Dickinson College Humanities Program in Norwich

Interview #1: Dr. Sandra Leaton Gray, UEA

February 27, 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

Categories: Brandon
Tagged: , , , ,

3 responses so far ↓

  •   Karl // Feb 27th 2010 at 15:46

    Let me take issue with just one point: technology education. The post, and Dr. Gray, seem to suggest it is unnecessary because students are already technologically proficient given the pervasiveness of social networking sites. However, this simply means that they can use a particular type of software. It doesn’t mean that they have a mastery of technology. Think of the struggles within our group to use technology this year. That said, what would tech mastery entail, and why is it important? How many people use anything more than social networking and word processing software on a daily basis? It seems to me that tech education should be less about learning programs (those change so quickly after all) and more about teaching a different way of thinking. Lastly, what’s up with the bold type face? Is it intentional? If so, I don’t see the reason for most of it.

  •   Brandon R. // Feb 28th 2010 at 07:05

    I think Dr. Leaton Gray took greater issue with the way tech. education is taught, not necessarily its applicability to an increasingly technology-dependent world. For example, when she visited several different schools in the UK, she saw teachers show older students how to type on a keyboard and open a blank Word document. These types of lessons usually fail to help an already computer-literate student population. I mentioned to her that while in high school I was part of the recently inaugurated ‘Classroom of the Future’ program. Every senior received laptops and computer training. I told her the useful components of the program as a supplement to classroom learning beyond opening a blank Word document and putting animations in a PowerPoint presentation (i.e. making a wiki page, putting together an iMovie, designing a blog). She acknowledged the significance these lessons and wished she saw more of those programs in the UK.

    One thing I want to quickly point out pertains to how the questions you raise relate to accessibility in state education. While I do not know the statistics, I imagine many of the homes in poorer areas of the UK do not have an easily accessible computer. Some of the schools may not even have a suitable computer lab. Someone arguing in favor of privatization may cite the tremendous opportunity afforded by private companies and their sponsorship money going towards computers, technology, and technology education. Accordingly, accessibility, one of the main points of criticism for often selective, private-sponsored schools, remains central to establishing the school.

    The bold face was meant to highlight some important points I took away from the interview. Admittedly, I got a little carried away. I’ve removed most of it.

  •   Karl // Feb 28th 2010 at 10:28

    Your point on access is spot on. While of course there are many rural schools and communities in the US that do not have adequate computer facilities, in a small country like England, there seems to be even more dire problems. The computer rooms I have seen (called ICT here) do not have the hardware or the software I have seen in US schools. Likewise, high speed access to the internet at home is quite problematic in the UK, assuming that a family has a computer. This makes me question much ICT training here. How, for example, are students supposed to do homework for the course. But then again, there is virtually no homework in any subject, at least in Hayden’s school here. I look forward to learning more. Good job.

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