How do teachers teach ‘British Values’?

most schools repackage British Values and teach them through what they are already teaching, very few use them to get students to think critically about what citizenship means!

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Schools in England and Wales have been required by the to teach British Values since 2015.

Initially the introduction of these to the National Curriculum may seem to offer support for the Functionalist view of education, which holds that one of the functions of education is to promote Value Consensus.

HOWEVER, this may be a simplistic understanding according to some recent research outlined below. It is possible that schools and teachers present British Values as being very traditional (all about The Queen and Fish and Chips), which may alienate some pupils who have not been brought up with such traditions. In other words, the way British Values are taught in some schools may not be an appropriate way of realising value consensus in our complex, multi cultural society.

Recent research on how teachers teach British Values

Professor Carol Vincent – of the UCl Institute Of Education has carried out some recent research on how schools and teachers interpret ‘our’ so called ‘fundamental British values’. Her research is based on 56 interviews almost 49 observations and 9 case study schools, a mix of both primary and secondary.

Why do schools have to teach them?

The requirement to teach ‘Fundamental British Values’ seems to have come about because of concerns over social cohesion and ideas of ‘Britishness’ in general, and as a response to the Trojan Horse scandal of 2014 in particular, when there was an alleged co-ordinated attempt to impose a conservative islamist agenda onto several schools in Birmingham.

The requirement to teach British Values is closely related to the government’s counter terrorism strategy and broader Prevent agenda.

Despite it being a requirement, there is very little government guidance on how, exactly, teachers should go about teaching ‘British Values, so how do teachers understand this responsibility and how do they go about promoting British values in practice.

Where the teachers supportive?

Teachers were generally supportive of the values, but they didn’t like the word ‘tolerance’ as this suggested a begrudging way of putting up with each other, rather than a celebration of diversity and mutual respect. Some teachers were much more cynical about the requirement to promote them.

How did they fit it in?

The majority of schools embedded in what they were already teaching, but some schools (not the majority) used PSHE and Religious Education lessons and assemblies to address them more explicitly.

How did schools teach British Values?

Some schools used stereotypes to represent Britain using symbols and stereotypes , such as the Royal Family, one school re-enacted the marriage of Prince Harry, even though support for monarchy is not one of the Fundamental British Values.

Vincent cites the example of one commercial resource, a poster aimed at young children which has examples of British foods, music, and festivals, with the food being ‘traditional’ British food – Roast Dinner, Fish and chips, strawberries, Trooping of the colour.

Vincent found that in one school they used the Queens Birthday as an opportunity to promote the values – the organised a whole school lunch and got students to make mugs and sing different songs to celebrate the event.

Some teachers found teaching British Values problematic

Representing Britishness through symbols as those above can lead to a monocultural representations, a kind of ‘nation freezing’ – leading to the idea that Britishness is fixed.

It can also have an exclusionary effect – what if you’re from a family who doesn’t eat Cottage Pie

One teacher maybe hit the nail on the head and said that such an approach is ‘Reductionist and Crass’.

NB they way these values are taught is inspected by OFSTED. The Chief inspector has actually said ‘it’s not about The Queen’.

Repackaging Fundamental British Values

The majority approach to teaching was repackage the values into things the schools had already been doing – democracy = school council, rule of law because they have school rules etc.

However, this doesn’t open up discussion of British Values, so no deeper understanding of what these values mean.

Dangerous conversations

A lot of teachers expressed anxiety about not knowing how to deal with controversial issues if they came up in discussion around the values

The top two areas of concern were migration and Brexit – teachers found having to deal with these issues demanding and anxiety inducing. They were also worried about their own impartiality, and what to do about xenophobia – so rather than discuss the issues , they tended to talk to the students about them, not giving them space to respond.

How to teach them more effectively?

Vincent suggests that we need to give Mmore status for citizenship education, more space and time to allow students to discuss the meaning of citizenship and British Values and more training for teachers on how to discuss difficult issues.

Find out More!

This thinking allowed podcast

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Winners and losers from the cancellation of A-level exams

The evidence suggests that if you’re white and middle class you’ll do OK out of A-levels being cancelled, not so if you’re BAME or poor.

The Coronavirus may not discriminate, but the social response to it probably will, and this could well be the case with the recent decision by the DFE to cancel A-level exams.

Universities will now rely on a combination of GCSE results and predicted grades from schools and colleges in order to determine which students qualify for which degree courses, and this will benefit some more than others.

The winners

If you’ve been working hard all year and had a decent mock exam grade (which would have been sat very recently in most centers) then you’re predicted grade should at least match the grade you would have got.

If you suffer from exam stress, dyslexia or any other ‘condition’ that may mean you under perform in exams compared to your ability, then your predicted grade may even be higher than what you would have got.

If you’ve got an unconditional offer from a university for the course you want, and you’re happy enough with your predicted grades then you’ve just been gifted two free months of your life, although you may not be able to do what you want with those two months, like going outside for example!

In general I’d say that the next two months of A-level teaching are actually the most pointless thing in terms of useful skills and knowledge – you would have literally spent two months cramming knowledge into your head and learning exam technique, both skills being utterly useless in any real life content, work or otherwise.

You’ve been spared that, however….

The losers

This article in The Guardian suggests that predicted grades tend to be lower for black and minority ethnic students and for those from poorer backgrounds, compared to those students from white middle class backgrounds.

The argument is that teacher stereotypes, or labelling if you like, mean that BAME student’s grades are under-predicted, and so these students tend to do better than expected in exams, an opportunity now lost to them. (Yes they may get a chance to sit some kind of exam in the Autumn, but that might be too late).

The article further suggests that those who are privately educated are more likely to have an unconditional offer and that those with ‘pushy parents’ are more likely to negotiate their children higher predicted grades from the schools, drawing on cultural capital theory.

And I do feel for home educated or self-studying students, who probably have no record of past achievement and no mock exams to fall back on, especially if they messed up their GCSEs and are returning to A-levels maybe after taking a year or a few months out.

Conclusions

The DFE, exam boards and UCAS are all aware of how a university entrance system based on predicted grades discriminates against certain students, I just hope they put measures in place to combat this.

We won’t know how effective any anti-discriminatory measures have been until we can compare the ‘results’ and UCAS entrance stats for this year with last year, assuming that data will even be published?

Education and social control

How do schools try to control pupils? Some of the ways include academic surveillance, CCTV, teaching British Values. Prevent and the use of isolation units. It also explores how effective schools are as agents of social control.

One possible social function that schools perform is that of social control. This post explores some of the ways school might perform this function and asks how effectively schools control pupils and parents today?

You can use the material below to evaluate some of the perspectives on education, and much of it is also relevant to the crime and deviance module, especially the material on surveillance.

What is social control?

Social control refers to the formal and informal techniques that may be used to make the individual conform to social norms and values.

In sociology the focus is usually on how those with power and authority use institutions to control ‘ordinary’ people in society.

There are many institutions which can be said to perform social control, such as the law and the courts, the police, religion, the media and education.

The education system is of interest as an institution of social control because it reaches more people than most other institutions. Nearly all of us will attend school from a young age, and spend thousands of hours in school as children, while most of us will have no direct contact with the police, for example.

How might school act as an agent of social control?

  1. Parents are legally required to either send their children to a state or independently run school. Put another way, pupils are expected to attend school, and truant officers are employed to catch those who are not attending. Parents can be fined if their students have unauthorised absences.
  2. The > 90% of pupils who attend state schools will spend at least six hours a day in formal education. Many will spend more time in school because the school day has been getting longer in recent years, through the addition of both morning classes or breakfast clubs and after school clubs.
  3. Students who attend state schools will be taught the National Curriculum, having limited choice over what they study until they make their GCSE choices at 14.
  4. From 2013 young people are required to remain in some form of education or training until the age 18, raised from the previous ‘education leaving age’ of 16.
  5. Schools and colleges are required to teach pupils about ‘British Values’. This might be regarded as indoctrination by the State.
  6. Schools are responsible for Prevent – they have to report to the police anyone they believe to be involved with terrorist activities, and they have to work to prevent students being attracted to terrorist organisations.
  7. Schools engage in physical surveillance of pupils, most obviously through the increasing use of cameras, but also by using staff at school gates, in playgrounds and walking the corridors during lessons.
  8. Schools have clear codes of conduct and use isolation units and detentions to regulate deviant behaviour.   
  9. Schools increasingly involve parents in monitoring students and keeping them on track, using ‘parenting contracts’ with deviant cases.
  10. Schools keep databases of student’s academic progress and report back to parents regularly. This means students know they are being watched, and most of them ‘self-regulate’ because of this.
  11. Schools may require certain students to work with learning support staff or attend further supported learning, which means such students will be under higher levels of surveillance.
  12. Schools may keep (confidential) records of student discussions about mental health and well-being and work with medical professionals to require students to attend further ‘support’ as necessary.  
  13. Schools constantly remind students of the importance of qualifications for getting a good career, which may lead to some students self-regulating.
  14. Students are required to resit GCSE maths and English when in 16-19 education if they achieve less than a C first time round, meaning less choice in later life for those students.

Are schools effective agents of social control: exploring the evidence

It’s hard to argue against the view that schools use more control measures today than they did in the 1970s and 80s. However, just because schools try to control pupils more than they used to, this doesn’t necessarily mean that they are effective in doing so.

Furthermore, there are some possible counter trends, such as the growth of home education and the increase in post-16 educational choices, that suggest that ‘formal education’ might actually be less constraining and controlling than it once was for increasing numbers of pupils.

Below I explore some of the different types of evidence to examine whether schools are effective agents of social control

Fines for Parents taking their children out of school during term time

Local councils can impose fines on parents if their children have an unauthorised absence from school during term time, even if just for one day. The fines start at £60 and if not paid parents can be prosecuted and face up to three months in jail.

These fines were tested in 2015 when John Platt refused to pay a fine handed out by the Isle of Wight LEA after he took his daughter on holiday to Disney World, Florida during term time. He argued that his daughter’s attendance had otherwise been excellent, and took his case the Supreme Court.

John Platt: guilty of taking his daughter on holiday for one week during term time.

Platt lost the case, with the court siding with the Local Education Authority, declaring that he was guilty of breaching school rules and failing to secure his child’s regular attendance at school.

This court ruling seems to have made LEAs more likely to impose fines, and in 2017 -18 Local Authorities issued 260 000 penalty notices for unauthorized absences to parents, which was an increase of 110 000 on the previous year.

Extended School Days

Though not compulsory, there are some academies, such as the NET Academies Trust which run extended school days – starting school at 8.45 rather than at 9.00, running extra lessons after 15.00 for underachieving students, and offering a further enrichment programme later in the afternoon.

The rising of the ‘education’ leaving age in 2013

In 2013 the government raised the ‘formal education’ leaving age of pupils in England from 16 to 18 years.

Pupils can still leave school at 16, but only if they have a place at a further education college, or are going into work which has some kind of accredited training attached to it.

This means that rather than being able to transition to full adulthood and relative freedom at the age of 16, students are now subjected the control and surveillance associated with training for at least another two years.

If an individual is on a work-based training course, this regime of control may not be as severe as being in school, and in many ways this is probably going to be quite similar to just starting out on a new job anyway. But since 2013 this layer of ‘educational control’ has been formalised, and it means that MORE PEOPLE are now definitely going to be subjected to work based observations and assessments than ever before.

Physical surveillance

In 2012 Big Brother Watch released a report based on Freedom of Information requests that estimated there are over 100 000 CCTV cameras in schools.

There are more recent reports that camera footage taken in schools to show parents how their children have misbehaved, and to get students to reflect on and take responsibility for their ‘bad’ behaviour.

It’s interesting to note that if you do a google search for ‘schools’ and ‘cctv’ or ‘surveillance’ there isn’t much research being done, so the use of CCTV in schools seems to have become normalised as a form of social control.

Some schools even have security cameras in toilets, and this is raising some concern among parents.

The most recent evolution of physical surveillance is the use of body cams by teachers, which some schools are currently trialing. (Link from 2020).

The increasing use of isolation units

Isolation units are staffed rooms, often with partitioned booths, where disruptive students are sent to ‘cool off’, possibly for an hour or so, but sometimes for an entire day.

They are especially popular, according to at least one of the reports below, among multi-academy trusts.

Isolation booths in one primary school – may as well start ’em young!

According to a 2018 BBC report, at least 200 out of 1000 schools use isolation units, or booths. Some even have permanent units with their own toilet facilities so pupils can remain in them for an entire day if necessary.

According to this Guardian article (2020), schools are using isolation units to punish pupils for more and more trivial breaches of the rules. For example the article refers to one girl who was put in isolation for forgetting her planner, for the first time ever.

Some schools seem to be using isolation on a more regular basis to freeze some pupils out of the mainstream school environment. The article refers to one individual, Brendan, who spent much of his last term in isolation, and left schools with no GCSEs.

It’s likely that these units are growing in popularity since the government has cracked down on the use of exclusions, which means schools are more likely to try and deal with deviant students in-house, which explains the rise of isolation units.

isolation units – https://www.bbc.co.uk/news/education-46044394

British Values

According to Ofsted, ‘fundamental British values’ are:

  • democracy
  • the rule of law
  • individual liberty
  • mutual respect for and tolerance of those with different faiths and beliefs and for those without faith.
A fairly typical ‘British Values’ poster from one of Britain’s Academies.

The British government has required schools to promote ‘British Values’ since 2014, when it first published its guidance on how schools might go about doing this.

Certain extracts from the guidance read like something out of the 1950s: schools are required to prepare pupils for modern life by ensuring their moral, spiritual and cultural development.

The primary aim of the British Values agenda seems to be about promoting democracy, and it is suggested that schools look for opportunities within the National Curriculum as well as extra-curricular activities to promote them.

This article in The Conversation presents one of the problems with teaching British Values is that the idea of what British Values should be taught in schools wasn’t discussed particularly widely by parliament, let alone the general public before schools were required to teach them to pupils.

The Prevent Duty

The Prevent Duty (in effect since 2015) requires that schools take due regard to ensure that pupils are not drawn into terrorism.

Specifically, the guidance recommends teaching British Values, as well as the possibility of monitoring students’ online activities, and it provides contacts if schools have a concern about particular students, among which it lists the local police force.

This seems to be some extremely strong evidence that schools are directly being used as agents of formal social control, working directly with the police to combat terrorism.

However, although the intention is to prevent extremism, the legislation may have had the opposite effect. This 2016 report by Rights Watch UK suggests that Prevent may have increased divisions in British society.

The report argues that divisions may have increased as a result of untrained teachers unnecessarily referring students on to anti-terrorism authorities because they have misinterpreted certain patterns of behaviour or actions as being suspicious, when in fact the students has no terrorist intentions at all.

The increasing use of technology to monitor students

In the United States some schools have moved to 24 hour monitoring of students’ online activities, at least those made within the school’s own system.

This article cites the example of one student talking about self-harm on a school messaging system, after school hours, this triggered an alert from the monitoring system, and a member of staff contacted the student’s parent immediately.

I know this is the United States, but the UK so often follows what the U.S. does, just a few years afterwards. This article from Wired Magazine highlights the fact that students are already under a historically unprecedented level of electronic surveillance here in the UK, and maybe this is just the start, with surveillance of personal communications set to get ever more intrusive.

Other forms of Surveillance in schools

I’ve only examined a limited range of some of the more obvious forms of evidence which suggests schools are increasingly acting as agents of social control for the British State.

In addition to all the above, schools have increased their level of ‘academic surveillance’ since the introduction of the 1988 Education Act, and students are now exposed to regular testings, reports, and reviews of their progress as just a normal part of school life.

This kind of academic-surveillance has just become normalised: most students expect it, and don’t even think about challenging it.

It is possibly this that is the most profound social control measure – millions of students knowing that their progress is going to be reviewed at least once every six weeks, probably more often, keeps them working, keeps them doing homework, keeps them chained to the system.

The same may be said of getting students to think about their future careers – where UCAS is concerned, students have to start thinking about what universities to go to and writing their personal statements a year in advance, taking up considerable time in their final year of formal education, AND (if they get a conditional offer) keeping them working.

So it is possibly the competitive nature of the system, the concern about failure and the constant surveillance of progress which are the main mechanisms whereby schools control pupils?

Counter Trends?

The system doesn’t control all students equally, and there are at least three recent counter-trends which suggest schools are NOT effective agents of social control: the increase in home education, the increase in exclusions and the increase in choice in 16-18 education.

The Number of Exclusions is Increasing

According to DFES data, both fixed term and permanent exclusions have been increasing since 2012/13

However, whether this counts as evidence against schools being effective agents of social control is debatable.

Personally I think it does suggest schools are not being effective, because exclusions suggest schools cannot control students within school boundaries, so students are offloaded, possibly to be under less surveillance once they have been excluded.

HOWEVER, you might interpret this increase as evidence of MORE control: it all depends what happens to the students afterwards!

The increase in Home Education

48,000 children were being home-educated in 2016-17, up from about 34,000 in 2014-15, according to this BBC article.

Students educated at home are more likely to get a choice in how they are educated, and are less likely to be subjected to many of the control measures suggested above.

However, we are talking about relatively small numbers of students here – 48, 000 children, compared to a few million in the education system as a whole!

Increasing post 16 education choices

Students may have to stay on in some form of education or training until they are 18, but it’s debatable whether many of those are really still under educational surveillance.

Once students hit 16 years of age, they can enter work based training, which can be just like an ordinary job, except with lower pay because they are ‘training’, so this may not be that much of a change from pre-2013 when they could have just left formal education altogether!

Conclusions: Are schools effective agents of social control?

Based on the evidence above, I’d say that they are certainly being used by the State to control certain pupils more, and that schools themselves are making increasing use of technology to control students through surveillance.

When it comes to the question of effectiveness – I’d say yes, they have become more effective – but this is primarily due to the more subtle forms of academic surveillance, which works day to day, and goes largely unquestioned.

However, there are a significant minority or students who are NOT controlled – both those who get excluded, and those who are home educated, and I’m sure if I dug further I’d find that we’re talking about the underclass being excluded and the educated middle classes who are being home educated.

Contemporary Sociology of Education 2019-2020

Links to some contemporary sociology which students can use in their A-level sociology exams!

Links to some of the contemporary news items, documentaries and research studies which I’ve blogged about in 2019-2020, which are relevant to the sociology of education.

According to the AQA sociology specification, students are expected to be able to use contemporary examples to illustrate the points they make in their sociology exams.

Links to relevant blog posts….

If you want to know more about how to use contemporary sociology…. why not attend my revision webinar series…

Education and research methods Revision Work Packs and Power Points for Sale

I’ve just released some extensive revision workbooks and Power Points for sale as part of my sociology teaching resources subscription package, available for only £9.99 a month!

This teaching resource bundle contains work books and Power Points covering the entire content of education and research methods of the AQA’s A-level sociology specification.

The resources should be enough to cover at least 8-10 revision lessons on education and research methods.

Resources in February’s bundle include

  • One education workbook in Word – 65 pages
  • Two education Power Points – over 70 slides
  • One research methods workbook in Word – 60 pages
  • One Research Methods Power Point – 60 slides
  • Short answer questions PDF for education and research methods
  • Essay plans PDF for education, research methods and methods in context.

NB – These aren’t visual, I have had to remove most the pictures I use personally, for copyright reasons, but I’m sure you can find your own to fit in.

The work packs and Power Points contain various activities such as….

Paired concepts

Short answer practice questions

A-Z word matching tasks

10 Mark practice questions

Essay plans and short answer question PDFs

I’m also throwing in PDFs of my short answer practice questions and Essay plans for education research methods, which I normally sell as part of my revision bundles!

More resources to come…

I’m making resources available every month as part of this teacher resource subscription package. Please click the link to left for details of the schedule of what’s coming in future months!

Class, gender and ethnicity and your chances of getting to university…

How does your social class background, your gender and your ethnicity influence your chances of getting into university?

There are still huge variations in the types of student who make it to university, if we analyse the Department for Education’s Higher Education data by ‘Free School Meals’ (a proxy for social class), gender and ethnicity. This update should be of clear relevant to the education module within A-level sociology.

We can see from the table above that there are stark differences by pupil characteristics.

  • 82% of non Free School Meal Chinese girls make it to university, compared to only 2% of girls of Free-School Meal Traveler of Irish Heritage background.
  • The above chart is very effective in showing the ethnic differences in university students, and with some interesting variations by FSM status – Black African FSM girls seem to do particular well, for example.
  • It’s also interesting to note that ‘White British’ students come very near the bottom of the table, with figures of around 40% HE participation for non FSM students, but only around 20 average for FSM White British pupils. The reason for singling out White students here is that the majority of pupils are white, so these figures are going to have most impact on the national average statistics.

The University FSM gap

There is still an 18.6% gap in Higher Education participation by Free School Meal status, this has decline by almost 1.5% points in the last decade, but this is slow progress!

The University Gender Gap

TBH I’m somewhat surprised to see the gender gap continuing apace, and it seems to be a steady increase year on year!

Other Higher Education inequalities

The latest report (see link below) also highlights inequalities by region (the biggest gap is in the South East, the smallest in London) and by Special Educational Need. See below for more details!

It also looks at the differences for ‘high tariff’ universities (the ones which ask for higher grades) which show starker differences.

Widening Participation Targets

The Office for Students has been campaigning to get universities to widen participation by reducing the above gaps. Most universities have in fact pledged to try and half some of these gaps by 2025 for example – if they succeed this would mean only a 10% gap between FSM and non FSM pupils.

However, this would mean fewer middle class students getting into university, assuming that more places are not created.

Sources/ find out more

Department for Education – Widening Participation in Higher Education

Is the increasing number of graduates a good thing?

In 1950 there were 19700 young people graduated with a degree, in 2019 that figure will be around 1.4 million.

However, is this increasing number of graduates actually a good thing?

There have certainly been a lot of winners with the expansion of Higher Education, which is now big business in the UK.

More graduates has meant more money flowing into Universities (albeit from private rather than public sources, more of that later), and many of these have expanded, which has resulted in an increase in teaching jobs and various support jobs in the HE sector.

And there is a whole industry surrounding meeting students’ needs – most obviously the need for student accommodation, but also a whole host of local businesses in university towns will be partially or wholly dependent on student expenditure. The student subsistence economy is estimated to be worth £95 billion annually.

However, in 2018 only 57% of young graduates went onto ‘higher skilled employment’, while 43% ended up unemployed or in jobs which previously would not have required a degree, such as nursing.

This means that almost half of today’s graduates could be victims of what we might call ‘qualification inflation’, and rather than going straight into work at 18 and training/ qualifying on the job while earning, they are now effectively forced into having three years of no or low earnings while they study for unnecessary qualifications while being saddled with student loan debts of tens of thousands of pounds.

A final little known fact is that around 1/2 of student loans are never repaid, which means that the taxpayer is effectively subsidising these unnecessary degrees, and there does seem to be a disturbing correlation between the half of students doing unnecessary degrees and the half of loans not repaid.

This means that the taxpayer is subsidising around half a million students a year to do degrees that are in no way related to their jobs, while a good chunk of this money gets sucked upwards, to universities and landlords.

Seems like a hidden case of the state subbing the elite by stealth, while conning almost half of university students?!?

Source: The Week 7 December 2019.

How to Break Into the Elite

Why don’t working class graduates with good degrees get the best jobs?

This documentary focuses on social mobility, and the myth of meritocracy, focusing on why working class graduates with good degrees struggle to get into the top jobs.

Statistics mentioned in the documentary

  • About 1/3rd of the population come from working class backgrounds, but only 10% make it into Britain’s top professions, and they earn 15% less than their colleagues from more privileged backgrounds.
  • Put another way you are 6 times more likely to land an elite job if you’re upper middle class.
  • Russel Group University students with 2nd class degrees are more likely to go into a top profession than those from working class backgrounds and got a first.
  • Oxbridge candidates from privileged backgrounds end up earning more than those from less privileged backgrounds.
  • Banking and finance – 34% educated privately
  • Private equity – nearer 70%

Top employers want cultural capital as well as qualifications

The stats suggest that top employers are not rewarding what the universities are rewarding, and this is preventing working class kids from getting the top jobs.

City recruiters are looking for ‘polish’ in the way they present – if we break this down this means accent, mannerism, behavior, dress.

One of the areas most affected by this is sales in finance: it is felt that if employees don’t look and feel ‘reassuringly expensive’, this will undermine the firm/ sector.

To illustrate this we have an interview with one independent recruitment agent who has a woman with an Essex accent on her books who she ‘can’t get a job for love for money’

This also applies to the The Media Sector – 60K of last years grads aspired to a career in media, but working class students are at a disadvantage because they don’t have the cultural capital to ‘fit in’. With the media, there’s a kind of ‘studied informality’ and way of being ‘knowingly hip, and those from WC backgrounds are just confused by it… lack of being at ease.

It seems that having cultural capital is crucial to breaking into a job in Media: If you have a parent who works in film and television you’re 12 times more likely to work in the Media, and 60-70% of those who work in The Media come from professional and managerial backgrounds. Tacit knowledge, no explicit rules about how you get in.

The problem with all of this is that this set of rules are ‘tacit’ – they unwritten, a set of social codes which are quite ‘knowing’ (to with dress/ speak) and without being brought up with them, working class people struggle to make the leap of selfhood required to get into the top jobs.

Why the working classes lack confidence….

People from disadvantaged backgrounds have more unstable lives, those from more advantaged have more stable lives and are more likely to have been brought up being listened to and having their opinions valued as a peer, that breeds familiarity and confidence – knowing that everything’s going to ‘be OK’ tomorrow.

Three contrasting case studies

The documentary uses case of students who have just graduated, some working class and struggling to get good jobs despite their top degrees from good universities, and one middle class student:

Amaan – has a degree in Economics from Nottingham and has wanted a i equity sales in an investment bank (since he was 13), also world kickboxing champion at 17, but he struggles with a lack of confidence in interviews.

Elvis from East London – has a degree in political economy at Birmingham, wants a city job in finance, he ends up getting onto a graduate training programme with bank (if I remember correctly).

Finally, Ben from Dulwich, screamingly middle class who charmed his way into London Live and the local press – he was just pushy, winged it, and looks set to get a career in the media despite his degree in Classics.

Ian Wright and the Internal Class Ceiling

Unexpectedly the documentary has a section featuring Ian Write, from a working class background who talks about the prejudice he has faced in his media career.

He even says we should abolish private schools and ‘give the working class guns’ to get over the middle class advantage, and that interview training and soft skills are bullshit – you shouldn’t have to be someone you’re not.

Relevance to A-level sociology

There are very obvious links here to the cultural capital topic within the education module!

Sources/ find out more

  • Sam Friedman* – researches the link between social class and higher professional and managerial jobs
  • And a link to the documentary.

Visualizing the numbers of different types of school in the UK

how useful are different types of data visualization for displaying information about the number of schools in the UK, and how they are changing over time?

I’ve just been experimenting with different ways of visualizing the relative number of different types of school in the UK, and how these school types are changing over time.

The main school types I’ve focused on are:

  • nurseries
  • primary
  • middle (hardly any of these!)
  • secondary
  • non-maintained schools
  • special schools
  • pupil referral units.

You can view all of my visualizations on my Tableau profile. If you click on any of the images below, they will take you to the live vizes on Tableau.

The data comes from DFE’s Education and Training Stats 2018.

Tree Map of School Types in the UK

I think the Tree Map is the best way of providing an overview of the different types of school in the UK. As you can see from the tree map below, there are A LOT more primary schools than secondary schools in the UK, and primary and secondary together (unsurprisingly) account for most of the schools in the UK. In contrast, there are hardly any Pupil Referral Units.

NB – make sure you’ve only got one year box checked, otherwise you get totals of the years checked, which is pointless!

The limitations of the Tree Map Visualization

Although (IMO) this type of viz provides the best ‘frozen in time’ overview, it doesn’t actually allow you to make comparisons across time very easily, because you can only see the distribution for one year at a time.

One could overcome this by having two or more tree maps on display at once, but this still wouldn’t make for easy comparison as the layout of the boxes is likely to change as the data changes. To show changes over time effectively you need different types of visualization:

Changing schools viz 1

This is the most basic type of viz showing changes over time…

line chart showing changes to school types in the UK 2012-2016

Changing schools viz 2

I think viz 2 is much better as the fill gives you a much more immediate impression of how many of each type of school there is.

Changing schools viz 3

Given the relatively small amount of data for this particular viz I think this works quite nicely too, gives you a bit more of a sense of the relative numbers and much better for highlighting smaller numbers…

How useful are these visualizations?

As they stand they only show us a very general level of information, with no granularity. All of these vizes could be much more useful if you could ‘drill down’ into the data to see how the stats vary by England, Wales and Scotland.

Also, these have been designed as only the first stage in a story which also focus in on pupil numbers in different school types (also in relation to pupil types – male/ female etc.), and teacher numbers and teacher-student ratios.

There’s more to come!

Evaluating the New Right’s Perspective on Education

In this post I offer four pieces of evidence students can use to evaluate the New Right’s perspective on education, particularly their claim that Marketisation policies since 1988 have raised standards for all pupils.

Item A: GCSE Pass Rates

Probably the strongest piece of supporting evidence for the New Right’s policies on education is that they have worked to improve GCSE results nearly every year for the last 30 years:

The latest reports focusing on the long term trend are a bit dated, such as this one from The Guardian, but it clearly shows a long term improvement in grades at GCSE:

Despite recent dips in top grades, this 2013 report from Full Fact, which also focuses on the long term trend in results since 1988 points out that:

  • The pass rate for grades A*-C has increased by almost two-thirds from 42.5% in 1988 to 68.1% in 2013.
  • A*/A grades have almost trebled from 8.6% in 1988 to 21.3% in 2013.

However, the report also recognizes that some of this is due to grade inflation as this increase in performance is not mirrored by English and Welsh students in international tests, such as PISA BELOW.

Item B: PISA international league tables

(http://www.oecd.org/pisa/aboutpisa/)

The PISA league tables demonstrate how the neoliberal/ New Right idea of ranking educational achievement has gone global – Since the year 2000 we now have International Education League Tables.

Since the year 2000, every three years, fifteen-year-old students from randomly selected schools worldwide take tests in the key subjects: reading, mathematics and science, with a focus on one subject in each year of assessment. In 2012, some economies also participated in the optional assessments of Problem Solving and Financial Literacy.

Students take a test that lasts 2 hours. The tests are a mixture of open-ended and multiple-choice questions that are organised in groups based on a passage setting out a real-life situation. A total of about 390 minutes of test items are covered.  Students take different combinations of different tests.

PISA is unique because it develops tests which are not directly linked to the school curriculum. The tests are designed to assess to what extent students at the end of compulsory education, can apply their knowledge to real-life situations and be equipped for full participation in society.

The students and their school principals also answer questionnaires to provide information about the students’ backgrounds, schools and learning experiences and about the broader school system and learning environment.

The UK currently ranks 23rd for English and Maths.

Item C: Stephen Ball (2003)

argues that government policies of choice and competition place the middle class at an advantage. They have the knowledge and skills to make the most of the opportunities on offer. Compared to the working class they have more material capital, more social capital – access to social networks and contacts which can provide information and support.

Ball refers Middle class parents as ‘skilled choosers’. Compared to working class parents (disconnected choosers) they are more comfortable with dealing with public institutions like schools, they are more used to extracting and assessing information. For example, they use social networks to talk to parents whose children are attending the schools on offer. They collect and analyse information about GCSE results, and they are more used to dealing with and negotiating with administrators and teachers. As a result, if entry to a school is limited, they are more likely to gain a place for their child.

Ball also talked of the school/ parent alliance: Middle class parents want middle class schools and schools want middle class pupils. In general, the schools with more middle class students have better results. Schools see middle class students as easy to teach and likely to perform well. They will maintain the schools position in the league tables and its status in the education market.

Item D: Sue Palmer – The Problems of Tests, Targets And Education

Sue Palmer Is usually introduced in Families and Households module. She argues that technological and social changes have made modern childhood ‘toxic’, and testing in education (because of league tables and The New Right) is part of this problem. Sue Palmer writes…..

‘As long as league tables exist, in a risk averse society most people daren’t ignore them. Primary schools at the top of the league (which, by a strange coincidence, tend to be in the wealthiest areas) have a reputation to maintain; those at the bottom have to try to claw a little higher. The status of all interested adults (teachers, governors, parents) depends on how their Year Sixes perform in national tests.

So from four years of age, our children now live in the shadow of SATs. ‘No time for play in the reception class now,’ one teacher told me ruefully. ‘As soon as they arrive, it’s fast forward to the Key Stage One test.’ The curriculum is dominated by the core subjects of English, Maths and Science, broken down into a series of discrete‘learning objectives’ – closely matched to ‘assessment criteria’ – to be ticked off as children progress through the school.

There are ‘voluntary’ SATs for each year group, so children’s progress (and teachers’ competence in coaching their pupils) can be checked every summer. Then, in Year Six, come several months of concentrated exam practice, ‘booster classes’ during the Easter holidays for those who might not scrape the required mark, and sleepless nights for 11-year-olds terrified of ‘letting themselves down’ on the day.

Not surprisingly, this regime leaves far less time for creative but unquantifiable experiences, like art, drama and music, which through the millennia have nurtured children’s imaginations and contributed incalculably to their emotional and social development. Less time also for the active, hands-on learning children need if they’re genuinely to understand the concepts underpinning the tests.

Last year researchers found that the conceptual understanding of today’s 11-year-olds lags two to three years behind their counterparts in 1990. While performance on pencil-and-paper tests of has soared over this period, children are apparently less likely to understand the principles they’ve been trained to tick boxes about.

Research published recently by the independent Alexander Review of primary education shows that – on tests other than those for which children are coached – there have been only modest improvements in mathematics, and little change in literacy standards. And in last month’s PIRLS survey of international achievement in literacy, England had actually gone backwards, slumping from 3rd to 19th place.