Monday, 29 August 2011

Breakdown of who has set up the first "free" schools.

• Religious 9

• “charitable” trust in chains with academies 3

• Ex private school 3

• Private company 2

• No information 2

• Community 2

• Teacher 1

• “journalist” 1

• “Asian Trade Link” 1*

* Asian Trade Link claims to be a 'community organisation' It is suggested by local press that it will not have any premises available by the start of the school year

Propaganda in the media asserts that they are being "set up by teachers, charities, education experts and parents." yet only one is set up by a teacher, three by parents three by companies describing themselves as "charitable trusts" and none at all by education experts. This makes a total of seven out of 24 which are set up by the groups the propaganda machine is telling us are setting them up.

In contrast to the propaganda three are simply former private schools getting taxpayers' funding, two are being run by private companies and a whopping nine are religious. Despite the fact that these three groups of schools make up more than half of the total number of "free" schools they are not included in the headline description. (In fact the three set up by "charitable trusts" are effectively run by private companies in all but name). I know I have worked for one of them in the past.

Once again the media has (willingly?) allowed itself to be duped into making it look like "free" schools are riding a wave of parental activism, when in fact only three out of 24 are. It is time for the media to stop swallowing press releases about education without doing some proper journalism first.

Ed Media Watch's first engagement with the press over biased educational journalism - in the Guardian!

Dear Chris Elliott,

I am writing as founder member of Education Media Watch, a new group forming to respond to the high level of misrepresentation and one-sidedness about education issues in the media. We are a group of educationists, teachers and parents who are working to challenge reports in the media which present one-sided stories about the education system. I have to admit I did not expect to have to write to you about a Guardian article so soon.

The article in question is this;

This is an article which represents exactly the kind of thing Ed Media watch is being set up to deal with; it presents 'Free' schools effectively from Michael Gove's perspective as though they are not controversial. It appears to have been 'churnalised' from AP and includes figures in support of the idea by the government but nothing from those opposed to free schools (a considerable number of people, particularly teachers).

In fact the figures quotes by the government at the end of the article referring to Charter Schools in New York, which are what 'free' schools are modelled on, are highly misleading and mask a high degree of selectivity in New York schools in relation to non-charter schools.

For example; although they tout an 86% catch-up with "schools in the wealthiest suburbs" in Maths and a 66% catchup in English these statistics appear to have been manipulated Chuchillian-style to be highly misleading. In fact although just over half (51%) produced gains in maths, only 29% produced gains in reading. In other words nearly half produced no significant improvements in maths and 71% no gains in reading. Nationally in the US, only 14% of charter schools have better results than local schools compared with 37% doing worse than local schools and 46% the same.

These phantom 'improvements' in school results in New York have come about despite huge funding imbalances which Joel Klein (now working for Rupert Murdoch) managed to engineer which has also resulted in resources being taken away from local schools and given to charters, this has resulted in smaller class sizes and other material advantages for children in charters. In addition charters take a lower percentage of children with special needs, a lower percentage of children for whom English is an additional language, and a lower percentage of hispanic and immigrant children, when compared with New York City averages. The imbalance in these figures is even higher when compared to local schools situated near the charters.

I could quote more data about charter schools in the US and in NYC in particular which provide substantial evidence that on average charter schools are failing in the US and failing despite being given huge increases in resources, money which, if it had been invested in normal local schools, would almost certainly have produced significant gains accross the board. For data supporting the figures I have presented here, and further information demonstrating that the assumptions implicit and explicit in the article are neither uncontraversial nor correct please refer to the links below;

I feel that the publication of this article (I don't know whether this was just online or in the print version) displayed a high degree of bias, largely by omission, but also presented the issue of 'free' schools as uncontroversial, when it is, in fact highly controversial. I also feel that this article represented the worst type of churnalism, which is something I have come to expect the Guardian not to indulge in.

I would like to ask that someone is given the space to respond to this article. I know it sounds odd to say 'respond' in relation to an article which is a report rather than an opinion piece but education news reports have become so one-sided and selective in their content (and here I am referring to the media as a whole, not just the Guardian) that articles like this are effectively opinion pieces in that they promote on particular view of the events to which they refer. In addition I would like to know why comments were not enabled for this article, and the contact details of the journalist or member of editorial staff who included the article. The article has no byline, merely saying it came from PA. It is Education Media Watch's policy to engage in a dialogue with journalists and editors when reports like this appear, to point out errors such as those apparent in this article and suggest how they might improve their own and their organisation's coverage of education issues in future. As such I would also like to ask for contact details of the individual responsible for the appearance of this piece such that we can ensure he/she is aware of the issues and able to make better journalistic decisions in the future.

Kind regards,

Natacha Kennedy

Saturday, 13 August 2011

The Conservative Party Descends into Barbarism.

Possibly the most illiberal jurisdictions in the world are now North Korea and Wandsworth, south London. Why? They both impose punishments on the families of lawbreakers.

It has been well documented that the world’s only remaining Stalinist government punishes the relatives of those convicted of any crime, imposing terrible hardships and penalties on innocent people. Now Conservative-controlled Wandsworth council has joined Pyongyang in adopting the same approach to unconvicted relatives of criminals. The decision demonstrates how rapidly the Tories have descended into barbarism following the riots earlier this week.

Not only does the imposition of collective punishments go against every pillar of every civilised democracy in the world, but collective punishments have, in the past been shown to have incalculable negative consequences, particularly or those who impose them. For example most historians agree that Hitler’s rise to power was facilitated to a significant extent by the collective punishment imposed on the German people following the first world war.

However the knee-jerk lashing out at the mother of a young boy accused of involvement in the riots by Tory council leader Ravi Govindia is most worrying because it shows how the depth of anger revealed by the rioters is equalled by the viciousness of the Tories as they aim to extract retribution from anyone, for riots which have shown up their government’s policies for the charade they really are.

It is also likely that Mr Govindia is not merely engaging in a rabble-rousing persecution of innocent people however, but is doing what Tories around the country have attempted to criticise everyone else for; playing politics with the situation. It became clear very quickly, following the disturbances, that, other than David Cameron, who has played a bad hand appallingly, the person who has come out of this worst is Boris Johnson. Having gone from looking like a shoe-in for a second term as London Mayor, his appearance on the streets of Clapham has looked like the end of his political career. Here is a man you cannot rely on in a crisis, here is a man who hasn’t got a clue. The race for London Mayor has been thrown wide open once more, it is going to be a great deal closer than expected, it really isn’t looking good for the Tory candidate.

As such Govindia’s plan to evict council tenants who are relatives of people convicted of involvement in the riots does not merely represent a level of barbarity that even the fanatics of the Tea Party have dared to sink to, it represents a cynical attempt to rid London of a few potential Labour voters as his party tries to hold onto the office of Mayor using any dirty tricks it can.

Thursday, 4 August 2011

Education Media Watch...?

Welcome to education readers from Twitter. This blog is normally about trans-related issues, but I didn't have anywhere else to post this, so please bear with me, I think this might be quite important and I would invite anyone who cares about education and the damage being done by the "media-Tory complex" to read this...


This idea has, up to now, been little more the germ of a thought. Someone on twitter was complaining about things that are said in the media about teachers, I think it was following the publication of the KS2 SATs statistics when the papers spout their usual stuff about... some kids can't read/write etc because they haven't got level 4...etc. So it occurred to me that we should start an Education Media Watch group like the successful Trans Media Watch (TMW) which has worked to improve the portrayal and reporting on trans people & trans issues in the media.

They work by responding to media items about trans people and complaining to the PCC/Ofcom/BBC complaints/individual editors etc. to hold journalists to account. They seem to be steadily changing media portrayals of trans people. It seems that they don't generally do it by open and direct confrontation but by personal contacts and presenting journalists/editors with information and arguments which they might not otherwise consider and being available for them to ask questions.

So maybe Ed Media Watch might be able to do the same in terms of promoting greater respect for teachers, but would probably need to go beyond this and get people working in the media to present stories about education with different perspectives. Too often the government’s line that it is "improving schools by doing x,y or z" is never challenged, or only occasionally so, and then normally only by union leaders. There seems to be a kind of “doxa” in the media that more testing, less teacher autonomy, more privatisation, less teacher training, more discipline, more accountability, more Ofsteds, more phonics...etc, etc, etc is what we need to improve education.

It seems to me that according to this media consensus simply by becoming a teacher you become inherently untrustworthy overnight and need to spend huge amounts of time on accountability activities (in contrast to City types who, despite having bankrupted most of the planet, don't need to be held accountable). It also seems that most people in the media seem to think teachers don’t work hard enough and don’t deserve “long” holidays because we only work 9-3.30 and so more and more burdens are continually placed on us. Have you ever been to a staff meeting where the head has suggested that we do less work?

I think that one of the main reasons that teachers have so consistently been portrayed negatively in the media is

a) to put us on the defensive and

b) to make it appear that ‘something must be done’ to shake up these feckless, lazy and irresponsible teachers.

In many cases these journalists, who are portraying us so badly probably don't know any better and often aren't aware of any alternative arguments or criticisms of these policies, because this media orthodoxy is so ubiquitous.

A really good example of this media consensus was when Matt Damon (yes the Matt Damon Supremacy!) who is the son of a state school teacher in the United States spoke to reporters after his speech at the Save Our Schools rally in Washington DC a few days ago. Even the cameraman somehow quoted at him a figure of 10% of teachers that are incompetent. This figure appears to have been going round media circles in the US yet it is not based on any research. To my knowledge there has been no data compiled on the quality of teachers in the United States, which gives any figure for ‘incompetent’ teachers. Compiling such figures would actually be a huge task involving a large number of observations of lessons, and as far as I know nothing like this has ever been achieved anywhere to date. So where did this figure of 10% that even the cameraman knew about come from? I suspect it came from powerful interests in the media, or large corporate interests, like the Gates Foundation and Newscorp which campaigns to get control of as many schools as possible.

I don't know about you but I have felt, for years now, that whenever any government announces an education policy, its basic premises are almost invariably accepted without question by the media, and these policies have all too often, centered around blaming teachers rather than the system. The journos simply indulge in "churnalism" using government press releases. So my idea would be to promote a set of alternative arguments to each plank of education policy and make that available to journalists together with a means of getting hold of someone to speak about them, give quotes, interviews etc, like Trans Media Watch's Memorandum of Understanding, only probably a bit more complex. Combine this with a response to detrimental comments in the media about teachers, and we have a means of holding journalists to account, or at least letting them know they are "under the eye" and that they may have to deal with a long and tedious exchange of emails if they are not a bit more even-handed.

I guess we would probably have to start by monitoring media output on education as well to see where the biggest problems are occurring. So a group of teachers, likeminded parents (and maybe even the odd lecturer in education like me) getting together to set up some sort of organisation to do this would probably be the best way to start It looks like teacher/journalist Phil Beadle is interested and it may be a good idea to involve those nice people at Local Schools Network and maybe even potentially friendly journalists like Mike Baker.

I suppose initially we need to get started with some sort of strategy because we are not going to be able to deal with the huge amounts of education-related articles in the media all at once, so it may be that we have to think about dealing with certain elements of education reporting first or certain media organisations first. Trans Media Watch started by getting C4, New Statesman and the Guardian onside and then the Independent and now the BBC appear to be cautiously coming round. With the BBC’s charter requirement to maintain balance in its broadcasts, that may be a good place to start…

Anyway, any thoughts about how to proceed would be appreciated, I really only thought of this a couple of days ago so. In the meantime I will try and pick the brains of the founder of Trans Media Watch, the wonderful Jennie Kermode, who has, following the success of TMW, been advising trans groups in other countries on how to set up their own TMWs, and also other types of groups in the UK; apparently there is now a Disability Media Watch and an Islamic Media Watch, representing groups that are misrepresented by the media. Use the hashtag #emw.

Natacha Kennedy. London. 4 Aug 2011