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The Conversation – with Sarah Gallagher

As the country gears up to 4 July, social media has gone into overdrive, not least with the twitterati . All the digging in, taking black and white viewpoints and not refusing to see any grey in between is increasingly quite scary.

It’s in this context that I discovered this very on-point podcast featuring former army officer, Neil Jurd discussing leadership. Jurd reminds us of the dangerous territory we are in if we need to get involved and ‘hard manage’ our staff. Trust people, he says, and more to the point, you can be friends with those you lead.

I chuckled when I heard that one. How many times do we hear “but you might have to tell them off one day which will be a problem if you’re friends”.  Here lies the problem, according to Jurd. We’re grown-ups leading grown ups. Infantilising our staff doesn’t help to put children front and centre and to create for them an ‘unfair advantage’.

There’s lots to make you think here, about school leadership and about the election too.

There’s a lot of political crowing about how pupil premium helps to achieve that ‘unfair advantage’ and taxing private school fees won’t. However, Melissa Lynch’s exposition of her research in this podcast tells a depressing tale that should make us all angry.

Incidentally, we are about to take part in a netball tournament at a local private school whose facilities alone make it very clear we are not playing on a level court. (Though the courts themselves are, of course, perfectly level.)

But that is the tip of the iceberg. Lynch’s research involved speaking to 15-year-olds from lower socioeconomic backgrounds. What she found is that money in the form of grants and loans might buy them entry into university, but in no way does it guarantee they’ll stay, or stay well, or succeed.

In fact, as a widening participation policy it doesn’t begin to bridge the gap in cultural capital: language, accent, clothing, experiences and much more. All contribute to unequal access and accessibility for the degrees that lead to – almost automatically, it seems – to positions of power.

When every one of the students Lynch spoke to said they didn’t feel good enough to qualify for a place, it’s clear the price tag of that unfair advantage is much higher than a maintenance grant.

And that financial leg up itself comes with its own price tag – one which many can’t actually work out. I’m talking about interest on student loans, of course.

In the primary sector, we’re now enjoying a few weeks of respite from our focus on SATS. Elsewhere, GCSEs, A Levels and resits will be dominating everyone’s thoughts. I wonder how many parents there will echo the sentiment of one I spoke to during SATs week, questioning the value of all this abstract learning when what young people need to know is how to budget and manage their finances.

Given the current economic climate and the uncertainties of the future, I have a lot of sympathy with the this argument.

In the meantime, this blog from Harriet Young is a great resource to start preparing them (and educating yourself) about the intricacies of student loans and their repayment.

We haven’t yet heard any promises to forgive student loans as part of this election campaign, but in the US, where President Biden has written off billions of student debt at the stroke of a pen, they are also having very similar discussions about the maths curriculum.

In this blog, Sarah Riggs Johnson and Nate Wolkenhaue don’t talk about “anti-maths attitudes” as our current prime minister likes to do, but they do approach improving maths confidence and anxiety in their own world of high-stakes testing.

Having just watched 6- and 7-year-olds completing tests and, of course, 10- and 11-year-olds last half term, their points really resonated with me.

With some handy tips on turning around the test-induced cycle of maths disengagement, it’s a source of good inspiration for post-exam recovery.

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