The Open University – A History by Daniel Weinbren- Reviewed by Jacqueline Baxter

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The Open University
A History
By Daniel Weinbren 2015
Manchester University Press

Review by Jacqueline Baxter
Lecturer in Social Policy – the Open University UK
Jacqueline.baxter@open.ac.uk

It is not the first time that someone has documented the exponential growth and development of The Open University UK (OU) – but this volume stands out as unique for a number of reasons. Dan Weinbren- the author not only has a long personal history with the OU but still works there. His perspective is unique drawing as it does not only from his own knowledge of the institution as it touched his family – but also from the unique and particular perspective of an insider- a member of staff who has, over the course of their career, taken a variety of roles within it.

These roles, alongside Weinbren’s Open University (OU) studies and extensive interviews with individuals whose involvement with the university- in some cases goes back to its inception – lend an incisive and energising quality to the account. In a volume which successfully combines the intense political intrigue which characterised the evolution of the OU alongside the myriad voices of staff and students in a vibrant medley, the book invites the reader to share the joys and frustrations that went into making up the OU experience.

Beginning with an account of the university’s early beginnings, based as they were on a corporate industrial model which reflected in many ways the national zeitgeist, the volume tracks the cultural and economic markers which so profoundly shaped its evolution. A particularly effective way that it does this is in drawing attention to the language which characterised the ways in which early staff referred to the university’s early educational offerings. Through terms such as ‘production of units’ of teaching materials and ‘lines of study’, we gain an insight of how ‘academic enquiry was combined with assembly line’ manufacturing techniques in order to create education for the masses, the like of which had not been seen up until this time.

This takes place against the backdrop of an era when internationally governments were manifesting a growing interest in the ways in which education could be employed to extend their global reach. An era during which the post war consensus on the state as moral agent was rapidly being replaced by neoliberal ideals of education as a market.

The Open University as it is today has become such an integral part of the national and international Higher Education (HE) landscape that it is difficult for us to imagine the extent of the political opposition that it encountered as the first ‘University of the Air.’ A university that fulfilled its unique promise in eradicating the entry requirements that characterised conventional universities, allowing universal access for all. But this account drives home the fact that these innovations proved to be so profoundly disturbing and troubling for politicians of both left and right wing persuasion. Many of whom considered the very idea of education for the masses to be bridge to far – a potential public and political disaster; far too radical an idea to be accepted by the British public. The idea of using television as a medium for teaching proved particularly aberrant for those on the political right who dismissed it as an election gimmick of little real substance.

The vivid description of Harrold Wilson – Leader of HM Loyal Opposition – and his boundless enthusiasm for a university that would promote social justice, aid elimination of social inequalities and drive both economic regeneration and productivity, animates the passionate idealism that drove the institution’s early development: A development combining ideals of social justice with an ambitious and innovative aim to make TV a central means by which to widen access. The creation of a university which aimed to banish the pedagogically pedestrian in its quest to seek out new ways to engage students formerly deprived of the opportunity to enter the hallowed halls of a conventional institution.
One of the most interesting threads running throughout the book is the way that the OU influenced the lives of women, infusing their lives in numerous and often unexpected ways. The volume offers a lively and engaging account of how one of the university’s most enthusiastic supporters – Jenny Lee, a coal miner’s daughter turned MP- was instrumental in bringing the dream into fruition. A woman whose determination that the OU would offer educational standards on a par with the best universities in the world and whose fortitude standing firm in the face of substantial and vituperative opposition finally won through, leading to the creation of a university characterised by high quality teaching, innovative pedagogies and a contentious reputation for left wing thinking which characterised some of its curriculum.

Drawing on interviews with early students, the account offers the reader some fascinating insights into the ways in which education influenced and often completely changed the ways in which they saw themselves and their roles. Particularly vivid accounts from female students on their experiences of residential school- full week study opportunities spent away from family and children in order to spend a week discussing and learning with OU lecturers and fellow students – illustrate to what extent OU study was indeed a life changing experience. Despite media descriptions of the university acting as a ‘haven for housebound Guardian reading housewives‘ (246).

Quotes such as, ‘it messes up your whole life but it’s worth it,’ help to illustrate the ways in which OU study challenged household structures and conventions whilst bringing hitherto unimaginable possibilities and opportunities into the lives of those it touched. The book also gives some sense of the degree to which the OU impacted on other marginalised groups – such as prisoners and the disabled- groups who would otherwise have been stellenboshed by beliefs and assumptions that HE was not for them.

Pedagogy

One of the most interesting insights for educationalists -particularly those involved in distance learning in some form – is undoubtedly the way in which the book details the developing pedagogies of open and distance learning at the OU. The insights the book offers into the ways in which the transmission mode of teaching was challenged by new collaborative ways of working, are accompanied by case studies illustrating the development of pedagogies which placed as much emphasis on the processes engendered within the learning , as the learning itself. Using illustrative modules such as, ‘Art and environment’ Weinbren describes how, ‘the aims of the course were attitudinal, sensory and subjective rather than cognitive, relating to feeling rather than knowledge,’ – a radical departure from previous approaches to the subject. The chapter continues with an account of how from the outset the university encouraged group learning premised largely on a social cultural approach to education. An idea that had its genesis in the constructivist theories that were infusing and permeating pedagogies more generally and emerging largely in response to new technologies.
According to its history the university has always placed great emphasis on group learning which often led students to form their own support groups during or after their studies. Describing how one student initiated group known affectionately as ‘the Tadpole Society,’ named for the course code – TAD292 continued to meet long after their module was over. This in many ways exemplifies the constructivist socio cultural approach to learning which characterises not only present day OU pedagogies but much of the thinking within current day thinking around teaching and learning in the realm of distance and blended learning more generally.
In light of the rest of the book this particular chapter is rather unique in its approach – whereas other chapters detail the growth of the OU against the political and social backdrop of the times, this chapter is rather more insular in its approach; tending to focus on the pedagogies within the OU rather than placing these developments in the broader context of educational innovations internationally. It is however, perfectly understandable that Weinbren avoided this in the interests of brevity- however fascinating such an approach may be, it would probably necessitate another volume in order to do it justice.
The relationship between the OU, politicians and the media which characterised the university’s early days has continued to be a leitmotif within its evolution. As the book illustrates – the very content of the OU product was attacked for its alleged hostility to capitalism and the market economy- a fact acknowledged by David Harris writing in The British Journal of Educational Technology, quoted as stating that ‘the OU teaching system was as much shaped by political and administrative pressures as by any particular educational goals ‘(123).

The Media

Continuing in this vein the book details the often stormy and uncomfortable relationship that the OU has had with the media- particularly during the Thatcher era when the creation of such an institution was regularly portrayed as being an aberrant departure from the norm. Rich examples from a range of publications demonstrate how the media questioned the value of the university’s offering, often using the residential school experience as an eponym for an OU education’ The Times referring to it as ‘the university where a lecture begins with a beer,’ and the BBC describing the ‘Bizarre games and happenings,’ that took place as part of the learning experience (254).
Although the media proved mercurial in their descriptions of the OU experience- vacillating from the condemnatory to the conciliatory -the fact remained that particularly in its early days, media coverage of the university, its staff and students ensured that the institution was enshrined in the British consciousness as a particularly British product :quirky; a little off beat but fundamentally sound.
The principal strength of this account lies in the intimate way in which we are presented with not only the institution but the people to whom it meant so much. Stories and anecdotes from staff, students, media personal and government combine to give a sense of how the institution later became known as something of a national treasure. The fact that it is in essence an insider account offers a unique perspective of the ways in which this ‘machine’ like structure with its mechanistic forms of production and delivery developed the capacity to offer students a uniquely personal learning experience.

This history of the OU, located as it is against a changing social, economic and political backdrop, furnishes the reader with a sense of the changes that characterised the institution from inception to the present day. The challenges and opportunities that infuse its rich and chequered history not only offering an account of the past but also in many ways portending the challenges and changes that lie ahead in order for this unique institution to remain true to its original mission- to remain open to people, places and ideas- in the challenging and protean context of higher education today.

Debate over national values is a threat to the education system

The results of seven school inspections in the London Borough of Tower Hamlets have brought a fresh wave of allegations that some schools are not providing a broad and balanced curriculum for their pupils, who may be vulnerable to radicalisation. A memorandum on the inspections sent by Ofsted’s chief inspector of schools Michael Wilshaw to the education secretary Nicky Morgan has upped the ante in debates that conflate conservative religious values with the risk of radicalisation and extremism.

In six independent schools that were visited in the borough, inspectors found serious concerns over the safeguarding and welfare of pupils, lack of provision of a broad and balanced curriculum and issues around leadership, management and teaching.

Four of the six independent Muslim schools have been judged inadequate, with two failing to meet independent school standards. The only maintained school involved in the recent inspections, Sir John Cass in Stepney, was also downgraded by Ofsted from outstanding to inadequate. This followed concerns about segregation between boys and girls in school areas and insufficient guidance on “the dangers associated with using the internet, particularly in relation to extremist views”.

The ‘British values’ minefield

Kenny Frederick, a former school leader in Tower Hamlets, articulated concerns that resonate with those also voiced in Jewish communities that have been subject to similar inspections. Frederick said that putting a school in special measures “will only be negative” for a school and its community. “People will feel resentful. All we are going to do is alienate. If I was one of the kids, it would not be doing anything for my British values.”

The whole area surrounding “British values”, schools and religion has been thrown into confusion since the Birmingham “Trojan Horse” affair over allegations of a takeover of school board by hardline Muslim governors. The Muslim community is not unique in stating that the subsequent introduction of a responsibility for schools to promote “British values” and the apparent conflation of religious conservatism with extremism by both government and media is riddled with ideological and political complexities.

For example, Nigel Genders, speaking on behalf of the Church of England, raised serious concerns during the recent consultation into the Proposed New Independent Schools Standards in July. His response agreed that: “There is a legitimate exploration to be undertaken of values in the context of our distinctive national culture, literature, legal and political systems.” But he added that “many of those values cannot be defined as uniquely British”. He continued by highlighting the church’s concerns that the “British values should emanate from a broad public conversation,not from the secretary of state”.

Schools and culture

The apparent appropriation of values by the state is a worrying trend. More worrying still is how Ofsted is being used to police these values – particularly as they have yet to be fully defined. A recent Ofsted report following a snap inspection at the St Benedict’s Catholic secondary school in Bury St Edmunds, Suffolk, claimed that younger pupils “show less awareness of the dangers of extremism and radicalisation”.

The report, which was withdrawn very soon after its publication, went on to question whether the school prepared pupils “for life and work in modern Britain”. It was apparently withdrawn due to concerns around quality – a little too late for those who had already seen the report posted on the schools website.

The new values police

The present guidance given to inspectors on how to spot a “British value” is scant to say the least. The 2014 revised school inspection handbook contains four references to values which link to curriculum and safeguarding, the most specific of which are articulated in terms of the social development of pupils.

School governors are also instrumental in the whole area of values. The extent to which they are expected to define and be conversant with values at every level of school life is outlined in detail on the National Governors Association website. But the question of how all of these areas will be effectively investigated by the inspectorate and then translated into a tangible threat of radicalisation and extremism remains a very grey area indeed.

Again the issue of British values is making life difficult for governors, as Naureen Khalid, school governor and co-founder of @ukgovchat told me. She said: “I personally think in terms of human values. As long as my school promotes these, I’m happy.”

As director of the Universities’ Police Science Institute in Cardiff, Martin Innes points out that there is a distinct lack of knowledge – not only around what works in preventing extremism, but equally how we can effectively identify real triggers. He also brings home the dangers of branding schools and their communities with extremist labels, quoting the steady decline in Muslims between the ages of 16 and 24 who feel that police treat them fairly.

Trust eroding

The announcement by the home secretary, Teresa May, on the intention to include new statutory powers to prevent individuals being drawn into terrorism within the Channel anti-radicalisation programme, looks likely to place increasing levels of pressure on governors, school leaders and inspectors. But they are already working in communities where levels of trust in public bodies appears to be reaching an all time low.

Of course, it is vitally important to prevent terrorism, but the present system risks undermining hard-won community cohesion. It also risks transforming schools from being trusted institutions at the heart of their communities into organisations undermined by suspicion, doubt and a panoptecon-like scrutiny. This is more likely to give rise to the very activities that both government and inspectorate are so eager to expunge.

To avoid this, as the Church of England’s Genders points out, we need a public debate about the human values that form the core of our society. Until this happens, the grey area around these “British values” is open to mis-interpretation, political manipulation and false assumptions. That may well cause repercussions which could fundamentally undermine our system of education.

The Conversation

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Pupils at academy chains being failed by inspection loophole

The Conversation

By Jacqueline Baxter, The Open University

Recent inspections of schools run by academy chains have shown many of these schools to be failing. Yet Ofsted, the schools inspectorate, is still not allowed to regulate the very organisations that are responsible for this.

In a recent sitting of the Education Committee’s inquiry into academies and free schools, its chair, the Conservative MP Graham Stuart, detailed the long list of academy chain failures now occurring with increasing regularity.

Ofsted have said that AET [Academies Enterprise Trust] has low expectations and are leaving schools to founder; that E-ACT provides poor-quality teaching intervention and support and that an overwhelming proportion of pupils in the Kemnal Academy Trust are not receiving a good education.

Since 2012, Ofsted has intensified its focus on the inspection of school governance, insisting that it is integral to the leadership and management function of schools. In spite of this – and the concomitant furore surrounding the state of school governance in the wake of the Trojan Horse extremism affair in Birmingham – the inspectorate still has its hands tied when it comes to inspecting academy chains.

As part of its brief, Ofsted is allowed to inspect individual schools within academy chains but not the trusts that run them. Yet in many cases it is precisely these trusts and their sponsors that are failing the very schools they purport to support.

One area that has proved to be particularly problematic from a regulatory perspective is the lack of effective scrutiny in terms of conflicts of interest within academy chains. This is an area highlighted in a new report by the Institute of Education’s Toby Greany and Jean Scott.

They found that the mechanisms to identify and address conflicts of interest in academy chains are almost non-existent. They outlined a number weaknesses in the system, including that some trust boards are not adhering to national guidance or doing enough to mitigate the risks associated with conflict of interest. They also point out that the skills and capacity of bodies charged with auditing trusts may be weak or insufficient to “get under the skin” of what is going on.

Immune to public scrutiny

It was only a short time ago that the head of Ofsted, Michael Wilshaw called for more stringent inspection of Local Education Authorities following a spate of high-profile school failures of several schools within the same authority. The authorities concerned have been named and shamed for the dereliction of their duties.

Yet organisations at the helm of some of the biggest school chains in the country appear to be accountable to no one. As David Wolfe of law firm Matrix Chambers highlighted during the recent inquiry:

The power is concentrated with the trust and no longer really with local governing bodies unless it is delegated down and then the trusts are not under any great scrutiny. They are not subject to direct observation from Ofsted and they are not subject to the kind of public pressures that come from democratic accountability or a wider public transparency.

Such issues of accountability around chains of schools which expand too quickly are a common feature of the US Charter school system, a system that in many ways mirrors the reform intentions of the academies project. In states in which there are high levels of regulatory accountability such as Massachusetts, charter schools appear to do well, outperforming regular district schools on a number of criteria.

But uncontrolled expansion of charter schools and lack of concomitant accountability has given rise to a number of cases in which schools have been shut down and had their licences revoked.

Governance loophole

Research into school federations in the UK is beginning to unpick the new governance structures that are appearing. Although in its early stages, researchers have stressed the importance of retaining coherence in these multi-level governance structures that mirror so many in the wider not-for-profit sector.

It took some time for Ofsted to bring school leadership and governance into a single judgement, following a long period during which they were considered entirely separately in regulatory terms. Now this is in place, it would make perfect sense to apply it it to academy chains, yet their sponsors and trusts have been conveniently permitted to slip through the net.

This lack of accountability has caused a number of issues. It makes it almost impossible to be able to pinpoint why one or a number of schools in a chain are not performing well.

It also makes it difficult to see how multi-level governance is actually functioning if inspectors are only able to see part of the picture and not the whole. Inspectors look only at individual schools and their performance in isolation, rather than the chain as a whole. It is also almost impossible to evaluate how the strategic direction of the chain is operating through individual schools and evaluate to what extent those schools are working with and through that strategy.

Rudderless in the face of weak leadership

A lack of cohesion in accountability also makes it difficult to see how the goings-on at individual schools relate to overarching principles within the trust. This includes how pupil premium money is spent on children who qualify for it, or the direction of standards for teaching and learning. As trusts continue to grow, it becomes even more pressing to ensure governing trusts are accountable in financial and operational terms.

As researchers in the US point out, the challenges of retaining quality during periods of intensive growth are substantial. It’s not difficult to see how schools in academy chains can be left rudderless and lacking strategic and operational direction and prey to conflicts of interest.

It appears to be somewhat paradoxical that we pay £143m for an inspection system that is prevented from inspecting some of the key organisations behind so many schools in England, particularly in light of the type of failures that have come to light recently. According to the Department for Education, there are currently 1,226 open sponsored academies in the 2014-15 academic year.

Unless these failures are investigated in a holistic way that departs substantially from the fractured and dislocated manner of current regulatory practice, then it is difficult to see how errors can be pinpointed and addressed in the future.

The Conversation

Jacqueline Baxter does not work for, consult to, own shares in or receive funding from any company or organisation that would benefit from this article, and has no relevant affiliations.

This article was originally published on The Conversation.
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Teaching toddlers British Values

Teaching British values to toddlers will be tough to enforce

 

from The Conversation 

The Conversation

speaking volumes

By Jacqueline Baxter, The Open University

The recent announcement by the new secretary of state for education Nicky Morgan that toddlers must be taught British values is the latest in a chain of events precipitated by the Trojan Horse affair over extremism at some schools in Birmingham.

But awareness of equality and diversity issues has been central to early years education for years now. Many early years teachers already underpin their teaching with these values –values that will now be tagged as “officially British”. The big question is how Ofsted, the schools inspectorate, will interpret and police the way these values are taught to toddlers.

Following on from recent changes to the School Inspection Handbook – largely instigated following the Trojan Horse affair – the government has launched a consultation into changes to the school and early years finance regulations. Crucially, this proposes that funding be withdrawn from providers that do not “actively promote fundamental British values”.

Going over old ground?

But experts argue that the definition of these values – learning right from wrong, to take turns and sharing – are values that have been fundamental to early years provision for a considerable amount of time. This position was emphasised by Neil Leitch, chief executive of the Pre-School Learning Alliance in a recent interview on the proposed changes.

This view is also supported by Sue Griffin, former national training manager for the National Childminding Association and author of Inclusion, Equality and Diversity in working with children. She told me, “Early years settings have a lot to teach the education sector and right wing politicians about addressing inclusion, equality and diversity, since practitioners with our youngest children have been exploring these issues for decades.”

She went on to emphasise the need for practitioners “to keep their nerve and carry on in the confidence that they are thinking seriously about practical ways of helping children to develop unprejudiced views and learn to respect and value one another, whatever their differences in ethnicity, culture, family background.”

What are British values?

There is little dispute around the actual values being advocated by government, but the insertion of the word British and its apparent annexation of these values is, for many, deeply disturbing.

The term British on its own is difficult to define. There is no single definition of what it means to be British as historian Paul Ward points out in his book on Britishness since 1870. He highlights the fact that Britishness is not innate, static or permanent and has been mediated by many identities, not least race, colour, gender and class.

If we can’t define British, then British values are even more nebulous to pin down as educationalist Gus John describes:

David Cameron and people like me see the world through different eyes. We see our combined history through different lenses and therefore I have a take on the legacy of Empire and what Britain should have been doing about these last 50 years that differs fundamentally from that of Mr Cameron and the roots of his ‘British values’.

It seems bewildering to some professionals in this area that the government should seek to make such a provocative statement about British values. Liz Bayram, chief executive of the Professional Association for Childcare and Early Years said that the existing early years curriculum “already requires nurseries and child-minders to develop key skills such as teaching children to take turns and challenge negative attitudes”.

She goes on to say that Ofsted already has the power to judge values under the Early Years Foundation Stage and can already, “tackle concerns by judging a setting as requiring improvement”. Bayram calls the innovation “a big reaction to an issue that may not even be there, and that could be tackled by the inspection framework that is already in place”.

Creating policy on this matter is one thing but it is quite another when it comes down to putting it into operation. Asking inspectors to define what a British value is and what is not will add a very tricky element to their training. This is already overloaded with the numerous requirements demanded of practising inspectors, not only in the act of inspection itself but equally in post-inspection reporting to the public. They will need to explain exactly how they came to their judgements on this issue.

The guidance contained in the School Inspection Handbook comes into force this September. It remains to be seen how Ofsted will deal with this latest turn in the complex business of regulating English education, and the early years sector will no doubt look on with interest.

The ConversationJacqueline Baxter does not work for, consult to, own shares in or receive funding from any company or organisation that would benefit from this article, and has no relevant affiliations.

This article was originally published on The Conversation.
Read the original article.

School Inspection

 

For the past two years I have been working on the ESRC funded programme : Governing by Inspection . The project, led by Professor Jenny Ozga of Oxford University,  This three-year research project, funded by the ESRC and the Swedish Research Council (Vetenskapsrådet) compares the use of school inspection as a form of governing of education in the three systems of Sweden, Scotland and England, in the context of current changes in inspection practices in Europe (see : http://www.education.ox.ac.uk/governing-by-inspection/). The project has involved a number of publications (see my publications page) and latterly a book , due to be published by Routledge in September 2014: Governing by Inspection (Grek,S and Lindgren,J, 2014) London. Routledge.  You can find more information on our conference presentations on my Conferences page.

My forthcoming conferences include a presentation at :

The changing face of school inspections; theories and practices

Invited European inspection symposium 3-4 June, 2014

http://www.ips.gu.se/english/isi-tl/

Venue: Department of Education and Special Education, University of Gothenburg, Sweden
Visiting Address: Pedagogen A, Västra Hamngatan 25, Gothenburg
Conference fee: No conference fee will be charged. Travel and subsistence expenses are covered by participants.


The European School Inspection research consortium is delighted to invite you to a symposium in Gothenburg in June 2014 to share new research and practitioner evidence, enhance our understanding of (the impact of) school inspection and discuss ways in which inspection can be enhanced.

The symposium will centre stage a number of high profile studies on different inspection models across Europe, and help us learn about the mechanisms of impact of these models.

This symposium will present for discussion the major findings of a large comparative EU-study from a wide range of European countries. In particular, the role of key inspection methodologies which positively impact on schools will be considered. In addition the symposium will include inputs from important stakeholders working in the inspection field across Europe (e.g. the Standing International Conference on Inspectorates of Education, SICI), bringing together researchers and practitioners to exchange research evidence and identify good practice.

The Symposium will focus on the following themes:

  • Models for analysing the impact and effectiveness of school inspection
  • Emerging trends, policies and procedures in European Inspection
  • Key inspection methodologies which are effective in driving change
  • The role of school self evaluation in the inspection processes
  • The danger of unintended, negative consequences of inspection
  • The impact of national context on the development of inspection policies

 

Education Policy and The Media 

 

As part of my work into education policy and the media, I will be presenting the paper below at The European Education Research Conference in Porto 2014 ; details of the paper are as follows:

ID: 1932
23. Policy Studies and Politics of Education

Topics: NW 23: The politics of policy making in education
Keywords: media, inspection, policy, academies

Inspection by Media: the role and function of the media on education and inspection policy in England

Jacqueline-Aundree Baxter

The Open University UK, United Kingdom

Presenting Author: Baxter, Jacqueline-Aundree

The role of the media on international education policy has been recognised for some time now (Anderson, 2007); not least in terms of the often powerful impact it exerts not only on education policy but on public service policy more generally (Wallace, 1994,Hall, 1997). Education inspection is now employed by a number of countries both within and outside of Europe, to govern complex education systems (Grek, Lawn, Ozga, & Segerholm, 2013). InEngland in common with other OECD countries (see Rönnberg et al, 2012), school inspection is the focus of a great deal of media attention, particularly since the inception of the current inspectorate, Ofsted, in 1992. Since The Conservative /Liberal coalition took power in 2010, the media has increasingly been used to criticise the extent to which the inspectorate is being used to fulfil the government’s education agenda; raising questions about the extent to which its judgements can be said to be impartial (Baxter, Rönnberg, & Ozga, forthcoming). This paper draws on media discourse theory (Negrine,2013) to employ a case study approach to examine the ways in which The Academies Act 2010 (Parliament, 2010) and the policy advocated by the act is linked to media coverage of inspection. The legislation develops a policy which began under the previous Labour Administration, and is aims to encourage the further development of an education system in which state schools assume financial and curricular autonomy. Sampling from 3 national newspapers: The Times, The Guardian and The Independent, the study analyses 200 articles on inspection which make indirect and direct reference to the act. Using a framework for media analysis (Baxter et al forthcoming) , the paper explores how media coverage of inspection within the period 2010 to 2013 is framed in terms of the act .(Negrine, 2013) .The research questions examine: how the media shape their coverage in order to appeal to the public; what news values are employed in order to colour and condition stories in ways that make them acceptable and persuasive to the public; and finally : how news stories are cognitively framed in order to create links between education policy and public understandings. The paper concludes that in linking inspection to this policy, the media potentially exert considerable influence upon the ways in which this policy is understood and received by the public.

Methodology, Methods, Research Instruments or Sources Used
The study draws upon 100 news articles from 3 National Newspapers published within the time period 2009-present, which make reference to both inspection and academies. Using a framework for media analysis (Baxter et al forthcoming) the project examines a) What news values are employed to colour and conditions stories in ways that make them acceptable and persuasive to the public b) How are these news stories cognitively framed in order to create links between education policy and public understandings of inspection and academies c)To what extent the three newspapers both justify and criticise this policy via their reports on inspection d)What implications do media crafting and presentations of stories on inspection and the academies project have for the future of education policy in this area ?

Conclusions, Expected Outcomes or Findings
The findings are expected to reveal :  a) What news values are employed to colour and conditions stories in ways that make them acceptable and persuasive to the public b) How are these news stories cognitively framed in order to create links between education policy and public understandings of inspection and academies c)To what extent the three newspapers both justify and criticise this policy via their reports on inspection d)What implications do media crafting and presentations of stories on inspection and the academies project have for the future of education policy in this area ?

References
Anderson, G. L. (2007). Media’s impact on educational policies and practices: Political spectacle and social control. Peabody Journal of Education, 82(1), 103-120.
Baxter, J., Rönnberg, L., & Ozga, J. (forthcoming). Inspection in the Media. In S. Grek & J. Lindengren (Eds.), Governing by Inspection: Embodied Regulation. London: Symposium Books
Hall, S. (1997). Representation: Cultural representations and signifying practices (Vol. 2): SAGE Publications Limited.
Ozga, J., Baxter, J., Clarke, J., Grek, S., & Lawn, M. (2013). The Politics of Educational Change: Governance and School Inspection in England and Scotland Swiss Journal of Sociology, 39(2), 37-55.
Negrine, R. (2013). Politics and the mass media in Britain: Routledge.
Parliament. (2010). The Academies Act 2010.  London: HMSO Retrieved from http://www.legislation.gov.uk/ukpga/2010/32/pdfs/ukpga_20100032_en.pdf.
Rönnberg, L., Lindgren, J., & Segerholm, C. (2012). In the public eye: Swedish school inspection and local newspapers: exploring the audit–media relationship. Journal of Education Policy, 28(2), 178-197.
Wallace, M. (1994). The contribution of the mass media to the education policy process. International Journal of Educational reform, 4(2), 124-130.
Wallace, M. (1996). Guided by an Unseen Hand: The Mass Media and Education Policy. In K. Watson, S. Modgil & C. Modgil (Eds.), Educational dilemmas:Debate and Diversity: Vol.3.Power and Responsibility in Education (Vol. 3, pp. 147). London: Cassell.

The Roles and Identities of School Governors in areas of High Socio Economic Deprivation 

My work into the roles and identities of school governors looks at the changing face of school governing in England and Wales – specifically those working in areas of high socio economic deprivation.

 

 

Governing their future: the roles and identities of federation school governors in areas of social deprivation Project Summary.

Duration:

2 Years.

 

 

 

The project, based at The Open University UK looks to investigate the roles and identities of volunteer governors working in areas of relatively high socio economic deprivation, (1% above the average Free School Meals indicator) and whose schools form part of a federation. School governors are under considerable pressure to perform within an environment in which, increasingly they find themselves governing autonomous schools (academies or free schools), with no support from Local Education Authorities. A recent Parliamentary enquiry into the role of volunteer school governors (Parliament, 2013a, 2013b, 2013c), found that not only were governors confused about their role, but they were also being asked to undertake far greater responsibilities than they have ever, in the history of school governing, been asked to take.(Sallis, 1988). In addition to this, they are, under the 2012 Inspection Framework, facing increasingly stringent levels of regulation and failure to reach the necessary standards has profound consequences for both schools and governors (Baxter, 2013, 2014). But it is not only the shifting notions of accountability that place great pressure on governors: new forms of schools such as federations and academy chains, mean that governors often find themselves responsible for more than one school.(Baxter & Wise, 2013). This too has implications for the ways in which they carry out their role and also how they are placed in relation to the community/communities which they serve.

Governor recruitment has always been challenging, particularly for schools located within areas of high socio economic deprivation (Francis, 2011; Mortimore & Whitty, 2000) and this project builds on the previous work of the PI into school governing and inspection and investigates how governors feel about their roles and function. Specifically the objectives of the study are to:

1

  1. Increase understanding of the ways in which the governor role is located in the wider context of educational governance.
    2. Identify factors contributing to and preventing positive governor group and individual working identities, motivation and job satisfaction in areas of socio economic deprivation
    3.Recommend areas for targeted intervention and development, particularly in the area of identity/role performance and individual and group efficacy.
    4. Identify particular challenges in the governing of federations.

Methodology.

The project draws upon interviews with governors and head teachers from three federations based in the North East of England. All three federations have !%+ more than the national average of pupils on free school meals. The interviews will each last one hour. The study also draws on quantitative data which is being supplied by Ten Governor Support. The data draws on 41k governor questions on aspects of governing. The Analysis will link the responses across all schools in England with above average on the FSM indicator with the qualitative interviews in order to respond to the research questions.

My work into school governors is also linked to the work of  Visiting Research Fellow Dr Karine Vignault from The Centre hospitalier de l’Université de Montréal . She is looking  at practices involving Patients Ressources  in the governance of health organizations as a new site of citizenship. In order to:  1) to identify the ways in which PR are currently defined and produced as subjects of public action, with a particular emphasis on the network of relationships in which they are embedded and which they contribute to create; 2) to foreground the effectiveness of these assemblages in terms of the power relations that they enable, notably through the mobilization of notion of expertise.

The research will be conducted via an ethnography of the Centre hospitalier de l’Université de Montréal (CHUM), an important university hospital centre which is currently experimenting with ways of including PR in its governance (especially in quality management committees), in order to ascertain: What are the conceptions of the  Patients Ressources that are circulating? What are the representative claims at play in discourses and practices involving Patients Ressources? How does the dilemma between authenticity and expertise operate in/through the recruitment and training of PR? How do emotions come into play?

(Patients Ressources (PR) in French; are recruited and trained to voluntarily support other patients through their trajectory of care and/or to participate in the governance of health organizations. )

 

 

 

Roles and identities in online large course forums : implications for practice

I vividly remember my first foray into a large online forum. I was a class teacher at the time: teaching French and Spanish in a sixth form college. I had only just purchased my own laptop and was excited about the potentialities of teaching languages using IT.   My first experience of a large online forum came about thanks to the Association of Language Learning. Their online forum was designed to be used by all members as a way of networking and flagging up and sharing good practice and teaching resources. I still remember breaking out in a sweat as I tentatively made my first posting; very much aware of the fact that I may be talking to hundreds if not thousands of people!  I found seeing my own posts online to be both satisfying and cringe making – did I really say that in response to that……

Working full time in a distance learning environment as I have for some considerable time now, you tend to forget how much those who aren’t used to this environment may agonise over a single post. Of course, times have changed since my first online foray; many students of varying ages already have experience of talking online via Facebook, Twitter and other social apps. They already have experience of creating an online persona: of articulating their own personalities online. Yet this is not always of benefit when transferring the type of interactions used on e.g. Facebook, to a more formal academic forum.

In a recent paper written in collaboration with Jo Haycock a very experienced Associate Lecturer working at The Open University UK, we explored what elements of online participation enhance learner identity and sense of agency, and how student to student contact online helps or hinders this. Identity has been strongly linked to learning by many researchers (Baxter, 2012; Davies & Thomas, 2004; Erikson, 1968; Henderson & Bradey, 2008; Lave & Wenger, 1991) and a strong and articulate online identity is often associated with an individual’s perceptions and capacity to feel good online (Turkle, 1993). Sherry Turkle was one of the first to investigate how it felt to engage in online interactions in her well known book Life on The Screen: Identity in the age of the internet and Gilly Salmon took her work much further in her early studies of online forums (Salmon, 2002).

With the advent of MOOCS (Massive Online Courses) and recent articles which have shown that increasing numbers of students are choosing online offerings (Newton, 2013), such as a the one describing a recent survey by The Guardian (Ward & Shaw, 2014), which,

‘Suggests that parents are now open to cheaper alternatives to the conventional full-time university route: a majority (57%) said internet-based courses in which students watch lectures online are a good idea.’

we felt it was a good time to consider how being online makes you feel and how this may impact on your studying staying power. Our review of the current research into online large forums revealed some of the fascinating insights that have already come out of a number of recent studies . As you can see from list below, they all link strongly to student resilience and perceptions’

  1. Learners adopt the cultures and practices of the community (Soden and Halliday (2000)
  2. Effective interactions involve full engagement with the posts of others (2000)
  3. Cultural differences may impede full integration (LeBaron, Pulkkinen, and Scollin,2000)
  4. Although vital for online integration, student to student communication has lower percieved value than student to tutor communication (Loizidou-Hatzitheodolulou et al, 2001)
  5. Moderator contribution and rate has an impact on motivation and integration (Mazzolini and Maddison, 2003).
  6. Cultural differences may impede full integration (LeBaron, Pulkkinen, and Scollin,2000)
  7. Communicative learners feel responsibility for group processes but are not necessarily the best learners (Hammond,1999)
  8. Familiarity with online forum participation aids swifter integration with other online forums (Zembylas,2008)
  9. Peer Facilitation can encourage deeper levels of participation and concomitant feelings of integration (Hew and Chueng,2008)
  10. Successful creation of online presence aids retention and participation in online forums (Ardichvili et al ,2003.Angelaki et al,2013).
  11. Effective conflict resolution, either by students or tutors aids integration (and the converse)

(Baxter & Haycock, 2013)

The list above shows that for students, online forums are not just about the cognitive but are very much influenced by the affective dimensions of learning too. For example; although one study revealed that student to student interaction has lower perceived value than student to tutor interaction, Hew and Cheung’s study indicated that peer facilitation (students helping other students), actually encouraged deeper levels of participation and feelings of belonging to the academic community (Hew & Cheung, 2008). A number of studies including our own, revealed that feelings were very important: if a student felt alienated or foolish or if they didn’t feel that the person they were online was a true representation of their personality, they tended either not to engage with forums or in a worst case scenario;they withdrew from study.

In many ways this reminded me of when I was teaching languages, particularly with my adult learners who tended to learn a language for communicative purposes rather than to gain a qualification. The parallel was apparent with those learners who felt they couldn’t be themselves in the foreign language: that they couldn’t articulate who they fundamentally were in the foreign language, and, as a result they dropped out of class. Later research in this area supported this, and found that those that felt comfortable in their self-representation in the foreign language, often went on to use the language as a means to employment (Baxter, 2004)

Our research indicated that the tutor or moderator can have a substantial impact on student feelings about online participation in large forums: they can mediate conflict and engage in a type of ‘engueulade’[1] which can actually strengthen the tutor student relationship. In addition, our research supported a number of other studies which outlined the need for tutors and forum moderators to address student expectations of forum engagement right from the very outset. On the module under scrutiny, students were offered a number of forums: some with a social purpose (largely unmoderated), some with a clear academic function. Students often seemed to become confused by this; expecting levels of tutor moderation in the social forum which were only offered within the academic focused version. This type of misunderstanding proved highly detrimental to the students’ future engagement and in some cases impacted negatively on their experience of the course itself.

If identity is core to learning and learning to identity, it is vital that research into this facet of online learning is considered when designing online learning environments. To negate it is to risk losing many who would otherwise profit from this way of learning.

References.

Baxter, J. (2004). Investigation into motivational factors behind using a second language as a means to gaining employment. Retrieved from http:/www.cilt.org.uk/research/statistics/labourmarket/accessed 060906

Baxter, J. (2012). The impact of professional learning on the online teaching identities of higher education lecturers:the role of resistance discourse European Journal of Open,Distance and E-Learning 1(2).

Baxter, J., & Haycock, J. (2013). Roles and student identities in online large course forums: implications for practice. International REview of Open and Distance Learning 15(1).

Davies, A., & Thomas, R. (2004). 6 Gendered identities and micro-political resistance in public service organizations. Identity politics at work: resisting gender, gendering resistance, 10, 105.

Erikson, E. H. (1968). Identity: Youth and Crisis. New York: Norton.

Henderson, M., & Bradey, S. (2008). Shaping online teaching practices: the influence of professional and academic identities. Campus-Wide Information Systems, 25(2), 85-92.

Hew, K. F., & Cheung, W. S. (2008). Attracting student participation in asynchronous online discussions: A case study of peer facilitation. Computers & Education, 51(3), 1111-1124.

Lave, J., & Wenger, E. (1991). Situated Learning: Legitimate periperal participation. Cambridge Cambridge University Press

Newton, D. (2013). Online students and teachers are no different from the rest of academia The Guardian. Retrieved from http://www.theguardian.com/higher-education-network/blog+education/online-learning

Salmon, G. (2002). Moderating: The Key to Teaching and Learning Online. London Routledge.

Turkle, S. (1993). Life on the Screen: Identity in the age of the Internet. New York: Touchstone.

Ward, L., & Shaw, C. (2014). University education : at £9000 per year, parents begin to question its value, The Guardian. Retrieved from http://www.theguardian.com/education/2014/feb/26/university-education-parents-question-value


[1] Engagement in argument offers a level of mutual respect that was not present before the argument took place. (Adamson Taylor1999 Culture Shock)

Lesson Observations and teaching style: counting caterpillar legs or producing butterflies.

Image

Lesson Observations and teaching style: counting caterpillar legs or producing butterflies.

The recent publicity and debate surrounding Ofsted inspections and lesson observations is an interesting one: not least in terms of the function of inspection. The 2012 Inspection Framework does put a great emphasis on teaching and learning; and rightly so. It also structures inspections in such a way that inspectors may have to fit observation of 50 lessons or more into just a two day period during which time inspectors are also expected to explore teachers’ professional development plans.

During the course of the ESRC inspection project : Governing by inspection http://www.education.ox.ac.uk/governing-by-inspection/ the three research teams based in Sweden, Scotland and England, interviewed a considerable number of inspectors and engaged them in discussions about their work: the challenges it brings and their own expectations of the role, whilst investigating inspection as a means by which to govern complex education systems (Ozga, Baxter, Clarke, Grek, & Lawn, 2013). The research revealed a number of challenges inherent within lesson observation as part of the inspection process; not least of these was the communicative challenge of conveying inspection outcomes to schools: in both written and oral form.

In England the changes made by the 2012 inspection regime, on the surface, appear to be something of a return to the HMI (Her Majesty’s Inspectorate) form of inspection, with an emphasis on development and on teaching and learning as core to the inspection process. But we are not living in the period 1945-1984, a period when, as Stuart Maclure pointed out,

‘The Inspectorate was not like the rest of the Ministry. It was not neat and tidy. HMI’s were a disparate group of talented individuals. For much of their time they acted as such, dependent on their own professional initiative and controlling their own time. (Maclure, 2000:105)

But even then, resting on individuals’ professional judgement was far from unproblematic, as John Dunford describes in the case of Madeley Court in Shropshire, in which the criteria for judgement by HMI in school inspection were different from the philosophical basis on which a school was being run (Dunford, 1998:111): a pressing issue for the current inspectorate given the number of free and academy schools within the current system.

The post 1992 inspectorate Ofsted, was deliberately designed to be a very different beast from its predecessor. Founded on the principles of John Major’s Citizen Charter which advocated amongst other things, transparency of practice in the public services; the agency developed a series of criteria inspection frameworks from 1992-2009 which meticulously detailed 29 criteria on which schools were to be judged. This was accompanied by voluminous sets of handbooks designed to be read by both inspectors and school staff, and aimed again at opening up not only the secret garden of education to public scrutiny, but the equally secret garden of inspection. (Maw, 1995). The initial frameworks never appeared to set out to define good and bad teaching styles, but over a twenty year period they began to take on a life of their own. To understand how this came about it helps to understand the way in which Ofsted was and is structured.

When the agency was first developed many of the HMI that had been employed full time, were made redundant. The shortfall in HMI and the far more regulatory nature of the new inspectorate gave rise to an organisation whose day to day operation was run by numerous sub-contractors. In the early days this amounted to well over a hundred tiny agencies that were contracted to perform inspection (Baxter & Clarke, 2013). It is not difficult to imagine how difficult it must have been to attain consistency of practice across such a devolved system. In 2009 the contracts were streamlined and awarded to three main contractors: Serco, Tribal and CFBt. (Ofsted, 2009). To a certain extent this did streamline operations but meanwhile, due to the 2005 Education Act which implemented a multi -agency approach advocated in the Every Child Matters paper,(DFE, 2003), the agency was tasked with integrated inspection which added the inspection of all children’s services 0-18 and, following the inception of the Education and Inspections Act 2006 the inception of a new agency on the 1st April 2007. The new agency brought together: the Adult Learning Inspectorate (ALI); the Commission for Social Care Inspection (CSCI); Her Majesty’s Inspectorate of Court Administration.

The considerably extended remit of the new agency rendered it more powerful than ever; rendering it an  inspectorate of both national and international renown: a study carried out early in 2011 revealed that 45% of the UK population had heard of the agency (Baxter, 2014). But as the agency broadened, so did the vast industry that had developed around it, offering everything from; how teach the Ofsted way, to a full package of consultancy for schools on, for example, how to present your school in such a way as to gain a higher grade at inspection. Added to this, many local authorities and consultancies offering training either post or pre inspection, had developed checklists instructing teachers (and heads) how to get a 1 in teaching observations.

The 2012 Framework not only reduced the amount of judgements but has also brought back the idea of professional judgement, creating a superficially simple framework that in many ways, occludes the super complexity of the job it is tasked with: judging schools that are in many cases autonomous and lack post inspection LEA support in cases in which they are judged to be failing; schools that form part of complex academy chains or federations or schools or schools that have for example recently been taken over by chains with little knowledge of local contexts.

The first key challenge inherent within the observation of teaching and learning is as our study revealed, to be found in the communicative elements of the inspectors’ work. The inspection criteria may well state judgements must not be made on the basis of particular teaching styles, but in a system which relies upon the extensive experience of inspectors, many of whom are in service head teachers, it is highly likely that individuals will base their judgements upon what in their considerable experience tells them is good teaching,this in combination with  information that permits them to gain an impression of how successful that teaching has been over time. This may well be a good basis upon which to proceed, but it is one thing to judge a lesson and yet another to be able to articulate that judgement in a way that whilst not judging teaching styles, does involve making a judgement on the teaching. The communicative element of the work of inspectors has been recognised by those tasked with their training, and is indeed the focus of a great deal of intensive work on the part of both Ofsted and its contracted agencies (see for details Baxter & Hult, 2013), but nevertheless, the communicative challenges inherent within the inspector role remain considerable.

The second key challenge for inspectors is located within the history and culture of the organisation itself : inspectors do not go into schools with a ‘clean slate’ they carry with them the baggage of an organisation that has evolved against the political, historical, economic and social background of the country in which it is placed. The teaching profession has a long memory and although Ofsted may have said Farewell to the Tick box inspector;  the minds of many teachers he lingers on; producing the type of misunderstandings, myths and confusion around inspection that have never really never gone away. These were particularly well summed up some thirty years previously, in the words of Ann Jones, then head of a very successful school in Hounslow, who describes here her experiences of inspection in 1984 under the then HMI:

In the HMI inspection of my school in 1984 by a team of 29 delightful intelligent inspectors, I was constantly caught in a tension between the traditional and the transitional. There was a sense in which they seemed to be counting caterpillar legs, whereas we were trying to produce something quite different, namely, butterflies. Furthermore, they caught us at the chrysalis stage when it was rather difficult to judge what would come out at the other end. We found ourselves backtracking to produce evidence of caterpillar legs. However, in my view, our caterpillar legs were not very convincing because we were in the process of giving them up and moving on to a new way of working. So there was this built in tension between what we were trying to do, what we thought we were expected to have done and what we were doing.

 I expect this is a common dilemma for schools (Jones, 1987:203)

It may be that although teaching styles themselves are not being judged, that during the communication of the basis upon which the inspector judges lessons, it appears that in praising certain elements of the lesson whilst questioning others, that inspectors are almost certain to favour elements that are core to certain teaching styles and not others. Overcoming this communicative element whilst creating a convincing narrative that is shared by teachers and that, in addition, may be considered to be developmental is perhaps where the real challenge lies.

References

Baxter, J. (2014). An independent inspectorate? Addressing the paradoxes of educational inspection in 2013. School Leadership and Management http://www.tandfonline.com/eprint/tY4sKEuNn6NBQAggrGkM/full.

Baxter, J., & Clarke, J. (2013). Farewell to the Tickbox Inspector ?Ofsted and the changing regime of school inspection in England. Oxford Review of Education 39(5), 702-718.

Baxter, J., & Hult, A. (2013). Professional training for professional inspection: contrasting inspector role, professionalism and development in England and Sweden Paper presented at the ECER Conference : Creativity and Innovation in Educational research Istanbul, Turkey.

DFE. (2003). Every child matters  Retrieved 121213, 2013, from https://www.education.gov.uk/consultations/downloadableDocs/EveryChildMatters.pdf

Dunford, J. E. (1998). Her Majesty’s Inspectorate of Schools Since 1944. London: Woburn Press

Jones, A. (1987). Leadership for tomorrow’s Schools Oxford: Blackwell.

Maclure, S. (2000). The Inspectors’ Calling Oxford: Hodder and Stoughton.

Maw, J. (1995). The Handbook for the Inspection of Schools: a critique. Cambridge Journal of Education, 25(1), 75-87.

Ofsted. (2009). Press Release: New inspection contracts signed, Ofsted Retrieved from http://www.ofsted.gov.uk/news/new-inspection-contracts-signed

Ozga, J., Baxter, J., Clarke, J., Grek, S., & Lawn, M. (2013). The Politics of Educational Change: Governance and School Inspection in England and Scotland Swiss Journal of Sociology, 39(2), 37-55.