Author: Doug Belshaw (page 1 of 201)

So long Digitalme, and thanks for all the fish

This announcement from Digitalme is a real shame:

Since we joined the City and Guilds Group in June 2016, we have continued to help all kinds of teams recognise learning with the Open Badge Standard.

At this point in our journey, it is time to say goodbye to the Open Badge Academy in order for us to focus on supporting the design, development, and implementation of quality programmes that leverage the Open Badge Standard powered by leading technology — Credly.

After leaving Mozilla in 2015, I consulted with City & Guilds up to the point at which they acquired Digitalme. I’d known the guys at Digitalme since before I started at Mozilla and was impressed with their dedication and effort. They’d built something people and organisations really wanted, so taking it to the next level with City & Guilds seemed to be their opportunity to scale-up.

The trouble was that City & Guilds didn’t really have much in-house technical capacity. They’re a 140 year-old credentialing organisation, who took a punt on a young start-up with the hopes that they could create a whole new business unit out of it. At the same time, to hedge their bets, they invested in Credly. Now, it seems, they’re scuttling Open Badge Academy (OBA) in favour of becoming a Credly reseller.

These things happen, especially as the Open Badges ecosystem matures. It’s been a few years since the demise of Achievery, which was a really forward-looking platform, but unfortunately a too early for the market. What I think is a particular shame with the way City & Guilds are handling the Digitalme situation is the way they are presenting existing customers with a lack of options:

We’re working on a simple way for existing users to download their information, including any badges they have earned so they can continue to share verifiable recognition of their skills.

[…]

To download your badge, go to your profile page and click on the Push icon under your awarded badge. Select the Download option to download this badge to your computer. This download will include data such as the issuer information stored within the image. We would recommend downloading the 2.0 version as this will still be verifiable after OBA closes.

One of the great things about Open Badges, of course, is that you can store them anywhere. Still, you would hope that existing users would, at the very least, be presented with a migration path from OBA to Credly. I would have thought that, given OBA isn’t closing until the end of August, City & Guilds could implement the upcoming Badge Connect API to allow users to make the migration.

The announcement focuses on the sunsetting of OBA, but in effect this is the end of Digitalme. My understanding is that there are very few of the original team left at City & Guilds, and the focus now is on reselling Credly’s products. (I’m happy to be corrected if I’m mistaken.)


A few people have been in touch with me since the announcement asking what they should do. There’s plenty of Open Badges-compliant issuers out there, but I usually recommend Badgr or Open Badge Factory to clients.

Full disclosure: these two platforms sponsor Badge News The Learning Fractal. We approached them for this sponsorship due to their long-term support of the Open Badges standard. Credly made the decision to end their sponsorship of the newsletter at the beginning of this year, and we would thank them for their initial support.


Image: Left high and dry (Explored) by hehaden used under a CC BY-ND license

Weeknote 06/2019

This week I’ve been:

Next week, I’m at home working on MoodleNet Mon/Tues and Thurs/Fri. So, just like this week, I’ll be available if you want to talk something through for half an hour. Book a slot here!

Experimenting with a Slack-based book club

TL;DR: I’ve started a channel called #book-club-1 in the We Are Open co-op Slack. Everyone adhering to our code of conduct is welcome. Reading this. Join here. Starts Monday.


I was discussing book clubs over email with Bryan Alexander recently. He’s been running ones via his blog since 2013, and finds them a valuable experience.

This was prompted by a few people both in We Are Open co-op‘s Slack and the Thought Shrapnel Patreon saying that they’d appreciate the opportunity to discuss new books like Paul Jarvis’ Company of One and Cal Newport’s Digital Minimalism.

I’ve never been a member of a book club, as I imagine the offline versions as being full of people drinking red wine and trying to prove some crazy theory that they’ve got about the intent behind someone else’s writing. However, an online version intrigued me, hence my discussion with Bryan Alexander.

After looking at different models, I decided to come up with my own. I also chose the Digital Minimalism as the book, as people seemed to be interested in reading it. I’m absolutely making it up as I go along, but there we go. Someone’s got to lead things.

Let me walk you through what I’ve done to set things up:

Slack Book Club - overview

Slack allows you to ‘pin’ discussions, but doesn’t let you moved these about after the fact. That means I’ve had to be very careful to pin these in the correct order. It’s also the reason the channel is called #book-club-1 as we’ll need to create a new channel and pin discussions for each new book.

(thanks to Adam Procter for helping me figure this out!)

Slack book club - setup

There’s a ‘meta thread’ giving an overview of the book being read, and this is the place where discussions about the book as a whole should go.

Slack book club - thread

For this book club to work, we need to use Slack’s functionality. This may look slightly confusing if you’re reading this and don’t use Slack, but it’s pretty standard stuff for those who do. It’s not hard, and there’s some useful help pages here.

As you can see from the screenshot above, clicking on ‘1 reply’ (or whatever it’s on by the time you get there) opens the thread and allows you to add your response. It’s even more intuitive on mobile, I find.

Slack book club - random chat

Underneath all the pinned discussions for each chapter (which show up as yellow) there’s a space for random book-related chat. This might be for asking questions such as “I take it audiobooks are accepted in this space? Asking for a friend” and anything else you doesn’t fit elsewhere.

I’ve no idea if this is all going to work, but I’m willing to give it a go. In my mind I’m going for a vibe somewhere between random pub conversation and postgraduate seminar — but with a more asynchronous, dip-in-and-out approach.

Grab the book and join us. You might like it!


FAQ

1. Do I have to know anything about anything?

Nope, I have no clue and I’m the one who set this thing up.

2. Do I have to read one chapter per week?

No, do what you like. Read it in one sitting and comment on all the things in a literary orgy. Read the introduction over a period of three weeks. Up to you.

3. Are you going to be asking questions as a prompt?

Maybe? If people want? I don’t know.

4. What if people are mean to me?

We have a Code of Conduct and I’ll warn them and then kick them out. We haven’t had to do that yet on our Slack, but we’re willing to. Don’t worry, though, it’s a nice crowd.

5. Is this really an FAQ, or have you just made up the questions as a sneaky way to shoehorn more information into your poorly-structured blog post?

Erm…

Weeknote 05/2019

This week I’ve been:

  • Sending out Issue #330 of my Thought Shrapnel newsletter. It was entitled, ‘You’d BETT-er believe it, people’ and was, as ever, made possible via those who support me on Patreon.
  • Recording, editing and releasing Episode 115 of the Today In Digital Education (TIDE) podcast with my co-host Dai Barnes. We entitled this episode ‘Art, milk and parties’ and discussed our experiences at BETT, the history of art, veganism, criticism of Facebook, MoodleNet testing, smartphone-based party games, and more!
  • Working on the MoodleNet project:
    • Feverishly getting things ready for the 100-person initial testing period. We delayed it a bit and then finally went live on Thursday.
    • Publishing a new page at new.moodle.net
    • Rolling back our plans to take over the moodle.net domain after some HQ discussion.
    • Launching the test version of MoodleNet to HQ testers and then the rest of the testing community.
    • Scrambling after deploying an update caused something to fail that only an engineer (at that point asleep in Canada!) could fix.
    • Simultaneously high-fiving one another with one hand and biting our fists with the other.
    • Replying to testers who have been, on the whole, positive.
    • Going through suggestions from testers on Changemap.
    • Smiling at some of the collections that users have created.
    • Filing a bunch of UI issues in GitLab.
    • Getting ready surveys and emails to go to out to testers.
    • Creating a short overview video of what MoodleNet currently looks like – and what we’re looking to quickly improve.
    • Booking travel and accommodation to meet Gry Stene, Moodle’s Chief Product Officer, in Barcelona in late February
  • Telling the world about an idea I’ve got to run weekly surgery appointment slots. They’re free, and I’m happy to discuss pretty much anything!
  • Commenting on Laura’s draft of a post (subsequently published) about We Are Open Co-op raising our sights and being a bit more holistic in our thinking.
  • Putting together things for Thought Shrapnel:
  • Trudging through the snow. It’s been deep and crisp and even in Northumberland over the last couple of days! We’ve had some fun sledging and having snowball fights.
  • Helping my wife migrate from an iPhone (6S) to an Android smartphone (Google Pixel 3). The biggest hassle? WhatsApp chat history 🙄

Next week, I’m working on MoodleNet four days (Mon/Tues & Thurs/Fri) and diving into consultancy stuff on Wednesday. Remember, you can book a slot to have a chat if you think I can help with anything!

Dr. Doug’s Wednesday surgeries

TL;DR: I’m experimenting with 30-minute (free) ‘surgeries’ on Wednesdays. You can book me here: https://calendly.com/dougbelshaw


Every week I have one day devoted to consultancy or pro-bono work, and climbing mountains. In 2018, that day was usually a Friday, which was great for getting away and up mountains, but less good for my consultancy and pro-bono work.

That’s why I’ve decided to experiment with Wednesday as this day in 2019. It will split the work I do for Moodle into two (Mon/Tues and Thurs/Fri) and hopefully ensure that this day I’ve carved out doesn’t become just part of the weekend!

I’m available to talk through anything you think I might be able to help with. Free of charge. That may, of course, lead to paid consultancy work in the future, but I’m keen to spread my wings a bit after ploughing the same (productive, enjoyable) furrow for the last 12 months.

Either way, I’m here for you and happy to help. You can book a 30-minute slot using Calendly at the link below. If you could give me some advance notice of what you want to discuss that would be incredibly helpful.

>>> Book a slot <<<

Weeknote 04/2019

This week I’ve been:

  • Sending out Issue #329 of my Thought Shrapnel newsletter. It was entitled, ‘All is fair in love and Brexit’ and was, as ever, made possible via those who support me on Patreon.
  • Working on the MoodleNet project (Mon-Weds):
    • Preparing for the first pilot test next week. We got 197 applications in English and Spanish, and everyone should now know which ‘list’ they’re on!
    • Collaborating on translations with Julia.
    • Catching up with Carlo, our DPO about data protection.
    • Talking with Bob about Moodle Educator Certificates and Open Badges.
    • Making decisions about what’s in and out of scope for next week. Yes, even at this stage.
  • Meeting with my co-op colleagues from Wednesday night to Friday morning in London.
  • Attending BETT for a few hours on Friday and catching up with various people.
  • Writing a couple of posts on this blog:
  • Catching the Anglo Saxon Kingdoms exhibition at the British Library after I managed to snag a last-minute ticket.

Next week, I’m at home working on MoodleNet all week.

Using Twitter as a lens for some thoughts on launching products

This week, several people have asked me whether I’m ‘nervous’ about the first test of MoodleNet, a new open social media platform for educators, focussed on professional development and open content. We’ve invited 100 people (50 English testers, 50 Spanish) to have a look and give us some feedback over a three-week period starting from next Tuesday.

To answer their question: no, I’m not. That’s not because of arrogance or misplaced optimism, it’s because of something that Baltasar Gracián talks about in The Pocket Oracle and Art of Prudence, a book I read from every morning:

Don’t arouse excessive expectations from the start. Everything initially highly praised is commonly discredited when it subsequently fails to live up to expectation. Reality can never match our expectations, because it’s easy to imagine perfection, and very difficult to achieve it. Imagination weds desire and then conceives things far greater than they actually are… Good beginnings serve to arouse curiosity, not to guarantee the outcome. Things turn out better when the reality exceeds our initial idea and is greater than we anticipated. (Baltasar Gracián)

I think we could sum that up with ‘managing expectations’. It’s kind of the opposite of Silicon Valley hype, and useful when you’re developing a product for the long-term.

Talking of Silicon Valley, let’s have a quick look at what Twitter looked like when it launched (start at 09:05):

They were testing a value proposition, something like: “Do people want to tell the world what they’re up to in text-message sized updates?”

The answer, of course, turned out to be in the affirmative. But it took a while. I joined Twitter in February 2007, a few months after it launched. I loved it and, as I was teaching at the time, ran Twitter workshops for my colleagues. Most of them appreciated my enthusiasm, but didn’t think it would catch on.

Twitter took about five years to go mainstream. Here’s a potted history of that time period from the Buffer blog:

  • July 2006: ‘Twttr’ is available to the public
  • October 2006: Sign up for Twitter without your phone number
  • May 2007: You can block others and Twitter gets a mobile site
  • May 2007: Twitter gets an @replies column
  • August 2007: Twitter Profile Search goes live
  • September 2007: Tracking Twitter alias #Hashtags goes live
  • September 2008: Twitter gets Trending Topics
  • March 2009: Twitter introduces “Suggested Users”
  • October 2009: Twitter launches Twitter Lists
  • November 2009: Twitter unveils the new native RT function
  • March 2010: You can now add your location to your Tweets
  • April 2010: Twitter launches “Promoted Tweets”
  • September 2010: Twitter introduces the “New Twitter”
  • June 2011: Twitter launches its own link shortening service

So let’s just stand back and look at this for a moment. The functionality that we would say was pretty core to Twitter took a good while to roll out. Another interesting fact, not really highlighted in the Buffer post, is that many of these involved Twitter responding to what users were doing or had invented.

For example, people were using ‘RT’ to manually retweet posts way before November 2009. Meanwhile, hashtags were an invention of Chris Messina, and initially rejected by Twitter as too nerdy. Users who like what you’re trying to achieve will help you reach that goal.

Before Twitter became a publicly-traded company in 2013 it was much more focused on the ecosystem it was creating. One of the best things about early Twitter was that there was a huge range of clients you could use to access the service. In fact, the ‘pull-to-refresh‘ functionality that’s in almost every mobile app these days was invented by a third-party Twitter client.

Returning to MoodleNet, the reason it’s taken a year to get to this point is because of all of the preparation we’ve done, and all of the other kinds of testing we’ve done up to this point. So this is just the next step in a long journey.

Our value proposition is: “Do educators want to join communities to curate collections of resources?” The answer might be negative. In that case, we’ll go back to the drawing board. My hunch, though, borne out through tens of hours of conversation and experimentation, is that there’s something in this, and it’s worth pursuing.

All in all, I’m excited about this next step and looking forward to getting user feedback on the fantastic work my team have done.


Image: sketch of early Twitter taken from a 2018 tweet 

A modest proposal for nudging young people into finding a direction in life

If you go to the Mozilla home page, right click, and ‘view source’, you see something like this:

Mozilla source code

Underneath the ASCII art of a dragon breathing fire (and the Mozilla logo), the page reads:

Hi there, nice to meet you!

Interested in having a direct impact on hundreds of millions of users? Join
Mozilla, and become part of a global community that’s helping to build a
brighter future for the Web.

Visit https://careers.mozilla.org to learn about our current job openings.
Visit https://www.mozilla.org/contribute for more ways to get involved and
help support Mozilla.

I don’t know if they’ve got any stats on how many people respond to this call to action, but when I was at Mozilla, there were lots of people who I wouldn’t consider your ‘usual’ tech contributors. I’m guessing things like this make a practical difference.

Last night I had a dream. No, stay with me. In it, I was advising someone who was having a real problem with kids trying to get around filters and firewalls he’d put in place in a school. It’s probably because tomorrow I’ll be at BETT in London where all kinds of technologies will be on offer trying to ever more lock down the internet to children.

Before I continue, I’m not advocating a free-for-all. Goodness knows I have to lock things down a bit for my 12 year-old son at home. However, I do think there’s an opportunity here, and it’s related to what Mozilla do with their home page.


For better or worse, most educational institutions now do some kind of forensic tracking and analysis of searches made and websites visited across their network. Given the duty of care they have and the times we live in, I’d expect nothing different. However, I’m pretty sure we could leverage that to help young people make some choices in life.

It doesn’t have to be ASCII art and volunteering for a tech company! How about the following?

  • Repeated searches for food leads to an email invitiation to cookery club
  • Visiting a bunch of beauty and fashion sites leads to a prompt to ask if they’ve considered doing a qualification in design
  • Violations of school security and privacy policies lead to recruitment to being an ‘ethical hacker’ for the organisation

Schools and other educational institutions have so much data on young people these days. I just wonder whether, with a few little tweaks and some lateral thinking, we could make that useful to students, too?

I’d love to know if anywhere is already doing this! Have you seen any examples?

Weeknote 03/2019

This week I’ve been:

  • Sending out Issue #328 of my Thought Shrapnel newsletter. It was entitled, ‘Back at it’ and was, as ever, made possible via those who support me on Patreon.
  • Working on the MoodleNet project (Mon-Thurs:
    • Starting using MoodleNet for internal testing for the first time! Such a great feeling.
    • Preparing, and then presenting to both the Moodle Users’ Association monthly Town Hall meeting and to Moodle HQ colleagues at the All-Hands meeting.
    • Collaborating with Mayel, Alex, and Ivan on both improvements to existing functionality with the internal testing version of MoodleNet.
    • Figuring out some of those details (like discussion threads) that seem simple on the surface, but get a lot more complicated when you start thinking about them in any detail.
    • Meeting with my colleague Garnet who introduced me to a representative of Europeana. I can remember when this fantastic service launched when I was a History teacher. We’re looking at ways of working together.
    • Publishing a blog post linking to sign-up forms to test MoodleNet in both English and Spanish. Thanks to Julia for that!
  • Going for my annual trip to the dentist, who complimented me on my brushing. I didn’t get a sticker, though.
  • Meeting with my co-op colleagues to discuss what we’re doing at our meetup next week. We also talked about our collaborations in 2019. As well as their talents in the world of edtech, Grainne makes soap and Laura writes (maybe?) zombie novels. So it seems pretty obvious to me that they should collaborate on zombie soap, right?
  • Playing Red Dead Redemption 2. What a game! I’d planned to work five days on MoodleNet this week (instead of my usual four), but I stayed up playing this on Thursday, after receiving it earlier in the day. Then, on Friday, I spent the morning writing posts for Thought Shrapnel, and then played RDR2 until my PlayStation controller ran out of battery…
  • Losing my 188-day Spanish streak on Duolingo, which made me sad.
  • Writing a long-ish post on this blog about private education and recording a microcast (for Patreon supporters only!)
  • Colder, as it’s been snowing in Northumberland where I live.
  • Continuing to re-read Dostoevsky’s Crime and Punishment and enjoying it in a newer (2012) translation that I’ve read previously. I also started the audiobook version of Stephen Fry’s Mythos, which I bought over Christmas via Google Play and which I’m listening to in chunks via our new smart speakers (bedroom/kitchen).
  • Starting to plan our holiday in New England in August. We’re flying in and out of Boston, and are looking at the Lonely Planet guide to the area to get our bearings.

Next week, I’m working from home on MoodleNet from Monday to Wednesday, then heading down to London for both a co-op meetup and (once I’ve braced myself), BETT next Friday.


Photo taken by me at Druridge Bay last Sunday, one of my favourite places in the world.

Some (more) thoughts on private education

This post started as a draft for Thought Shrapnel, but it turns out I had more to say than I first thought…


In 2008, Manchester City, a mid-table English Premier League football club, was acquired by an oil-rich consortium from the Middle East. A decade later, after levels of investment that contributed to FIFA’s introduction of financial fair play regulations, Manchester City won the Premier League with a record 100-point haul.

When it comes to sports, we talk about what’s ‘fair’ and ‘unfair’ all of the time, exclaiming “that’s offside!” or “it was never a penalty!”. Recent technological advances such as VAR aim to reduce perceived ‘unfairness’ in football, which is particularly important now that there’s a lot more money at stake. After all, we want the playing field to be level both literally and metaphorically-speaking.

This weekend, Samir Nasri, one of Manchester City’s former players, made his return to the Premier League with West Ham United. Nasri had spent a total of 18 months banned from football for contravening WADA regulations. The crime? Tweeting a selfie of his time spent in a Los Angeles clinic receiving a drip containing 500ml of nutrient-infused water.

Were the actions of the new owners of Manchester City ‘fair’? Were Samir Nasri’s? Whatever your thoughts, both examples show that, when it comes to sport, we take our games pretty seriously. We have regulations to ensure things don’t get out of control.

So let’s talk about private schools.

“My objection to private education is simply put. It is not fair… Those who provide it know it. Those who pay for it know it. Those who have to sacrifice in order to purchase it know it. And those who receive it know it, or should.” (Alan Bennett)

This weekend, The Observer published an article entitled Britain’s private school problem: it’s time to talk by David Kynaston and Francis Green. They have a new book out on the subject, which aims to rekindle the case that we need to do something about the private school system. I’m in broad agreement with their suggestions.

One way of looking at life is that, once you’ve taken care of the essentials, everything boils down to games and stories. There are games that we choose whether or not we want to play, and there are stories that we tell ourselves and others. Private education is a demonstration of both in action, as I hope these reflections on the article will show.

I suppose that I need to be a little careful about what I say here, having already compromised one friendship through a previous rant. I hope I’m more measured in this post, and can have a robust debate with my TIDE podcast co-host Dai Barnes, who has first-hand experience of the private school system.

First, let’s agree with something obvious that the Kynaston and Green state in their article: we can’t place inequality and unfair outcomes in society solely at the door of private education:

It would be manifestly absurd to pin the blame entirely on the existence over the past few centuries of a flourishing private-school sector. Even so, given that these schools have been and still are places that – when the feelgood verbiage is stripped away – ensure that their already advantaged pupils retain and extend their socio‑economic advantages in later life, common sense places them squarely in the centre of the frame.

However, the truth is that, if you’re from a well-off family, have no moral qualms, and want to do your best to ensure your offspring will be ‘alright’ when they’re older, you’d be mad not to send them to private schools. On a macro level, they may perpetuate inequality, but you’re only making the decision for yourself, and it’s very likely to end up going in your favour.

This kind of worldview sees the world as a giant series of competitions, as trials in which one side must vanquish another. Education is a game and, if you’ve got the resources to tip the scales in your direction, then why not? It’s not really any different to Manchester City’s new owners buying their way to Premier League success. If it’s people’s own money, and they’ve earned it legitimately, then why should we tell them how to spend it?

The answer, of course, that access to good schools, hospitals, and legal representation is not like buying material goods:

Education is different. Its effects are deep, long-term and run from one generation to the next. Those with enough money are free to purchase and enjoy expensive holidays, cars, houses and meals. But education is not just another material asset: it is fundamental to creating who we are.

Whether or not it’s intended, whether it’s in football or education, massive inequality results. Even fellow Premier League clubs can’t hope to compete with Manchester City, even after FIFA’s regulations. When it comes to English education, society hasn’t even got those basic kind of regulations:

The underlying reality of our private-school problem is stark. Through a highly resourced combination of social exclusiveness and academic excellence, the private-school system has in our lifetimes powered an enduring cycle of privilege. It is hard to imagine a notable improvement in our social mobility while private schooling continues to play such an important role. Allowing, as Britain still does, an unfettered expenditure on high-quality education for only a small minority of the population condemns our society in seeming perpetuity to a damaging degree of social segregation and inequality. This hands-off approach to private schools has come to matter ever more, given over the past half-century the vastly increased importance in our society of educational credentials. Perhaps once it might have been conceivable to argue that private education was a symptom rather than a cause of how privilege in Britain was transferred from one generation to the next, but that day is long gone: the centrality of schooling in both social and economic life – and the Noah’s flood of resources channelled into private schools for the few – are seemingly permanent features of the modern era. The reproduction of privilege is now tied in inextricably with the way we organise our formal education.

Football is a game. So is education. We should recognise that, and regulate it properly.

Now then, before someone who knows me well points our the obvious, I’m very happy to admit that my house, which is located a mere 300 metres from one of the ‘best’ schools in the north-east of England, is worth significantly more because of that fact. I’m well aware that there’s selection by ability to pay fees, but there’s also selection by academic ability, faith, and buying a house for over the odds to get your child into a decent state school.

This is why simply forcing private schools to shut down would not necessarily solve anything. Instead we need to look long and hard at what we want our society to be built upon. Do we want to have competition or collaboration as a cornerstone? If there are no quick fixes, then what do we want our direction of travel to be?

So much for games, let’s move on to stories. Given private schools make up only seven percent of the schools in England, yet make up a startling 71% of barristers and 50% of cabinet MPs, it’s beyond doubt that their alumni are disproportionately represented in positions of power.

I’m sure that with extra resources, and without decades of political interference, private schools may well give children a better experience, but that’s not the whole story. We may pretend that we live in a meritocracy, but the reality is nothing of the sort:

The term “the establishment” can be a tiresome one, too often loosely and inaccurately used, but in the sense of complementary networks of people at or close to the centres of power and wealth, it actually does mean something.

All of which leaves the private schools almost uniquely well placed to make their case and protect their corner. They have ready access to prominent public voices speaking on their behalf, especially in the House of Lords; they enjoy the passive support of the Church of England, which is distinctly reluctant to draw attention to the moral gulf between the aims of ancient founders and the socioeconomic realities of the present; and of course, they have no qualms about utilising all possible firepower, human as well as media and institutional, to block anything they find threatening.

The overwhelming reason parents send their children to to private schools is to get the examination results to get into elite universities. Those that are successful may get a good education, but they also get to tell a story. It’s a kind of shorthand to say you went to Oxford University. Privilege in schooling ends up with privilege in the job market.

So, what should we do? Well, as I mentioned earlier, there’s no quick fixes here, and abolition is likely to either further distort the housing market, or allow private education through the back door through intensive tutoring or parents setting up ‘free schools’ with exclusionary policies.

Instead, let’s look at Kynaston and Green’s suggestions. The first, to my mind, is a no-brainer: ensure that private schools are not allowed to claim charitable status, and have to pay business rates in full. It’s ludicrous that they can get away with this in the year 2019.

A related suggestion is to tax school fees to a level as high as 25%. That tax would have to perhaps even be higher: right now there are eye-watering taxes on on whisky and gas-guzzling vehicles such as Range Rovers, and they seem to remain popular.

After that, the authors point to various schemes from the Sutton Trust and in other countries where children from low-income families can attend private schools. I’m sure these are all well-intended, but to my mind end up both propping up the system.

My proposal, once we’ve got private schools recognised as the businesses (and not charities) they are, is to take control of state education away from politicians. Just as the Bank of England was given control of interest rates, so educators with the long-term interest of our country in mind, should have control of education policy. They should have the whole of education under their purview, including the private sector.

If we understand life through games and stories, we need to think about the story we’re telling ourselves and future generations. Is ours a country that is organised for the few instead of the many? And if we’re going to organise education as a series of games, then how could we change the rules to ensure that the same kids don’t always get picked?

Given our concerted focus on diversity in western democracies at the moment, it seems more than a little anachronistic to have an unreformed and unfettered private education system. Let’s do something about that.


Image by amanda used under a CC license

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