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Posts Tagged ‘London’

On an unseasonably hot night in Minneapolis St Paul, I saw Waiting for Superman, the film American educators have either just seen, or are avoiding seeing. It’s a documentary about the failures of the American public (state funded) education system. It follows the fate of several children participating in competitive lotteries for places in sought-after charter schools. The desolation and sense of failure of the unlucky vast majority is hard to witness.

One of Waiting for Superman’s star contributors is the engaging Geoffrey Canada, founder of the Harlem Success Academy (a charter school) and prime mover in the Harlem Children’s Zone (an audacious enterprise with a cradle to grave approach to tackling poverty). Two weeks ago, Canada was on stage at Conservative Party Conference. The Guardian reported that he gave Education Minister Michael Gove a stark message: Teacher Unions are the biggest threat to education reform.

When politicians embark on educational reform, they frequently like a villain or two. They like quick fixes. And they like to ‘borrow’ policies from elsewhere. The current villains are the Teacher Unions, in their opposition to coalition plans to expand academies and free schools. There are no quick fixes in education. And in ‘borrowing’ the free school policy, the coalition government needs to recognise that the evidence on charter schools is patchy (according to a recent Harvard study).

Today, I visited a magnet school in one of the poorest parts of Minneapolis St Paul. The school serves a predominantly Afro-American community and will soon benefit from a Harlem Children’s Zone initiative. If this brings resources and opportunities to an area where unemployment is endemic; where the entire school population is on free or reduced lunches; and where families queue for food parcels – then this is fantastic.

But Harlem is not London, or Birmingham, or Manchester. Sometimes, we don’t have to borrow. We already have policies that are working. The London Challenges, for example, has contributed to significant gains. London students now perform above the national average. It worked through targeted efforts to support struggling schools. Sadly, Mr. Cameron and Mr. Grove, the London Challenge will fold in March 2011.

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Well, we finally have a new Prime Minister, David Cameron. What will his new Coalition Government do on Education?   The last time I ‘blogged’ I asked the question: Should we be listening to what students have to tell us?   My answer was a resounding yes.

Have a look at the Education Guardian (11th May, 2010, p.5) for some advice from young people to Prime Minister Cameron.

Dear Prime Minister ….

I can’t say I want much from the government: smaller class sizes, equality of opportunity and a curriculum that doesn’t stifle my creativity.

If schools work collaboratively, rather than in competing with each other, they perform better.

We need more social harmony in Britain, and the best way to start is in education.

Letting parents take control of ‘failing’ schools is an ineffective idea.

If cuts have to be made, they shouldn’t be in education. Young people in this country are the future, and we need to keep up a world class education.

Three of the four schools who contributed to the Guardian are part of the project London Lives.  Through the project we’ve trained them to be researchers and on Friday May 7th they presented their research findings to a spell bound audience at the  Institute of Education  which included journalist and education campaigner, Fiona Millar and the Institute’s Director of Research, Michael Reiss.

The students involved in London Lives are from three London schools: Henry Compton Boys School in Fulham,  Kidbrooke Secondary School, Greenwich and Mulberry School for Girls, Tower Hamlets. They reported on their research on youth crime and how it effects their lives; social cohesion (how well do communities work together); bullying; young people’s priorities for school improvement. They raised challenging questions about how young are stereotyped, for example, as young Muslim women, or as young black men.

One of the things I’ve learned from this research, and other work I’ve done in our challenging urban areas is that not all  young people think that London, or Britain  belongs to them. But if we can create a ‘buy in’, a belief that their views and opinions really count, not only are they less likely to be drawn into anti-social behavior but they are also more likely  to believe that they can help shape the future.  

While we all hope that the next Government might help us muddle through the immediate economic crisis, our long-term future lies in the hands of the young people who wrote their messages to the Prime Minister. Are you listening David Cameron?

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