“It’s not his fault, miss; he’s Anger Management.”

People will focus on what Katharine Birbalsingh said about the failure of this country’s educational establishment to serve poor black boys, but the bigger disaster, in simple numbers, is its failure to serve working-class whites.

Pseudoscience, whether it’s Marxism or eugenics or anti-vaccine hysteria or educationalist psychobabble, is often characterized by rich people making money by limiting (or even ending) the lives of poor ones. It’s depressing that I find myself linking to a speech to a Conservative Party conference to hear someone else remind contemporary politicians of this.


  1. Posted 09Oct10 at 11:35 | Permalink

    Pleased to see the NUT supported her right to return to work and right to free speech.

  2. Posted 09Oct10 at 20:13 | Permalink

    This is just Clarksonite bollocks. My visits to my kids schools have been scary. The level of expectation is a country mile higher than it was when I was at school.

    I could (and did) truant at will. I could (did) avoid all homework. My classroom was like a farmyard in terms of behaviour – I’ve got some great stories about what humiliations we inflicted on our teachers and wot larx we had and my kids will never have anything to compare with that.

    Their school has a high level of discipline thanks to well-thought-out policies, a strong effective anti-bullying policy and I see kids from seriously disadvantaged backgrounds performing as well as the ones from the nicer streets.

    All the sort of NuLab top-down-PC-elf-and-safety-gone-mad that this berk spends half of her speech complaining about before she gets on to demanding more of it.

    My kids’ school has really good feedback loops that pick up any point where they aren’t achieving what the school thinks they should do. The home-school communication is brilliant and I reckon that they are being pushed – if anything – a bit harder than I think they should be.

    It’s a school that serves one of the most multi-cultural catchment areas you can imagine and there’s no sign of kids being offered excuses for their shortcomings.

    She sounds like a crappy deputy head to me. I’ll leave Shuggy to list the ludicrous inconsistencies in her arguments here:

  3. Posted 09Oct10 at 21:54 | Permalink

    This is just Clarksonite bollocks. My visits to my kids schools have been scary. The level of expectation is a country mile higher than it was when I was at school.

    So what? My sister and brother-in-law (having taught in some of the worst) teach in one of the best schools, of any kind, in the country: it’s a mixed-ability comprehensive, located not a million miles from where you grew up. Birbalsingh doesn’t teach in one of the best schools in the country and is trying here to give some sense of why it and many others aren’t the best.

    My immediate family consists almost entirely of teachers, who’ve worked in all sorts of establishments: good and bad, state and private. As well as having had the (frankly piss-easy) task of lecturing elite university graduate students, I’ve tutored and taught comprehensive school and private kids and in further ed. We don’t agree on much, but a healthy skepticism about evidence-free educational psychology is frequently and enthusiastically expressed at family gatherings—as it is in this speech.

    All the sort of NuLab top-down-PC-elf-and-safety-gone-mad that this berk spends half of her speech complaining about before she gets on to demanding more of it.

    Where does she even once talk about “NuLab”, political correctness, or health-and-safety? Have you listened to what she actually said or some imagined version of it?

    She sounds like a crappy deputy head to me. I’ll leave Shuggy to list the ludicrous inconsistencies in her arguments

    This post isn’t an endorsement of Birbalsingh’s entire speech—either the one she gave or one you fantasize she gave—so I’m not obliged to defend it, even against Shuggy’s meandering attempt at an attack. Regardless, I won’t take lectures on school discipline from someone who whines online about the proliferation of mobile phones because he lacks the basic classroom competence to control his pupils’ use of them.

  4. Posted 09Oct10 at 22:16 | Permalink

    I wasn’t giving a lecture about discipline and below the post I assume you are referring to, you’ll note that I was actually joking. But I’m sorry – I interrupted you drawing from your wealth of inexperience….

  5. Posted 10Oct10 at 09:45 | Permalink

    School discipline and the effect of educationalist pyschobabble thereon is the subject at hand. If you’d said anything about that, Shuggy, then your response to Birbalsingh’s speech would have been relevant to my post. After you asked obtusely if she thinks “Marxists” are the problem in schools, it was clear that, like Paulie you weren’t listening properly to her, so I skimmed the rest of your essay. Reading it now, I see that you didn’t address discipline directly, so you’re right: your blogpost isn’t relevant to my blogpost, just as it doesn’t attend particularly closely to the central thrust of Birbalsingh’s speech. That’s your prerogative; it’s your blog. Point taken.

    One point of my reply to Paulie is that my experience or lack of it, like Paulie’s, is neither here nor there—as my giveaway use of the phrase “so what?” should have conveyed. We can all come up with anecdotes and counter-examples. Good teachers (even within one family) can have widely differing opinions about education; experienced ones can be rubbish at their jobs. What does matter is evidence, and too much educational psychology lacks it.

    Most of your blog (and Facebook) arguments about education, Shuggy, embed your fallacious belief that people you disagree with on the subject are wrong because they’ve never been in a classroom or they’ve not been in the classroom as long as you have. My contention is that how long you’ve been in a classroom is significantly less important than that what you do when you’re there works and can be shown to do so.

    Until evidence-based approaches started to be adopted, experienced practising doctors were confidently wrong about all sorts of things that inexperienced laboratory scientists proved them to have misapprehended. These days, it’s hard enough to find properly qualified teachers teaching actual rigorous physical science in a state school, let alone persuade teachers to evaluate the success or otherwise of their methods scientifically.

    Some fields of human endeavour in this country are marked by almost continuous and dazzling improvement: biomedicine, high-performance engineering, retailing, drug manufacture. In these, practitioners measure inputs and outputs obsessively and objectively and collect vast amounts of feedback from others, both inside and outside their fields, usually under powerful competitive pressures, commercial and/or professional. They apply scientific approaches and know that excellence demands distrust of the subjective, however seductive. Educational psychology is not one of these continuously and dazzlingly improving fields and neither, at least partly as a result of this, is state education in England and Wales. Both have been poisoned by ideology.

    We’ve had a disproportionately large number of Nobel Prize winners in the UK. I can think of at least two still working whose views on certain matters in which they have vast experience are rightly mocked by other scientists. One of the reasons science here is so absurdly successful (compared especially with science in Germany for example) is that places like one I used to work at get shut down if they don’t make the cut. Another is that no one who is genuinely good at science here is foolish enough, like you, to believe that time-serving counts for much against being right.

  6. John Meredith
    Posted 13Oct10 at 10:11 | Permalink

    What a bad tempered exchange, especially since, as far as I can tell,you agree with each other on the substantive issues.

  7. Posted 13Oct10 at 10:25 | Permalink

    There are plenty of matters to do with education that I disagree with Shuggy about. The last time I disagreed with him, I politely linked him to one of those rare things in educational research: a randomized controlled study. This one showed that poor black kids benefited (not hugely, but significantly) from a voucher scheme running in a particular part of the States. Shuggy replied with another one of his “Do you know who I am?!” rants about how vouchers are a crazy libertarian plot. (And the last time he turned up here on PooterGeek, he responded to a carefully reasoned post about passive smoking by immediately getting personal.)

    If Shuggy isn’t interested in rational debate and wants it all to be about him and me, then I’m happy to oblige.

  8. Posted 17Oct10 at 13:35 | Permalink

    She’s resigned/been leant on/fired.

    I’m sure that if she’d stood up at a Labour conference and made a political stance of supporting the existing system, that she’d still be in her job today.

    Most teachers and heads have nothing to fear from choice, because they’re good at their jobs. Removing state targets and bureaucracy would liberate schools and teachers to focus on the teaching and have more resources to do it.

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