Monday, August 03, 2015

UK: Why a belief in education is all but extinct among the working classes

As the winner of 'Child Genius' is unveiled, ambitious parents who push their little brainboxes can rest easy that they are not part of the problem

So now we know who won Child Genius on Channel 4. The smart money was always on the eventual winner, Thomas from Leeds. Thomas can play piano, bassoon, cello and trombone, sometimes while flicking through an economics textbook at the same time. As Deborah, Thomas’s adoring mother, says, her son needs a lot of stimulation. If Thomas’s brain is the size of a planet, you can be sure the 12-year-old will tell you that planet’s precise orbit and atmosphere.

The drawbacks of Thomas’s gifts can be viewed in full on the resigned faces of his step-siblings. Thomas inherited his brilliance from his physicist father, who died when he was 22 months old, but the fact that you don’t want to slap this freakishly brilliant boy, well, that’s entirely down to Deborah, his primary schoolteacher mum. Bathed in the warmth of mum’s love and support, the spiky edges of genius have been smoothed into the contours of a really nice kid.

Some 22 miles away from Thomas’s home, a boy died this week. Conley Thompson was last seen on Sunday night, around 8pm, after playing with friends at a park two miles from his house in Barnsley. His body was later discovered on a building site. Conley was seven years old.

I thought about the two boys while reading a new report that found that less able, better-off kids are 35 per cent more likely to become high earners than bright poor kids. Middle-class children benefit from a so-called “glass floor” which protects them from slipping down the social pecking order. Tim Nice-But-Dim’s mummy and daddy make sure he has an education that gives him “polish”, and social connections that lead to job opportunites denied to gifted children from modest backgrounds.

Ironically, the report by the LSE also said that “parental attendance at a private or grammar school” had a significant impact on a child’s destiny over and above the influence of academic attainment. Would those be the same grammar schools that offered bright poor kids a chance to acquire serious learning and “polish”, but which were closed down because they were deemed unfair and divisive? Thus leaving bright poor kids with no chance in hell of acquiring the social premium paid for by the parents of Tim Nice-But-Dim.

Having kicked away the one sure ladder out of poverty, reformers now have the cheek to complain that middle-class parents won’t let their below-average offspring fall down the rungs to make way for cleverer, less privileged peers. As if. You have to work with the grain of human nature, not against it.

Besides, background is not always destiny. The majority of contestants in Child Genius are not the hothoused scions of hereditary privilege; they are offspring of poor immigrants. David’s parents moved here from China to give their moon-faced boy the best possible chance; Julian’s came from Romania; budding scientist Neha’s from India. Jasamrit’s father, Santokh, encourages him to believe he is good enough for Eton. Adorable 12-year-old Giovanni is driven on to greatness by Italian Matteo, his live-wire electrician dad. All show a passionate belief in education and a hunger for success, which is practically extinct in our indigenous working class.

Sure, we may flinch as the child geniuses are put through their unnatural paces. But super-nurturing, ambitious parents who want the very best for their kid, be they genius or dunce, aren't the problem, are they?


Exam results do matter - stop telling pupils they don't

 Many thousands of A-level and GCSE students spend the long summer holidays worrying if their hard work - or lack of it - will bring them the success that they hope for when the results are posted online.

And we all tell our students what will be, will be!

But "Qué será, será" isn't good enough advice and surely can't reflect the value placed upon academic success in the highly competitive modern work place.

It's interesting to note that the schools which are actively promoting stress relieving and mindfulness programmes, now tell students that exams are not the only - or indeed most important - aspect of education.  Of course they aren't. But results really do matter.

And for very selective schools, where upwards of 90 per cent of grades at A-level and GCSE are passed at grade A*, to now apparently downplay the value of the academic achievements of students who have done extremely well in less selective schools, could be seen to be patronising.

Good schools in every sector of the educational market have always believed in educating the ‘whole person’: sport, music, drama, taking responsibility for others - learning for life.

That's what many schools have always proclaimed as their core values, and so often promoted successfully.

Changes to the exam system have seen a move away from modules

Of course, stress relieving programmes can provide a useful antidote to an excessive focus on examination success. But it is the ethos of schools, the core values, which must create an environment in which both individual students and the common well-being of the school community are nurtured.

In the simplest terms, every person must do their best: the best for their school, the best for themselves. Usually, but not always in that order.

Good schools nurture the individual to get the best examination results relative to their own ability - but without undue stress in the process. They also open up academic and career pathways for their students by relating what happens in the classroom to the wider world.

"So this results season, upon us all too soon, let's celebrate the successes, commiserate near misses and work out what the next step is for our nation's best asset: our students, our future."
Jonathan Forster

Moreton Hall's bio-medical and STEM summer holiday course offers opportunities for students from every type of school in the UK to study with medics and university academics in university departments; to find out what it means to be a GP, a research chemist or a maxillofacial reconstruction surgeon.

Try telling the students from St Martins Comprehensive School in Shropshire that their results this summer don't matter, that they shouldn't worry so much about doing well.

Those students are tasting academic success and now that they have access to a wider range of resources through their school's partnership with Moreton Hall, the opportunities that too often are the preserve of private schools are on their door-step.

As Sue Lovecy, the head teacher of St Martins, said: "The opportunity for our students to see an exceptional independent school environment is truly inspirational and raises the aspirations of all our students who share in the school's teaching facilities each week."

Ultimately, raising aspiration for all students should be the objective of all educational providers.

So this results season, upon us all too soon, let's celebrate the successes, commiserate near misses and work out what the next step is for our nation's best asset: our students. Our future.


Australia. Jealousy of a Private school: accused of buying access to public space

That the school has good access to a sportsground that they have paid to upgrade seems "unfair" to some

The former chief of Soccer Australia David Hill has accused the trust running one of Sydney's oldest and biggest parklands of allowing a wealthy private school to buy exclusive access to public space.

In a scathing letter to the Centennial Park and Moore Park Trust, responsible for the historic parklands Queens Park, Centennial Park and Moore Park, Mr Hill asked why the private boys' school Waverley College has "outrageous" special access to public fields.

Waverley College funds and maintains three sports fields in Queens Park under a "non-exclusive licensing agreement". These fields have been refurbished to have a better surface and drainage, allowing them to "withstand heavy rain and use", according to the trust.

The high-quality grounds ensure the college rarely has to cancel its Saturday school sport even when rain closes all other grounds in the parklands, according to other clubs that use the parklands.

Mr Hill, who is also a former managing director of the ABC, said it was outrageous that a school could buy access to public space. He said parents were furious that their children had to miss games while Waverley was able to play on and he called for the agreement with the trust to be made public.

"Like me, many parents and other members of the public are outraged that our children are barred by Centennial Park from using the parklands when by virtue of a privileged agreement with Centennial Park Trust, children attending private schools are still allowed to play," Mr Hill wrote.

"It is unacceptable and unfair to have separate rules for park use. All users should be treated equally and offered the same conditions of access."

A spokeswoman for the trust said it did not "allow for exclusive access to any playing fields" and 13 different groups, excluding Waverley College, had hired the three high-quality fields since 2006.

Marc Flior​, president of Easts Football Club which also uses Queens Park fields, said the club had a very good relationship with Centennial Parklands but parents were often left wondering why their children's soccer games had been cancelled when Waverley's were not.

Mr Flior said games had been washed out five times in a 17-week season this year, making it increasingly difficult to reschedule matches for the large club, which he says been growing "exponentially" from 580 players last year to 950 this year.

"When Centennial Parklands closes the fields, they should be closed, we accept that, but it was the state government who granted this lease and they should be explaining why private schools get privileged access to public parklands," Mr Flior said.

A spokeswoman for Waverley College said the school uses the fields on "an agreed scheduled basis with the parklands each year", mostly for junior sport days, sports training, and Saturday fixtures.

"Outside of these times, Centennial Parklands manages the bookings of these fields, which are used by other organised sport groups and the public for recreational use," she said.

A spokesman for Environment Minister Mark Speakman, who is responsible for the parklands, said: "The contract with Waverley was signed under the previous Labor government and does not expire until 2022."


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