Thursday, November 27, 2014

UK: Head of Tristram Hunt's old school criticises Labour's 'bigoted' attack on private education

Boiling Leftist hate of private schools

The headmaster of Tristram Hunt’s old school has accused Labour of peddling “offensive bigotry” after the shadow education secretary unveiled plans to strip fee-paying institutions of up to £700 million in tax breaks.

Mark Beard, the head of University College School, north London, said the party should spend more time attempting to raise standards in state schools rather than relying on the independent sector to do the job.

In an outspoken intervention, it was claimed that Labour’s “tasteless” policy displayed an ignorance of the realities of life in modern independent schools.

The reforms were also criticised by the biggest union representing state secondary head teachers amid warnings that it would merely provide “more legislative hoops for schools to jump through” with no impact.

The comments were made as Mr Hunt unveiled controversial plans to strip fee-paying schools of business rate relief – worth around £147m a year to the sector – unless they agree to work closely with local state schools.

Under the plan, independent schools will be expected to sponsor state academies, share teachers, train new staff, help state pupils apply to top universities, tap into alumni networks to offer more work experience placements, run summer schools and provide joint and run joint extra-curricular activities.

All schools will be subjected to a partnership “test” and could lose their business rate relief – which will total around £700m over the course of the next Parliament – if they fail to pass.

In a speech on Tuesday, Mr Hunt said the taxpayer was being expected to subsidise “the education of a privileged few”.

Asked whether independent schools currently earned their rate relief, he said the answer was a “resounding and unequivocal ‘no’”.

But the comments provoked a furious backlash from independent school leaders who claimed the Labour party was attempting to embark on a fresh “class war” following a previous attempt almost a decade ago to strip large numbers of institutions of their charitable status.

Mr Beard, the head of UCS in Hampstead, where Mr Hunt was educated in the late 80s, accused Labour of attempting to “rely on independent schools to solve the issues for the 93 per cent of children who are educated in the state sector”.

He told the Telegraph: “Isn’t it time for Labour to come up with some new, helpful initiatives rather than espousing what some might deem an offensive bigotry?”

Mr Beard invited the shadow education secretary to visit his old school, saying he would find that it already invested £1m a year in subsidised fees, including 100 per cent bursaries for some pupils, a range of collobrations with state secondary and primary schools and tens of thousands of pounds being raised for charities.

“Indeed, if Mr Hunt wanted to tastelessly quantify the value of public benefit that UCS generates each year then he would find that it far outstrips the value of tax relief that UCS receives through its charitable status,” he said.

Mr Beard insisted UCS was “not alone in this regard”, with the majority of independent schools taking part in similar initiatives.

"Mr Hunt seems to want independent schools to become pure business ventures," he said. "What happens then? Remove charitable status and he removes any pretence of encouraging those schools to play their part in society.

"Instead, they could charge whatever fees they wished, not bother about bursaries, not worry about pupil diversity and not share their facilities with the local community.

"There is not a head of an independent school in the land who would want that."

Barnaby Lenon, chairman of the Independent Schools Council, and the former headmaster of Harrow, accused Labour of promoting “patronising nonsense”, with the party "pointing the finger" at successful private schools and advocating a "1980s view" of education.

It was claimed that nine-in-10 independent schools already take part in partnerships with state schools.

Mr Lenon said: "I share with Dr Hunt his ambition to ensure that all pupils, whatever type of school they go to, can aspire to great things, but pointing the finger at independent schools is a 1980s view of education.

"Most independent schools are now involved in effective and two-way partnerships with state schools. And independent schools educate quite a lot of pupils from low-income homes.”

Peter Kent, president of the Association of School and College Leaders, and head of Lawrence Sheriff grammar school in Rugby, criticised the reforms, insisting that partnerships only worked when they were “entered into willingly”.

“More can be done to encourage and incentivise schools to work together, but forcing collaboration through regulation will not work,” he said.

“All partners need to see that there will be benefits for pupils on their investment of time and energy. Otherwise it is a waste of resources that could be better spent elsewhere. We don’t want more legislative hoops for schools to jump through. This would be a backwards step and not part of a self-improving system.

“In much of the country, state and independent schools have a healthy working relationship. We want to encourage this, but forcing schools to enter into partnerships is not the way to do it.”

But Mr Hunt said independent schools were failing to do enough, with only three per cent sponsoring academies, five per cent loaning teachers to state schools and only a third opening their doors for state school pupils to attend classes or educational events.

Changes will be made to the 1988 Local Government Act so that private schools’ business rate relief becomes conditional upon passing a new “Schools Partnership Standard”, he said.

The Independent Schools Inspectorate – which vets more than half of private schools – will also make the test a part of its inspection process, it was claimed.

"The only possible answer to whether they earn their £700m subsidy is a resounding and unequivocal: no,” he said.

He added: “I want private schools to run summer schools; sponsor academies; support the training of qualified teachers in subject knowledge; assist in the running of state boarding schools; run mentoring and enrichment programmes, lead teaching school alliances, tap into alumni networks for careers and work experience; nurture character; and prepare disadvantaged pupils for challenging university interviews.”


Thinking too highly of higher ed

By Peter Thiel

Perhaps the least controversial thing that President Obama ever said was that “in the coming decades, a high school diploma is not going to be enough. Folks need a college degree.” This vision is commonplace, but it implies a bleak future where everyone must work harder just to stay in place, and it’s just not true. Nothing forces us to funnel students into a tournament that bankrupts the losers and turns the winners into conformists. But that’s what will happen until we start questioning whether college is our only option.

Is higher education an investment? Everyone knows that college graduates earn more than those without degrees. Maybe that earning power comes from learning valuable skills, networking with smart people or obtaining a recognized credential. Well, maybe — it’s hard to say exactly, since “college” bundles so many different things into one arbitrary package. And if all the most ambitious kids in our society go to college just because it’s the conventional thing to do, then what happens on campus might not matter, anyway. The same kids would probably enjoy a wage premium even if they spent four years in the Peace Corps instead.

Or is college mostly about consumption? One look at a college brochure suggests that college students consume much more avidly than they invest. That’s why schools compete to attract student-consumers by furnishing a lively singles scene with plenty of time and space to party in glamorous surroundings. Or is college really insurance? Parents who despair of all the partying reassure themselves that college doesn’t have to guarantee a bright future so long as it wards off career disaster — sort of how nobody expects to make money buying car insurance.

But what if higher education is really just the final stage of a competitive tournament? From grades and test results through the U.S. News & World Report rankings of the colleges themselves, higher education sorts us all into a hierarchy. Kids at the top enjoy prestige because they’ve defeated everybody else in a competition to reach the schools that proudly exclude the most people. All the hard work at Harvard is done by the admissions officers who anoint an already-proven hypercompetitive elite. If that weren’t true — if superior instruction could explain the value of college — then why not franchise the Ivy League? Why not let more students benefit? It will never happen because the top U.S. colleges draw their mystique from zero-sum competition.

This tournament is obviously bad for the losers, who end up shut out of a self-satisfied “meritocratic” elite. But it’s bad for the winners, too, because it trains them to compete on old career tracks such as management consulting and investment banking instead of doing something new. And it’s worst of all for society at large because our economy stagnates when its leaders jockey to collect rents from old industries instead of working to create new ones that could raise the standard of living for everyone.

Today that’s the tournament-style economy we have. Median household wages are actually lower than they were in 1989 (adjusted for inflation), so Americans have flocked to the few things that seem to promise an escape from stagnation. In the 2000s, that was real estate. Was housing an investment? A way to consume bigger houses? Or was it a kind of middle-class insurance policy when everything else looked broken? Nobody thought very hard about it because everybody believed that house prices would always go up.

Now education has taken the place of housing. If a college degree always means higher wages, then everyone should get a college degree: That’s the conventional wisdom encapsulated by Obama. But how can everyone win a zero-sum tournament? No single path can work for everyone, and the promise of such an easy path is a sign of a bubble.

Of course, you can’t become successful just by dropping out of college. But you can’t become successful just by going to college, either, or by following any formula. Bill Gates, Steve Jobs and Mark Zuckerberg aren’t famous because of the similar ways in which they left school. We know their names because of what each of them did differently from everybody else.

Learning from dropouts doesn’t require closing colleges but rather questioning them carefully. Higher education holds itself out as a kind of universal church, outside of which there is no salvation. Critics are cast as heretics or schismatics endangering the flock. But our greatest danger comes from the herd instinct that drives us to competition and crowds out difference.

A Reformation is coming, and its message will be the same as it was 500 years ago: Don’t outsource your future to a big institution. You need to figure it out for yourself.


Instapundit adds: “The “church” metaphor isn’t just a metaphor. Universities descend from clerical institutions, and have adopted poses, and enjoyed privileges — like internal disciplinary procedures and semi-immunity on their campuses from ordinary law enforcement — that descend from those institutions, too. But that’s problematic in today’s world, and the contradictions are becoming more apparent.”


Every teenage boy's dream? Computer game Football Manager could be introduced as homework for PE classes

Pupils in Scotland could be swapping the real football pitch for a virtual one during PE classes, under proposals put forward at an education conference.

Plans to introduce popular sport-related video games, such as Football Manager and Just Dance as part of PE lessons, were discussed during a meeting of the Scottish Association of Teachers of Physical Education.

Key speaker at the meeting Len Almond, former foundation director of the British Heart Foundation National Centre, suggested the games could be used to encourage more youngsters into sport.

'When you look at video gaming, the theory behind them has a lot to offer teachers in schools,' he told MailOnline.

'I'm not suggesting (pupils) just sit watch more video games. But we can learn an awful lot in how we attract young people to learning and we motivate them in that.

 'If a teacher felt it was appropriate to use video games for children's work- maybe part of examination subject- I'd have no problem with that. It's the learning potential that is the important criteria.

'In effect, what we are saying is, they have found a way of exciting young children, they have found a way of self-corrected learning, internal motivation, and ensured they become part of the story.'

Mr Almond said video games could never fully replace traditional physical education, but suggested games such as Football Manager could be a useful tool in encouraging more children into football.

'There is one way of using video gaming, where you're managing football teams which is an interesting thing you could do with young people,' he added.

'You're planning, directing and making decisions and if that helps a young person understand the game, that is very good.

'It shouldn't replace getting out into the countryside and participating in much more physical activities.  'But video games might have a role for some children.

'The important thing is, we have got to attract young people to sport and physical education.'

Association president and PE teacher at Aberdeen Grammar School, Iain Stanger, agreed and said other games, such as Wii Fit and Minecraft, could also have the potential to enhance learning for pupils in the city.

Mr Stanger told the Evening Express: 'I know some schools using fantasy role games and others such as Minecraft which have the potential to enhance people's learning. Games such as Just Dance and Wii Fit also have the potential to do this.'

Mr Almond said: 'Games such as Football Manager are a very good way to get people to understand football and the role it has in our society.'

The Scottish Association of Teachers of Physical Education, which has more than 300 members, aims to come up with ways of producing 'high quality, structured and progressive physical education'.


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