Tag Archives: Education

Comparing Best Practice Global Education Case Studies: All Just Apples and Oranges?

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“Don’t tell me how brilliant they are at education in Finland or Singapore! We don’t live there! It’s not the same! What works well there is based on their context, not ours! It works well because it’s there. Don’t compare us to them or try to make us do things their way!”

So react many when told about amazing results the education systems of those countries bring in general (Finland – dedicated students with great teacher working conditions) or in reference to particular subject areas (Singapore – maths, reading and science – see PISA 2015 results).

I do believe that you can’t necessarily implement what works well in one cultural setting into another and expect it to automatically work well in the different locale as well. There is more to it than that. If that is true, is there any benefit to looking at ‘best practice’ case studies at all? Are other people’s and countries’ lessons learned entirely unique to their own setting, or might there be transferable relevance?

I guess it might be similar to seeking help from an agony aunt or a counsellor. You might think that if you are going through a particular problem, issue or challenging situation that there could be benefit from seeking advice from someone else who has been through something similar or at least has studied how to help those in such situations as yours.

In the same way, perhaps doing a bit of research to see how problems and challenges have been approached by others could be useful. At least by understanding their cases perhaps something could be gleaned to apply in your own setting. Of course, I’m not advocating the seeking out and establishing of one-size-fits-all prescriptive methodologies. Rather, synthesising insights from elsewhere with a view to contextualising intelligent application in your own setting.

With that in mind, if we think education needs reforming, where do we look? Where should policy makers look? Can anything be learned by analysing and seeking to understand the dynamics and challenges of educational reforms in different places around the world in a comparative way? Might there be some common patterns that emerge that make such studies worthwhile? By engaging in comparative educational reform studies might we understand the influences that shape process in general in our time in the 21st century, right now? If we understand those influences would it help us get better leverage on policy making and outcomes from leadership where we are locally? How would leadership roles change? What impact would it make on policy? What would we do differently?

It seems perhaps that as a base assumption and starting point we need to accept that the interest governments have in education tend to relate directly to the future sustainability of the economy. In addition, there is usually some interplay between central government and local governments (or municipalities as they are widely referred to in many countries) as to how educational policy is implemented and education is administratively delivered. So it could be worthwhile to ask in what ways are different national government models related to different local government approaches to providing education services? As we know, in England, local authority control over schools is currently practically out of the window. If we compared the English case of academisation and the rise of free schools with the ways local government in other countries still plays a large role in improving access, equity and learning at various levels of education, would we find that more effective models of policy framing and development have led to better outcomes in the longer term elsewhere?  What do they do differently and how? How are tasks divided and what coordination mechanisms exist between central government and local government in these different countries? What works well, how and why?

It seems reasonable to assume that unpicking these finer details may lead to beneficial insights. As to whether they were then of practical value in different local settings would need to be analysed on a case by case basis – at the end of the day you’ve got to admit there are lots of apples and oranges in all this. 

Then of course there’s the cost. In England’s case, it seems funding is being slashed right, left and centre. Is there any money left to do anything anymore? 

Perhaps educational social entrepreneurship is the answer after all…

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The Economics of Education: Can We Do Anything About It?

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If someone told you that a child was sitting exams in subjects that would earn them collectively two thirds less income maximum than the child sitting next to them in the same class, what would your reaction be? Might you say that perhaps earned income wasn’t a fair measure for the value of education and that perhaps said child might be ‘rich’ in other ways? Perhaps you might say that the said child didn’t want a career in the subject area the child next to them did, or that they had qualities and strengths that made them excellent in a trade that just didn’t give the same financial rewards as the other child’s area of interest. Should it matter?

What if we also looked at the child’s future down the line to see their own future offspring’s opportunities. Might we see an eventual poverty gap between the family where less financially savvy choices had been made and the other family whose key earners had followed more lucrative paths? What then? C’est la vie?

What if we weren’t actually talking about just one child versus the child sitting next to them. What if we were talking about children going to school in one local authority area versus another? If you knew the future of your children would be more financially secure just by sending them to a school in a different area, would you send them there? Many would and do.

What if we weren’t talking about schools in one local authority versus another? What if we were talking about a whole country where it became known through evidence based analysis that educational attainment of children in that entire country showed lower levels of potential earned income than other countries? Would you send your child abroad? What if you couldn’t? Would you start lobbying parliament for change? Or would it not matter?

Does education that leads to eventual impoverishment and economic decline matter? Would you mind paying your taxes for that? Or should we not make comparisons about such end outcomes? Maybe we should stop comparing. Or would that make us ostriches with our heads in the sand? “But we are just different! We don’t need to be measured by those parameters!” I hear the defiant objectionist say.

What if you were able to use your high school algebra and geometry to analyse data pertaining to the economics of education that clearly showed that, for example, educational attainment and earned income were inextricably linked, and that you could make decisions based on this data to ensure that the financial futures of those impacted by those decisions would be made to be the best that they could be for generations to come? Would you have a punt and tweak things? Or would you leave things as they were, protectionist style? “As long as they are happy, that’s all that matters…”

One way you could explore the data is through microeconomics. Microeconomics focuses on the behaviour of individuals and organisations in making decisions about how resources are shared out and used, and the way those individuals and organisations interact.  Microeconomics is used to show conditions that lead to positive outcomes, and failures (failures meaning where the desired results aren’t reached). So, based on this kind of data then surely policy makers would’ve got it all right by now? Right? Wrong! Why? Because the individuals in the system aren’t all making rational decisions. Their choices are influenced by so many values that can change as quickly as their environments. Therefore, to really make the data meaningful, policy makers have to not only understand what or how individuals make choices, but also why they make them.

Microeconomics also sheds light on any monopolies, i.e. where there is a single supplier of a particular commodity (e.g. there’s only one Eton that sells Etonian education in the entire world – Eton have the monopoly on that). There’s only one, stable supplier, with no competition, and therefore there are high profits, leading to super profits over time. In educational terms, we could also compare this to Insead Business School in France, The London Business School in England, and other well-known and highly esteemed institutions globally. Their reputation has grown and the end outcomes have become so self-reinforcing over time (extremely high return on investment for those paying to be educated there) that it would take earth-shattering changes to knock them from their monopolistic peak.

Microeconomics also reveals oligopolies: where a market is dominated by a small number of sellers that create incentives for groups of similar organisations or suppliers to collude and for cartels that reduce competition. This then leads to higher prices for buyers and less market output (i.e. controlling and limiting supply to increase demand). The end result is that due to less competition there is massive profit. Any competition that does exist tends towards rapid product/service development innovation to gain market advantage through consumer driven, trending fads.  So, in the field of education you might get a global university ranking system where the highest ranked institutions become known as the ‘best’ and these collude to create a ‘rigorous’ set of ranking criteria and highly selective entrance criteria for students, making massive profits along the way. The massive profits lead to self-perpetuating greatness due to being able to attract the best staff and create the best facilities, attracting the best students and therefore delivering amazing outcomes in terms of attainment and student destinations. Those institutions lower down the ranking scale are left to compete largely via edu-fads, consumer driven trends and pricing. Poor Joe edu-consumer doesn’t stand a chance – he or she is destined to a life already clearly visible in the crystal ball of educational economics.

If you’ve got money, you go to the best places that money can buy, and you get a high return on your investment. If you don’t have money, you don’t. The poverty gap widens. It’s a feature of a market based capitalist system. The only way to solve this problem entirely is to get rid of any competition: hence socialist projects that have state controlled institutions. Maybe the United Nations could propose a global education framework that all countries have to subscribe to in order to try to bring the capitalist driven nature of market based education under control in order to reduce inequalities and close the gap.

If, as educational consumers, we were able to globally turn the tables on the suppliers and join forces as a consumer based ‘monopsony’ (where there is only one buyer in the market), maybe we would stand a chance against the global educational cartels and monopolies. But I guess those with money might not find this in their best interests. They’d probably prefer to keep the current system going where the rich get richer and the poor get poorer…

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Are You an Educational Social Entrepreneur?

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Who has the opportunity for education? Who doesn’t? What opportunities does that include? Who is left out? To whose and what detriment?

We could use those questions as a starting point for an interesting discussion at a variety of social levels: the family, locally, regionally, nationally and internationally.

A key assumption would be that individual educational achievement and success impacts on the good of society as a whole, and therefore it is a matter of social responsibility that we help all individuals, at every level, to access education and achieve in it.

Beyond the values and motivations of the individual, their family and immediate community, it seems to be down to policy makers, consultants and social entrepreneurs to improve educational opportunity in general. I’m not including teachers or schools/colleges/universities/training centres themselves, as in this context they seem to be merely cogs in the machine (important cogs, but cogs nonetheless). 

Social entrepreneurs are an interesting one: in the UK it is exciting to see how many ‘free schools’ have been set up and sponsored to deliver education that parents and the community deem of importance and relevance – are those who set up free schools in the category of social entrepreneurs? I would argue yes. They are innovating educationally, based on seen and conceptually recognised opportunities. At the heart of their endeavours they believe that their enterprises will achieve some social good. Some of these social entrepreneurs are or have been teachers by the way, but not all. Some haven’t even got a background in education. Do they need one? I guess it would help, but…

Close your eyes and think for a moment: in your family, locally, regionally, nationally or globally, who are those without access to a ‘decent education’? What is a decent education? We’d have to assume it was at least being in full time education until the late teens, and being able to leave with excellent chances of continuing into a chosen profession/trade or further/higher education. But beyond that, why not level up the playing field even more? Of those that you just imagined in your family, locally, regionally, nationally or globally, what is stopping them from not just getting a decent education, but an amazing education that would open up everybody’s chances of reaching out to the most amazing opportunities globally for everyone? Why not? What is stopping that from happening? Not just to the poor and marginalised who have trouble staying in school until 16.

Why doesn’t everyone have the chance to go to Oxford and Cambridge in the UK? Or Stanford, Berkeley, Harvard, Yale or MIT in the USA? Or Insead in France or The London Business School in England?

If you had the magic wand that would give everyone in your family, and everyone locally, regionally, nationally and globally the opportunity to engage in all the opportunities that exist in those educational institutions and beyond (because, after all, those who go to those places have amazing prospects afterwards), what would you do? What needs to change to allow that to happen? What would need to happen to people’s mindsets, values, motivations and financial situations to allow that to happen?

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Do you see a stepping stone that would allow that change to happen? What is that stepping stone? Can you formulate that stepping stone into a mission and a set of objectives and tasks? Can you visualise the end outcomes? What support would you need to put this plan into action?

If you have answers to all these questions, then maybe you are a social entrepreneur. So, what ideas do you have?

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Debating #Michaela Last Saturday: Time for a “7 Up” anyone?

I was there in the flesh on the front row of the #Michaela debates at London’s City Hall last Saturday. I loved it. It was great fun – a very polite interchange of views that made for much more engaging CPD than you’d normally receive by a series of PPT presentations on just one topic with perhaps 2 minutes for questions afterwards.

It was a shame to see that some who were not in attendance got huffy on Twitter because either they felt #Michaela as an event was dominating their Twitter feed, or perhaps they were just feeling left out, or miffed that #Michaela as a school was getting so much coverage. It’s true that #Michaela is a controversial school, have a look at their website at www.mcsbrent.co.uk to find out more. They do seem to do stuff that has connotations of the Charter Schools in America, which we smile wide-eyed at and laugh and snigger at when we watch their YouTube clips online. The rumours, which may or may not be true, include children being made to walk corridors in absolute silence between lessons.

I don’t know. Frankly, I don’t have to worry about it, because 1) I don’t teach there, and 2) I don’t have a child attending there. Perhaps I should have a moral conscience about it or something, as it does affect the wider educational eco-system we live in. And who knows, some future extremist Minister for Education may use #Michaela as a precedent for insisting ALL schools in the UK may follow suit. That’d never happen though, would it? Would it?

The double clap made me laugh, which headmistress Katherine Birbalsingh playfully got us to do at the end of the day. We saw a brief video clip of students at their school doing it. Can’t hurt, I guess.

Katherine Birbalsingh was a superlative orator, and I tweeted so. Her entire team from #Michaela were a highly polished set of debaters. I wondered if they had rehearsed their gig together beforehand to give each other tips on where to put the intonation on particular words in their delivery. Katherine was very charismatic, a great leader no doubt. Her team of teachers all quite young and idealistic perhaps? If so, then it’d be understandable if what some teachers say might be true: is #Michaela a bit of a cultic school environment?

I don’t know if it’s true that they only have year 7 and 8 students at the moment, due to having started from scratch with admissions right from the get go only the other year. If that’s true, I think we need a BBC or Channel 4 documentary to chart the progress of this scholastic social experiment, a bit in the style of the “7 up” type series done years ago: “Show me the boy of 7 and I will show you the man”. I wonder if you compared students who went to #Michaela and a ‘normal’ school now, and then in 7 years, 14, 21 and 28 years from now, whether there would be any interesting trends that emerge in destination data and progress made through life. What would their choices and limitations in life be? Career wise and otherwise? Would #Michaela students be more or less successful, and how? Would they be limited in some ways? Would they tend to end up in highly structured environments? How many would be entrepreneurs and innovators? Would they be more or less rigid in their expectations of others around them once in the real world? How would they cope with lack of structure and people who don’t conform to society’s rules?

It was interesting that none of my tweets appeared in the live feed displayed to the room on a TV screen on Saturday. Maybe the organisers were filtering out based on some criteria for tweets that conformed to some rules unknown to me. Or maybe my tweets weren’t that interesting. I don’t know…

I think for me personally, my biggest take-home from the day was that debates with starkly opposing viewpoints represented by the debating party are an exceptionally valuable form of CPD. It mattered not whether the views represented were false dichotomies. The end result was that you heard something talked about from a variety of points of view, which provided an enriching and highly nuanced package of delivery. Most of the debates left you with a middle-ground feeling (PBL vs direct instruction/drilling, no-excuses discipline vs a more reasonable approach, personalised learning vs classes in sets receiving direct instruction without differentiation, schools doing whatever it takes and becoming social workers vs not getting involved much at all outside the classroom and putting teacher well-being first through prioritisation). Of course the last debate was hilarious – Jonathan Simons, a non-teacher, arguing in favour of performance related pay to a room full of teachers – even he changed his position at the end!

The middle-ground debates though covered most of the angles. If they had been turned into transcripts with rebuttals and audience Q&A too, it would probably read like an excellent exegesis. No turn really left unturned and all angles critiqued. I think you could compare it to a form of Socratic dialogue, where the audience takes the less vocal role of Socrates. The Socratic line of questioning seems to follow its own implicit and tacit course. The conclusion is, everything having been heard, there is rarely any black and white.

My own feeling on leaving was that as a unique environment and its own system, #Michaela probably works. As do any other systems with their own rules and boundaries. For a time. It’s where the actors within the system then have to leave and enter other systems that interests me.

#Michaela wasn’t promoted or marketed much on the day by the way, not explicitly. Just in case you wondered. I felt it was more about the discussion of the issues at hand that were the focus, and not the school itself.

It was an entertaining day. I’d recommend going if there is another opportunity like that.