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Friday Insights (23rd August)

Caitlin Ross, 23/08/19

The internet’s been a buzz with GCSE results over the past couple of days – and first and foremost, we want to congratulate all students who took their GCSEs. No matter what the results are, just getting through them is a massive accomplishment, and our test results do not define us. We’ll look at what the education sector is saying about GCSEs, plus we’ll hear from our friends at Catch22 about the importance of lived experience in social enterprise.

GCSE results day

You may have already heard the main headlines about yesterday’s GCSE results: pass rates for those doing GCSE retakes are downthough overall pass rates are up despite the new GCSE’s being tougher. What caught our eye this week was a debate being held by two teachers over the question: do good teachers get bad GCSE results? Our mission statement over the years has been to help young people thrive in life, not just in exams, so naturally we had to give this a read.
Interestingly, the teachers on both sides didn’t have positive things to say about the ‘high stakes accountability’ that the GCSE system helps to bring about – even if their opinions differ on the extent to which teachers should be judged on their results.
Zoe Enser, Director of Learning at Seahaven Academy, calls into question the reliability of GCSE results and the definition of the word ‘good’ in this context:

“Firstly, there is the double use of the word ‘good’. As someone who deals with language, I am very much aware of the subjective nature of the term and, as a teacher of 19 years, I am highly attuned to the way in which it is variously deployed by Ofsted, school leadership teams and other measures, describing a myriad of different things. 

Secondly, I worry about how narrow education could become when only focusing on a final number. If ‘good’ teachers can’t have ‘poor’ results, we risk missing out on the nuances of what it means to be an effective teacher and damaging an already fragile workforce, especially in schools where difficult and shifting cohorts are a feature. 

So I believe that a teacher can be good, despite not clutching a brace of exceptional results.”

Taking a different stance is her husband, Mark Enser, Head of Geography at Heathfield Community College, who says we need to be wary of completely disconnecting the impact a teacher can have on their pupil’s outcomes in an exam:

“My concern is that the damaging nature of high-stakes accountability has led us to be scared of taking any responsibility for the outcomes of our classes and this then means we are unwilling to learn potential lessons from them. 

Of course, one year’s exam results tell us very little about how we are doing; there are too many variables year on year. 

But what if we take a look at a pattern over time? If our classes always underperform in relation to others in the school or department, then surely we should look at what we or they are doing differently? We should at least be open to the idea that this data is telling us something and investigating whether or not it does. It is the nature of high-stakes accountability that gets in the way of this process, not the results themselves.”

Making sure we have the right assessment practices in place to help us understand if we are setting our young people up to thrive in life through our education and learning systems is crucial, and so is learning as much as we can from the system we have in place currently. We look forward to following the opinions and analysis of the sector as people digest what the results mean for them, for young people, and for the future of education and learning in the UK.

Lived experience in social enterprise

The Pioneers Post shared a great article written by Sunil Suri from our friends Catch 22, about the importance of supporting social entrepreneurs with lived or learnt experience in the issues that they are trying to solve, and how to support (or not support) them. On why supporting these entrepreneurs is important, Sunil shared three reflections:

1. “Social entrepreneurs with lived and learnt experience can be compelling role models for their communities, where there are often few”

2. “Direct experience of the problems can also mean a better understanding of what is needed.”

3. “Supporting new voices with different life experiences to come to the fore can also help to mitigate against the risk of social enterprises and charities working within their own echo chambers – which can result in potentially transformative ideas left off the table (a theme which Anand Giridharas explored is his polemic Winners Take All)”

If you were following the #CharitySoWhite conversation on Twitter this week, you’ll have a sense of what not supporting these entrepreneurs means for the extent to which our sector reflects those that we are trying to serve: “White males, for example, comprise over 60% of charity board trustees, while research by the Diversity Forum reveals that almost one in five social investment board directors studied at either Oxford or Cambridge university”, Sunil wrote. “The same research draws attention to concerns about unconscious class bias in decisions to invest: investors are more likely to back organisations whose proposals have the hallmarks of a university education”.

Supporting these entrepreneurs of course requires actively interrogating our own practices and assumptions: what are the unspoken social codes that we abide by that might be unintentionally discriminatory? How can we be inclusive of different experiences and backgrounds without being tokenistic? As Sunil puts it, “Lived and learnt experience may sound like the latest buzzword – and in some senses, it is. But at a moment when people don’t feel represented by their institutions, the social enterprise sector is well-placed to offer a practical example of how to put power back in their hands – and at the same time, answer the call for new startup ideas”.

We’re always looking to learn how to be the best partner and supporter to the pioneers that are best suited to solve systemic problems, including those with lived and learnt experience. We look forward to working and learning from our own project partners and others in the sector like Catch 22 as we support Big Changers past and present.