Why school canteens are more important than you think


9:30 am - December 31st 2011

by Guest    


      Share on Tumblr

contribution by Paul Pennyfeather

My school canteen v Southern Fried Chicken. According to The Guardian, the battlelines are being drawn. Schools are going to get the freedom to offer price promotions and compete with takeaway food outlets.

Though the scale of his success may be disputed, Jamie Oliver’s campaign has ensured that school food is a political issue.

Yet there remains a major gap in this debate: the canteen itself. When students choose to hang around in the playground with a pack of crisps they are rejecting the place as much as they are the food.

Even if, as at my school, students aren’t allowed off the premises, they can bring in crisps to eat in the playground. They know that a couple of hours later they can pick something up from one of the many takeaways they pass en-route to the bus stop. The choice exists and it’s right that schools accept this.

Even those who don’t think it’s a school’s duty to feed its students well should recognise that teachers have to deal with the results of poor diets. When I see some of my students walking to school and having a “Red Bull breakfast”, it’s unsurprising that they don’t start the day in much of a mood for work.

It is no revelation that price increases put students off food. The research cited by the Guardian suggests that a “10% increase in the price of meals triggered to a drop of between 7 and 10% in the number of students eating canteen food”. I’ve seen this in my school.

I’m sure plenty of you have just read this and felt irritated that a time of cuts to key parts of education, I’m talking about nice canteens. Yet this proposal is rooted in grim pragmatism.

The scene is probably familiar to you. Lengthy queues for food. Long tables and benches. Clinical lighting and white walls. As some schools have proven, it doesn’t take much to make this slightly more pleasant.

Introduce a system of staggered queuing. Put something up on the walls. Turn on some music. Have round tables with proper chairs. I saw this in place recently at a school and was impressed by how much more convivial it made the atmosphere.

Lunchtime at many schools is the worst time of the day for behaviour. At my school, it’s the time when fighting and bullying are most prevalent. Such lunchtime chaos is consistently carried into afternoon lessons.

Creating a place where most students want to go and have lunch will help schools to control behaviour. Perhaps some of our frenetic teenagers might even discover the pleasure of sitting down and enjoying a conversation over a meal with their friends.

—-
Paul Pennyfeather blogs at Black Board Diaries

    Share on Tumblr   submit to reddit  


About the author
This is a guest post.
· Other posts by


Story Filed Under: Blog ,Education

Sorry, the comment form is closed at this time.


Reader comments


What’s wrong with the “Red Bull breakfast”? I spiced it up with a brief spot of chain smoking before registration all throughout sixth-form, and came a very comfortable joint fourth in the year. Diet has very little if anything to do with a students attitude towards work; if we are looking for a cause in more achievement the students socio-economic background is the best indicator, though quality of teaching staff, curriculum and reading ability – and material – all are key factors.

I have a better idea. How about we allow privately run concessions to run school canteens, preferably around 3 in each school to keep competition keen:)

3. Chaise Guevara

@ 1 James R

Dunno. The fact that you were smart enough or dedicated enough that diet didn’t noticably affect your grades doesn’t mean that it doesn’t affect other children’s concentration. I have an idea of what it would be like to teach children who are up to their eyeballs in caffeine, and it ain’t pretty (although a little bit of caffeine might be all to the good).

4. Chaise Guevara

@ 2 Nick

Because 3 would be a waste of room? I don’t see a problem with using private companies as long as there are rules in place to stop them cornering the market by offering the fattiest burgers and greasiest pizzas. On the other hand, I’m not sure why you’d expect a private firm to do better here than a school-run firm. Schools have several incentives to get kids into nice canteens with healthy food, as mentioned in the article. Their failure to do so may be purely down to lack of imagination or short-term thinking. Also bear in mind that there’s always competition against any canteen, in the form of the packed lunch.

My junior schools ran their own lunch services, and the result was reasonably healthy food that tasted bland. My secondary school had a private firm doing the honours, and the result was them making most of their money from (admittedly tastier) burgers and the sort of pizza you have to wring the fat out of before eating, while they played lip service to health buy offering nasty-looking salads that hardly anyone bought.

My memories of school dinners are generally positive*, despite the occasional blue peas or bright green cabbage. I think there is great value in giving every child one decent meal a day. This is another area where choice, ie school or the chippy, is a red herring. School meals should be universal.

* Whoever thought of giving 600 boys curried eggs for lunch was probably some kind of mad megalomaniac with ideas of world dominance through noxious emissions.

“if we are looking for a cause in more achievement the students socio-economic background is the best indicator”

Within industrialised countries probably true, since people in poorer classes have lost motivation to strive intellectually. However, diet and socio-economic status and diet and achievement also have very deep links that cannot be dismissed so lightly as you try to.

I notice you say sixth-form for your caffeine and fags breakfast. What about before that age? And what did you eat the rest of the time – I hope your mother showed you more than crisps, chocolate and take-aways – if so you had a much better start in life than many children today.

On a broader point – why should young people in school have facilities any less suitable for them than adults expect and demand?

Some people think good diets are important for a productive school life: “About half of the houses eat breakfast, lunch, and supper in Bekynton, a large central dining complex; the others have their own chefs and their own house dining-rooms. Every house, whether Bekynton or not, provides a mid-morning Chambers snack and also a mid-afternoon boys’ tea, a relatively informal affair where boys make themselves toast and (in some houses) are allowed to cook themselves something a bit more ambitious. This is called ‘messing’. If after all of this boys are still hungry, Rowlands serves snacks of almost every description.” (From Eton College website http://www.etoncollege.com/Boarding.aspx?nid=c1314b44-a103-4b2a-9de8-0359dd3d5958)

No mention of Red Bull breakfasts for those born to rule over us 😉

I hated school meals when I was at school. And just because you don’t have one doesn’t mean you have to have a packet of crisps and a kitkat for lunch. I had cucumber sandwiches.

@ 1 James R

I’m impressed that it didn’t hold you back! Yet asking most teenagers to concentrate when they are either hungry or overcharged on caffeine just doesn’t work.

@ 2 Nick @ 4 Chaise Guevara

I haven’t had enough experience of different private caterers to make a judgment on this. I have, however, been concerned over the price rises that have taken place since my school got a new private firm in.

@ 6 birdie

Very interesting point.

It’s all part of a wider debate about the school environment. Some of the new-build schools have premises that a big company would be proud of and it sends out a powerful message to the students that education matters. Obviously the money isn’t there atm for dramatic rebuilds but it’s still possible to make improvements with minimal spending.

10. Carol Venables

My Daughter gets free school meals. Instead of standing in a queue for hot dinners, she goes to the “snack bar”, her free allowance entitles her to a SMALL sandwich and a bottle of “pop”. She says she chooses this option because there’s less waiting time, she wants a bottle of pop, not weak squash, and so she can eat it where she wants.

She’s ALWAYS “starving” when she gets home from school, yet she refuses point blank, to queue, then sit and eat a hot meal. When she eats dinner at home, it’s gone so quick, I’m surprised she doesn’t choke, or have constant digestion problems. Eating food (other than, sweeties, biscuits, chocolate, crisps etc) is a chore to her, the quicker it’s over, the happier she is.

My Son also has free meals, he eats all his hot meal, and he is very good with rating at home, as long as it’s not veg! The selection he is offered is crap, I wouldn’t pay for it if we didn’t have free meals.

Back when I was at school, in first year of secondary school, when we were not allowed off the premises for lunch, I used to beg and plead my parents to buy me “hot dinners” as they were called back then! heheh.

When I was allowed off the premises, I went to my Nan’s for lunch. 🙂 she used to give my crappy cheese sarnies to the birds, (CHEESE, EVERY SINGLE FLIPPING DAY, FOR FIVE FLIPPING YEARS!) and feed me good, honest & yummy grub lol!

Later on I would go into town with friends, and have cheese and chip butties. 🙂 nom nom nom lol 🙂

I used to lurrrvvve the school Christmas Dinner, with 5p pieces in the Christmas pudding, and mint flavoured custard! heheh

The standards have dropped considerably in my opinion.

When I was at school, we’d beg for “hot dinners”, now my kids beg for sarnies!

PP @9 : “it sends out a powerful message to the students that education matters.”

That’s good. As well as also, hopefully, and equally important, that good food matters too. Mens sana in corpore sano.

Cherub @7 Well exactly.

The UK’s historical attitude to education is that it must be regimented and even punitive. Enjoy food? Enjoy lunchtime? Students – no matter how old should be silent, tightly regulated and uniformed. As for feeding students who might not see proper, nutritious food at home – it should be an absolute priority.

13. David Compression

Schools have no interest in providing a good diet for children – only a cheap one. Many canteens are now outsourced, or whatever the word is, and you get what they give you. As a teacher I did enquire as to whether my school would look into directly sourcing vegetables etc from local farmers and genuinely attempt provide a healthy diet for children. How naive I was. They appoint a healthy schools co-ordinator – usually someone with little interest but with a desire to earn a little more money but who knows not to actually try and do anything that might change things – and things carry on as before, except in my case I reckon the food actually became more unhealthy as we lost out popular salad bar and gained some horrible pre-packed pisspoor plated salads with much less nutritional value. Heads don’t give a shit – they’re just climbing the greasy pole and only care about Ofsted, initiatives that look good on their CV and getting results up in any way possible (see Academies and changing the syllabus etc).

And by the way, parents seem to give even less of a shit than Heads do about what their children eat.

14. Chaise Guevara

@ 12 Penny

“The UK’s historical attitude to education is that it must be regimented and even punitive. Enjoy food? Enjoy lunchtime? Students – no matter how old should be silent, tightly regulated and uniformed.”

While I share your unease about regimented approaches to education, I don’t think anyone operates from a principle of “kids shouldn’t enjoy lunch”. The problem is that school food tends to be made on a shoe-string budget because either the school or the company providing the lunches is trying to save costs. Unless done very cleverly, this can seriously damage attempts to make food nutritious and enjoyable.

Then, of course, you’ve got the issue that people just like different things. You can put as much care as you like into making Wednesday’s chilli delicious and nutritious, but the kids who hate chilli will resent having to eat it. And there’s no right answer there – veg that I would call overcooked would be called undercooked by others. It doesn’t help that kids (as a group, with exceptions) tend to be fussy and unsophisticated eaters, and will certainly tend to pick flavour over health.

As for feeding students who might not see proper, nutritious food at home – it should be an absolute priority.”

Agreed, that’s one of the best things about school dinners, assuming they’re done well.

15. Chaise Guevara

@ 13 David

You’re probably right for the most part. Couple of things:

“As a teacher I did enquire as to whether my school would look into directly sourcing vegetables etc from local farmers”

That’s not health, really, that’s your personal principles about food sourcing. I likewise think that chicken should be free-range, but I could understand why a school would use battery if it were cheaper. Ditto locavorism.

“And by the way, parents seem to give even less of a shit than Heads do about what their children eat.”

I’d call that selective observation. My parents put a lot of thought into my diet, yet I had friends whose parents seemed strict by comparison (only allowed sweets on Saturday etc.). And it’s a running gag among parents that everyone has a friend who takes a paranoid level of care over their children’s diet. I suspect you either work in a bad area, or the complacent parents stand out precisely because they piss you off.

16. Chaise Guevara

“Perhaps some of our frenetic teenagers might even discover the pleasure of sitting down and enjoying a conversation over a meal with their friends. ”

This is a minor quibble of mine, Paul, and I don’t think you really meant anything by it, but I feel you’re doing teenagers a disservice here. I spend most most of my youth having conversations with friends in some form or another, and I was a reasonably outdoorsy sort of kid. I doubt many teenagers would be new to the idea that it’s nice to sit down for a bite to eat and a chat.

@12. Penny: “The UK’s historical attitude to education is that it must be regimented and even punitive. Enjoy food? Enjoy lunchtime? Students – no matter how old should be silent, tightly regulated and uniformed. As for feeding students who might not see proper, nutritious food at home – it should be an absolute priority.”

I am unclear about what Penny means. The last sentence was irony?

I’ll take the first few paragraphs literally. It might be true that in past years we had generations of defined teen student: under 16 at secondary school (almost all), 16 to 18 years (many) and post 18 years (minority). However those generational leaps, steps when students were expected to change themselves, no longer exist.

Education is a bi-valve sausage machine: on this side, you get the 50% who might get on in higher education; on the other side, you get the rest. It is an 11 to 18 years old process. The side on which you reside is determined, possibly, before you are 16 years old. Allegedly, education is for all, but the sausage machine is no more fair than the eleven plus.

Good food at home is preferable but a healthy breakfast or lunch at school is an alternative.

18. Paul Newman

A lovely admission that teachers are unable to control their classes which is all too obvious form the dreadful results that have been achieved at secondary levels despite fortunes wasted on shiny new buildings and fantastic salaries and perks.
I rather agree that organised lunch would be a good thing but it is hard to take from teachers who have ditched discipline for a load of superannuated fads at every opportunity and avoid tough school like the plague, Look at the staff turnover in any failing school.
Answer- Yes ok we can pay with it by increasing pension contributions which are going to have to go up anyway; but until teachers demonstrate that they are prepared to endure some of the privations the rest of us they can talk amongst themselves in the Guardian letters page.

“A lovely admission that teachers are unable to control their classes which is all too obvious form the dreadful results that have been achieved at secondary levels despite fortunes wasted on shiny new buildings and fantastic salaries and perks.”

Some teachers are more equal than others, it seems. How come teachers in a belt of northern schools from Liverpool through to Hull achieve so much worse GCSE results in their classes? “A child in these places is much less likely to finish in the top 10 pc of top-educated pupils than the national average . . ”

Try this from the FT of 28 December: Failure of northern schools revealed
http://www.ft.com/cms/s/0/be75435a-2d6e-11e1-b985-00144feabdc0.html#axzz1iDHMyXmU

Correlations between poverty and attainment in the GCSE exams are weak. Blaming it all on the teachers is at odds with a curious finding of the FT research that British Chinese children eligible for free school meals get better GCSE results than British Indian children on free schools who do better than white British children who do better than British Pakistani children etc. On the evidence, home cultural factors are significant.

@16 Chaise Guevara

You make a fair point. I guess I was trying to suggest that some of our students live lives that don’t really allow them the space and time to have such conversations. But you’re right, many already value such interaction.

@18 Paul Newman

Intrigued by where you found this “lovely admission that teachers are unable to control their classes”. All schools confront behavioural problems; the blog post casts no aspersions on the ability of teachers to deal with these.

“Tough school” – meaning what?

“Superannuated fads” – any specific examples?

@19 Bob B

The factors contributing to educational attainment are obviously multiple.

A lot of recent work (esp. studies looking at successful education systems in Finland and Singapore) has highlighted the importance of teacher quality. This
report, “How the world’s best-performing school systems come out on top”, is quite persuasive.

http://www.mckinsey.com/locations/UK_Ireland/~/media/Reports/UKI/Education_report.ashx

21. Chaise Guevara

@ 20 Paul

Is cool – I’m aware you were pointing to positive effects of your proposal.

BTW, I think Paul Newman is in doomsayer mode, at least in this thread. Y’know, accentuate the negative, pretend that bad examples of something are representative of the overall field, and then act like you’re really wise for noticing that the world isn’t all rainbows and unicorns. People like this just get a kick out of how “cynical” they are – note that he doesn’t suggest a solution to his perceived problems – and in my experience it’s pointless to debate them.

Paul Pennyfeather: “A lot of recent work (esp. studies looking at successful education systems in Finland and Singapore) has highlighted the importance of teacher quality. This report, ‘How the world’s best-performing school systems come out on top”, is quite persuasive.'”

Are you sure it really is as simple as that? How come “good” teachers evidently congregate in particular Local Education Authorities (LEAs) and “bad” teachers in a belt across England stretching from Liverpool to Hull? How do we account for the better attainment in the GCSE exams of British Chinese children eligible for free school meals over British Indian children, over British white children etc?

Btw I happen to live in a London borough which has regularly come top or nearly top of the LEA league table for England for the last decade, based on average results in the GCSE exams or so, even though it did not feature among the 100 most affluent constituencies in England identified by Barclays Capital in 2006. Within walking distance of where I sit are two maintained selective boys schools which regarlarly achieve better average A-level results than Eton. What should we conclude from that? That the local schools have better teachers than at Eton? C’mon.

@ 22 Bob B

I’m very aware of the statistics pointing to the varying performances of different groups – that’s why I was careful to start my reply by stressing that there are multiple factors at work here!

I am definitely not saying that it is all about teacher quality but I’m similarly unwilling to concede that it’s all about background.

From an education policy point of view, this teacher quality research is fascinating. I agree with you that cultural influences matter but we obviously can’t build policy around homogenising the backgrounds of our students! We can, however, improve the quality of teaching.

@22 Bob B

I’m very aware of the statistics which show varying performance between different groups – that’s why I started my reply by saying that there are multiple factors at work here!

I’m not trying to say that teacher quality is everything but I’m similarly unwilling to concede that background is the only relevant issue.

From an education policy point of view, the teacher quality research is fascinating. I agree with you that culture matters but we obviously aren’t going to build policy around homogenising the backgrounds of our students! We can, however, seek to improve the quality of teachers.

@22 Bob B

I’m very aware of the statistics which show varying performance between different groups – that’s why I started my reply by saying that there are multiple factors at work here!

I’m not trying to say that teacher quality is everything but I’m similarly unwilling to concede that background is the only relevant issue.

From an education policy point of view, the teacher quality research is fascinating. I agree with you that culture matters but we obviously aren’t build policy around homogenising the backgrounds of our students! We can, however, seek to improve the quality of teachers.

@Paul Pennyfeather: “From an education policy point of view, the teacher quality research is fascinating. I agree with you that culture matters but we obviously aren’t build policy around homogenising the backgrounds of our students! We can, however, seek to improve the quality of teachers.”

That’s rather obvious isn’t it, a bit like saying virtue is better than sin? Of course, “good” teachers are better than “bad” teachers, by definition. And how do we identify “good” teachers? Because their classes get better GCSE results? Lo and behold, the classes of “good” teachers achieve better GCSE results. QED

We still need to explain why “bad” teachers evidently congregate in that belt of northern LEAs.

The influence of neighbourhood cultures is a potent factor in the persistent lamentable attainment rates in that belt of northern education authorities and some other places, that and councils which have long since recognised this effective formula:

bad schooling => poor local employment prospects => greater local tendency to vote Labour => entrenched Labour control of local council

It’s nigh on impossible IME to change neighbourhood cultures which is why I favour selection in schools so that bright kids aren’t held back by the negative influence of neighbourhood peer groups. We also need to recognise why 11-16 comprehensives – the most frequent form of comprehensive secondary schools – are so damaging because early school leavers so often predominate in the senior classes in those schools in poorer areas. Recall the scale of the problem – the number of NEETs – not in education, employment or training – is running at 1 million.

At a glance, there’s a strong relationship between that FT map of low achieving education authorities and this map of high local youth unemployment rates:
http://www.guardian.co.uk/news/datablog/interactive/2011/nov/16/youth-unemployment-map

With the shift towards increasingly skill intensive service employment and the stagnation of low skill jobs, LEAs need to wake up and recognise why good local schooling standards matter. Localities with poor skill endowments will find it increasingly tough to attract new inward investment.

It seems to me a bit unfair that schools have had so many problems stemming from a wider social source dumped upon them, and then are codemned as failures. Less political meddling, less of the idea that they are simply training grounds for economic automata and a bit more about the needs of children and the necessary resources to satisfy them might be a start. Being properly fed should be a no brainer and we should be ashamed it has to be mentioned.

I linked to Eton College as a comparison earlier. It’s an extreme example, but why should state schools be so poor in camparison? It’s a choice we have made as a society, and as usual we should ask who benefits.

If employers want people to be able to carry out specialist tasks they need to train them or contribute over and above the normal taxes and rates for such training.

Education is about helping to bring children into an adulthood where they can live good lives and contribute positively to their communities. We have often behaved as though we have lost sight of this simple fact by being over prescriptive, inflexibly biased towards qualifications and increasingly overloading the curriculum.

@ Bob B

On Quality of teachers

The research has focused on teachers’ own results at university and the rigour of the training that they go through. Teachers in the world’s most successful education systems are expected to demonstrate a higher degree of academic proficiency than is the case here. These systems benefit from being more demanding.

On this “belt of Northern LEAs”

Just to make clear, I was definitely not suggesting that there is a congregation of bad teachers in this area!! To repeat my point from before, the factors behind educational underachievement are multiple and complex. It’s not as simple as saying it’s just the quality of teachers or that it’s just the students’ backgrounds.

On Selection

Slightly weary to get onto a subject which deserves a substantial debate in itself. While I respect your view, I would just note that it’s also important to remember that there remain real issues with separating the “bright” and the “weak” at an early age.

26
I would suggest that it is poor employment prospects which create apathy, also the myth that ‘if you work hard you will succeed’ particularly when ‘the succeed’ means making a boat load of money. Many kids might be under-educated but they are not stupid.
Another variable that’s often forgotton when discussing youth unemployment is the very low-paid jobs on offer, the only ones able to afford to take them are people who can claim family tax-credits, that’s not usually 16-24 year old males.
We are on to the old chestnut which you refer to as ‘selection’ a substitute for ‘grammar’. Do you really believe that it will change anything when the demographics of schools who are not performing well tend to be in poor areas where unemployment is high?

@ Paul Pennyfeather: “Teachers in the world’s most successful education systems are expected to demonstrate a higher degree of academic proficiency than is the case here. These systems benefit from being more demanding.”

Teachers for the surviving selective Lycée schools in France need to have passed the (post-graduate) agrégation exam, a hugely demanding competitive academic test.

While I do believe that the French on average attain a (noticeably) superior general standard of education with their baccalaureate as a school leaving exam – which is taken by “just about all students in their final year of secondary school” – British universities have a disproportionately large showing in recent rankings in world university league tables so it’s far from clear that graduates of British universities are somehow not up to scratch.

What is worrying IMO is not academic standards at (most) universities in Britain but the relatively low average attainment in the GCSE exams for 16 year-olds in England and Wales:

“Just one in six pupils in England has achieved the new English Baccalaureate introduced by the government, England’s league tables show.

“The new measure is of how many pupils in a secondary school achieve good GCSE grades in what the government says is a vital core of subjects.”
http://www.bbc.co.uk/news/education-12163929

It’s just not credible to blame all that on “poor teachers”. This from George Orwell writing in 1936 gives a more illuminating insight into culture pressures, especially as to why girls have overtaken boys in the school leaving exams and now comprise a majority of undergraduates – sadly, it wasn’t like that in my day as a student when only 4.5 pc of my age group went into higher education.

“The time was when I used to lament over quite imaginary pictures of lads of fourteen dragged protesting from their lessons and set to work at dismal jobs. It seemed to me dreadful that the doom of a ‘job’ should descend upon anyone at fourteen. Of course I know now that there is not one working-class boy in a thousand who does not pine for the day when he will leave school. He wants to be doing real work, not wasting his time on ridiculous rubbish like history and geography. To the working class, the notion of staying at school till you are nearly grown-up seems merely contemptible and unmanly.” [The Road to Wigan Pier, chp. 7]

That view of tertiary education still prevails in many northern places – conspicuous prowess at football is rated much higher than mere academic aptitude.

On selection: “there remain real issues with separating the ‘bright’ and the ‘weak’ at an early age”

It wasn’t that long ago when Blair was saying it’s possible to identify criminal tendencies at an early age. Top notch local selective schools near where I live take in sixth formers from other local school who have, presumably, done well in their GCSE exams.

Having said that, I’ve encountered a few university professors who virtually boasted that they had failed the 11+ exams and the recently retired professor of physics at Nottingham University, Sir Peter Mansfield FRS, who was awarded a Nobel laureate in 2003, failed his 11+ and left school at 15 to become an apprentice book binder. He took night classes in A-levels and gained university entry that way, a route that is probably much harder to take in Britain nowadays for those who don’t make the grade at school.

31. Paul Newman

Has it occurred to you Bob that the poor results at LEAs ( which are not universal and cannot be blamed on the “parents” ) are caused by the National Pay Scale and difficulty of getting rid of poor teachers.(18 since the war from memory)
This struck me visiting my aged pa in Bridport. He is a school governor and, meeting a few of the teachers I realised they lived almost like a Metropolitan Raj earning multiples of the local average and with less than no interest in moving to Hackney on the same money.
Spending on Education and Training went up from £38 billion 97-98 to £73bn by2007/8 which is around 68% ( adjusted). £40 billion was pencilled for new Buildings on 2007. Teachers salaries increased way over average and have continued to do so. Recently the OECD concluded that discounting for grade inflation we had made precisely no progress at secondary level whatsoever for all this wasted money .
In a nut -shell that is why teachers have no authority to say anything about anything , although Primary Education has improved a great deal.

I wonder would a Free school be able to make its own choice about organised lunches. I feel that Parents, like myself (3 of them) would support such an idea if it was not simply another objection to every attempt to reform the system that has failed us all so badly.

@31 Paul Newman: “Has it occurred to you Bob that the poor results at LEAs ( which are not universal and cannot be blamed on the “parents” ) are caused by the National Pay Scale and difficulty of getting rid of poor teachers.(18 since the war from memory)”

The problem with your thesis is that it cannot account for the cluster of outstanding maintained (= non-fee paying) selective schools in the London borough where I happen to live and which regularly features at or near the top of the schools league table for England based on the average attainment of all candidates in local schools for the GCSE exams. On the evidence, the local selective schools help by example to raise the average attainment in local non-selective schools. Nor does your thesis account for that belt of LEAs across the north of England, stretching from Liverpool to Hull, which regularly achieve poor results in the GCSE exams.

As I’ve no vested interest in defending the New Labour heritage, I’m quite willing to believe that the taxpayers’ money heaped into schooling by the last government did not produce a proportionate improvement in outcomes and I’m also sceptical about that programme for rebuilding secondary schools, which, I suspect, had more to do with benefits for jobs in the construction industry than for schooling.

I’m also of the view that politically partisan analysis of what’s wrong with schooling standards doesn’t help much.

Neighbourhood cultures can exert an immensely depressing effect on the social values attributed to academic attainment. The thinking goes, why strive to do well at school to endure the miserable life of a graduate school teacher when you can earn a £1 million a year plus all the perks as a professional footballer? And if not footballing, then how about escaping to the entertainment industry, the route taken by Harry Worth, Brian Glover, Michael Parkinson, Brian Blessed etc.

All very well to blame poor schooling attaniment on the teachers – without giving a thought to how demoralised they become by so many of their charges who manifest no interest whatsoever in academic attainment and who are very likely to bully anyone in their peer group who does.

I suspect the Free Schools will become de facto selective and that could perhaps help to raise average local schooling standards by example in some neighbourhoods. OTOH some Free Schools may turn out to be just a costly experiment and too fragile to have an impact.

33. Chaise Guevara

@ Bob B

“The thinking goes, why strive to do well at school to endure the miserable life of a graduate school teacher when you can earn a £1 million a year plus all the perks as a professional footballer?”

I’d be interested in seeing a proper analysis of the effect unrealistically high goals have on education, especially regarding whether or not it’s risen in line with things such as reality TV, which tends to send the unrealistic message that anyone can become famous and successful. I personally suspect that it’s quite damaging, but I’m also aware that this may be due to personal bias on my part – and you’re right to caution against politically motivated analysis.

The potential problem, obviously, is when a particular unlikely dream demands skills (if any) that aren’t very useful if said dream is not accomplished. Dreams of being a footballer encourage athleticism, which is great but only useful for a limited range of jobs. The celebrity industry encourages looking attractive and, ahem, “just being yourself”, which again are not very transferable skills. And an unhealthy focus on such things might prevent students from seeing the point in learning more mundane and useful talents.

34. Leon Wolfeson

@Paul – Ah yes, those generous salaries where the private sector would pay 8-^ more. But you want further cuts, ensuring that teachers are the dregs. Then you’ll whine more. Never mind that replacing WW2-era school buildings is necessary.

While YOUR kids go to a private school.

Hurt the poor, you scream, as usual. Ever and anon.

@30 – British Universities are a joke, the quality of degrees is plummeting. Why? Failing people paying massive amounts of cash is near-impossible. Failing people paying £9k a year, as long as they hand in SOMETHING, will be absolutely impossible.

“Free” Schools are a way of letting some of their private school buddies get state funding, and are a preparation for charging for most secondary education.

Chaise: “I’d be interested in seeing a proper analysis of the effect unrealistically high goals have on education, especially regarding whether or not it’s risen in line with things such as reality TV, which tends to send the unrealistic message that anyone can become famous and successful.”

I don’t know of any study covering that although the Sutton Trust is often a promising source of research into schooling and education standards if you want to dig. What we do have is the comparative international results from the OECD Programme for International Student Assessment (PISA). These tests are conducted every so many years, the latest available being from tests in 2009. This quote is from the report in the Telegraph:

Teenagers slumped in worldwide rankings comparing standards of reading, mathematics and science in 65 developed nations.

Figures published by the respected Organisation for Economic Co-operation and Development showed the UK fell from 17th to 25th for reading and from 24th to 28th for maths.

In science, pupils dropped from 14th when results were last published in 2007 to 16th this year.
http://www.telegraph.co.uk/education/educationnews/8185919/UK-schools-fall-behind-Estonia-and-Slovenia-says-OECD.html

Whatever else, the UK is sinking down the PISA league table.

@34 Leon: “British Universities are a joke, the quality of degrees is plummeting.”

By this latest world league table of universities, American universities dominate but 9 of the 50 top-ranked universities are in the UK:
http://www.topuniversities.com/university-rankings/world-university-rankings/2011

But by this league table of average starting salaries for graduates in Europe, graduates are not highly rated in Britain:
http://www.economist.com/blogs/dailychart/2011/06/graduate-salary-expectations

According to this league table from 2010 and several other sources, the highest average graduate salaries go to medics, dentists, chemical engineers, economists, vets and general engineers:
http://www.independent.co.uk/news/education/higher/table-what-do-graduates-earn-1675502.html

Pure science graduates are further down the pecking order and come lower than social work and land and property management. But I’m naturally reassured that the relative worth of economists is properly recognised by the market.

37. Chaise Guevara

@ 35 Bob B

That could be due to any number of factors. I hesitate to blame it on celeb culture, partly because I’m wary of my own bias, and partly because celeb culture is far from a uniquely British phenomenon.

What might be useful would be to survey teenagers about their life goals, specifically whether or not their “main plan” was to become a celebrity, control for other variables, and then check back on those same teenagers ten years later to find out how well they were doing in life.

I strongly suspect that low-end, unskilled jobs are filled with disappointed people who, at school, assumed that they’d become the next X Factor star. But I ain’t got the data to prove it.

38. Leon Wolfeson

@35 – Teaching to the test. It teaches rote learning, but without the kind of focused attack on creativity practised in some Asian countries, its not that effective. Of course, teaching kids to think would reason better, but hey, got exams to deal with.

Leon – I did respond to your comment about British universities with links to resources but it appears to have been censored out for undisclosed reasons.

@ Bob B

On quality of teachers

I wasn’t suggesting that graduates of British universities aren’t “up to scratch”, just wanted to note that some countries make it more demanding for teachers to qualify and they seem to benefit from this.

@ Bob B and @ Chaise Guevara

On students’ aspirations

Celebrity culture is certainly pervasive but my overwhelming experience is that the majority of teenagers are pretty realistic – they aren’t waiting to be snapped up by Man U or the X factor. The greater issue seems to be that a lot of schools aren’t great at offering careers advice. This does leave a lot of teenagers slightly naive about the job market they will be facing when they leave school. There’s potential for a lot of improvement in this area.

41. Leon Wolfeson

@40 – Bear in mind that teacher training is for sub-University level.

Universities have NO formal requirements for teaching. Whatsoever.

(In practice, course requirements mean either 10+ years experience, 3+ years experience and a Bsc or a Msc or above, but technically…)

I’ve never been sufficiently unfortunate to teach in schools but I do know that it’s nonsense to claim that parents aren’t to blame for schools struggling to improve education standards against the odds. Try this news report from last year:

As many as one-in-10 head teachers has been physically assaulted by a pupil’s parent or carer, a survey by the NAHT school leaders’ union suggests.

Incidents reported by the 1,362 heads surveyed in England, Wales and Northern Ireland included being punched, spat on, kicked, head butted, bitten and sexually assaulted.
http://health-safety.net/news/One-in-ten-head-teachers-has-been-physically-attacked

By accounts, Facebook has opened up a new frontier for posting attacks on teachers.

Before the family moved moved after I changed jobs in the mid 1980s, my ex used to teach French in one of those difficult schools in that northern belt – even so, she managed to get a girl into Cambridge. One day, two cassette tape recorders used for helping the kids to develop French speaking skills went missing from the classroom store cupboard. Fortunately, someone spotted them displayed in the window of the pawn shop down the road.

On the compelling evidence, teachers are being made scapegoats for depressing neighbourhood cultures which are entirely hostile to education. As Orwell put it, too many boys regard schooling as “contemptible and unmanly” and can’t wait to be free.

From a family camping holiday in France about 30 years ago, I recall dropping into to village convenience stores en route to buy eatables for lunch. Amazingly, the stores typically had small selections of books on display, including good, classical literature. You don’t find that in equivalent stores in Britain.

@ DC., 13 “…. parents seem to give even less of a shit than Heads do about what their children eat.”

And @BobB, I agree, it has to be parents that take responsibility for their children’s attitudes, not just try and pass the blame onto teachers as they so often do. My mum encouraged me in reading before I ever went to school, but now you have kids turning up at schools whose parents have barely socialised their children, nor even imparted basic things like how to use a toilet. Hardly surprising that these poor children then fail to learn anything and disrupt everybody else.

Do you remember the 2006 story about mums insisting their kids had a right to eat chips rather than horrible ‘healthy school dinners’? That was a cracker!

“Four of them are using a supermarket trolley to make daily runs with fish and chips, pies, burgers, sandwiches and fizzy drinks from local takeaways.”

http://www.telegraph.co.uk/news/uknews/1528992/Mrs-Chips-takes-orders-for-the-school-dinners-run.html

You can take a horse to water, but you cannot make it drink.

birdie: “I agree, it has to be parents that take responsibility for their children’s attitudes, not just try and pass the blame onto teachers as they so often do.”

From the years when I worked up north, I recall a maverick “left-wing” councillor there saying that local schools should be teaching the kids to speak standard English instead of dialect, which could seriously disadvantage them when it came to applying for jobs after leaving school.

That very sensible suggestion attracted loads of abusive comments as well as the predictable, precious stuff about preserving the local heritage. The local dialect is near on impenetrable for outsiders until they get atuned to it: amazingly the second person singular – as in thou, thee, thy/thine – almost uniquely survives in the local vernacular despite its extinction elsewhere in other English-speaking places in Britain.

This news item also relates but with the place name suppressed: “Teachers in Xxxxxxxx may be interested to hear parents in the area have been criticised by police for drinking outside school gates while dropping off and collecting their children. . .”

Claims that failing education standards in schools are all the fault of teachers are just plain nonsense even on recognising that there are obviously some teachers who are bad at teaching and should find other jobs.

Birdie – I’ve tried several times to respond at some length to your post but for mysterious reasons it doesn’t appear.

Hi Bob, what is it with LibCon? Attentions of good coders needed perhaps?

“… standard English instead of dialect …” why not as well as? If it’s good enough for the Germans – where great pride in local traditions including language goes hand-in-hand with Hochdeutsch. Multilingualism is the norm for most people in the world, why do the English, like blockheads, take a pride in being sub-normal?

http://als.wikipedia.org/wiki/Hochdeutsch

This news item also relates but with the place name suppressed: “Teachers in Xxxxxxxx may be interested to hear parents in the area have been criticised by police for drinking outside school gates while dropping off and collecting their children. . .”

Just FYI, it took me a second to find out the place name. If you want to keep the name a secret you should reword the sentence.

birdie: “‘… standard English instead of dialect …’ why not as well as?”
That’s an interesting question with more dimensions to it than are perhaps immediately apparent.

The dialect mentioned still prevails over a relatively small area so there’s a challenging anthropological question about how it has managed to survive and maintain distinctive departures in syntax and vocabulary from standard English. And it needs to be recognised that dialects can create barriers against attracting inward investment into areas with persisting high levels of employment – consider call centres.

Richard Hoggart was famously a leading defence witness in the trial in 1960 of Penguin Books for publishing DH Lawrance’s Lady Chatterley’s Lover and he went on to head UNESCO. In 1957, he had published a book: Uses of Literacy, which caused a stir at the time.

One of its themes was a lament that differences in regional traditions and dialects were bound to be eroded by the increasingly intense homogenising pressures of mass media, especially TV and a London-based press.

In fact, regional differences have been surprisingly resilient IMO but note the continuing commentary in current affairs about the increasing north-south divide – a byproduct of the dependence of Britain’s economy on financial services. Some regional centres like Edinburgh, Birmingham and Leeds have gone out of their way to get in on that but impenetrable local dialects – and low schooling standards – are formidable barriers to diversifying local economies. Incoming employers want to know how easy will it be to recruit the skills they need.

49. Charlieman

@48. Bob B: “And it needs to be recognised that dialects can create barriers against attracting inward investment into areas with persisting high levels of employment – consider call centres.”

Some of the most distinctive UK accents are found in port towns. It is likely that the regional accent or dialect contributed to the success of those towns — the folks of Sunderland found it easy to communicate with Scandinavians, citizens of Norfolk worked with Dutch and North Germans etc.

50. Leon Wolfeson

@43 – Right, when the water has been polluted by a vile tasting chemical. There’s a reason that means which do very well in taste-testing get eaten by basically none of the kids when introduced – poor storage and preparation.

That’s the bit which is always overlooked.

@46 – A good DBA actually…

@Charlieman: “the folks of Sunderland found it easy to communicate with Scandinavians, citizens of Norfolk worked with Dutch and North Germans etc.”

Historic ethnic links could be more enduring sources of attraction than current dialects – such as the settlement of the Angles in the case of East Anglia and Viking settlements in the case of Sunderland. Mind you, I can’t believe that the Georgie accent is what especially attracted Nissan to settle in Sunderland.

When Nissan and, subsequently, Toyota (at Derby) and Honda (at Swindon) set up plants in Britain and started to recruit, they were inundated with applications for the vacancies from all over. That and greenfield sites go someway towards accounting for the high levels of productivity achieved by the Japanese companies.

At the school I last taught at, pupils were only allowed to eat in the canteen. If the lunch was bought it in the canteen or a packed lunch that’s where they had to eat it..
However lunchtime was treated as a problem, so it was kept as short as possible, the canteen wasn’t really a nice place to spend time with friends. As long as schools see lunchtime as a negative, it will hard to make canteens pleasant places which encourage healthy eating.


Reactions: Twitter, blogs
  1. Liberal Conspiracy

    Why school canteens are more important than you think http://t.co/c40BV3vS

  2. leftlinks

    Liberal Conspiracy – Why school canteens are more important than you think http://t.co/kWt0E3y9

  3. Julia

    Why school canteens are more important than you think http://t.co/c40BV3vS

  4. Patron Press - #P2

    #UK : Why school canteens are more important than you think http://t.co/I5IKQk5M

  5. Myles Winstone

    If school canteens have to compete with MacDonald's, Burger King, et al, why not make them look more like them? http://t.co/K7hAQ5WT

  6. Alex Snowdon

    Why school canteens are more important than you think | Liberal Conspiracy http://t.co/YwHy3PzZ <<< this is spot on

  7. Gareth Hughes

    Why school canteens are more important than you think http://t.co/Kz9Jsx2X

  8. IpswichCAB

    My school canteen v Southern Fried Chicken ~ http://t.co/yCLrgHIU





Sorry, the comment form is closed at this time.