Dickinson College Humanities Program in Norwich

Coming to a Close

February 27th, 2010 · 1 Comment

This blog will detail my final two sessions at Bishopbridge House, which are the culmination of my internship.  On February eighth, I went out with two CAPS team members (Simon and Tracey) through the streets of Norwich at night (from 9:30 to midnight) after spending a bit of time at the shelter making beans and toast for the residents.  The CAPS members often follow some sort of route because they know generally where a rough sleeper might seek shelter, but they also receive tips from the City Council if they become aware of a particular case.  They also check on people over long periods of time who do not wish to stay at the hostel for whatever reason.

One woman in particular has been sleeping rough in the same location for many months, but simply doesn’t want to stay at Bishopbridge House even though she’s quite elderly and, of course, wintry weather can be harsh.  CAPS is aware that she wants no assistance, but still checks up on her whenever they’re out to see whether she needs anything.  I was impressed that they had built up any sort of trust with a woman who seemed to deny any help from outsiders at all.  Simon mentioned that, especially in her case, they try to build a solid rapport so that if she ever were to decide she needed help she would know who to ask or where to go.

We also visited the soup run, which is run near the Forum by the Salvation Army.  Literally every night of the year (including holidays, inclimate weather, etc.) is spent under a little awning with soup, tea, and sandwiches for anyone who needs the aid.  The food is donated from the Pret-A-Manger across the street.  Anything they haven’t sold by the end of the day is given to this cause.  To my understanding, in the United States this wouldn’t be allowed because food establishments cannot give away leftovers for fear of a lawsuit due to illness, allergies, or other problems.  I mentioned this to Simon and Tracey, and we speculated that it might be less of an issue because Pret makes their food fresh every day, so there’s less threat of spoilage.  This is also less of a law-suit culture, and in my opinion, it’s far better that the excess food be put to good use.

After the soup run, we walked through the park, the bus station, and along many back roads.  Simon seemed to know which bushes to check and where rough sleepers would be most likely to stay, and it definitely gave me a new perspective on the city.  As I walk through now during my daily life, I often note places I saw people taking shelter (or where people had previously) and my outlook has been changed entirely.

Hours Logged: 4

Total Hours: 13

My final visit to Bishopbridge House took place on February 15 from 8am until noon, and I shadowed Mark and Claire, two senior staff members.  This seemed to be one of the quieter shifts, if there is such a thing at the hostel.  My first task was to do “wellness checks.”  Every morning and night, a member of staff goes to every room of the hostel, knocks, and enters to make sure that the resident is there, healthy, and safe.  They also do a quick scan of the room to make sure it’s clean, there is no drug paraphernalia or alcohol, and that there is no food lying about.  It was interesting to see how people keep their rooms, as well as the widely varying degree of domesticity these people seemed to have.  While some of the residents had rooms that looked similar to my own (clean, organized, decorated), some were VERY unkempt and it was clear that they weren’t accustomed to living in and caring for their own space.

Since this is a long-term hostel, residents can and often do stay for extended periods of time.  (Of course, the organization does everything it can to make sure people are in and out to other accommodations as soon as possible to make room for other rough sleepers).  This means that those who stay there have a responsibility to check in every so often.  Generally, if someone hasn’t been seen for a few wellness checks, the hostel tries to locate the person’s whereabouts.  Thus, I was assigned to check on a man who hadn’t been seen in three days and, after being told what to say, I called the police department to inquire after him.  They obviously cannot give any specific details, but they can say whether or not they have seen or arrested a person.  The hostel then is able to get in touch and act as necessary from there on.

After, one of the men I had seen many times before who seemed pleasant and healthy came to the front desk convulsing and sick.  He hadn’t had alcohol in a few days and was suffering from withdrawal symptoms: he could barely keep water down, left every few minutes to vomit, and looked absolutely miserable.  The hostel encouraged him to go to a clinic because they were afraid his body would go into shock.  It took him a while to be convinced, but he did eventually go.  Later in the shift, we found out that he left before seeing the doctor.  Apparently, this has been an ongoing problem for him and he’s afraid of treatment even though the withdrawal has been so terrible for him.  I found this to be particularly saddening because I had never seen such strong withdrawal symptoms up close.  As the shelter really has no control over the problem, there is not much to be done about his refusal to address the issue.

My last experience at Bishopbridge was to go with a man moving into another group home in a different area of Norwich.  In this type of accommodation, residents are essentially on their own save for a visit from a staff member of St. Martin’s Housing Trust every so often.  We packed up his belongings and drove him there, then moved his stuff inside a completely normal looking residence where we met his roommate.  It was a nice note to end the internship on, because I was able to see firsthand how people are able to move through the system and eventually into their own homes.

Hours Logged: 4

Total Hours: 17 and complete :]

Tags: Amy

Interview #1: Dr. Sandra Leaton Gray, UEA

February 27th, 2010 · 3 Comments

Interview with Dr. Sandra Leaton Gray

Thursday, February 25, 2010

Dr. Leaton Gray is the course director for the B.A. program in the School of Education at UEA. She is a regular lecturer on campus, has written several publications on England’s system of education, and shows great interest in the sociology of education. Her research as well as her prior experience as a secondary school teacher at a private preparatory school made her insight into privatization and the general state of state education especially relevant.

We started by discussing the history of privatization, and she pointed out that the issue can be traced to the 1850s (see previous post). She also provided a comprehensive definition of privatization by exploring the role of politics in the presence and nature of private organizations. I had recently watched Prime Minister Gordon Brown’s speech on his educational reform policies (I can not find the actual video of the speech I watched, but you can find the relevant announcements here.), and it came up repeatedly as we explored how New Labour went from a campaign focused on “Education Education Education” to providing some real solutions to solve the inadequacies of English education. The expanded City Academy programme in 2003 sought to reinvigorate schools and largely echoed the privatization reforms of the 1980s. Today, PM Brown seeks to “brand” schools with different private organizations that will improve efficiency and success.

The term “business curriculum” often appears alongside privatization. I asked Dr. Leaton Gray about this term, and it essentially applies knowledge onto the student body. It also entails an increased network (technology) curriculum, but Dr. Leaton Gray described this as limiting, for instilling computer knowledge in a group of students who are already computer literate (consider the phenomenal growth of social networking websites) is not necessary. Priorities should be set on other subjects. Teaching English, for example, should have greater priority until it is no longer a subject for elite students.

I asked about the role of increased international reforms in education (e.g. reforms emerging under the administration of President Barack Obama). England is motivated to some extent by international standards of practice and reform. It keeps the country on its toes. Dr. Leaton Gray made an interesting point about why models such as those in Sweden and other Scandanavian countries do not work in Britain. These models have been hailed in those countries as enormously successful. They are being implemented, however, in a largely homogenous society. If the Dickinson Humanities class has learned nothing else over the last few months, it is that Britain is far, far, far from homogeneity. The model cannot be implemented as successfully as it is in Sweden for this fact alone.

We discussed the role of local authorities in education as well. Local Authorities (once known as Local Education Authorities) display some powers over the schools in their region, but that has largely fallen away with increased centralization. When asked about which would provide more benefits, a strong central government or strong local authorities, Dr. Leaton Gray said that it would be dangerous for local authorities to have relatively free reign over schools without some regulation and prodding from the national government. An ideal relationship would see healthy school, local, and national economies with constant interactions and checks in the system.

She also made an important point about the role of private organizations in state education – simply that they could have overestimated influence. In some cases there is not enough influence of private organizations in education. In order to truly privatize education, the government needs to deregulate its control and limit the ‘red tape’ it leaves in schools across the country. This does not mean that private businesses do not have room to manoeuvre. Their influence, however, essentially involves much ‘cherrypicking’ and selective reforms to reinvigorate and excite the school with which they merge or sponsor.

Dr. Leaton Gray was not familiar with the impact of privatization on Norwich specifically, but she could speculate that it was an ongoing process that usually pleases the community (other than some who protest the new school out of loyalty for the school that will close).

One last point that she made will help you understand this aspect of education with greater clarity. It also neatly summed up my interview. Imagine the following hypothetical situation:

You are an entrepreneur seeking to take over or merge with a school that closed after failing reports and standards for several years prior. You introduce new uniforms, new programmes, new curricula, and a brand new website. You are left with these questions:

Do you encourage parental input in the school leadership and conduct? How do you do so?

Do you make the school accessible for all, or for some percentage of students meeting certain qualifications?

How do you ensure that teachers create thorough and relevant classrooms?

How do you ensure that the students succeed and meet all standards?

How do you empower the surrounding community and establish a school that functions as a point of pride?

The way some private organizations answer these questions compel authors to criticize the effectiveness of privatization. My interview with Dr. Leaton Gray showed me that perhaps their concerns do not fully appreciate the limited impact these organizations demonstrate in state education.

I thank Dr. Leaton Gray for her time and Nick Garforth for scheduling my interview.

Hours Logged: 1 hour 45 minutes

Total Hours: 1 hour 45 minutes

Tags: Brandon

The State of State Education

February 27th, 2010 · 2 Comments

In August 2009, Earlham High School in Norwich shut its doors. At the start of September 2009, those doors reopened, but this time onto the City Academy Norwich, the replacement for the former high school. Months prior to the transition, members of the community were sent the proposal for a new academy and the expedited process that would take place before the transition’s completion. They were told that Earlham High School was considered for the transition because of low test scores and poor reports from Ofsted, the national organization responsible for investigating the performance of England’s schools. Over the last six months, the City Academy Norwich seems to have functioned just as every other school academy in the country. It remains sponsored and assisted by several organizations in Norwich, including the University of East Anglia. The transition may be too soon to yield any tangible improvements, but the overhaul plans to reinvigorate what was a struggling institution.

This type of transition has occurred in many other parts of England. When did this process start? What is its impact? Is this the right way to achieve success in state schools? The debate on privatization in schools encompasses many nuances and uses several definitions. Moreover, it is the subject of my research for this project.

The history of privatization in England’s state schools traces back to the 1850s when a state system of education first began to emerge. Fast-forwarding to the end of the Second World War in 1945 (yes, it is quite a leap, but a necessary one, unless this post becomes another research paper) the roots of the current education system became much clearer under the Labour government under Prime Minister Clement Atlee. It was during post-war reconstruction that the state began to provide free secondary education. Also, the different tracks on which students could learn were solidified, including grammar schools (for white-collar professions) and modern schools (for more manual, vocational professions). Selective education (run by a “survival of the fittest” mentality) became prevalent in England and defended by many. It raised issues of equality, but the rise of selective education encouraged privately-funded schools. By the 1970s, schools not receiving public funding and under private control began to increase in number. This occurred amidst attempts by the government to implement more democratic measures into the state education. Its efforts could not stop the already falling educational standards from further decline.

The 1980s saw an increased use of big businesses to run state education in what resembled a relatively free market economy. Enterprise, self-reliance, and competition remained key components of educational legislation under the Tories and Prime Minister Margaret Thatcher.

Since the 1980s, state education has shifted again, but it remains pointed in the general direction of privatization. Schools are encouraged to collaborate with one another, and private organization (often non-profit) are called upon to improve the efficiency and success of schools. While many of these organizations align themselves with struggling schools like Earlham High School, this process seems to be popular across the country, especially within the last decade under the New Labour government.

_ _ _ _ _ _ _ _ _ _ _

My project combines research and investigation  into what I have seen as a very contentious and complicated issue in state education. I will research the history of privatization in England’s state education from the 1970s onwards, with a particular focus on how it has effected Norwich and Norfolk.

I then plan to answer several questions surrounding the debate on the issue:

  • The benefits of private organizations in state education include improved efficiency, but at what costs?
  • To what extent do politics guide the prevalence of privatization?
  • I have read much about the presence of privatization, but to what extent are private companies really involved in state education?
  • On a smaller scale, how does privatization, when it does affect schools (like Earlham High School), affect teachers? Administrators? Students?

By conducting interviews with members of the UEA community, teachers and administrators from state and privatized schools (or academies) in Norwich, and the Norwich City Council/Norfolk County Council, I will try to gauge how different people view this aspect of England’s state education. Striking balance will remain my overarching goal. My posts hereafter will deal primarily with the interviews I conduct with various individuals over the next several weeks. The first with Dr. Sandra Leaton Gray will appear in the next post.

Tags: Brandon