And then I saw the advert and stopped laughing.
The main premise of the advert is that there is such a thing as “inequality in education”. It quotes figures about inequality in society and then uses those figures to make their point about education. Apparently poor people stay poor. Who knew?
But worry not fellow eduBloggers and eduTweeters because Teach First has a cunning plan. It intends to resolve inequality in education. The plan doesn’t address the issues in society that cause inequality. No, that would be too easy. This is a proper cunning plan. So, you ask yourselves conspiratorially, what is the master plan?
Well I can tell you. The “cunning plan” involves training graduates who have no experience of teaching, and mostly want to do something else, and let them teach in a poor school. After a couple of years they leave the poor kids to work in marine biology. Fifty per cent or more depending on who you believe leave leave the poor kids to work in marine biology.
Aha you say, is that it? Where’s the cunning in the cunning plan? And after you’ve said that, marine Biology, why always marine biology…..?
But no that’s not it. The good bit is that after becoming a big success in marine biology they go back to the poor kids and teach them science. I know I know it’s the most cunningest plan ever planned. It’s like Baldrick on some super new neuro drug capable of maxing out cognitive cunningness.
mooo ha ha ha ha and after that; the world!
Meanwhile in the real world it seems an unlikely resolution to the problems of inequality. In fact the cunning plan is more plan than cunning. The most shocking aspect of the advert is its honesty. It basically suggests that good teachers don’t want to work with poor children and as a consequence poor children don’t achieve in life. If it’s true, policy makers need to find a solution. The claim being made that graduates of a certain class, and personal ambition, are the solution to the issue even if their real ambition lies elsewhere is pretty ludicrous. Actually it’s quite ridiculous.
The sentiment is very neo-Thatcherite. In the Teach First world there is no society and what matters is the knowledge, ambition and personal attributes of individuals. It’s a discourse that underpins the pedagogy of neo-traditionalist educators. If only poor people knew the stuff that we know they could be just like us. Being just like us is the key because in a world with no power relations the only difference is cultural, them and us.
Basil Bernstein once said that education cannot compensate for society but it can reproduce the cultural inequalities that exist in society. Bourdieu writing about cultural capital suggested that understanding the transmission of inequalities helps us to recognize the cultural characteristics of individuals and groups that are significant indicators of status and class position.
Think of cultural capital as being like a masonic handshake. Knowing how to shake the hand of a mason would gain you entry to their world not knowing how to do it would exclude you. Knowledge of masonic hand shakes don’t imbue you with intelligence. Knowing it is not the point; the point is that you are not supposed to know it. You are not supposed to be just like “us”.
Bernstein’s famous work on the reduced language coding of the working classes attempted to show that as a consequence of reduced language coding the working classes were excluded from the power relations of the ruling classes. It doesn’t pass comment on the relative value of working class discourse or indeed that of their supposed “social betters”.
I suppose, if nothing else, Teach First does give the powerful yet another excuse for not addressing the real social issues that cause inequality: zero hours contracts, low pay, an ever increasing pay gap between management and workers, the reduced influence of trade unions, disappearing collective bargaining, the dismantlement of state education, the deifying of the individual at the expense of society. I could go on, no doubt others could add a few more to the list. In the brave new neo-liberal world social enterprises solve problems, only no one has yet quite figured out how they do that.
The most annoying thing about that Teach First advert is not the insidious assumptions about poor people, or that new graduates can teach challenging classes better than more experienced colleagues, or even the implication that somehow the problems of society are caused by teachers and can therefore be solved by them.
No the real problem with the advert is the feeling that it trivialises teachers and teaching.