So Hull, the city where I live, is back at the bottom of the UK’s GCSE league tables, Education Director Peter Fletcher is arranging for the headteachers of the city’s 15 secondary schools to appear before the leaders of the City Council and the Hull Daily Mail is once again devoting acres of space to what it terms a “devastating blow” and hinting darkly at retribution.
After four consecutive years of being the worst-performing local education authority in the country, Hull climbed up one place in 2001 to leave Knowsley in Merseyside languishing at the bottom. This year Knowsley “leapfrogged” (according to the Mail) over Hull, to put the city back at the bottom.
The furore, though, masks an important point. Hull schools and their Year 11 students actually improved over 2001′s performance. Only by 1.1% – but an improvement nonetheless!
Knowsley simply improved more than Hull and thus managed to lift itself off the bottom. This, however, should not take away from the fact that Hull did improve.
An undoubted contribution to this improvement has been the performance of Kingswood High School. Located on the sprawling and troubled Bransholme Estate, two years ago Kingswood was Britain’s single worst-performing school. Now the school is out of OFSTED Special Measures and this year improved its GCSE results significantly. Headteacher Kevin Beaton went out on something of a limb, trying radical new ideas such as Howard Gardner’s Theory of Multiple Intelligences (1983) to make teaching more effective and learning more fun. That, combined with a vigorous anti-truancy policy, has paid off – and Kevin is to be congratulated.
The league tables, of course, do have their detractors.
In Spiral Dynamics terms, they were born out of ORANGE’s desire to measure progress: but BLUE thinking uses them to identify and punish the ‘failures’. (Just read the comments in the Mail about accountability and failure to meet targets!)
So doing well in the exams, meeting the targets and scoring well on the tables easily become ends in themselves. I’ve met several primary school teachers in the past couple of years who have complained that Year 6 is not about educating children but simply about getting good results in the Key Stage 2 Standard Assessment Tests (SATs).
As a part-time supply teacher, I’ve had Year 9s complaining to me about the pressures other teachers put them under to do well in the Key Stage 3 SATs.
And it’s less than a couple of months ago since the national media were carrying stories about children facing too many exams, illustrated by stories of students walking out of GCSE, AS and A-level exams because they were simply overloaded!
In the overall scheme of things, then, if some of the value of the league tables is in doubt, does it really matter if Hull is bottom of the league?
Well, to quote David Burnby, from last year’s ‘Of Cogs & Spirals…’ guest blog, “People will not feel positive about their city when they live in sub-standard housing, when they feel unsafe in their own homes, when they are constantly reminded about how their children are failing in school and when traditional jobs and livelihoods have vanished.”
As they work out what to do next, Peter Fletcher and Hull City Council leader Simone Butterworth have the luxury of being new to their respective jobs, with the blame for the mess passing implicity (or otherwise!) to their predecessors. The long-running Labour administration which preceded the present Liberal Democrat-led coalition at Hull’s Guildhall, has been effectively disgraced by the Audit Commission while Fletcher’s predecessor, Joan Taylor, was hounded out of office 15 months ago via a campaign led by the Hull Daily Mail.
Butterworth and Fletcher are new…so they are expected to try something new. But what will that ‘something new’ be?
If they follow the usual Flatland thinking favoured by most politicians and local government officers – ‘Flatland’ is a derisory term coined by Ken Wilber (1995) to describe one-dimensional viewpoints – then Hull will get more of the one-size-fits-all piecemeal solutions which only partly work.
A great emphasis – rightly! – has been placed on reducing truancy rates in Hull, and that has resulted on schools like Kingswood doing better. However, Malet Lambert School had good attendance rates but still saw a drop in grades achieved. Clearly the problems are multi-dimensional.
What is needed is a systemic approach which can take into account all needs in all dimensions – which is what the MeshWORK approach of applying the Spiral Dynamics ‘map’ offers.
A MeshWORK analysis of what is going wrong in many classrooms in Hull – and, for that matter, in Bridlington, Withernsea, Grimsby, Scunthorpe and other parts of Humberside – is given in the schematic, A Downward Spiral…, in the Learning section of this site. (Interestingly enough, when Malet Lambert Deputy Head John Cornelius attended one of my Spiral Dynamics & Related Models of NLP workshop programmes recently, he said he recognised much of what this schematic showed as applying to his school.)
‘A Downward Spiral…’ shows that the problems in schools are to do with far more than simply what is going on in the schools themselves – critical though that is.
Richard Dunn, the Headteacher at Hemsworth High School (Pontefract) at the time of HemsMESH (the first Spiral Dynamics-based Education project in the UK), said in 2000, after several years of improving against GCSE targets: “It is unlikely that we can improve academic standards without engaging the broader community.”
From his 24 August Hull Daily Mail interview, it appears that Peter Fletcher clearly recognises some of the cultural barriers he is facing:-
“We need a culture where the whole community is helping learning.
“It is a long, long process that will not be completed in my working life.
“In some cases you are working against perhaps three generations of unemployment.
“It is hard to make people see education is important if they don’t believe they will get a job anyway.
“Schools have to reach out into the community. A lot of the work going into adult learning will play a role too.
“Hull has very low skills levels among many adults, with high levels of illiteracy.
“But if we can get those people doing courses and qualifications, it raises aspirations and shows them the value of education, which they will pass onto their children.”
With these statements, Mr Fletcher is close to the heart of the problem.
Using the Neurological Levels model, we can see that, if adults or youngsters don’t place Value in Education, then they are not going to Behave appropriately in relation to the Environment of schools or other ‘places of learning’.
Put simply, this is the root cause of truancy and bad behaviour in classrooms.
We need the Spiral Dynamics map to understand why some people don’t place Value in Education – or, to be more specific, Education as delivered by the ‘education system’ – because those adults with “very low skills levels” and the truanting kids who don’t get their GCSE passes are still learning. They just learn different thigns than the ‘education system’ wants them to!
How to get people to place Value in the kind of learning the ‘education system’ delivers is the problem Peter Fletcher faces and appears to understand. Whether that kind of Education is relevant to the Environment/Life Conditions of those people, as they perceive them, is a moot point. The fact that those people reject (or, at best, ignore!) the ‘education system’ but do learn how to survive and even prosper on the tough streets of Orchard Park or Bransholme suggests that they don’t think it is.
It is a basic principle of the work of Abraham Maslow that people cannot move onto higher ‘Levels of Existence’ until problems at the current level are resolved.
So, in Spiral Dynamics terms, if a youngster’s issues, for example, are concerned with a broken home (PURPLE level) and making his/her mark amongst the street gangs of an estate (purple/RED levels), then the BLUE/orange structure of the ‘education system’ is unlikely to have much immediate relevance.
What is needed is a MeshWORK approach, working not just in the schools but throughout the client communities, which addresses the needs of all levels in all ways – and can align the Neurological Levels of Identity and Values with that of the Environment to produce appropriate Behaviour.
The schematic, Potential Spiral Strategies – based partly on a Spiral modelling of how Paul Edwards turned around Knottingley High School (Pontefract) in the mid-90s – offers some ideas on how a school-based MeshWORK might be developed. It must be stressed, however, that the strategies for a MeshWORK must be developed uniquely in response to a Spiral analysis such as that which 4Q/8L offers and not from some pre-determined templates.
If Hull Local Education Authority really doesn’t want to waste more years playing leapfrog with Knowsley at the bottom of the league, then it needs to develop whole system MeshWORKS.