Friday, February 09, 2024

MEEF M1 December Homework assignment feedback.


MEEF M1 December Homework assignment feedback.

I know that you MEEF M1 people are now hurtling through the second semester and not necessarily thinking back to what happened in your homework assignment at the end of 2023. Nevertheless, this is one of the first times you have attempted an exercise in the format of the CAPES exam, and it is important to identify key errors, in particular in methodology.

I should first say that I very much enjoyed working with you. You were my last MEEF students. Due to my great age, I am retiring in the summer. I will continue doing a little history (which you might find from time to time here or on my YouTube channel «  The History Fellow ») as well as several other activities (which are easy to find via Google if required). I am always pleased to hear how you are getting on.


A few of the main points concerning this assignment.


I have preferred to write here about the main weaknesses of student work, rather than write comments individually. This allows me to deal with weaknesses at greater length. It also allows you to think about weaknesses or mistakes which you did not display in this particular piece of work but might in a future piece, or at the actual CAPES exam. 


The main danger is paraphrase - simply repeating in your own words what the documents say (this is how to fail a CAPES).


Many people need to listen again to my excellent lecture on the history of the UK school system :


Just click here



So, to the present exercise :

These three documents all deal with conflicts and difficulties in the history of UK education. The first gives a general picture of the post-war reform, and then of changes made forty years and more later. The second illustrates the anger and resistance of the biggest teachers’, union faced with neoliberal reforms and competition between schools. The last compares private schools and state schools and speaks to the difficulty of giving equal opportunities to every child, and the political conflicts, in particular between the Conservatives and Labour, connected with how private schools should be treated by government.


The objectives of the people who produced the three documents are quite different. Documents one and three are journalistic in nature : their main aim is to explain to readers facts and processes (although one can certainly see the opinions of the first journalist in his writing). The second document, produced by a trade union, has an agitational objective. It aims at encouraging teachers and headmasters to refuse to cooperate with the evaluation body OFSTED, since this organization is considered not to be working in the interests of schools, children and teachers.


Each of the documents contains several references to events or actors in the history of UK education. You would not have time to explain them all, and there are probably some you do not understand. Nevertheless, you must explain quite a few of them.


Obviously, you  get points for ( among other things) understanding the history and organization of UK schools. So, you would obviously get points for :


-        Showing you know what OFSTED is and does, and why many teachers oppose it.

-        Showing you know what a GCSE is, how the system works, and the difference with the French baccalaureate system.

-        Showing you know exactly what the eleven plus was, and why it disappeared. Most importantly, what kind of ideas were behind the eleven plus system, and why these ideas are not accepted today.

 (Read here : https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Eleven-plus )


And this article recounts the history of debates about the eleven plus back in the 1940s and 1950s



(You will find here a rather right-wing documentary about the history of the eleven plus, but which includes a lot of useful information).



-        Showing you know something about the 1944 Act which is not mentioned in the documents ( e g its establishment of the tripartite system, with the eleven plus, and the idea of innate intelligence which was behind this decision).

-        Showing you know *how* church schools fit into the national system.

-        Showing you know the importance of Local Education Authorities in the history of UK education, and why this influence declined in the 1980s.

-        Showing you know that the 1988 reforms were part of Thatcherism, and how they fit in with the rest of Thatcherism, indeed showing you know  what Thatcherism is.

-        Saying who Rab Butler is, what political party he comes from, etc.

-        Showing you know what kind of newspaper The Guardian is and what sort of people read it.

It is important to refer immediately, at the very beginning of your work,   to the intentions of each author, and to structure your work around what the documents are trying to do.


Most students quote too much. The examiner has read the documents. Line numbers are enough.


Remember to only include details which help us to understand the document, and the history of education. If you say that Rab Butler was a Conservative politician, this is important since it might show that the need of the British economy for educated workers pushed the Conservative Party to partly abandon some of their traditional elitism. This detail helps us understand the history.

On the other hand, the fact that Toby Helm worked for a few years in Berlin is not relevant to this set of documents. If Mr Helm’s article had dealt with the relationship between the UK and Germany, it would have been relevant to mention his link to Berlin.ç


One of the biggest dangers is paraphrase. If you summarize the documents in your own words, instead of analyzing what the document is trying to do or how it reflects historical situations and changes, this is not good. You need to show you know things *which are not in the document*.


Note that both the introduction and the conclusion should concern how the documents help us to understand British society and its education system. Your conclusion should not be advice about what the governments*should do* or about what the education system « really needs ». Your position is one of a student of British society, trying to explain how a situation came about and how it is changing. Your position is not advisor to the British government.


At the very beginning, try to be as precise as possible. «  These three documents all deal with aspects of education in Britain » is weak, because it is so obvious. Noone would expect one of the documents to talk about dolphins! What do they have in common which is more precise ? No doubt conflict. They show how different ideas about education - egalitarianism, elitism and neoliberalism in particular, have been in tension as they produced a modern education system.



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