambridge's intervention will rile Universities Secretary John Denham, who believes leading universities should do more to change the social make-up of their students. In a speech this week, Mr Denham declared: 'The more research intensive universities must address fair access effectively, or their student population will remain skewed. 'Failing to attract the best talent from all parts of our society is bad for those institutions and bad for the students who miss out on studying there.'

When Cambridge vice-chancellor Alison Richard claimed last year ministers were 'meddling' in university affairs and expecting them to pursue a 'social justice' agenda instead of concentrating on their core purposes of education and research, Mr Denham said he disagreed 'profoundly'.

Research by Cambridge Assessment, the exam board linked to the university, found that 24,580 A-levels students in 2006 achieved three or more As in subjects excluding general studies and critical thinking. Of those, 8,858 - or 36 per cent - were independently educated [with independent schools accounting for only 7% of the student population]. Grammar schools accounted for a further 4,191 - or 17 per cent - of triple A students.


Neo-Marxist English teachers trying to downgrade literature in Australian national curriculum

The old nonsense about the back of the cornflakes packet being just as important as Shakespeare. Literature introduces kids to diversity in thinking and we can't have that, apparently. And they are still resisting phonics! Too bad if lots of kids never learn to read, apparently.

In their own education, English teachers have had "Theory" drummed into them and they have still not unlearned that -- even though the chief protagonists of "Theory" have now abandoned it.

English teachers are seeking to downgrade the importance of literature in the national curriculum to allow the study of an expanded range of texts covering visual and multimodal forms "as essential works in their own right". The professional association purporting to represent the view of the nation's English teachers also calls for the national curriculum to recognise a whole-language method for teaching reading rather than exclusively emphasising phonics and the letter-sound relationships as the initial step.

In its submission to the National Curriculum Board's framing paper on the English curriculum, the Australian Association for the Teaching of English declares studying literature is "inherently a political action" in creating the type of people society values. The submission disputes the National Curriculum Board's definition of school English as the three elements of language, literature and literacy. "Meaning-making in, and through, language, across a range of forms, media and expressions, should be the core organiser of the curriculum," it says. "There is a need to state (that) English is the study of language, its central focus being the different processes through which meaning is made and received through different textual expressions - literary and otherwise."

It calls for the end of traditional literature as a discrete element, and for other types of English texts - which would include advertising, TV shows, signage, text messages and websites - to be viewed as essential rather than "add ons" to accompany the understanding of literary texts. "The place and role of non-literary texts in a national English curriculum needs to be rethought in terms that do not see the value of such texts as being predominantly in their potential to enhance the study of literature," it says. "The expansion of the range of texts used in English ... will necessarily mean a significant reconfiguration of the subject, including a relative reduction in the number of literary works, as the term is traditionally conceived, studied."

The AATE challenges the curriculum's view that studying literature is "a form of arts-related and arts-enriched learning experience" related to aesthetic value, saying it is only "true to a point". Rather, studying literature is "inherently a political action in that it is also about 'nation' building through the dissemination of a 'national' culture". "Studying literature also has historically had an ethical function, contributing to the shaping of a certain sort of person that societies have found desirable," it says. "It is difficult to imagine, for example, that the enduring value of works such as Animal Farm and To Kill a Mockingbird, both widely taught in schools, rests on their aesthetic qualities."

The English framing document for the national curriculum released in October is unequivocal in mandating the explicit teaching of the basic structures ofthe English language from grammar, spelling and punctuation to phonics in the first years of school. "Explicit teaching of decoding, spelling and other aspects of the basic codes of written English will be an important and routine aspect," the curriculum says.

But the AATE submission says the emphasis on phonics "comes at the expense of the focus on a balanced reading program", which is the term now applied to whole language methods of teaching reading. It calls for explicit reference to be made to "all three cueing systems" used to make sense of the written word. Under the Three Cueing Systems model for teaching reading, the sounding of letters is the least important skill, with children first asked to use semantics, and guess the word based on the context including using pictures and then use the sentence syntax to work out the meaning.

Then children use the syntax or where the word sits in the sentence to try to work out the meaning. The third and least important cue under this model is sounding out the letters. In a separate submission, the English Teachers Association of NSW argues the national curriculum threatens to "deprofessionalise" English teachers for limiting its aims to developing literacy skills and knowledge about literature.

The ETA argues for the definition of school English to be expanded to include cultural studies, critical literacy (a sociological model analysing gender, race and class in literature to expose inherent prejudices and agendas) and personal growth of students.


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