Soweto stories

Earlier this month I travelled to Soweto for the inaugural Amaphiko Academy. It’s a ten day academy for social entrepreneurs, put together by Red Bull.

Eighteen South African social innovators were selected to take part. Some of them were running pretty sophisticated social enterprise, others had never heard the words ‘social’ and ‘enterprise’ put together and certainly didn’t know that their after-school art project or skate education scheme or township gardening operation was indeed a social enterprise.

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It was eye-opening for everyone. Each day comprised a moderated lecture (hence my involvement) with a top-flight guest, ranging from MIT’s entrepreneur-in-residence Julius Akinyemi, to Subway Art photographer Martha Cooper to Andy Walshe, director of high performance at Red Bull. The afternoons were spent in small crowdfunding workshops or in sessions where participants could co-create a logo or a short video, or where they could just work out ways of explaining exactly what they do.

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Soweto is a huge place (population 1.5m) and much of the world’s most famous township is in pretty good shape. There’s a growing tourist industry, a new theatre and one of SA’s largest shopping malls. Some of Soweto, though, is still grindingly poor, like Kliptown, the area just across the tracks from our hotel where Amaphiko staged three evening events – itself a small, trusting, leap from the usual way of doing things. There’s nothing quite like walking along train tracks in the dark, with burning tyres as street lighting, chaperoned by street kids in youth centre t-shirts, to challenge your preconceptions.

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I saw a huge degree of civic duty, innovative thinking and low-resource ingenuity. Meshack Sitoe runs an arts project for people with learning difficulties where they don’t have money for clay – so collect it from the riverbed. When his project was kicked out of their community centre he dusted himself off and set up in a friend’s back yard. Ramona Kasavan realised that girls were missing over 300 days of schooling a year because they couldn’t afford proper sanitation during their periods – and developed a two-pronged solution that involves a low-cost, high-performance pad and the rebranding of periods as ‘happy days’. Sifiso Ngobese realised that the township reclaimers who lug hug loads of rubbish each day to recycling for pittance wages were actually doing a great civic service – and developed branded, durable carts that both make life easier and rebrand these workers as heroes, not lowlife.

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This resourcefulness was also present in the people we met along the way, like the Kliptonians who run the SKY Youth Centre, or the collective of artists behind the Post 77 Gallery, or the kids adapting reclaimed plastic toy trucks with a long stick to make them more navigable. In a world where low-resource ingenuity will become more valuable as resources become increasingly scarce, societies like Soweto are well-placed to thrive – and there’s a lot we can learn from them.

It’s increasingly obvious, to quote Peter Senge in this month’s RSA Fellowship Magazine, “we’re not going to be able to keep privatising profit and socialising cost to the degree we have been.” Projects giving grass-roots social entrepreneurs access to networks and opportunities are a good start. It’s about putting social profit on a par with financial profit and recognising the value that both bring.

I don’t feel I got to know too much about the vastness of South Africa in my short stay, but I feel like I got a strong taste of Soweto, a place described in Philip Bonner and Lauren Segal’s excellent ‘Soweto: A History’ as “a catalyst… what happens in Soweto will determine what happens in the whole country.” On the 20th anniversary of democracy in that country, here’s to a new generation of social upstarts. And the next Amaphiko academy. I’m in.

 

The Art Party Conference 2013

The Art Party Conference was always going to be a lot of fun, not least because of the delightfully irreverent call for attendees to create portraits of Michael Gove. These were the best-looking protest banners I’ve ever seen, a colourful exercise in the democratic right to say what you think humorously, and often very beautifully. Most were funny, some were a bit mean, but they all conveyed artists and art practitioners’ righteous anger at the downgrading of the arts in education – and the impact this will have ongoing.

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The day-long event at the Spa Centre, Scarborough was organised by artist Bob and Roberta Smith, whose outsized flags you might have seen on the Southbank over the summer. He was so outraged by the impact of Michael Gove’s educational reforms on the arts that he made a painting called Letter To Michael Gove. This became a singularity which, when expanded, became The Art Party Conference: a gathering of art teachers, kids, curious locals and artists including Jeremy Deller, Cornelia Parker and Richard Wentworth for a day of curious actions on the north eastern coast of England.

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In a room looking onto the steel-grey sea there was an impromptu opportunity to do life drawing of surfers with easels and paper already in place. Around the corner, there was a Michael Gove lookalike in a bad suit, pushing his way irritatedly through the crowds at the Goveshy where crowds lined up to chuck stuff at the (beautiful, hand-crafted) plaster busts of the Secretary Of State For Education. Up the stairs, nestled in a corner was a nail bar where you could have images of iconic female artists applied to your nails and where the real art was in the conversation that the artist was curating between nail technician and recipient. There were all kinds of transactions going on and very few involved handing over cash. You paid your fiver entrance and everything was free, bar the normal commercial transactions of tea and bowls of chips that reminded you that we were indeed at a conference centre. Plates of home-made chewy cookies and lollipops were freely available on artists stands, alongside beautifully-printer A2 posters from Pavel Büchler, Ian Bourne and Bobby Baker. We were citizens in the free state of the Art Party and it felt like a participatory version of Carry On Up The Situationists.

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It was also neatly democratic. We went up to see what was happening with Roger Clarke’s Record Player Orchestra and ended up doing our own performance which involved choosing a tone on a record and playing it whenever you wanted along with nine other people doing the same thing. It was strangely comforting, the hum of electricity and the drone sending us all into somnambulance. This also led to another discovery: spending an hour playing pure frequency makes your eyeballs buzz.

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And finally, we stumbled upon curator Lynda Morris’s talk, titled Drinking With Gilbert and George. This was a real highlight and could be compressed into ‘we got drunk/ we made art’. She finished her talk with a hearty ‘cheers!’ and played out the pair’s singing sculpture, which became our theme tune as we wended a happy way back the Travelodge, which like everything else, now looked like a piece of art.

Back to school

It’s back to school week for thousands of British children and young people, as well as all the teachers and support staff who work in our 24,000 schools and colleges. Uniforms are being pulled out of bedroom corners. Folders are being dusted off.  The first hints of autumn are being carried in the air, even if we’re still being embraced by the longest, sunniest summer in a decade.

All of which makes it the right time to post this video of Ken Robinson speaking at the RSA earlier in the summer. I squeezed in right before they closed the doors. It was a delight to hear him saying that creativity should be embedded into every school – especially as that’s at the heart of Thomas Tallis School in Greenwich, where I’m proud to be a (relatively new) school governor.

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It’s worth watching the whole video, but here’s a taster of what he said.

Why, he asked, do we ‘do’ education? His answer came in four parts: economic, cultural, social and personal.

Education, he said, has powerful economic purpose, contributing to health, vitality and sustainability. We want to make our children economically independent – so what does industry want? An IBM report from 2011 of 1,800 leaders in 80 countries said they wanted adaptability and creativity.

The world is complicated and increasingly conflicted. Value systems are knocking against each other head on.  We need forms of education that respond to and reflect culture  – that allows you to see your own identity and to understand others’.

He points to evidence of political disengagement. It’s important we take part in civil engagement. You do this by having a culture of participation – and schools are a vital part of this.

And finally, it’s about people.  “Anything not nuanced to diversity will increase alienation.”

His belief is that change needs to come from the ground up. “We need policy makers to think differently. They appear to believe that you improve things by issuing directives. It’s a false consciousness of how education actually works. If we do something different, government will respond.”

“You cannot improve education,” he said, “by vilifying teachers.”

Too right!

 

Creat_ED ‘unconference’ at The Barbican

Some things I learned from the Creat_ED ‘unconference’ at The Barbican.

1. Creat_ED exists because of an absence, that of Learning Without Frontiers. When the latter was cancelled, Creat_ED popped into existence in a foundational example of doing. You can read more about the genesis of the event here.

2. An ‘unconference’ is quite like a conference, but more democratic. In the case of Creat_ED, this meant a room up on the fourth floor of the Barbican, looking out into the jungly centre of the conservatory, where we were encouraged by host Eylan Ezekiel to comment, share and do.

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3. The opening speaker Alexandra Deschamps-Sonsino made an interesting point that learning. It is, she said, ‘a community’ and spoke about some of the people who’d schooled her. It made me wonder: is it possible to curate your own teachers outside of the people you encountered at school? If I think about the people who really taught me something I’d include my dad, my Primary School teacher Mrs Skinner who got us dissecting lambs eyes (it was the ’80s, you could do stuff like that), and the music editor at Select Magazine who took to me to one side and explained exactly why my album reviews weren’t really working.

4. Deschamps-Sonsino also introduced us to her lovely Good Night Lamps. These are internet connected lamps that comprise a big lamp and little lamps. When the big lamp is turned on, the little lamps turn on, too. They’re designed to allow families, particularly those that live in different countries, to keep in touch, and it’s a very cute idea. Harpist and music educator Stephanie, who was sitting next to me, pointed out that the lamps would equally be useful to people who collaborate remotely. Musicians, for example.

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5. She rocketed through a number of other very cool items that could be described as part of the internet of things. These include the Little Printer which dispenses you cute receipt-sized, personalised printed content from your friends or through the apps you’ve selected on your phone and Molly, which gives you a gumball every time you get a retweet.

 

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6. Fred Garnett was one of the people who spoke up after Alexandra’s talk. He said we needed to move away from pedagogy – the act of teaching – and into heutagogy and andragogy. This involved some furtive googling on my part. The former means ‘self-determined learning’, the latter is about how to engage with adult learners. Follow Fred @fredgarnett to find out more.

7. Second speaker was Simon Raymonde, founder of Bella Union records and one-time bassist with Cocteau Twins. Frou Frou Foxes In Midsummer Fires remains one of my favourite records ever, but that’s beside the point. Raymonde started his talk with a tune by Bella Union’s John Grant, ‘GMF’. It’s safe to say that the average conference doesn’t involve playing songs which have a prominent use of the word ‘motherfucker’.

He told the story of how Midlake nursed John Grant back into physical and musical health through the making of his album Queen of Denmark and went on to cover the digital transformation of the music industry, and why people should be asking themselves ‘did I do something today to help a creative person?’. Then he ended on John Grant’s ‘Glacier’ which played all the way through to the final resonant note.

8. Stevyn Colgan was the third ‘provocateur’ or speaker. He joined the Met police after drunkenly signing a bet with his dad that he couldn’t last six months and ended up staying 30 years, eventually as part of the Met’s Problem Solving Unit. He told a though-provoking story about an estate in Scotland which had two football pitches for the kids, on either side of a dual carriageway – one of which wasn’t being used, and one of which had become a magnet for problems. He and his colleagues realised that there were actually three sets of kids – small kids who just wanted to kick a ball about, medium-aged kids who didn’t want to play with the small kids, and older kids who wanted to do their own thing. They solved the problems by spending £25 on white paint and creating two smaller pitches. Crime went down accordingly. The police, he said, are always focused on solving crime, when they should be focusing on the prevention of crime. “The people who know why a problem happens are the people who are causing the problem but no-one will talk to them because they’re the ‘bad guys”

 

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9. The Wall of Do was a space to share thoughts and requests, and had some good ideas on it. These included taking students out to Fab Labs and MakerSpaces, asking how to inculcate learning habits and loads more that escape me, but that fed into the afternoon’s workshop sessions.

 

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10. Creat_ED was all about risk, agility and making connections. There should be more like it.

Gove and why schools are a ‘dragnet for lost feeling’

In the topsy-turvy, highly politicised world of British education, there are a dizzying array of contradictory accusations. Today, it’s Michael Wilshaw’s assertion that schools ‘fail’ two-thirds of the brightest pupils, which hovers awkwardly over his organisation’s own assertion that two thirds of schools in the UK are good or outstanding.

Ah well, so it goes as Kurt Vonnegut once said.

The detail of the current round of contradictory unpleasantness coming from the DfE and Ofsted is less interesting than the underlying idea revealed in the exchange between Gove and Dianne Abbott during the GCSE debate.

“No-one needs academic rigour more than working-class children,” said Abbott, writing the next day in The Guardian. “I owe everything in life to my string of A Grades and O- and A-Level and my Cambridge degree.”

The important word in that sentence is ‘I’.

Politicians seem incapable of seeing beyond their own individual experiences at school. They regularly confuse what worked for them with what might work for thousands of young people from an entirely different generation. “It worked for me” appears to be the basis of policy and responses to policy and it’s just not good enough.

I once heard an Assistant Head turned leadership coach explain this phenomenon. “Whenever any adult goes into schools, they bring their school bag with them. And their school bag is full of shit.”

For politicians, the shit is usually good shit. Most of them will have been successful at school, and will have felt the halo glow of achievement. Parents who don’t turn up to parents evening, or who kick off when they do come into school, are also responding to their school experiences, which were probably poor. And it’s the same for the rest of us. We can only put our own experiences into their rightful historic place by either spending a lot of time in schools (like teachers do) or by recognising the tidal emotional pull of our own school days.

School is intense and time-specific. The five years or so we all spent as pupils at secondary school will have contained a lifetimes-worth of friendships, fallings out, stress, comedy, drama and occasionally, the kind of teaching you remember for ever. Schools are huge, complex, emotional machines with many different moving parts that exert a lasting effect.

It’s powerful stuff. Michael Gove, for example, had a wonderful time at school. I once read a piece in which his mother described a teacher giving up and just letting him lead class. Gove himself even wrote an open letter of apology to his French teacher, saying that he cringes when he thinks of his ‘clever-dick questions’ and ‘pathetic showing-off’. The precocious schoolboy lingers in Gove’s pronouncements, and he needs to be replaced with a wiser adult who can survey the landscape without always allowing himself to be psychologically pinged back to his own experience at school.

To paraphrase Carson McCullers, schools are a ‘dragnet for lost feeling’. Politicians, however, should be able to get beyond that.

London Festival Of Education 2012 #Gove

I went down to the inaugural London Festival Of Education yesterday, with Live Magazine politics editor Omar Shahid. It was clear it’d be an interesting day when we turned the corner onto Bedford St to the end of a queue that snaked all the way to the Institute of Education and to the expected handful of protesters in Gove masks, handing out leaflets with suggested questions for the Secretary of State for Education.

The attendees, a mix of students, teachers, heads and the miscellaneously interested, didn’t need much help with questions for Mr Gove, the best of which was one from the front which asked the famously erudite Scot whether he was aware of the truism that weighing the pig doesn’t make it fatter.

But I’m getting ahead of myself. I’m going to blog about the festival in two parts because there’s a huge amount to reflect on. First up, then, the opening session, where Michael Gove was in conversation with journalist and writer David Aaronovitch for a talk titled ‘What does an educated person look like?’

The festival was opened by a Year 10 student, who spoke eloquently about wanting to be a barrister. It was the right note to open on, as you really can’t talk about 21st Century education without involving students, and the Festival did a good job of starting to get the recipients of education involved – although I hope next year they get more students running or adding to sessions, interviewing big names, and being visibly at the centre of things.

Gove came on stage to a few muted boos. “Don’t boo me,” said Aaronovitch with a neat line in diffusion. “I haven’t done anything wrong.”

I’m waiting to hear if the session will be hosted online, but it was fascinating, depressing and vaguely tragicomic all at the same time. At the start, Gove used an unlikely example: the British Communist Party of the 1950s, with their libraries and demand for education, was, he said, “quite admirable” . I imagine this was the quote bone he was throwing to waiting journalists, and he even brought a book along as a visual prop should this be required for photographs.

There were a few specifics points worth commenting on. It looks like he wants to introducing individual purchasing power into sixth forms, saying that every student over 16 should have cash and be able to say to schools and FE Colleges ‘you have to tell me which course will get me a job’ and chose on this basis. He claimed that the EBacc is the encapsulation of what happens in other countries that have been successful at raising achievement, particularly Poland, and said that his proposed examination system would not preclude the teaching of arts, although @localschools_uk claimed that 187 schools have dropped Art GCSE in the last year which may suggest otherwise.

Gove was unrepentant, as you’d expect, on Academies, claiming that he’s never met an Academy head who wants to go back, although I imagine that the increasing use of Non-Disclosure Agreements for staff in both academies (and in the state sector) may be influencing this. “Resistance to academies is with people who want to swim at the edge of the pool, not strike out to the centre. To them I say come on in, the water’s lovely.”

He appears not to believe that schools focus aggressively on exam results to the exclusion of everything else: “Someone people say some schools are exam factories and are prisons of the soul. These schools do not exist”. The audience murmured and occasionally heckled their dissent.

It also looks as though education will remain ring-fenced after the Autumn budget. “The Lib Dems have helped me argue that education remains well-resourced.”

The most instructive moment (apart from when Gove experienced what body language experts call ‘leakage’ during a discussion about the sense of making hormonal teenagers do exams, when he talked about things ‘going wrong hormonally’ during teens and stiffened his left leg in a most peculiar fashion) was during the Q&A session. He was asked about over-assessment.

Gove: “You can’t have education without assessment.”
Audience: “Why not?”
Gove: “We need it. Education without assessment is just play”

As someone pointed out to me later, what does he think happened in Primary Schools before SATs?

It’s a classic example of why politicians shouldn’t get involved in the content and mechanics of education. Governments need assessment, in order to prove they’ve raised standards, and whilst students need some assessment, there’s plenty of evidence, particularly at Primary Level that too much assessment is bad for students.

For what it’s worth, my cod-psychological take is that Mr Gove is involved in a powerful psychological projection in which he wants to replicate his own schooling. I once read an interview with his mother who described her son being so brilliant that teachers would invite him up to the front of the class to take the rest of the lesson.

I think it’s ego leading this, not evidence about how young people learn, nor 21st Century requirements. This is a shame because on today’s showing he’d be a most entertaining conversational companion – and a damn dangerous person to have in charge of education for a generation which is more diverse, in all senses of the word, than any before.

Superteams

I went to hear Khoi Tu, author of Superteams, speaking at The RSA a few weeks ago. He was sharp, smart and very interesting.

The best thing you could do is just to go straight to the podcast.

But if you want more of a taster, here goes. His premise was to go and spend time with some of the most successful teams in the world including the people behind Pixar, The Red Cross, The Rolling Stones, The SAS and Ferrari’s Formula One unit. He found out what made their teams so wildly successful.

There were too many delightful nuggets: Pixar appreciate the value of ‘creative abrasion’, where team members are tasked with positively pulling apart work that has been created. The Red Cross embody the motivating power of shared purpose. The Rolling Stones contain four essential elements of a superteam – a leader (Mick), an individualist (guess who), a diplomat (Ronnie) and a stable element (Charlie). It went on, brilliantly, including the suggestion that successful teams are between four and twelve deep; that teams who work together remotely need physical or at least visual hanging out time, and Mandela’s brilliantly understated observation about FW De Klerk in answer to a question about how to make difficult relationships work: “We get on, but we don’t hang out.”

And the best bit? He’s donating the profits from Superteams to The Red Cross. Now that’s putting your money where your mouth is.

#cultureclash

Last Wednesday was a momentous day. Obama was re-elected. Celtic won against Barcelona. And grime collective Boy Better Know beat Annie Mac, Major Lazer and reigning champs Channel One at the Red Bull Music Academy Culture Clash.

I jest, slightly.

Culture Clash was more than just an awesome night of sound entertainment, and I’ll tell you why. First, it’s the full and final confirmation that the British iteration of the Jamaican dancehall soundclash has been fully revived and revitalised. Secondly, it tells you a lot about the power and forward motion of grime. And thirdly, much like in the ‘90s when rave music was all over the charts, it means our current crop of teens are getting schooled in UK street-up music, which bodes well for the next generation of British musical hybrids – and indeed for British culture and society in general. Mainstream society might not recognise it as such but this is art.

The original Jamaican soundclash was a development of the way liquor store owners set up speakers outside their shops to bring in more custom. This turned into dances as we understand them: outdoor musical events where American R&B, and then new Jamaican music was played to appreciative crowds at loud volume. Rivalries ensued between competing sounds, which eventually turned into the soundclash, where two systems would be placed facing each other with the crowd inbetween and would take turns to play sets, with the people deciding the winner through the volume of their appreciation.

In the UK, it shifted and changed. It wasn’t possible to hold dances outside and most of the year it’d be too cold anyway. So the dance moved into community centres and the clash moved with it. Two sounds at either end of places like Pountley Hall, showing off their selections and their ‘specials’, big songs that had been re-vocaled by the artist to ‘big up the sound’ or diss a rival. I don’t know exactly when the soundclash died out in this form but it must have been at the point that single sound dances run by dons like Aba-Shanti-I or Jah Shaka took over, so perhaps the late ‘80s.

In the interim, there was silence. Well, that’s not exactly true. Soundsystem culture swung into the DNA of every new hybrid of UK street music since Lovers Rock, coursing through our version of house music, jungle, garage, grime and dubstep. But there was no clash apart from the grime MC battles so memorably recorded on the Lords of The Mic DVDs or perhaps in the shadows of the MCs waiting to get on stage at grime raves like Sidewinder determined to outdo the previous performer, or perhaps even in the idea of the b2b where two DJs would play together, five tunes on, five tunes off.

In November 2010 as part of the London Red Bull Music Academy (of which I was part – I’ve hosted interviews at the Academy since 2002) the clash was revived. DMZ, Metalheadz, Trojan, Soul II Soul went head to head in a supersized four-way clash at The Roundhouse. I’m easily pleased by this kind of thing but this was a night to convert even doubters. This was high-octane musical collaboration and abrasion at it’s finest. Metalheadz had Goldie dashing about on stage, DMZ frontman Sgt Pokes insulted everyone, Trojan drew for the original style dub reggae and Soul Jazz mixed up the selection. Metalheadz won. The following year four different sounds (reigning champions Metalheadz, dub specialists Channel One, Soul II Soul and Skream and Benga) stepped up with similarly energetic effects – and Channel One reigned supreme. This week, the whole thing moved up a notch or two. It was at Wembley, there were 7,000 people there including a swathe of 16-18s allowed by the lowering of the entrance age and the participants came from Radio One (Annie Mac’s AMP stage), from LA, with hitmaker to the stars Diplo aka Major Lazer, reigning champions Channel One and grime dons Boy Better Know. I hate to sound smug, but my money was on BBK right from the start because who knows better about battle styles than London’s grime MCs?

I’ll post some footage when it’s up.

BBK’s powerful, hilarious, no-holds-barred final round and eventual win says a lot about the healthy state of grime. Wiley is all over the charts and is packing out his Eskidance raves. Elijah and Skilliam’s Butterz empire has shifted instrumental grime into hyper-loaded jump-up rave territory but with brilliant tunes that nod to early grime instrumentals like Musical Mobb’s Pulse X and multiply them. JME’s ‘chatty policeman’ series on YouTube, where he films himself being (repeatedly) stopped and searched has many thousands of views. Grime is national, multi-ethnic and as open to ladies with the right flow as it is to the thousands of boys who step up their literacy by writing and practising bars every lunchtime. If the government wants to explain recent rises in literacy (according to NASUWT, not Michael Wilshaw) it might want to thank grime rather than the counterproductive literacy curriculum which gets results despite of rather than because of its impact.

So who’s for next time? There are some big names who have not yet entered the arena: David Rodigan; Jamaica’s multi-winning Stone Love team; the aforementioned Butterz; Lemon D and Dillinjah’s Valve Sound; a UK garage sound headed perhaps by revivalist DJ Oneman… this thing could run and run. And hopefully, it will.

Comprehensive Rules OK

It was nice to hear Ed Miliband talking up the ‘amazing and inspiring’ teachers he met at his north London comprehensive, and to hear him recognising the value of state education.

After all, we usually only hear our comprehensives being talked down. We hear that comps are a last resort, a sorry second-best where pupils are violent and ill-mannered, and where teachers are lazy, politicised and pointless.

The truth is that in my limited experience, comprehensives seem like largely good places, regardless of what the domineering pantomine dame Ofsted reckons. They appear broad enough to cater for different types of young people, and the wants and needs of different types of families. There are strict comps and liberal comps and there are places with a faith or demographic focus. They’re a broad church and they’re not all Grange Hill or Waterloo Road (delete by age-appropriate reference).

But somehow, it’s as if we forget this and the idea of comprehensive education is reduced down to a single, lowest common denominator rabble – an uncontrollable sea of humanity that fails everyone and everything that passes through. It’s just not true.

The range of students and the challenges implicit in the comprehensive mix means there are opportunities for collaboration and innovation, key skills for future economies. Most people will come out having met the one teacher they remember in their adult life, that teacher who either supported and inspired them, or that teacher whose negativity provided a useful F-you kicker. In many ways, it’s all you need. And if you’re looking for people who had a bad time – well, I’m sure you could find an equal percentage who hated their private education.

There is a lot of nonsense written about private schools ‘helping’ the state sector. Perhaps it should be the other way round. Private schools need the help of state teachers and students to shake them up, inject them with some creativity and individuality and to show them the breadth and depth of a world beyond their own, tiny demographic enclave.

The comprehensive range is being squeezed by Gove’s centralising, retrogressive instincts – the blazerfication of all schools – but it’s still there, just.

I just wish we were prouder of comprehensive schools and the people who work in them and attend them. After all, 93% of us have first hand experience of these schools. Why do we feel like a minority?

Education is about so much more than exam results and many of our comprehensives educate, thoroughly.

Now, Ed Miliband, let’s hope you’re as positive about comprehensive schools, pupils and teachers when you’re in power come 2015.

Michael Gove’s EBacc

I can’t help but wonder what the unintended consequences of Michael Gove’s EBacc will be. I suspect these will be legion and that it will be students who suffer.

There are a couple of problems as I see it, from a laypersons point of view. Firstly, the EBacc is extremely restrictive and doesn’t include any arts, social sciences, IT or RE, and given the global importance of the creative economy, this is a strange anomaly. But hey, I can hear you say, surely kids will able to do cool and fun stuff around their EBacc?

Well, maybe not. Seeing as schools will be judged on their EBacc successes, you can be sure that heads will focus on these subjects in an absolutely ruthless fashion. An anecdotal example should give you a flavour of what’s to come: when my friend asked the new head of a local primary why the school wasn’t celebrating the Jubilee earlier this summer, he said quite simply “it’s not on the curriculum.”

One unexpectedly helpful side-effect might be impact on league tables, the removal of which would be the single most important thing you could do in education – allowing the focus to go back to students and what they want and need rather than an appearance of success which serves mostly to benefit heads and local authorities. In my local schools in south east London only around 20% of students would have got the EBacc this year round and it’s hard to see how this will be turned around by the time the new EBacc cohort start in 2015. I can’t imagine schools will be dying to show off results like that – although I guess it’s one way of dealing with what the government charmingly calls ‘grade inflation’ and what successful GCSE candidates probably saw as the result of a huge amount of hard work.

The above is particularly true of the language component, and whilst I absolutely support the notion that everyone in the UK should learn a second language, I imagine there will need to be significant investment in language teaching at primary and secondary in order to get enough young people both up to speed and engaged with languages.

It’s a shame that no-one’s actually asking what education is for – and building ideas for change that would actually empower and educate future generations in a way that will allow them to navigate the huge challenges in front of them.

It’s probably best I refrain from commenting on the faux indignation in Gove and Clegg’s Evening Standard article, which raged against those who hold back disadvantaged young people, and it’s probably not worth asking why a government that introduced free schools in order to liberate schools would attempt to centralise education in such a sweeping way. Instead, I’ll just point out that teachers are not the enemy of teaching and that the single most important things politicians could do for education would be to back right off.

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