Recently in Education Category
This blog forms one of four which relate to my recent panel appearance on 26th January as part of the Great Regional Debate sponsored by the Royal Town Planning Institute (RTPI).
This brought together experts from RTPI, Royal Institution of Chartered Surveyors, Royal Institute of British Architects, Institution of Civil Engineers and the Landscape Institute.
Each blog captures my response to the question asked and collectively contributes to a key debate about the future of the West Midlands region.
Q1 Is there a brain drain from the West Midlands?
This question poses the idea that there is a brain drain. However, we need to be careful that we identify clear evidence of this before intervening in a policy sense. So set within this note of caution I offer the following points.
I deliver a module to built environment students at Birmingham City University entitled 'Policies and Plans' in which we look critically at what makes a good policy or plan.
Baldrick in Blackadder provided initial inspiration as he always seemed to have a cunning plan to get out of the crisis situations that invariably resulted.
However, a good plan is dependent on a clear vision, good intelligence, assessment of alternatives, involvement of affected parties and effective review processes.
Crucially, the process by which the plan is produced is every bit as important as the plan itself.
John Sentamu, the Archbishop of York and former Bishop of Birmingham, writes in defence of church schools in one of today's Sunday papers.
He says they are under attack from some politicians and commentators for being divisive and creating ghettoes.
But he points out that 90 per cent of pupils in schools such as St John's School in Sparkhill, Birmingham, or Saint Saviours in Alum Rock, are Muslims.
Church of England schools are "built on Christian values but not restricted to those who subscribe to the Christian religion," he says.
While I obviously hesitate to disagree with the Bishop on Church of England matters, I don't think this is entirely right.
As I understand it, Church schools only take in people of other religions if they don't receive enough applications from Christians to fill their classrooms.
In an area where the vast majority of youngsters are Christians, members of minority religions are indeed excluded (assuming, at least, that Christian parents do apply to the school).
But perhaps more importantly, he sidesteps the real concern some people have, which is not about Church schools at all.
"It's a bit like throwing your kid to the wolves" is how one of my colleagues described sending their child to secondary school.
And he's right. Parents across the land currently deciding which secondary to send their precious ones to will understand what he means.
I see the Conservative Party has taken up the fight against the inequality gap within our schools.
Hardly surprising really, given the sad vacuum left by New Labour in this area. Gordon Brown's problems are not just about his unexciting public image. Nor do they stem completely from his dithering over holding an Election or the failure of his "safe pair of hands" to save us in the teeth of a recession.
Now then. I went to a conference the other day held by Birmingham City Council which was all about "Creating a Brighter Future for Children and Young People in Birmingham".
I always get a bit confused by these things - there was a glossy booklet to go with it (why do they have to waste public money on top quality paper?) spelling out the "Birmingham strategy" that had a lot of diagrams in it. There was talk about "priority outcomes", "multi-disciplinary leadership", "evidence-based initiatives" and "population-wide prevention".
It appears students are increasingly cheating. As well as cutting and pasting the work of others off the internet, they are now paying freelancers to do their work for them. It's called contract cheating.
You've got to admire the Government. It's basically hung an axe over the head of 638 secondary schools it believes aren't doing well enough.
These schools now either need to shape up or face the consequences, which could include being shut down.
Scandal is the word that springs to mind. I'm talking about a Government report that shows children from the poorest areas have the least qualified teachers.
It makes you wonder what education is for in this country. Is it to perpetuate social inequality or is it to help children no matter what their background make the most of their lives?
Take a look at the diagram below. Still awake? Or have you sunk into a state of near death.
If you work for Birmingham City Council's education services you should be very excited by it.
Tony Howell, head of the service, certainly is. It appears beside an article penned by Mr Howell in the latest edition of Brighter Futures, a glossy magazine produced by the authority that goes out to everyone working in children's services in the city, including headteachers.
I met the Jamaican Prime Minister the other day and among other things, asked him what he thought about the under-achievement of black African Caribbean boys in this country.
It's a problem that has perplexed educationalists for a long while. He said he would look into it.
What do we make about the latest round of criticisms against SATs? This week they got a right kicking from the education sector in the wake of a damning report from the Government's own schools select committee made up of MPs.
The night before Panorama put the boot in as well with an edition called Tested to Destruction which featured a load of educationalists saying how damaging national testing is to children.
In the face of all this, Ministers remain unrepentant and insist SATs are a key tool in raising attainment.
Knowing who to believe is a bit tricky.
Well done to Chris Parry, the new head of the Independent Schools Council, for saying it like it is.
He's come under fire for claiming the quality of state education is "very poor" and is forcing thousands of parents to go private.
This week he was put under question by a Government talk shop made up of MPs who focus on education.
Whitehall veteran and head of the so-called "education select committee" Barry Sheerman took offence to Mr Parry's description of private schooling as "paid for" education, claiming state school parents also pay through their taxes.
Mr Parry's retort was brilliant.
The biggest teacher strike in recent decades will soon be upon us. Some schools - including my sons - will be shut for two days this week.
The disruption to parents, many of whom will have to sort out alternative childcare arrangements - will be major.
The mood among many parents I have spoken to is one of frustration and even resentment. It is, after all, the teachers and Ministers who constantly tell us how damaging it is to miss even one day from school. They tell us off for taking holidays during term time highlighting the impact on our children's education.
One can only imagine what the parents of those poor young women killed on a gap year trip to Ecuador are going through.
Their children were cut down in their prime, a lifetime of possibilities ahead of them. Today the inquest into the death of one of them - 19-year-old Elizabeth Pincock - started and Inevitably the thought will have crossed her parents' mind 'were we right to have let her go'.
The answer is yes. what has been interesting about the aftermath of this tragedy has been the relative lack of people coming forward to criticise school trips.
Admittedly, this was not a school trip, but an organised expedition run by Warwickshire-based company VentureCo which specialises in gap year students.
Do we have a fair education system? Common sense says the answer has to be no. On the most basic level, we have fee-paying and non fee-paying schools. And despite the billions spent by the Government to narrow the gap between the two, independent schools - by virtue of charging parents - are able to separate themselves off from many of the ills of society that are associated with poverty.
In a city like Birmingham where grammar schools still exist, there is arguably a third tier of inequality. One might dispute this on the grounds that grammars offer free education to pupils based on academic ability, not their ability to pay.
What is it with our education system? Barely a week goes by without someone slagging it off.
Kids are not getting taught enough. Kids are taught too much or being taught in the wrong way. The qualifications system is in meltdown; our schools are perpetuating social division and behaviour is spiralling out of control.
Sometimes it seems like education in every other country is better than ours, more stable, less fraught. But is it just a case of rosy-tinted spectacles? The classic British inclination towards doing ourselves down and making things seem worse than they actually are?
Or is it the inevitable outcome of a centrally-run education system which is at the mercy of interfering and point scoring politicians?
Take a recent Cambridge University-led report into primary education. If it is to believed - or at least the way it was reported by the majority of the press is to be believed - today's youngsters are virtually subjected to systematic child abuse in the classroom.