Monday, November 11, 2013

Idea of ‘excellence for all is nonsense’, says former private school head

Not all children should be encouraged to attend university because the idea of "excellence for all is nonsense”, the former head of Harrow has said.

Barnaby Lenon, who is still Chairman of the Independent Schools Council, has argued that getting a degree is a privilege not a right, and many students would be better off going straight into the workplace as their degrees are not worth their value.

Mr Lenon, who has taught at Eton and was head of the £33,000 a year Harrow School for 12 years before retiring in 2011, said: “200,000 students getting degrees in business would be better off getting a job in a business.”

He also expressed disapproval of degrees such as communications and marketing.

The former head told the Oxford Student Union debate that people believe that a university education is a right because of the “everyone must now win prizes” mentality which emerged after the Second World War.

Warning against the concept of “equality of outcome”, the idea of equalising where people end up rather than where or how they begin, he added: “Selection by ability has become taboo, but the idea of excellence for all is nonsense.”

Tim Waterstone, founder of the book shop chain, agreed with him, stating: “No one has the right to be a scholar. You do have the right not to be discriminated against, but there is no guarantee to go to university.”

They pair argued against David Willetts, the Universities Minister, and Geraldine Van Bueren, professor of International Human Rights Law at Queen Mary, University of London, who supported the proposition that “university education is a right not a privilege”.

Mr Willetts said that the “biggest lies” of the debate were that something which is taxpayer funded “should be a right for a minority” and that access to universities needs to be restricted to fewer numbers, the Oxford Student reported.

However, his argument was interrupted by protesters who unfurled a banner reading “---- YOU DAVID WILLETTS” and began shouting at him.

He was joined by Professor Van Bueren, who noted that a higher education has begun to be seen as a privilege “and privilege and equal opportunity do not go hand in hand”.

But her stance was attacked by Stephen Dorrell, Conservative MP for Charnwood, who said that “the last thing we need is for a human rights lawyer to swoop in and tell us how to run a government.”

He argued that human rights are “a fine basis to ensure basic rights,” but “not a good basis for policymaking.”

Another advocate for University education being a privilege was Spencer Matthews, the star of the reality show Made in Chelsea, who also provoked the ire of the protesters who had scrawled on their banner after their attack on Willets: “Made in Chelsea is ---- too".

Mr Matthews, who had reportedly hastily written his speech on a sheet of A4 with the help of Union officers before the debate, said that his father and brother had not attended University and “turned out just fine”.

Support for university education being a right rather than a privilege was voted against by the union by a margin of 23.


Number of children in Britain being taught in 'titan' primary schools of at least 800 pupils rises fourfold to 52,000 in just three years

The number of children being educated in primary schools of at least 800 pupils has risen almost fourfold in three years.

About 52,000 youngsters are currently taught in these ‘titan’ primaries, compared with 13,700 in 2010.

And 5,350 are squeezed into primary schools with more than 1,000 pupils, according to data released by the Department for Education under the Freedom of Information Act.

Not a single primary school across England housed so many children in 2010.

The rise in super-size primaries comes amid a school place crisis which this September left councils struggling to cope with the huge influx of pupils.

The Daily Mail revealed how youngsters were packed ‘like sardines’ into oversized classes, with former police stations and even factory car parks used for lessons.

A baby boom that began more than a decade ago, rising immigration and hard-up parents opting out of the private sector have been blamed for the problem.

DfE data shows ‘titan’ primary schools have become a common way to cope with spiralling pupil numbers following a lack of forward planning under Labour.

This is despite the fact that parents and education experts fear children as young as four become ‘lost’ in these extra large schools.

Between January 2012 and January this year, numbers of pupils in 800-plus primaries rose by 48 per cent. The number in schools of more than 1,000 children more than doubled, from 2,100 to 5,350 over the same period.

There are 58 primary schools currently educating 800 or more pupils, including five that have more than 1,000. There were just 16 with 800 or more in 2010.

Other data released under the Freedom of Information Act revealed Labour repeatedly ignored warnings about the looming primary school crisis. In 2007, councils were told to slash surplus places and close schools despite the Labour government’s pupil estimates indicating a rapidly increasing primary population.

A Daily Mail survey found that one in three councils launched extra reception classes this September – part of a raft of emergency measures.

Barking and Dagenham council, East London, even admitted it was considering three-day weeks.

Professor Alan Smithers, of Buckingham University, said ‘titan’ schools may make economic sense but do not pay ‘sufficient regard to the development of our children’, adding that they can be ‘overwhelming’.

The Local Government Association found some parts of England could see nearly twice as many pupils as places in two years.


Australia: Learning the hard lessons of failed educational experimentation

DISMAYED by their children's indifferent literacy and numeracy skills and limited historical, geographical and scientific knowledge, many parents will not be surprised by today's revelation that a doubling of education funding over the past 20 years has not improved education standards. As national education correspondent Justine Ferrari writes, while school funding has doubled in real terms since 1995 to $40 billion a year, Australian students' results in international and national tests have flatlined or fallen. Yet, despite the failure of smaller class sizes, student laptops and better buildings to improve student achievement, educators and politicians continue investing in them year after year. Working with his state colleagues and the non-government sector, Education Minister Christopher Pyne has no alternative but to pursue a sharp break from current patterns.

For an insider's view of the malaise that has progressively sucked quality, rigour, purpose and discipline from many schools, readers will relate to the insights of Michael Hewitson, an experienced maths/science teacher and former principal from South Australia, whose book How Will our Children Learn? (Connor Court) is reported in Inquirer today by associate editor Chris Kenny. It speaks volumes that Trinity College, a low-fee school founded by Hewitson in 1985 at Gawler, a dusty, working-class community north of Adelaide, grew into one of Australia's largest and most in-demand schools, with 3500 students within 15 years. After it started with only the most basic facilities, much of its development occurred with just 65 per cent of the money, per child, of a state school.

The issues on which Mr Hewitson focuses in his book provide a useful guide for education reform. He covered the importance of parental choice in education, the advantages of state schools being allowed greater independence and reporting to local school boards or councils rather than government bureaucracies, school governance, student discipline, teacher quality and commitment, streaming of students according to ability in some subjects and the importance of making the core curriculum - English, spelling, grammar and writing, number skills and maths - a priority. Like other experienced educators, Mr Hewitson also advocated extending the school day to cater for cultural and sporting activities. Nor should the anecdotal evidence in the book about the value of phonics in teaching reading, even to the most disadvantaged students, be overlooked. Unfortunately, although the benefits of phonics, in tandem with vocabulary work, comprehension and storytelling, have been proven repeatedly in empirical studies, the "whole language" system of teaching reading still prevails in many schools and university teaching programs. Importantly for students from less affluent backgrounds, Mr Hewitson's experience in resolving difficult disciplinary issues, at Trinity and as a young teacher with classes of 45 students at Whyalla, reflected the findings of Organisation for Economic Co-operation and Development research reported last week. Like the OECD number crunchers who surveyed the impact of rowdy classrooms on student achievement around the world, Trinity College parents, students and teachers found well-managed classrooms raised students' opportunities by boosting their chances of gaining access to their preferred tertiary courses.

After the inherent wastage of the $16bn school building program and an upsurge of recurrent funding under the Howard, Rudd and Gillard governments to little avail, the national interest demands Mr Pyne, his state counterparts and universities in charge of teacher education move on from the flawed education theories that have shortchanged two generations of Australian students. Poor outcomes tend to hurt disadvantaged students more. But it is also a serious concern the achievements of the top 25 per cent of students appear to have stagnated, a trend pinpointed in a recent study of 37,000 students from all sectors in Victoria and in international testing.

Some states have already freed up many schools from centralised departmental control and allow principals autonomy in hiring and firing staff and setting their spending priorities. Injecting intellectual rigour and balance and removing postmodern and pop-cultural fads from the curriculum is also essential. As the Gonski funding process unfolds, however, the main challenge for the commonwealth and states is to lift the status and expertise of the teaching profession, starting with academic entry standards for school leavers aspiring to teach. Effective in-service programs for teachers to improve classroom practices and more effective leadership training for principals would also have a direct bearing on school performances. Teaching quality is the main focus of high-performing East Asian school systems, and its value was underlined by Mr Hewitson in his account of a band of dedicated teachers.

Parents know good schools or bad schools when they find them, regardless of sector, postcode, class sizes or facilities. Business as usual, with its prevailing mediocrity, is no longer acceptable. Until teachers' unions and some academics show a more mature understanding of the teaching profession and the needs of students, their continuing demands for smaller classes and more funding will render them irrelevant in one of Australia's most important social debates.


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