FORUM
ISSN 0963-8253


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Volume 42 Number 2 2000

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CONTENTS | VIEW FULL TEXT

Editorial
Michael Fielding The Person-Centred School
Brian Simon Tim McMullen: comprehensive pioneer
Gill North ‘Learning Space’: enhancing the educational care of children
Jacqui Turnbull & Elizabeth Muir Embracing Diversity: learning and teaching for active citizenship
Elizabeth Burn Battling Through the System: a working-class teacher in an inner-city primary school
Tony Brown In the Direction of Children
Patrick Yarker In the Service of Politics: the elision of English
Elizabeth Yurd An Unlooked-for Effect of KS2 SATS on the Teachings of Science in Year 6
Dolores Loughrey Toying with Infancy
Chris Tipple The Funding Farce
Dexter Whitfield The Third Way for Education: privatisation and marketisation
Ruth Watts Making History Teachers

 

Editorial

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Persons, Performance, Privatisation ...

And there’s plenty more where those words came from: prejudice, productivity and profitability being just three of them; but apart from their alphabetic cousinage, is there anything else that might relate them to each other? Unsurprisingly, a good deal and although this issue of FORUM mainly concerns itself with the three title words, the others are there as a persistent sub-chorus.

A mixture of theoretical and context-based articles illustrate these words and Michael Fielding’s ‘The Person-centred School’ is a challenging example of the former. In it he takes issue with the way in which the ‘effective school’ movement has attempted to take or hijack, the notion of community to itself, not because it values it for the sake of those who make up that community but because it makes use of it for its own ends, these being the ‘performance’ of the school and its perceived ‘effectiveness’ by the outside world. The people for whom the school is presumably there in the first place, only mattering insofar as they contribute towards the school’s productivity. Michael Fielding urges us to pull back from the seductive model of the ‘effective and performing’ school and think again about the basic principle of valuing those people within schools and putting them, not performance, first. To quote him, ‘The imperative of performance is, despite good will, good intentions and much effort an inevitable if unwitting betrayal of education. It is intellectually shallow, spiritually destitute and corrosive of much that is central to human development’ His analysis of the present situation is perceptive and timely.

Other context-based articles demonstrate the positive changes that can be brought about by a genuine consideration for and of the person and the respect due to them both individually and as part of a community. Gill North’s article, for instance, on the work she and her colleagues are carrying out in the ‘Learning Space’ for disaffected secondary pupils, exemplifies the positive and successful effects of treating young people respectfully and as individuals. Brian Simon’s account of the life and work of the pioneering headteacher, Tim McMullen, also illustrates the energising and constructive effects that can happen in a school when teachers are supported by someone whose life and principles are essentially ‘person-centred’. The person at the heart of the school community is also developed by Jacquie Turnbull and Elizabeth Muir, who argue that for the benefit of this community as a ‘learning organisation’, citizenship should be mainstreamed and not sidelined as a separate subject.

Other contributors write about what can also happen when that respect towards the person becomes skewed by different priorities which place other values first and the effect that can have, for example on an individual when this occurs.

For instance, Elizabeth Burn’s article ‘Battling through the System’ is a telling account of an inner-city primary deputy head who is made to feel aware, on practically a daily basis, that she is quite distinctively a member of the working class. In this instance, the person’s value is primarily estimated with regard to a factor that pre-judges people and consequently rejects them as individuals in their own right. Class is still one of the most significant and damaging factors acting as a powerful undercurrent to much of English education. Tony Brown ‘In the Direction of Children’ also describes the destructive effects on an individual teacher by discrimination of another kind: that of bringing into question a person’s core values when they don’t tally with a certain ideology that diminishes the importance of the person. His attempt to regain his sense of what is essential to education makes moving reading.

Patrick Yarker’s articulate and thoughtful article on the way in which ‘literacy’ is insidiously taking priority over English, can also be read as pointing to the way in which the importance of a person’s development through the subject of English is being increasingly diminished by the current stress on the acquisition of secretarial skills, that are coming to be seen as of prime importance in their own right rather than serving the ends of a more liberal and humane view of education.

The person-centred school is a place in which learning and the involvement in learning, is personal; indeed it acquires meaning through that very involvement. Elizabeth Jurd’s article on her findings with Year 6 pupils and the recent changes in the teaching of primary science, underlines what damage can happen to children’s real understanding when a mechanistic model of teaching replaces that of genuine pupil involvement. Dolores Loughrey has written an informative article about the changes to the early years curriculum through the new Early Learning Goals and if ever a stage of education demanded a person-centred school it must surely be the infant years.

The connection to the words ‘pounds’ and ‘profitability’ is not hard to make. The sense of justice that underpins an humanitarian view of education and its view that everyone should have an equal chance in the enterprise is given a considerable jolt by Chris Tipple’s exposure of the basic unfairness at the heart of school funding (‘The Funding Farce’) The pounds allocated to schools in one LEA can become virtually pence in another. Even the government has recently conceded that ‘there are problems with the way that funding is distributed’. Perhaps this will change, albeit not necessarily for the better, if Dexter Whitfield’s sobering predictions on privatisation come about. Even some headteachers now see privatisation as a solution to the seemingly intractable problem posed by the apparent inability of some local authorities to establish a more equitable basis to school funding (The Guardian, 23 May). Quoting recent evidence though, Dexter Whitfield shows that even if we are now familiar with British enterprise in terms of privatisation (The Times Educational Supplement, 15 May) it is nothing to the predatory ambitions of USA-based firms, not all of whom have creditable track records, who are already sniffing round what they perceive as a very profitable market: nothing less than our education system. The privatisation of services is but the first step into (the suitably unpleasant-sounding term), ‘commodification’, of the whole of education. It is a word that has its only and proper place in the financial market; it has no value other than that of maximising its profits for its shareholders and doesn’t even appear to possess the saving grace of enlightened self interest. While privatisation may solve problems in the short term, its lack of democratic accountability, especially if multinationals become involved, means the government, unions and LEAs should be very wary indeed. Those cheery souls apparently manning the welcome life raft may not have ultimately friendly designs on their would-be passengers.

Annabelle Dixon

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