‘Unequal Opportunities’: insightful and informative or "unsophisticated, biased"?

21 Sep

In Unequal Opportunities John Humphrys "investigates what can be done to close the widening gap between the educational achievements of advantaged and disadvantaged pupils in England for his BBC TV documentary"

The programme was interesting, and informative for non-specialists, although it didn't come to any startling conclusions. If you are poor you are at a disadvantage. Children whose parents can afford to send them to independent schools can benefit from that advantage. What was particularly valuable was its highlighting of how inspirational heads and teachers can make a difference.

Voice has said many times on this blog and elsewhere that changing the way schools are organised and governed is not a guarantee of success or better education. The key to the success of a school is the quality of the leadership, along with investment, good discipline, and a positive ethos and relationship with local communities.

The schools featured in the programme demonstrated that it doesn't matter if a school is an academy or a free school or a comprehensive it is the head teacher, the staff and the resources at their disposal that make the difference.

It was also clear that the only way to create a totally level playing field between state schools with classes of around 30 students and the private schools with their small, university-style tutorials would be a "commitment of resources and political will on a scale we have never seen before" and that's not likely to happen, especially in this "Age of Austerity".

"Why should a single child be denied the chance of achieving his or her potential?" but is society prepared to foot the bill?

What did you think of the documentary? Did it raise serious issues, was it informative for the general public, or did it ask the wrong question "What’s wrong with our schools?" instead of "What's wrong with our society?" Could it have made more of the schools that took disadvantaged children out of the school environment and gave them inspiring life-changing experiences and used this evidence to ask why successive governments and Ofsted browbeat schools into teaching to tests and meeting targets rather than encouraging them to undertake more of this inspirational and experiential work?

Do you agree or disagree with Phil Beadle, who described the programme as "Mr Humphrys’ unsophisticated, biased, under nuanced, lying documentary on the attainment gap. [middle class] telly propagating m/c lies"?

What do you think of the BBC’s School Season in general?

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One Response to “‘Unequal Opportunities’: insightful and informative or "unsophisticated, biased"?”

  1. Phil Beadle 22. Sep, 2010 at 7:47 pm #

    The programme was merely another example of the media, and the BBC is particularly bad at this, repeating various ill informed truisms about state education, as if they were fact.

    The supposedly 'failing' school, John Paul II in Wandsworth, is one I know well, as I work there. The behaviour there is the best I have encountered in my career, and I can testify, as I have taught some of these pupils, that many leave the school with a string of A and A star grades. The reason the rolls have fallen is not because of the standard of education currently provided at the school, but because there has for many years been a planned merger with another Wandsworth school and parents are reticent to send their children to a school that will be closing. Last year 50% of the school's pupils achieved 5 or more A star to C grades. This, as a picture of failure, is ridiculously inaccurate.

    To compare this with the supposedly antithetical paragon of Wellington College is imbecility. Whilst I am sure the parents who pay in the region of twenty five thousand pounds a year are happy with their purchase, to say that Wellington has, as the voice over claimed, "The best teachers," is not backed up by any evidence. I have had the good fortune to be invited to the College on a couple of occasions, observing lessons and even teaching some of their students. My professional opinion is that my colleagues as John Paul II are markedly more skilled as professionals than the teachers at Wellington.

    This programme purported to be an in depth analysis of the reasons behind the attainment gap. Its analysis was deeply unsophisticated to the point of being immature, and it served merely to confirm the ill informed opinions that many parents have about the nature of the learning that goes on in many state schools. This programme shed no light, challenged no prejudice; it merely regurgitated unanimated cliché.

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