education



constance

 

At the top of this page you’ll see the tag

Trying to make sense of government…

In order to make sense of government, or anything, you have to be able to understand it. That starts with clear language and thought, not for reasons of pedantry but because without them you will not be understood.

Regular readers will know, and newcomers may have spotted, that this blog has a whole page on one aspect of clear communication, the Jargon Bin. But there’s a lot more to communicating clearly and occasionally I’ve had a go at wider aspects of what some call gobbledygook. My blast at the UK Civil Service Competency Framework was such an example and found particular favour: indeed it’s the most read post of all time on this blog. Tucked away at the end of it you’ll find a reference to the late, great Sir Ernest Gowers who said almost everything a public servant needs to know about what he called plain words.

Occasionally I spot other documents that exemplify some of the key (oops) aspects of gobbledygook. Yesterday the Scottish government issued a press release that does just that. It’s worth quoting in full.

Education Secretary: Tackling educational inequity in everyone’s interests.

Nothing is off the table in developing evidence-based work to tackle educational inequality, Education Secretary Angela Constance has said.

However, qualified, well-trained teachers and improved information for parents will be key to those efforts.‪

Ms Constance made her call during a speech at the University of Glasgow’s Robert Owen Centre for Educational Change, during which she also said:

  • Scotland’s education system must be fair and provide excellence to every child irrespective of their background or circumstances
  • Every school and every local authority must own its attainment gap and take action
  • All teachers must play their part in raising attainment, including understanding more about how poverty affects children’s lives
  • Parental involvement and interaction in their child’s education is key and any barriers that prevent that must be overcome
  • A National Improvement Framework, following best practice from high-performing systems around the world, will be established to gather data that shows not just what is working in Scotland, but why, for whom and in what circumstances.

Ms Constance said:

“If we are to want for every child what we want for our own children, we need an education system that is fair and which provides excellence to every child irrespective of their background or circumstances.

“So let me be clear, in pursuing a shared ambition to ensure that education delivers every child the best opportunities to excel, nothing is off the table. Let me equally be clear that the teachers at that table will be fully-qualified and well-trained – and they must be joined by parents who feel fully-engaged and well-informed about how they and their children are being supported to realise their aspirations.

“In the six months since I was appointed Education Secretary, I have seen so many excellent examples of work in our schools, at a time when we have record exam results and a drop in those leaving school with no or few qualifications, record numbers of school leavers securing positive destinations and record proportions of Scots from the most deprived areas entering higher education. But we know that we can and must do more.

“It will never be acceptable for poverty to be an excuse for failure. Parents, teachers, academics, local and central government – all owe it to the children of Scotland – to rise to the challenge of inequalities that persists within our education system.

“We can and must no longer settle for good enough. We must aim high.”

Professor Christopher Chapman, Chair in Educational Policy and Practice and Director of the Robert Owen Centre for Educational Change, said:

“I very much welcome the Cabinet Secretary’s focus on raising the attainment of pupils from disadvantaged backgrounds, which is a priority for this centre. We shall endeavour to use our expertise in theory-driven, applied research to support reform efforts and promote a rethinking of roles and responsibilities that generates improvement in classrooms, schools and across the wider system.”

I don’t intend to embark in a full textual analysis of what is wrong with this press release. Indeed, after several readings I’m still not sure precisely what it’s about, although perhaps her use of the dread word ‘framework’ is a distant clue. To add another metaphor to Ms Constance’s ‘table’ from which nothing is excluded, most aspects of education apart from the kitchen sink seem to get a mention. Those who want to will find irony in the fact that a minister responsible for education has allowed her civil servants to write such tosh for her, and to wrap it around the otherwise impeccable sentiment ‘…let me be clear.’

Masochists who dip into my No thanks! blog will know I have views on Scottish independence/separation. Angela Constance is an SNP politician. Sadly she and her civil servants prove that in this respect at least they are no better than many of the unreformed perpetrators of gobbledygook who lurk in government throughout the English-speaking world.


Tey Tsun Hang trial

The headline above from the Singapore Straits Times newspaper web site  may seem  obscure to many regular readers of the HelpGov blog. But it’s about government in the widest sense and I feel quite strongly about it.

I was alerted to it by comments on Facebook condemning both the alleged perpetrator and his victims in what was said to be a ‘sex-for-grades’ case.

On the face of it, this is the story of a 41 year-old male law professor who had sex with a 23 year-old female student, arguably a minor but salacious court case.

My initial thought was to respond to Singaporeans who commented approvingly of a guilty verdict along the lines of ‘What irks me is that the ladies always treated like they were guiltless’ and ‘Our chaps know the ladies are a contributing factor, no doubts about that.’ I was going to point out that perhaps there was an abuse here by someone who held disproportionate power over much younger students.

The way the poster of the link to the (government-owned) Straits Times had set this up meant I could not respond on his Facebook page.

A couple of clicks on Google and I was glad I didn’t because, lo and behold, as sometimes happens in that country there is an alternative narrative. It’s difficult to summarise all the in and outs of the story but they include

  • An academic who writes a book critical of the relationship between the Singapore government and the legal profession of the country
  • Failing to find a publisher in Singapore, he has it published in Hong Kong
  • The emergence shortly after of allegations that he had indeed traded ‘sex for grades’ with one or more students
  • Ambiguity about his university’s response to the allegations
  • Questioning by police that lands him in an ambulance trip to hospital
  • A trial procedure that on the face of it has a number of curious features about it.

Anyone interested in the story could do worse than read the Trial of Tsun Hang blog.

I don’t know enough to judge where the truth lies in all this but I’m glad I didn’t see the subject as merely a question of cross-cultural differences in the treatment of perpetrator and victim in sex abuse cases.


A dump of snow, the schools close, outrage ensues. The media’s full of people complaining this is health and safety gone mad, the impact on business is unacceptable, teachers aren’t dedicated like they used to be, even – on the radio today – ‘teachers want to exchange the 3 Rs for a bit of R & R.’

An easy reaction but too glib. Here are nine reasons schools should close in bad weather

1. It’s all about the children

Schools are there for children and their education. They’re not like adults, able to take responsibility for their own safety. Even if their safety can be ensured in school they’ve still got to get there and back. Students may be 17 or 18 but they’re also as young as five – younger if the school includes a nursery.

2. Teachers can’t get in

If teachers have a class of 25 normally is it reasonable or effective for them to take, say, 50? If they teach English is it feasible to ask them to take a physics class? If they normally teach the 11 year olds can they cope with a class of five year olds, perhaps without a classroom assistant? The space may not be there to combine classes. And since it’s not always predictable which teachers will be able to get in, planning for how to combine classes may be impossible.

3. Other staff can’t get in

Those other staff can include technicians, essential to the running of some science/technical subjects, catering staff, even the janitor. Operating without them can make as much sense as asking the MD to pop down to the shop floor, sweep the snow from the delivery bay, switch the heating on and get the production line going with half the workers missing.

4. The school itself is unsafe

A roof has collapsed, snow has got in, the heating’s off, the water tank’s burst, the entrance is covered in ice.  OK, maybe some of it shouldn’t happen, but it can, even in the best maintained premises. And if the staff can’t get in maybe the gas engineer or water company can’t either.

5. Children can’t get in

A pretty obvious reason when children travel by car, public transport or school bus to school. The head teacher can command none of them to run a service.

6. Lunch can’t be provided

OK, so would you let the kids go without food? It may not only be the catering staff who can’t get in, suppliers might not be able to deliver food.

7. The logistics of part-opening don’t always make sense

Well, you might say, if they can’t cope with the younger ones, why not tell the older ones to get in? If some are revising for, or even taking exams, tell them they’ve got to get in but let the others stay at home. Ever heard of a logistical nightmare? Check some of the other reasons why school should close to see why part-opening may not be a good idea.

8. Schools are there to provide education, not a child sitting service

If they genuinely can’t provide an education when the weather is bad, all schools will be offering is a basic child minding service. The poor old schools get enough dumped on them in the way of solving society’s problems. Why should they take on an added burden of parental responsibility or help sort what is at best a temporary problem for (some) other employers whose staff have to take time off to look after their children?

9. The weather might not be bad now but it’s forecast to get dangerously worse

You look out the window, it’s not nice but the roads are passable. Why’s the school closing? Check the weather forecast. The head teacher will. And if it’s going to get a lot worse during the day it’s not a good idea to have a building full of children unable to get home mid-afternoon.

Sometimes schools just can’t overcome the impact of snow and ice. What they can do of course is make sure parents get good information as soon as possible about likely closures – online, text messages, local radio. Maybe the situation’s easier in those parts of the UK where Gove-ism hasn’t driven schools from the arms of the local authority and they can do a bit of co-ordination.

In Scotland many local authorities have great online information about school closures. Take a look at Aberdeenshire’s web site for example, where as I write 123 schools in their large rural area are closed or partly closed. The head teacher’s responsible for getting information about their school online and it’s updated all the time. And you can get the information on a map, by RSS feed, Twitter or subscribe for e-mail alerts. That’s what I call a good service.

Oh, and the same council (I used to work for them) instructs teachers who can’t get in to work to go to a more accessible school that’s open, if there’s one, failing which to work at home. So much for ‘R &R.’

Cross about the whole thing? Don’t worry, in a few days it’ll all be forgotten until the next spot of bad weather when the same old finger-pointing will start up all over again.