Saturday, 27 March 2010

Greer on Education

On Tuesday I was invited by Lori Beckett, Winifred Mercier Professor of Teaching at Leeds Met to her annual lecture.The guest speaker was Germaine Greer.Germaine arrived late, poor Lori spent a desperate hour in the foyer waiting for her.
But when she did arrive she was true to form and a fantastic speaker.

Lori did a lovely introduction and spoke about the desperate state education is in at the moment with the emphasis on facts rather than learning and the closure and degradation of our schools.

Geramine took up a similar theme.
She talked a lot about women as educators and the natural tendency we have to teach, a trait that far fewer men enjoy.
She sees the male management of education as the root of many of our problems because, as she put it, men train, they do not understand teaching, so the emphasis has moved away from teaching to training and the loss to our children and our whole society needs to be reversed.

For me this breakdown in the way we teach our children started with Thatcher, continued through the Blair years and is now the domain of our 'beloved leader', Ed Balls.

Throughout that time there have been many educationalists who have stood against the initiatives that have stultified our education system but it is so hard for their voices to be heard in this world where to speak against the degradation of education is to stand against the accepted paradigm - a very difficult thing to do.
It does not help that, having been in the forefront of educational research and progress in the early 80s, we are now, as a country, way behind. And because all the work we were doing was so thoroughly discredited it is so very, very hard now to claw back that progress.

We have a chance, with City of Leeds, to take a school and turn it around, not by forcing the national curriculum down the throats of children who clearly are not interested, but by teaching them how to learn for themselves and giving them the skills and motivation to take them into the future.

For 30 years our education system has been tied in the straight jacket of tests and statistics, there are not many of us left who remember the sheer joy of helping children learn because they want to learn. I just hope there are enough of us left to show those who know no different that Ed Balls' way is not the only way and far from the best way to teach our children.

Friday, 19 March 2010

Question Time

A little group of us went off to the Grand at 6pm and stood, very nicely, outside, holding our placards and giving out leaflets. The manager came out and asked us what we were doing and was fine with us being there as long as we were quiet and not obstructing the entrance or pavement, and then a little later a couple of police officers came along and stopped to talk. There was a really nice atmosphere about it and, given I still have that nasty virus, it was good not to have to shout and bang things for a change.

A lot of the people we spoke to were really interested and many hadn't even heard about the closures of our 3 schools. A couple of people actually said they would put a question in about the schools.

As time drew on Victoria went in and asked if there were any tickets left - and, amazingly, there was a ticket for everyone who wanted to go in.

The show was probably one of the most boring I have ever heard.
William Hague wittered on about that lord who gives them loads of money, is their deputy chair or something, and doesn't even pay tax in the UK. Most of the panelists were quite happy to spend the full program on that one question it seemed - probably because it was pretty safe and there's nothing new to say about it.
So they only managed another 3 or 4 questions and none at all about education even though Chris Pickering was chosen and wanted to ask why we weren't increasing higher education spending like every other country does in recession.

By far the best member of the panel was Bea Campbell of the Green Party. I spoke with her afterwards and liked her a lot, she's a very intelligent and thoughtful speaker.

At the end I watched Ed Balls putting on his jacket as if he was going to rush out before anyone had a chance to ask him anything difficult and I was so determined that he wasn't going to get away without at least knowing that someone wanted to challenge him on education that I grabbed one of the placards in my bag (the one with "Protect our Children, Safeguard our schools" and the names of all three schools, City of Leeds, Parklands and Primrose) and shouted from the balcony.
I definitely got his attention and a good round of applause from the audience.

As we left we discovered, much to our surprise, that there was a reception for the audience to meet the panel so, instead of rushing home as we had planned, we talked to Bea Campbell and then Victoria approached Ed Balls.

Ed Balls admitted to putting pressure on Education Leeds although not about specific schools.

After a few minutes of talking, mainly about City of Leeds, he said he would be pleased to meet with us at another time (he has previously ignored invites from staff, governors and our MP, Hilary Benn, to visit and speak to people from City of Leeds) and gave us an email to contact him on.

Will he meet with us?

Or will he prove me right and is everything he says just pure Ballshit?

Only time, and a couple of emails, will tell.

Balls to Education

Tonight Ed Balls is at the Grand on the panel of Question Time.

Will he admit to the Balls up he has made of our education system?
I doubt it!

Will he spout more Ballshit?

A group of parents, staff and kids from City of Leeds, Parklands and Primrose will be making a protest outside the theatre.

Will he listen to us?
"Balls to that", I hear him say!

Great name he's got!!!

Thursday, 18 March 2010

Anomie and social cohesion

This map shows anomie, a measure of social cohesion, as recorded in a study of social and spatial inequalities at Sheffield University in 2008. The study was called Changing UK and looked at social inequalities comparing them with previous measures.

The darker the area, the greater the anomie, the less cohesive the community.

For the whole of the UK the strongest communities are all now weaker than the weakest measured in 1971.

The area of England identified as having the worst social cohesion in the study was Hyde Park and Headingley in Leeds.

And that is before they close our high school!

Councils have a statutory duty to support and build community cohesion and it is time to remind our elected councillors that they were elected by their communities, and it is their communities they are elected to serve, not central government.

Unfortunately, Leeds City Council has decided to ignore this study in favour of the Leeds Neighbourhood Index which puts Hyde Park firmly in the 'average' category for everything but Environment, Education and Housing.
This is because it does not take into account the way the huge student body skews the outcomes for this area - for example, health is average or better because we have so many more fit, able bodied young people in the ward; the fact that these young people are only short term residents doesn't count. Similarly, the measure of low income is skewed because it is based on claims for Council Tax Benefit and students are exempt so don't claim.

Perhaps it is time for the wards of Headingley and Hyde Park to get together and find a way to rebuild our communities without reference to political parties.
Perhaps it is time to create our own party and stand up for ourselves like the independents of Morley.

Saturday, 13 March 2010


How many children have I taught? Hundreds? Thousands?
In all types of school, from all over the world.

Today I will tell you about Killy.

My very favourite school, Kilquhanity House, in Galloway.

I went there from a primary in Bradford where I was badly bullied by the deputy head.
That was my probationary year, my first year teaching, and she tried to fail me but fortunately the local advisers were brilliant and saw me through it - just.

I ran away to Killy. I thought I'd never go back to the state system, especially as the very next year the National Curriculum was brought in with SATs close on its heels.

Killy was a kids' paradise and the reason I tend to call kids, "kids" ("Killy Kids" was what we "staff" had to call them and it stuck).

It was also a teacher's paradise.

No set curriculum, no uniform, no surnames (except for John A, John B and John C whose names really did begin with those letters), no risk assessments, no playground supervision (we didn't have a playground, just acres of overgrown garden with huts and treehouses, ponds and streams, ropes and trees) and only 3 unalterable rules:

All members of the school must be in class at class time.
All members of the school must attend council on Thursday afternoon.
All members of the school must do useful work.

I got paid a pittance, worked ridiculously long hours (sometimes past midnight), did my own cleaning, worked on maintenance teams and enjoyed every minute of my 3 years.

Killy was a democratic school where the kids made real decisions; my interview had to be on a Thursday so that the kids could interview me at the council meeting because they had a say in the decision.

Everything was negotiable and negotiated, every opportunity that could be taken to learn was taken - no Maths lesson today, Brian's free so we can go to find amethyst geodes in Creetown instead but it's OK you'll be studying solids with angles and facets galore and learning how to use a lump hammer!
What a day that was, I still have one of the low grade crystals tucked away - the kids, of course, got all the good ones.

I discovered at Killy what teaching is really about and I learned to respect each member of that community, from 5 to 85.
From the stress of a leafy primary where I had had such a terrible time, I entered a world where people wanted to learn what I had to teach them, where my colleagues asked me for advice just as often as I asked them and where I came to appreciate just how well kids can learn if you only let them.

Killy was a very special school opened in the war years as a pacifist school by John Aitkenhead who had been part of the Glasgow experiment till the war disrupted everything.
We took children from 5 to 19 years, some because their parents chose not to send their children to an ordinary school but many because they had been so unhappy in their old schools, and often excluded from them. Around 80% had additional needs, mostly dyslexia, although I can see with hindsight that several were on the autistic spectrum.
Many were also highly disturbed when they first came and bullied other kids mercilessly but the council soon sorted that out - bullies 'undertook' to make reparation and woe betide anyone who didn't meet their undertaking; the council could be a very hard master. Run by the kids and for the whole school, even John A was answerable and, having once been 'brought up' for not letting my class throw their work away, I found it surprisingly hard to face.

John's favourite saying was, "Education is the pursuit of happiness."

And he meant it.

If a child was not happy he wanted to know why and what we were doing about it and, 'should she be in class if she's so unhappy at the moment? Let's find some other structure she can cope with.'

It wasn't an airy, fairy, 'let's all just do what we like' sort of happiness that John was talking about.
What he was really saying is that when a child is happy they want to learn and are stimulated to follow interests from which they can learn.
So our priority was to make sure our kids were happy and well cared for before we even started looking at what they needed to learn.

My class (I had 8-12 year olds and my class was simply 'Adele's Class') did all the basics but a whole lot of other things too.
We followed an eel downstream in the river one day, went otter watching at dawn (every one of them turned up at 5:30am!), built benders and camped out in the school grounds, learned to cook over an open fire, planted beds of wildflowers, cooked lunch for the whole school and built a stunning clay galleon 3ft long only to destroy it with the cannon balls rolled ready for battle.

Here are Chaib, Rowan (who started the galleon that day) and Morris

The sense of wonder in learning never left me again and the ability to connect up the threads of our world and bring them together with the help of my kids was probably the most important thing I learned.

In some ways we did very little formal learning together but in others it was incredibly intense and, by the time they were 14 they were sometimes looking to go back to state schools where there were more exams available.

Every year John would get the same two phonecalls from the local high schools - how many do you have for us this year, John?
Usually it was only 2 or 3 but they would both try their hardest to persuade them to join their schools.

I always found that sort of sadly ironic considering how many of our kids the state system had kicked out - we were actually used as a referral school for kids the local authority couldn't place.
But apparently, a few years with us and they were worth their weight in gold - they were motivated, could hold their own in a debate and usually took about 6 months to overtake most of their peers in their work.

Wednesday, 10 March 2010

Three cheers for all the emailers and letter writers!

We met at the Rose Bowl and banged a lot of drums, said a lot of heartfelt things, got a £100 from Alan Bennett and generally made a big noise about keeping Royal Park for the community.

It was a lively event and felt really good to be part of although I couldn't stay for the Executive Board meeting as I had my son with me - he was happy to be at a rally to help save his old school but wouldn't have coped inside with so many people.

The news from the council chamber later was stunning, it must have been so tense in there and then suddenly Royal Park was off the agenda; deferred for at least 3 months because Councillor Brett was still in discussion with Royal Park Community Consortium.

Apparently, local councillors had been absolutely flooded with emails and letters in the last few days.

Finally, perhaps, they will begin to listen.

Here's the Guardian version from John Baron

And from the BBC

I finished the day with parents' evening at City of Leeds, always a positive experience even though we had a bit of a problem to iron out - everyone said my daughter can do anything she likes for her GCSE options except, of course, the combination she actually wants to do - typical, but at least at City when things like that crop up they do their absolute best to sort it out.

Well, it's sort it out or teach her myself!

Ah, yes, another thing the government thinks parents can't do properly - teach their own children!

Just remember that a child's education is the responsibility, not of the Education Authority, but of the parent and any parent can choose to teach their own child.
It does not have to be in the same way that the government dictates a child should be taught - there are many good ways to teach a child and for each child the best way is unique to that child.

The report on education other than at school is biased against parents and home education. It states that there are parents 'not cooperating' when, in fact, the law states that parents do not have to do anything and that is just what they are doing. Education Authorities tell parents that they must allow inspections and most accept this without question but it is not actually true.

The funny thing about home educated children is that most of them do at least as well in life as school educated children, and many of them do much, much better.

The only time that the LEA has the right to interfere with the home education of a child is if that child has a Statement of Special Education Needs in which case they do have a duty to ensure that the child's needs are met, but again, this does not have to be in a school setting.

The safe-guarding issue is largely a red herring. That is not the responsibility of an LEA but of the parents - a school is 'in loco parentis' when a child is in its care, not when a child is at home. If there is any doubt that the parent is not caring for a child properly then there are many other places than school that a child will be seen - doctors, youth groups, toddler groups, etc - and any of them can speak to social services, as can a concerned individual member of the public.

Tuesday, 9 March 2010

Royal Park Rally on Wednesday

If, like me, you missed the Royal Park rally on Monday (I have one of those nasty viruses that just won't go away at the moment) then you have another chance at noon before the Executive Board meets to make its decision.

Meet at the Rose Bowl (Leeds Met) at 12pm.

Hope to see you all there - hope I'm well enough!

Saturday, 6 March 2010

A Sordid Tale

I have just commented on this excellent article from Victoria Jaquiss on John Baron's Guardian Leeds Blog

Thanks Victoria and John for being so positive about City of Leeds in the face of such scurrilous abuse from Education Leeds; I just hope that the executive board is listening and will make the right decision in April - our councillors need to support our communities now and halt the damage being done by bodies which have no interest in us as people, families and communities and care only about statistics.

Thursday, 4 March 2010

Support the Royal Park bid

John Ramsden of the council's assets management dept. is to recommend to the executive board on 10th March that Royal Park be sold to a commercial developer.

The plan is for about 35 student flats on the upper floor and commercial space on the ground floor with the possibility of some community space also on the ground floor.

please email John Ramsden with your objections:

Last chance to object to closure

Tomorrow is the last day of the public consultation on City of Leeds School.

We urgently need more objections filed with Education Leeds so please email now:

Wednesday, 3 March 2010

No more Education Leeds

Education Leeds to be merged with Children's Services

At last!

This has been a rumour for the last several months - we knew it was coming but the word was in 3 years, not 1.

Lets hope Chris Edwards is not put in charge and while we're at it Pat Toner needs to go too.


During my campaign to become a councillor to stand up for City of Leeds School and for our community I heard a lot about students:

student mess
student noise
student cars
student apathy

And I have to wonder why it is so bad in Leeds. Is it this bad in other cities?

Then, when I was leafleting one day, I went into a university residence and asked if I could deliver to the student flats.

I was told, "No."
Apparently the only way to get electoral material to these voters was to post it by royal mail.
I explained that I thought this was unethical as, being an independent I have very little money and couldn't afford a mail shot. I told the officer I spoke to that I would have to take the matter further as voters have a right to have access to electoral material.

I was thinking yesterday about writing a letter to Leeds University about this - students are adults and registered voters but how can we expect them to participate in our community and our democracy if they aren't allowed the information on which to base their choices? No wonder they are accused of apathy but who can blame them when they aren't even aware there's an election, never mind know what the issues are?

Then I got a call from the university - the powers that be have actually listened and have decided that from now on any candidate may leaflet the residences by delivering individually addressed leaflets batched by block to the site office of the residence concerned.

Definitely a victory for democracy!

Big Hug too!

I know I wrote about the Big Hug but somehow the post seems to have been lost.

It was really good to be part of something that powerful, the kids were great and it was so good to see them coming together for their school.

Here's a great shot on John Baron's Guardian Leeds Blog