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Whatever happened to Extended Schools? A question at the heart of education

Blog Editor, IOE Digital20 October 2016

Peter Moss.

The question in the headline is the title of a new book published by UCL IOE Press. It’s written by Doug Martin and based on research in four North of England schools and communities. But the question is also one that should be asked today, for it raises an issue at the very heart of education. What is the identity of the school? What is it for?
Education in England since the 1988 Education Reform Act has been dominated by four themes: governance, choice, regulation and performance. Local authority control has been replaced by self-government and, with the rise of academies and free schools, a direct contractual role for central government; parents have been given, at least on paper, increased say over which school their children attend; a national curriculum and national inspection agency have been introduced and endlessly wrangled over; while examinations have proliferated, with endless picking over schools’ performance. What has emerged is a particular idea of schools: as exam factories, judged on grade productivity; and as businesses competing in an education market place for the custom of parent-consumers.
But something happened for a few years at the start of the century that complicated this (more…)

Is a preschool PISA what we want for our young children?

Blog Editor, IOE Digital8 August 2016

Peter Moss
Since its first outing in 2000, the Programme for International Student Assessment, widely known as PISA, has become highly influential in the education world with its three-yearly assessment of 15-year-olds in a growing number of countries around the world. Now the Organisation for Economic Co-operation and Development (OECD), PISA’s midwife and parent, plans a new offspring, the International Early Learning Study (IELS). An international assessment of early learning outcomes among 5-year-olds, IELS is intended “to help countries improve the performance of their systems, to provide better outcomes for citizens and better value for money…[by showing] which systems are performing best, in what domains and for which groups of students…[and providing] insights on how such performance has been achieved”. (more…)

A profession of uncertainty: the Reggio Emilia image of the ‘rich’ teacher

Blog Editor, IOE Digital20 April 2016

Peter Moss
In last month’s blog, I introduced a new book about Loris Malaguzzi, one of the 20th century’s great educationalists, whose legacy is the world-famous municipal schools of Reggio Emilia in Northern Italy. One of Malaguzzi’s great achievements was to build this system of council-run schools for children from birth to 6 years with the active participation of a collaborative network of stakeholders: children, parents, citizens, city politicians and officials – and teachers. A teacher himself, by education and in his early career, Malaguzzi not only understood teaching but devoted much thought and effort to creating a team of valued, competent and supported teachers for Reggio’s municipal schools.
His starting point was the meaning of education and the image of the teacher. Education, he was clear, was holistic, education-in-its-broadest-sense: not only teaching, but ‘assistance with the psychological growth and maturity of every human being, to allow their personality to expand in as rich and as individually and socially normal a way as possible.’ And just as his political choice was for the image of the rich child, so that called for an accompanying image of the ‘rich’ teacher, for such children demand ‘rich intelligence in others, rich curiosity in others, a very high and advanced capacity for fantasy, imagination, learning and culture’.
‘Rich’ teachers had to be open to, indeed welcome, the unexpected and uncertainty. Ours, (more…)

The hundred languages of childhood know no age bounds

Blog Editor, IOE Digital23 March 2016

Peter Moss.
Loris Malaguzzi (1920-94) was one of the great educationalists of the 20th century. He was a thinker, but also a doer, a council employee who played a leading role in the evolution of a network of municipal schools in the Italian city of Reggio Emilia, 70 kilometres west of Bologna. Today, the schools and Malaguzzi are  an inspiration to those who resist the spread of neoliberal and neoconservative education policies.
Most educationalists won’t have heard of Reggio Emilia or Malaguzzi. This is in part because both are Italian, and most of his work is in Italian. A newly published book – ‘Loris Malaguzzi and the Schools of Reggio Emilia’ – edited by myself and colleagues in Reggio Emilia, aims to rectify this, with English translations of a selection of his writings and speeches, starting in 1945 (when, as he wrote ‘everything seemed possible’). But there’s another reason. Malaguzzi and Reggio Emilia are world famous for early childhood education, a field largely untrodden by the rest of education. Yet Malaguzzi was convinced that he was engaged in a project of educational renewal, which knew no age bounds.
What lessons does Malaguzzi have for all education? He insists that education is, first and (more…)

Our youngest children deserve better than a fragmented patchwork of services

Blog Editor, IOE Digital5 February 2014

Peter Moss

Hardly a month goes by without yet another report – from government, charities or think tanks – about the need to fix England’s early childhood services. Split between ‘childcare’ and ‘early education’, with a fragmented and incoherent patchwork of services, and combining high cost to parents with a poorly paid and poorly qualified workforce: we find ourselves in a hole, and don’t seem to know what to do. The hole, though, has been there a long time, and we’ve had opportunities to get out.
Back in the early 1970s, in the midst of a half century of post-war government neglect of early childhood services, some reformers saw the way forward. Appalled at the fragmented, incoherent and unresponsive state of these services, Jack Tizard, IOE Professor and founder of the Thomas Coram Research Unit, argued for the creation of “multi-purpose children’s centres offering part and full-time care with medical and other services, to a very local catchment area”. These services would be both responsive and free – since “for a society which provides free education, including free higher education, and free child health services, a free pre-school service is a logical corollary”.
But he did more than argue for change: he acted. Two demonstration Children’s Centres were established, in Camden and Westminster, to examine the feasibility and possibilities of this type of provision. Others followed suit.
Governments of the day, though, showed no interest; and when Children’s Centres did finally gain a place in early childhood policy under New Labour, it was a case of too little, too late. Instead of being the basis for a comprehensive system of multi-purpose services readily available to all, they were tacked on to a ramshackle system that had grown more fragmented, incoherent and unresponsive since the 1970s, adding yet another type of provision to the existing confusion of day nurseries, playgroups, nursery schools and nursery and reception classes – all jostling for customers in a chaotic marketplace.
Now, under austerity, those Centres that were established are being eroded by cuts and undermined by an increasing emphasis on provision for the most disadvantaged children. The original dream of a universal, inclusive and responsive service has not been realised, the opportunity lost.
Other countries were more far-sighted. Sweden in the 1960s and 1970s took the opportunity to recast its split services, to build what is today a fully integrated system of early childhood education and care. This offers an entitlement for all children from 12 months to 6 years, with a well qualified workforce, made affordable by a combination of free attendance and capped fees. All this is based on the ‘preschool’, a centre providing for all children in its local community, where (in the words of the Swedish Preschool Curriculum) “care, socialisation and learning form a coherent whole” and democracy is affirmed as a fundamental value.
England has had its opportunities to get its act together, not just in the 1970s but also in 1997 when New Labour came to power pledged to make early years a priority. But instead of getting out of the hole, instead of taking time to consider what we wanted and needed, we kept digging, taking the seemingly easy route of more of the same.
Are we destined for an endless round of overblown government rhetoric (‘More great childcare’!), parental complaints and peripheral changes? Are we unable to learn from places that really do have ‘world class’ services? Perhaps the answer is ‘yes’ – but it’s still worth one final attempt at producing a proper Early Childhood Strategy, with a ten-year goal of a fully integrated system, a well qualified professional workforce and Children’s Centres offering a responsive and inclusive service to all our children.