Do schools make a difference?

An excellent podcast from BBC Radio 4’s Analysis on the above topic should be compulsory listening/ reading for anyone studying the Sociology of Education – you can get both the audio version and the transcript here

The programme centres on Harvey Goldstein’s statistical research – who points out that once you take into account children’s social and economic backgrounds (their home backgrounds if you like) schools only account for 10% of the difference in a child’s educational achievement.

Although she didn’t say it when Labour was in power, on reflection, New Labour’s Education Secretary in the late 1990s, Estelle Morris, now consents that although ‘schools are all we’ve got’ they ‘can never make up for the social disadvantage that children from poor backgrounds and from disinterested families’ – late on in the programme we are reminded that only 1% of children going to Oxbridge are Free School Meal students.

So why is it that government ministers put so much faith in the potential of schools to transform students’ lives?

The programme traces this back to one study conducted in 1979 by Peter Mortimore, one of the principle researches on the “15,000 hours” study – in which the researchers did observations of good and bad schools and identified all of the features that good schools had (good being defined as those which got students good results) – These features were –

  • Good teacher support
  • A clean environment
  • Good behaviour
  • Pupils felt like they were valued

This in turn lead into a new field of study centring around the question of ‘what works’ in education – which lead to researchers being dispatched to discover what successful schools were doing – and later this lead onto the question of how we could design these success features of ‘good schools’ into all schools. The programme draws on Pam Sammons Professor at Oxford University who seems to favour this approach.

Going back to Goldstein, he criticises the work of Sammons and the like by pointing out that the features found in good schools may just be coincidental to success – the schools may have good behaviour, the environment may be clean and money might be available for teacher support precisely because these schools have pupils who are from middle class backgrounds, and this may not be repeatable in all schools around the country.

This, however, is not the view Sir Michael Wilshaw, Chief inspector of schools (Head of OFSTED), famed for his headship of Mossbourne Academy in Hackney, one of the most deprived areas of London – this was Labour’s flagship academy which replaced the old failing Hackney Downs schools. Wilshaw claims that, through a combination of strict discipline, very long teacher and student hours and a ‘no excuses culture’ you can improve results in any school – he certainly did in Mossbourne – last year 8 students made it to Oxbridge, way above the national average.

What he forgets to mention of course is that he also had the help of a cool £25 million cash injection for a new building, and then there’s the little matter of his new Academy having almost half the population of FSM children attending as were at Hackney Downs.

As a final note – the programme does an excellent job of flagging up how successive governments selectively ignore research that doesn’t fit in with their own political agendas. The stats suggest social class and ethnic background matters and than schools only make 10% difference, and this is ignored, you then find some statistically dubious research from 1979 and one case study from recent history and use this to show that schools can make a difference…..




The Museum of Racism

A shocking collection of racist artefacts has recently gone on display in ”The Museum Racism’  which aims to use ‘objects of intolerance to teach tolerance and social justice. The museum itself is in Michigan , but the virtual version is also well worth a look, having an excellent range of racist artefacts mainly taken from the last century – broken down into categories such as ‘Racist cartoons’ and ‘THe N-Word’. A Fascinating resource for any one interested in the history of Racism in the United States… and shocking!

With 450 000 apprenticeship starts last year – Is Unemployment really going down?

You may have noticed the latest headline figures on unemployment –  which, according to the ONS,  declined by 35,000 in the three months to March to 2.65 million.

The Guardian article above also points out that youth unemployment also declined slightly, by 9,000 in the three months to February, leaving a total of 1.03 million 16- to 24-year-olds looking for work. The unemployment rate for this age group was 22.2%, down from 22.3% three months earlier.

Howeverthings may not be as rosy as you think, and if you delve, you notice that these headline figures mark a much bleaker picture of employment in the UK.

The government’s definition of unemployment, which comes from The International Labour Organisation (ILO) – an agency of the United Nations is broader than that of the ‘claimant count’ –  According to their definition 

Unemployed people are those

• Without a job, want a job, have actively sought work in the last 4 weeks and are available to  start work in the next 2 weeks, or 
• Out of work, have found a job and are waiting to start it in the next 2 weeks.

(This is the important bit) In general, anybody who carries out at least one hour’s paid work in a week, or who is temporarily away from a job (e.g. on holiday) is in employment. Also counted as in employment are people on government-supported training schemes and people who do unpaid work for their family’ business.

Technically, this means that, yes unemployment maybe falling, but we need to look at the quality of jobs that are being created – and the picture here is not so good – Consider the following two facts –

(1) – As Polly Toynbe  points out, Examine the ONS figures and you find full-time jobs did not increase: they fell by 27,000. All the increase was in part-time jobs for men. There are now 1.4 million part-timers desperately seeking but failing to find longer hours.  

This ties in with findings from the JRF foundation which suggest that Underemployment – people who are ‘unemployed, lacking but wanting work or working part-time because no full time job was available’ is now stands at 6 million, or 2 million higher than in 2004.

Secondly, many new jobs may well be New Apprenticeships – A staggering 450000  of which have started in the last year – and Many of these are not actually real jobs at all – In some cases they pay less than the minimum wage – This under-reported phenomenon is actually worthy of a separate blog post – shortly!)

So, yes, formally, the unemployment figures may be going down, but the types of ’employment’ people are going into are temporary training positions and part-time temporary work – and in both cases wages tend to be low and positions insecure. Yes, unemployment is going down, but the quality of life for those going into employment is also decreasing.

The London Marathon – Little more than a vessel for Corporate advertising

The London Marathon is mainly about this kind of thing

A couple of my friends recently ran the London Marathon dressed as a Panto Horse – so I watched it to catch a glimpse of them – which I finally did, but I had to wait until right at the end of the BBC2 highlights show. As a result of keeping my eye on the BBC’s London Marathon for about 3 hours, I feel as if I have been used and abused.

I am a victim of the Corporate Branding of my public space. I honestly wanted to watch this event but I had no choice but to witness, in nearly every camera shot, the various Logos of the event sponsors – mainly Virgin, but others such as Adidas were in there too.

The London Marathon is a great event – I personally love running, and even I’m not that cynical (OK perhaps I am) about the money raised for charity and the ‘personal’ stories of some of the runners, but these tales seemed to take a back seat to the ‘Corporate event’ – from what I saw, the London Marathon is now primarily a vessel for Corporate advertisers to pollute our visual space with logos I do not wish to see: From the start, round every major landmark, right up to the trophy ceremonies where the corporate puppet-whores (the elite winners) adorned themselves in the logos of their sponsors.

But it's been sabotaged by this man

Critics might say that all of the money spent on advertising is going to a good cause – And a lot of money is going to come from allowing Virgin etc. to advertise in the world’s best marathon, and last year the London Marathon company had a turnover of about £18 million and made a profit of £4 million – a significant chunk of which goes to charity. However, this is nothing compared to the £47 million which individual runners make for their own individual charities.

I’d much rather see the London Marathon company scale down the advertising and just about cover costs – let the runners run for charity rather than using Corporation’s advertising to generate a little bit extra.

If you’re sick of Corporate Logo Creep,  I recommend reading,  or at least looking at summaries of Naomi Klein’s ‘No Logo’ – it was written in 2000, but she really predicted this trend – the trend of Corporate branding progressively taking over more and more of our public space

Finally, my friends did actually break the world record for the fastest panto horse to complete a marathon, they’re raising money for help the hospices, why not donate here – Who knows, if the BBC had spent more time flagging up the people’s efforts to raise money for charity rather than panning in on celebrity and Corporate logos, they’d be closer to their target of £5000!

Oh, you could also boycott all Virgin products, but I certainly wouldn’t recommend ever going out at night and vandalising Corporate logos where ever you see them.

Sociology on TV WB Monday 23rd April

Hi – Decided I can do a useful (and easy) weekly blog flagging up what’s on TV this week that could be of sociological interest – For my own benefit, as well as that of others…. So here goes… These days of course you can always just search on iplayer for when the programme was!

Sunday (BBC News Channel) – Panorama – Billionaires behaving badly – looking at Glencore, possibly one of the world’s worst mining companies

Sunday (BBC2) – Indian Ocean with Simon Reeve – he goes to 3 south African countries – there might be something in here relevant to global development

Sunday (BBC2) – Ewan McGregor’s Cold Chain – following the Vaccine Trail – bound to be something relevant to the ‘biomedical intervention’ aspect of health and development, and I’ll grate my own eyeballs out if Gates doesn’t get a mention somewhere in this show.

Monday (BBC3) – A look at car crime, and the impacts of filming it and posting it online

Monday (BBC2) – This world – the story of the Norway Massacre

Tuesday (BBC3) – I woke up gay – pop – but about a straight rugby player who had a stroke and woke up gay. He’s now a hairdresser.

Tuesday (BBC1) – The Estate – not sure about this – looks like it might be interesting tho’

Wednesday BBC4 – Wild Swimming – Alice Roberts, the thinking man’s totty natural swimming in a bathing costume or a wet suit, not especially educational, but it can’t be bad!

Friday Channel 4 – Unreported World – in Afghanistan – cheery!


The World Bank Presidency – A continuation of American domination?

The World Bank elected an American as its twelfth president last week – Dr Kim Yong Kim.  Kim will oversee a staff of 9,000 economists and development experts and and manage billions of dollars of loans ($258bn (£163bn) last year alone)

Dependency Theorists and World Systems theorists suggest that international economic institutions work in the interests of dominant world powers – namely the United States and it’s hard to see how you can interpret the appointment of Dr Kim any other way – he is the twelfth American president out of 12.

This is a result of America, Europe and Japan having more of a share of the vote than the developing countries. It’s not ‘one country one vote’ – Europe and Japan together control 54% of the votes – basicaly meaning those countries effectively decide the outcome, and the developing country vote is essentially useless. As Kim’s closest rival in the contest, Nigerian Finance Minister Ngozi Okonjo-Iweala, said  “You know this thing is not really being decided on merit,” she told reporters. “It is voting with political weight and shares and therefore the United States will get it.”

This post from Al Jazeera offers further criticism of the processes and procedures of the world bank and how they are biased to western interests

However, it’s unclear how much longer the West’s domination of the World Bank can last – For the first time in 70 years of its history, the United States’ hold on the job was at least actually challenged: Nigeria’s  finance minister  got the vote of several developing countries as well as Brazil and South Africa.

Also, unlike previous presidents of the World Bank, Kim’s background is in anthropology and health, rather than in finance and politics. It is thus more likely that development will be top of his agenda rather than just the economic interest of the United States.

This is an important contemporary event that students can use in the SCLY3 exam on global development to illustrate both the relevance of dependency theory and the pessimist view of economic globalisation.

Dreams can come true

Or at least that’s what the guy serving me coffee this morning informed me as he sang along with Westlife on the radio.

I don’t think he was prepared for my response* – Poor bastard caught me in a muse mood.

‘No, they probably won’t’  I said as I fished for £2.65 worth of shrapnel, ‘and, if you wish to be truly happy,  it’s not necessary that they do anyway… Surely our dreams (I assume Westlife are referring to day dreams) actually prevent us from focussing on what is actually going on in front of us, right now, from focussing on what is, rather than what could be; and it is our day dreams, too often based on unrealistic notions of what is actually possible, that make us miserable.

I say this because, in reality, what we have got here in front us, right now, isn’t actually that bad at all, and that there is nothing inherent in our typical day to day to lives that should make us miserable. Here we are, two people, both working or on their way to work, amidst a couple of hundred other people in a similar situation, and there is nothing inherently bad about this station, or this day. We are not starving, we are not in a war zone, we are not being persecuted – We are all well fed, housed, clothed, have access to a wondrous array of social services and huge consumer choice, and yet look around at how many people around us appear distracted or just down right miserable.

‘So why is it’, I continued, coffee and silly little biscuit now firmly in hand ‘that so many people are miserable? Could it be that they compare their perfectly adequate lives to unrealistic and unattainable media manufactured fantasies, day dreams if you like, and as a result feel unsatisfied with what actually is? Could it be that these fantasies, these dreams, these unreal figments of the mind, are actually responsible for making people miserable in their day to day to lives?

I would suggest, that instead of hoping that ‘our dreams come true’, we just give up on Westlife, give up on the mainstream media, and give up on their (not our) dreams and just simply focus on what is – Instead of dreaming, just be happy.’

Oddly enough he didn’t really seem up for responding, so I just closed with ‘Thanks for the coffee, have a nice day’ – and I really, really meant it!


The lyrics to ‘dreams can come true are here – This is probably one of the worst pop songs of all time – This is objective truth – check it out for yourselves – Here –

*OK – Some of this conversation, I may have just had with myself in retrospect, but what’s a little unreality in the age of post modernity?

Chelsea footballers – paid more than Liberia’s National Health Budget

I just knocked this up quickly to coincide with some tweets on the #TodayinLiberia – I just recently taught health as part of an A level module, so thought I’d share some quick ‘harrowing comparisons’. 

Liberia’s total health expenditure in 2009 was $53 per capita (source – WHO)

If you multiply this by the population (almost 4 million) you get a figure of $212 million dollars a year

It’s interesting to compare this to the Premiership wage bills (2007/08 figures)

Chelsea – £172m on salaries or $273 million dollars!

£121m spent by Manchester United,

£101m by Arsenal

£90m by Liverpool.

The total for the whole premiership was around £1.2 billion or $1.9 billion

OK – there will be some error here due to odd year comparisons – but not too great a difference!


Shard Hacking – Challenging Surveillance Society?

You may have noticed that three thrill seekers recently slipped past (quite literally!) security scaled The Shard , posting pictures of themselves on the Place Hacking Blog – run by Bradley L. Garret. The three are members of the “London Consolidation Crew”, comprising of mainly middle class professionals, who have gained access to more than 300 locations in 7 countries over the last years.

Garret, from Los Angeles  has recently complete a PhD on ‘Urban Exploration’ (urban exploration being the process of researching, exploring and discovering temporary, obsolete and abandoned spaces in the built environment)  in which he charts the rise of an ‘urban exploration crew’ between the years 2008 -11. He took an active part in the group during this time, so this is a great example of a local researcher (presently living in Clapham) doing a form of participant observation.

Garret defends trespass in this video by pointing out that the actions are benign, but also alludes to the fact that there is a more political motive to the acts – which is clearer if you read his thesis (OK – I only skim read bits of it -Time!) in which he posits that

‘group are one of many who react to increasing surveillance and control over urban space by undertaking embodied interventions that undermine clean spatio/ temporal narratives. ‘

(In other words, the group dislike surveillance and so, in response to this, engage in a kind of subversive political action by ‘breaking into’ places they are not supposed to go into at odd times of the day (or night). )

As he says in the video – There are increasing amounts of public space where you just can’t go into, and increasing amounts of public spaces where its not clear if you can go there or not, or where its unclear what you are allowed to do. The actions of physical trespass push those boundaries and possibly challenge notions of what ‘freedom’ in the context of urban living means.

Garret also says the group are engaging with ‘history in the making’ in a creative way by trespassing and effectively hurting no one, while challenging our ideas of the boundaries of public and private, which is much better than what most people do – which is passively accept the status quo. These people are, after all, more active than the average citizen.

Finally – they also remind us that it’s impossible to secure large sites – as security guards aren’t machines – because they are fallible – suggesting, maybe, that the ‘man’ can be resisted.

Personally, however, and I think Garret and the others might well agree (I’m sure the question is up for debate) – I’m not sure how much this has really got to do with politics and challenging notions of citizenship – it is also about identity – and ‘the rush’ – and a great example of edgework – breaking the law to gain an emotional thrill and status (and possibly expressing your masculinity?) in a post-modern age – (would this have happened before social networking allowed the posting of pictures?).

As a final note, whether its about identity or politics or both, this is a pretty cool hobby, and if I were 20 years younger I’d be on the next train to London Bridge!

Some (minor bits) of this blog was cut and past from the links above 

Top Ten Resources for Teaching Gender and Development

OK – Only up to 5 – but I’ve really got to down the pub, and I really wanted to post something before I left!

These are in rough order of how much I like them – If you prefer other sites then let me know. These are just the best ones I know of , and I don’t know everything! (clearly!).

One – The UN’s hub page for the Gender Inequality Index

 ‘The Gender Inequality Index (GII) reflects women’s disadvantage in three dimensions—reproductive health, empowerment and the labour market—The index ranges from 0, which indicates that women and men fare equally, to 1, which indicates that women fare as poorly as possible in all measured dimensions.

  • The health dimension is measured by two indicators: maternal mortality ratio and the adolescent fertility rate.
  • The empowerment dimension is also measured by two indicators: the share of parliamentary seats held by each sex and by secondary and higher education attainment levels.
  • The labour dimension is measured by women’s participation in the work force.’

The above page has lots of useful links – one of the most accessible being this table showing details of gender inequalities for most countries in the world. You should also check out the ‘interactive data tools’ and ‘FAQ’s at the bottom of the page.

Two – The United Nations Development Fund for Women

Very broad in scope – The site says of itself ‘In July 2010, the United Nations General Assembly created UN Women, the United Nations Entity for Gender Equality and the Empowerment of Women. In doing so, UN Member States took an historic step in accelerating the Organization’s goals on gender equality and the empowerment of women.’

It’s also worth considering what the fact that this wasn’t established by the UN until 2 years ago says about what the UN’s development priorities really are!

Three – Gender Across Boarders – What a fantastic blog! – A team of writers blogging under various headings including (the ones that interest me) health, education and activism – and a load of stuff about culture too. The about section of the web site says of itself

‘Gender Across Borders (GAB) is an international feminist community where issues of gender, race, sexuality, and class are discussed and critically examined. We embrace people of all backgrounds to come together to voice and progress positive gender relations worldwide’

Four – International Women’s Day Web Site

International Women’s Day takes place on 8th March every year and the above link is a hub-site for events surrounding that day when thousands of events are held throughout the world to inspire women and celebrate achievements. The site (annoyingly for me) doesn’t actually explicitly state what its about – but I guess this is because a huge part of the ‘women’s empowerment’ agenda is to allow women with diverse aims to ‘speak for themselves’. Still, reading between the lines, the main posts and themes seem to be about celebrating women’s achievements and using these to inspire positive change in those parts of the world where ‘progress’ has yet to be made – and this means promoting women’s empowerment through improving the education, health, employment prospects and political power of women worldwide.

The day itself is very popular – to quote from the site….   ‘IWD is now an official holiday in Afghanistan, Armenia, Azerbaijan, Belarus, Burkina Faso, Cambodia, China (for women only), Cuba, Georgia, Guinea-Bissau, Eritrea, Kazakhstan, Kyrgyzstan, Laos, Madagascar (for women only), Moldova, Mongolia, Montenegro, Nepal (for women only), Russia, Tajikistan, Turkmenistan, Uganda, Ukraine, Uzbekistan, Vietnam and Zambia. The tradition sees men honouring their mothers, wives, girlfriends, colleagues, etc with flowers and small gifts. In some countries IWD has the equivalent status of Mother’s Day where children give small presents to their mothers and grandmothers.

Five – The Guardian’s Summary of the worst place in the world to be a woman – Includes a handy ‘interactive map’ where you can find out such things as ‘in Somalia girls have a 95% chance at being of risk of Female Genital Mutilation’

SixAmnesty International’s Women’s Rights Page

SevenUnseen is a UK based charity to help recovering victims of sex trafficking – and there are enough of them – estimates range from 500 to 800 000 per year being trafficked across Europe.

EightOne World Gender Guide – A nice ‘hub page’ with lots of resources on Gender Inequality in different countries

NineWomen for Women – An example of an NGO working with socially excluded women in 8 countries – a good example of what you might call ‘people centred development’ – a number of different projects are tweaked to meet the needs of different women in different situations – ranging from teaching economic skills to rights education.

Ten  – TrustLaw is a global hub for information on human rights and women’s rights. The link takes you to the ‘women’s rights’ section. While you might have to click on some of the links twice to get them to work, this is a good site for summaries of up to date news on women’s rights in international context and there is also a useful database which you can search for resources by keyword, region and country – although once again, the links to some of these are unreliable, so you may have to ‘cut and paste’ into another browser.