Month: March 2011

Fees update

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Sussex has now announced its fee proposals and, like most of those who have announced it’s £9,000. No real surprise there. I guess what would have been a surprise would have been fees of less than £9,000.

I do actually like some of the surrounding proposals to help students and prospective students and strengthening the links with the local schools. I support these moves – fees are here and here to stay so we have to get on with it and do the best that we can for the students we have/will have. Time will tell how the new regime will pan out. The full details can be found here.


University Fees

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It’s dangerous to talk about what my employer may do with regard to fees – no official statements no leaks, no news, no figure. I honestly don’t know and the decision will have nothing to do with me.

I come from the generation that did not pay fees and got a grant – not massive, but enough (mind you I still had an overdraught when I left university!). I have an ideal that education should be free and that students should only pay for accommodation and living costs through student loans. But I also know that this is unsustainable for the numbers in higher education. So we could reduce numbers in HE and fund their tuition – meaning that those who do not go to university pay for those who do (e.g. just as my parents did through their taxes). But surely this is not fair. We should, as graduate pay back – I guess that I claim that I do through taxation, but then my taxes don’t/can’t pay for everything that taxes could/should pay for. So I see the dilemma of the government. But I also see that HE is being squeezed.

Do I have an answer? Not really, I’m not paid that much to come up with the answer and I’m not clever enough to come up with a wheeze of an idea that would make my ideological standpoint of free education for all a reality.

There are some things that I think will happen though.

Universities in general, not just my employer, will require people like me – the academics – to do the research to write bids and pull in money from wherever and make sure that my ‘writing’ is high quality and brings plaudits on my department – otherwise I’m sure that my future appraisals and the appraisals of many academics up and down the country will not be very good. Teaching will, I predict take a back seat. The very thing that students will have to pay for will not be the top priority for the university. That sets up an interesting position. If a student is paying top fee for a university education will they demand that they are taught by the best (not teaching fellows, associate tutors and post grad students), will they demand more teaching, more one to one tutorials and help – after all they are paying through the nose for it (they may argue). Will they demand that as the consumer paying for the course that they achieve what they need from the course to get the job (could it mean the end of the third and pass degree)? What is, after spending 27K+ on their course they fail or only get a ‘third’ – how soon before we see a court action? I wonder which university will be the first to introduce a ‘customer service’ department for students and a ‘customer service charter’. Will universities start providing service contracts about the level of support they are entitled to for their £6-9K?

Again I don’t have answers. I merely throw out these random thoughts. At Sussex we have an excellent reputation for the level of student support we give. I hope it continues.

School Admissions

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All Aboard the School Choice Bus
All Aboard!

Another day another Gove ‘cunning plan’. This time it is to abolish Local Authority lotteries and allow schools to run individual lotteries for school admissions. Gear up for a mess, a lot of complaints and a very ugly admissions war.

Government after government have pushed an idea (ideal?) that parents have choice over which school their child attends. Well to some extent they do, they can of course pay for a private education if they so wish. Private schools also offer some scholarships and children can attend even if the parents cannot easily afford the fees. But for state schools choice is really a myth. There is no real choice. All the parents who care put the best school (in their view) at the top of the list, but actual choice is very limited. The closest school to where I live is not the top choice for a school for any children I may have of school age (luckily they are all adults no longer in education). Of the two schools I would ‘choose’, one is about 3 miles away, the other is on the far side of the city. Another ‘close’ school is one that many avoid like the plague.

I may ‘choose’ whatever school I wish, but as for getting in, well, little to no chance and in all likelihood any child of mine would not be offered any of the choices I would make. In effect there is no choice.

Why not turn the whole thing on it head? Why not allocate children to the local school and instead of spending all the time and effort on the admission systems, we should spend the time and money pn making all the schools good.

New, but few, Standards

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Michael Gove wishes the standards for QTS to be revised. I’m not against that – some of them are a bit flabby, and fluffy. It seems he wishes them to reflect the key skills needed by teachers. Again, not contentious – but of course there is that whole can of worms which resides in the arguments about exactly what those key skills may be.

Interestingly, he is quoted as saying that a failure rate on teacher education of 1.5% overall seems too low. Well, perhaps, this represents those who are not counselled off the training programme (which actually saves some government expenditure as the bursaries (and depending on when they leave), TDA fees are not paid) and, it should indeed be that low. It’s a little like the actual failure rate in the induction year, 18 failed last year but this number did not include all those who left teaching. So what are the full stats for the past few years?

Source: GTCE

The full stats then show that NQTs who do not progress past induction represents about 4% on average. Some people will say that this is still a very small number. Perhaps it is small, but what should it be? 5%, 10%, 20%? More?

We are judged as providers on our failure rate (to many failing is BAD). We are judged on our drop-out rate (too many drop-outs are BAD). We are told that when we accept people for ITT we should be as confident as we can that they have the right skills and attributes, so we try to be very selective and stringent. As a consequence our drop-out rate and failure rate should be very low, we are told – until now that is when we are told that it is very surprising that so few people fail the training.

I do hope that the DfE, the TDA (or whatever replaces it) and OFSTED will tell us what is an acceptable fail rate and that they will support us as high quality if we are stringent, don’t meet the targets and numbers we are given for recruitment and don’t p[punish us by reducing our targets, our income and strip us of numbers and downgrade us – which is what happened in the past. Will we get to a point of being patted on the back for a high fail rate? Somehow I doubt it – it will be turned into ‘our failure as a provider’ not that of the trainee. If we reject people and they appeal – will the DfE etc. support our  professional judgement? Will they fully support us against the threat of litigation when we adjudge someone to be unsuitable for teaching on the basis of a personality test, but they have a first from Oxbridge? I suspect that suddenly government support will evaporate and they will magically abdicate all responsibility and suddenly it will be our decision and ours alone.

Science is under attack (again)

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I read a very sad story today – it was about a science lecturer who is a Muslim and who defended evolution. He has been subjected to attacks about his ‘beliefs’. I don’t think that he ‘believes’ in evolution, I think he accepts the scientific evidence. But, and this is the sad thing, some people have issued death threats against him. How sad, religious, moral, upstanding people who subscribe to a religion apparently feel that a death threat is an acceptable way to deal with a simple science issue. OK, he also said that Muslim women should be free to cover/not cover their hair. But is DEATH really a measured response to an academic expressing an opinion?


My feeling is that this is just an ‘opportunity’ for some to preach radicalism and get into the newspapers. Perhaps if we starved them of the oxygen of publicity it would stop their radicalisation. So for that reason I’m not linking to the press reports (for now).

Jamie’s Dream School

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Episode one

Interesting. Michael Gove would like to see all teacher training take place in schools. He values a ‘look and learn’ model for training teachers. Well, Jamie’s dream school is probablky the best advert for not just taking on the ‘best of the best’ in their subject.

From episode one, I would take Lord Winston and Rolf Harris on to my teacher education courses, Dr david Starkey would, I’m afraid, fall at the first hurdle.

I have a comment in the Guardian on this episode.

The Darwinian Paradigm

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The Darwinian Paradigm is, for me, ‘normal science’ (as described by Kuhn).

Anything that is normal, for me resides in a Darwinian Paradigm. In short, I write about ‘normal’ stuff.

This is my blog on science education, science and random things.

It is my ‘normal’. It may link to some of my professional work on education (teacher education) and my writing on education, science or evolution vs creationism.

I’m not the best blogger on the block, but I hope you like some of what I write.