Thursday, 27 May 2010

Barely spoken assumptions

None the less powerful for that

'Aptitude, but not ability'

Early on Tuesday morning I was barely awake when I half-heard someone reported on the BBC's Radio 4 as saying that 'academies' would be able to select some proportion of their pupils on the basis of 'aptitude, but not ability'. I think, though I am not certain, that the reported source of this statement was the new Secretary of State for Education for England in the UK's new Coalition Government – Michael Gove. This formulation itself, however, is not new. It has been around for years now and was bandied around by the late but as yet little lamented New Labour Government. When it first appeared or who or what coined it, for what intention and with what meaning, I have no idea.

It is of course meaningless twaddle, both lexically and psychologically, and tells us nothing about any material entity or process that might be related to children and their education – nor is it of practical use to positive, developmental-pedagogic practice (though I wholeheartedly accept that it is of considerable utility to politicians, bureaucrats and saloon bar discussions the length of the land). More usefully, it also signals the possible implicit understandings of those who say and write it.

Mr Gove seems and intelligent and educated man and, as befits his previous career in top-end journalism, a highly articulate one. Maybe it was he who had stated this about the Coalition's new academies. Be that as it may, I challenge anyone who utters this hollow mantra to offer an articulate account of what is meant by the distinction raised by the phrase 'selection by aptitude but not ability', with appropriate empirical and/or theoretical justification.

Change, what change?

Education most certainly needs renewing (not just in England and not just in the UK). The UK's new Government's new approach to this is substantively the same as the last one's old one (and that of the the one before that and so on in seemingly infinite regress across the whole span of living memory).The perennial politician's solution to fundamental dysfunction in the education system, in the UK and lands like it, is to rearrange the same old deck-chairs on the same old deck. Unfortunately for the country and its upcoming generations successive governments and their professional advisers have had and still apparently still have an inverted notion of what constitutes the deck, and what the deckchairs when it comes to transforming education..

Governments seem to believe that the material base of the education system lies at the level of its financing, organisation, institutional structures, management etc. – that's the deck. Upon this base, the psycho-pedagogy of pupil and teacher constitute no more than a superficiality – the deckchairs. So, when politicians (not just the present lot by any means) come round yet again to the notion that education just isn't working and 'something has to be done', they turn like their predecessors before them to the only mechanism that they can construe, and seek a new way to rearrange the organisational/managerial/financial structure.

So now England is going to have 'academies', defined by yet further new funding and governance arrangements – their actual teaching processes remaining under the tight bureaucratic control of the same old inspection system ('Ofsted'), according to the same old standards.

A strange approach to a problem of long-established historical intractability: bang on with yet another version of solutions of the same old sort as has not worked in the past. What fundamental is addressed? Nothing. Where in five or ten years' time will the schools be, with their new name-boards by the gate and a new relationship to the state, somewhat different to the present one? As far as the teaching and learning of the entrapped pupils are concerned – nothing relevant will have changed in the actual processes of teaching and learning. So why should outcomes.

Try a different perspective

Turn the whole matter upside down and make psycho-pedagogy the fundamental – the decisive factor – in reorganising schooling. Regard administrative, financial and structural matters as secondary to this, and you just might be able to step over and out from such psychological and pedagogically meaningless sloganising as the postulated distinction between something called 'aptitude' (good?) and something else called 'ability' (bad?).

'Aptitude' and 'ability' are surely not just words, mere incantations/ Presumably they are intended to mean something. But the crying questions around the deck chairs seem presently regarded as far too secondary a matter for those steering the ship ever to accord them serious and critical consideration If they were to, then they would have explicitly to acknowledge that the implication of this phase is something to do with distinguishing between what is potential modifiable and what is not.

If this is what is believed, then it should be explicitly stated (just like it use to be in less squeamish times!) and its implications dealt with explicitly in whatever manner seems most socially effective and politically expedient. Then people could consider the political formulation, 'aptitude, but no ability' and its practical implications, for what it tells of the basic understandings and intentions of those who direct the education system – and perhaps of many of those who work in it too. In practical terms these may well manifest in unquestioned (and inarguable) givens about what constitutes children's potential (as opposed to their present levels of development)and ways in which how this might be realised.

Perhaps such understandings and intentions have no need or even room for elaborating real psycho-pedagogic science and real transformative practice. Indeed such understandings and processes might even prove a nuisance if they were ever to establish a substantial much a foothold here in competition for present understandings, and even present ways of seeking change.

To to my mind at least, this helps explain why the country and others like it are in the educational fix that they are.

As ever, Conductive Education

Perhaps this pervasive, rarely implicit paradigm, that who you are is the predominant determinant of who you might be, constitutes an important part of the seemingly irresistible barrier that stands firmly against Conductive Education's attempts to break out of the small bridgeheads that it has established across the Western world.

What might the conductive movement do to change this limitation to its world? Anything?

1 comment:

  1. Splendid, Andrew! Both as a parent of a boy with CP (who languishes in all his equipment at school while his body stiffens) and as a high school teacher, I admit "the entrapped students" are indeed being moved amidst the deck chairs. Fortunately for me, the school that employs me is run by an agency of true pragmatists. Each passing year, I appreciate the differences more. Without the Purpose Society, I'd have never been able to set up the simple CE programs I've managed to glue together. Twaddle aside, things can move ahead. Twaddle in the head, everything goes sideways.

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