The Meandering Social Worker

wandering : wondering : learning

Archive for the tag “resources”

Counter-productive reform in helping disadvantaged young people get good jobs

A “major reform” in education, one that will specifically “help hundreds of thousands of young people get good jobs” has been announced in a government press release on Monday 2 September.

The “major reform” is that all children who leave school without a grade C in Maths or English must continue to study these subjects “in post-16 education until they get these qualifications”.

“The reform was proposed in 2011 by Professor Alison Wolf in her ground-breaking review of vocational education and backed by Education Secretary Michael Gove.”

And there are some very sound reasons behind the reform, in particular the press release outlines that:

  • many employers are not satisfied with the literacy and numeracy levels of young people leaving education, despite considering these skills essential in the workplace, and
  • many young people do not continue to study once they have left full-time compulsory education or go on to improve their literacy and numeracy skills.

I didn’t need to go to the Guardian online to know that many teachers will be sitting, like me, with their heads in their hands groaning in woe at this latest madcap idea.  None of us disagree with the importance of literacy and numeracy skills, but collectively a number of concerns are being raised:

  • Funding is of course an issue.  As this is still only a press release little information is available as to how the reforms will be funded, although there is reference to colleges being able to offer “other qualifications – including functional skills and free-standing mathematics qualifications accredited by Ofqual – as a stepping stone to GCSE study” and this being “a condition of funding for colleges from 2014”.  And, “a new 16 to 19 funding formula ending the link between funding and qualification success rates”, as well as “reformed performance tables”.
  • Apart from the acknowledgement of ‘stepping stone’ qualifications little has been said about children with special educational needs or those for whom English is a second language.  As one teacher comments, for some children with additional needs, a grade D or E is a major achievement?
  • The third key concern coming from comments by teachers is around availability of additional teaching staff in the midst of a crisis in teacher training as well as the strains the additional workloads will produce and the climate of changing relationships between schools and local authorities.

But I have some other questions and concerns about this “major reform”.

  • My greatest concern is the impact this reform will have on vocational education.  As one of the Guardian comments points out, literacy and numeracy skills are an essential part of much of vocational post-16 learning, which inevitably includes a number of students with additional learning needs.  If these colleges have then to focus on students passing one particular exam it will undoubtedly be at the expense of them studying a wider range of skill sets.  THIS WILL BE HIGHLY COUNTERPRODUCTIVE.  Especially for students with additional learning needs.
  • No reference is made to life-long learning.  Even without having taken part in formal post-16 learning most people continue to learn new things as they get older and come against new experiences.  Skills that remain unpractised fade away.  I remember little of some subjects I supposedly have an ‘O’ Level in while in others my knowledge has continued to grow over the years due to exposure to reading, television and sources internet as sources of information.  We know that if we learn a foreign language but don’t practice it we soon forget it – sure, it comes back again but not as quickly as in ‘riding a bike’.  The emphasis on passing an exam and not in encouraging a real appreciation of using the skills learned is not necessarily going to have the desired result of producing young people ‘fit for work’.

My other concerns are a little more pedantic.

  • When does it end?  The phrase in the press release which says young people leaving school without a Grade C in Maths or English will continue to study “until they get these qualifications” has been ill thought-out.  What if they never get the qualification?  Is there an upper age limit?  Will adults still have to go to college when they are in their 20’s, 30’s, 40’s, until they get the required Grade C in these subjects.  The press report’s references to funding only refer to the 16-19 age range.
  • No acknowledgement is being made of the fact that Grade C was always meant to be an ‘average’ grade.  For Grade C to be the benchmark for average there has to be As, Bs, Ds and Es.  Call me old-fashioned if you like.
  • But most of all I hate the lie that is in the title of the press release: “Major reform will help hundreds of thousands of young people get good jobs”.  It won’t.  Cramming for an exam, being pushed through the mill to write the correct (or correct enough) answers to questions on a piece of paper in an exam room, probably at the expense of learning other skills, is not the route to young people getting good jobs.  Literacy and numeracy are vitally important, but when these skills don’t come naturally there are other (better) ways of learning them, as pointed out by the vocational teachers in the Guardian comments.

Instead of wasting time with reforms to put right what’s missing as young people are leaving school, research time should be spent on how literacy and numeracy skills can be better learned in the eleven years between 5 and 16.  What are the pressures that encourage or deter developing these skills in those years?  What are the existing policies that make it either harder or easier for teachers in promoting these skills?  And then let the vocational teachers do what they do best – develop literacy and numeracy skills alongside vocational skills.

Why should I be interested in educational reforms as a social worker?  Well, education IS relevant to social work.  It’s relevant to the people, the families, we work with.  It affects families with children especially, but the long term consequences of good or bad education policy affect every age group.

The World is Ruled by Fear

Dictatorship or democracy – who has the power?

Who and what keeps the people ‘under control’.

In the 1960’s and 1970’s the West was fearful of Russia and communism.  After the Berlin Wall fell and the old Soviet Union broke up these fears lost their power.

In the 80’s and 90’s public fears changed from communism to global warming and the end of the world’s resources – coal, water, gas.  We may yet run out of these resources but they are taking longer to come about than was suggested at the time and these fears have lost their power.

Although the promotion of the fear of global warming has continued the new millennium has seen it give way in the fear stakes to the “War on Terror” – fear of attacks on the West and the US from Muslim forces in particular, opening the doors to the proliferation of CCTV and oppressive security measures such as the recently exposed news of the US government’s official internet snooping of the world’s population.

What next?

It doesn’t matter.  Keep the people in fear of something and you keep them distracted from what the rulers and politicians are up to.

Whatever our personal opinions, whatever our politics, we need to be aware of what influences us and be prepared to take an independent viewpoint if we are to protect the vulnerable and weak in society.

Talking Heads

BBC news have reported on the work in a laboratory in Cambridge on the development of a talking head – this one taken from an image and the voice of Zoe Lister and called … Zoe …!

The ‘head’ will ‘say’ whatever you type in using a keyboard and in whatever tone of voice you set it to – happy, angry, sad, fearful, etc, and the news report focuses on the use of the head in communicating with each using existing technologies to move away from the use of keyboard and mouse to speech interaction.  Talking Avatars will be everywhere!

Which has resulted in mostly negative and critical comments online.  But what about another use – working with abused children in diagnostic and therapeutic ways?  And in teaching social skills such as how to recognise emotions; young children recognise a very narrow band of emotions in the human face and voice, even up to and into the early to mid teenage years.  Adults expect more of teenagers

There’s still some development work to be done, particularly on the accompanying facial expressions, but check out the report and comments using this linke: http://www.bbc.co.uk/news/technology-21827924#FBM214031

Green Social Work

Green Social Work: From Environmental Crises to Environmentl Justice, is the title of a 2012 book by renowed social work academic Lena Dominelli.  Polity. ISBN 97-0-7456-5401-0. Paperback: £15.99 (www.politybooks.com)

How could social work be ‘green’ I wondered as I approached this book.

Starting with the historical foundations of social work up to identifying it as the weakest (and progressively weakening) player on the professional stage, Green Social Work is a rallying cry for the re-politicisation of social work.

Dominelli uses examples from the impact on the poor and disadvantaged caused by international ecological disasters, and the role played by big business and the ruling elite in both the cause and response to those disasters, and the disenfranchising of the world’s poor, thus linking social work practice and values to ecological values and a possible solution to the profession’s “crisis of confidence”.

In doing so she demands the practitioner think beyond the micro level of day to day practice with individuals in their immediate circumstances to the role and responsibility of social work to make a difference at the macro level and reclaim the strengths of the profession.

Practical case studies, particularly from community social work, along with suggestions as to how social workers could be involved in environmentally related politics, illustrate how, with a little application, these concepts can be incorporated into everyday practice.

What is not clear is what impact societal and government expectations, employment criteria and current funding of community social work in particular will have on the ability of the profession to apply the green social work values.

As an academic work the book is not always light reading, but is of especial relevance at a strategic level and to those with an interest in the ‘bigger picture’.

The profession is in crisis and this is one voice among a growing number that wants to see social work rekindle its early political roots.  I look forward to following up more of this theme in future.

Light pollution kills

I happened to see a film the other night, all about light pollution.

Light Pollution over Las Vegas – seen from 100 miles away, with our car in the foreground

We were staying at a campsite in San Pedro de Atacama and the film was being shown in the open air in the town square as part of a local campaign to reduce light pollution.  Hardly surprising as the Atacama Desert in northern Chile is one of those parts of the world where it is still possible to see the stars at night.As the film began by demonstrating how in much of the world it is no longer possible to see the stars or even the plants of our solar system in the night sky, I was reminded us having left Las Vegas a year previously, driving maybe 100 miles, and looking back to see the lights of Vegas glowing in an orange dome in the distance.  That scene was such a contrast to the nights we have been enthralled to see the stars in the night sky in places far from the city lights.

As I watched the film I reflected on my childhood in England in the 1960’s, when the street lights in our home town would go out at 11.00 pm. Then in the 1980’s that became 2.00 am. Now they stay on all night, often in the guise of ‘security’. As children and young adults we could see the stars in the night sky. Today’s city and town dwelling children hardly know that the stars are there.  They have no experience of the wonder of seeing the night sky.

But it’s not just aesthetics, the price of progress: the film went on to describe some more of the effects of a growing obsession with light.

It is believed that migrating birds use the stars to navigate and light pollution in the worst affected areas is affecting their ability to migrate. In some cities, particularly in the US, it is known that birds often crash into the tall buildings, falling injured to the ground, with broken wings and broken beaks. There is a whole army of bird rescuers who go out and pick up and look after as many fallen birds as they can find.

Young turtles have evolved to hatch at night and head towards the brightest horizon as soon as they hatch. As the sea reflects the moon and starlight this means they can head straight to the safety of the sea. However in some places, where electric light pollution is creeping in, the young turtles are often found heading in the wrong direction, towards the wrong light.

On a human level, recent research has indicated a link in the progression of some cancers in humans, particularly breast and prostrate cancers. Melatonin in the body apparently suppresses the growth of cancerous tumours but melatonin levels only rise during periods of darkness. Sleeping in a lit room, whether lit internally or by bright street lights, reduces the body’s production of melatonin. Shift workers, who work by electric light at night and sleep during sunlight hours much of the time are particularly at risk.

In many places street lighting is chosen for its appearance rather than its practicality. Light globes appear attractive to the modern eye but 60% of the light goes upward into the sky rather than down to where it’s of more use. The cost of that is twofold: increased light pollution and waste of resources by using more energy than is necessary.

As the industrial revolution developed through the 1800s and 1900s, a sign of the wealth of a town was seen in the number of chimney stacks belching smoke into the atmosphere. Today we no longer aspire to have those chimney stacks, seeing them instead as polluters of the world’s environment. Today how brightly we light our cities is seen as a sign of progress and wealth.

In how many years, the film asked, will light pollution be seen as another type of polluter, one that is affecting the health of humans, plants and wildlife alike?

We ask, should we be worried by this; should we try and have some influence on this problem, not just for the aesthetics but for the health of the planet and the people and wildlife that live on it?

Check out this website for links to further information about light pollution.

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