NEWSLETTER

No 48, Winter  2002

 

POWER TO PARENTS

 

Power to Parents by John Redwood and The True Cost of State Education by Nick Seaton have now been published in one pamphlet by the Centre for Policy Studies.

 

John Redwood’s proposal is that all state schools should be offered the choice to set themselves free from political interference and become Public Trust Companies. Schools taking this step would then have the same legal status as independent schools. Their headteachers would have the same autonomy as heads of independent schools and all  staff would be employed directly by schools. Admissions, transport and the management of assets would be under the direct control of schools. All this would be financed by giving around £5,000 a year per pupil directly to the schools concerned – this being the average amount it now costs to educate a child in the state system. (When Gordon Brown’s extra £5bn a year for the next 3 years  comes on stream, higher per-pupil costs in the state system will make the choice of an ‘independent education for all’ still more attractive.) 

 

Writing in The Daily Mail on 4 October, Edward Heathcoat Amory said the pamphlet made ‘a case of such striking originality that it deserves to be adopted immediately as Tory policy – and if the Conservatives don’t have the courage, perhaps Labour will do so instead.’ The leading article  said: ‘Yesterday it was revealed that because of Government red tape, the cost of educating a pupil at a state school is virtually the same as paying for a place in the independent sector. If only the quality of education were the same too!’

 

The Daily Telegraph leader on 8 October was equally supportive: ‘A consensus seems to be emerging among the most thoughtful people who care about education in this country. It is that the politicisation of our schools and universities has been an unmitigated disaster…John Redwood and Nick Seaton calculate that only about two thirds of the present education budget actually reaches schools. Some £11.5 billion is wasted every year…That is the price of the politicisation of education – a price that Britain cannot afford. If this money were given to heads, then average spending in state schools would be comparable to that in independent schools.’

 

Some people think these proposals might preclude private-sector providers who hoped to make a profit, but this is denied by John Redwood. Others think the money in the form of vouchers  should be given directly to parents rather than schools, thus giving families real purchasing power. Clearly, the details need further consideration.

 

But the framework is there, so please let us have your ideas. The pamphlet costs £7.50 including postage from CPS, 57 Tufton Street, London SW1P 3QL.  

 

FREEDOM OF INFORMATION?

 

Prompted by some of the expenditure incurred by  the Department for Education and Skills (DfES) and listed in The True Cost of State Education, shadow education secretary Damian Green has asked some pointed Parliamentary Questions. When he asked how much money the DfES would be giving to the European Social Fund and the European Development Fund in 2002-03 and 2003-04, education minister Margaret Hodge replied £1,967m.  But she could only confirm that £41m would come back to be spent ‘in house’. 

 

Mr Green also asked education secretary Charles Clarke what grants his Department plans to make to Non-Governmental Organisations (NGOs) in 2002-03. Mr Clarke refused to divulge this information to Parliament on the grounds that as the DfES makes grants to more than 1,000 NGOs and other bodies, the question could only be answered ‘at disproportionate cost’. 

 

NEW ATTACK ON PARENTAL CHOICE

 

Administrative chaos is predicted over new admission arrangements to secondary schools currently before Parliament. Unless there is strong opposition from MPs, the new Regulations will automatically become law in mid-January. The full effects, however, may not be felt for some time.

 

Opposition has been widespread, especially from religious, specialist and grammar schools. Religious schools will not be allowed to interview prospective parents, and parents will need to be very brave to make a grammar school their first choice, as they will be forced to choose before 11-plus results are known. So lack of success in the 11-plus may mean their child goes to the bottom of the pile and ends up in a sink school.  Aware of widespread opposition, ministers have ‘consulted’ very selectively and are pushing their plans through over the Christmas period.   

 

READING AND MATHS STILL POOR

 

The Office for Standards in Education (OFSTED) has published yet another report criticising the teaching of literacy. The National Literacy Strategy: the first four years 1998-2002 notes that the government has failed to reach its target of  80 per cent of 11 year-olds reaching at least level 4 in English by 2002.  It is estimated that nearly 2000 schools are ‘weak’ in their teaching of literacy. But what is even more worrying is that OFSTED inspectors themselves don’t seem properly to understand about phonics: they complain that ‘there has not been enough improvement in the teaching of phonics in Years 3 and 4’ without, it appears, appreciating that effective teachers have finished their phonics instruction by the end of Year 1.

 

The NLS has cost millions of pounds, yet ‘nearly a third of pupils [aged 7-plus] still transfer to Key Stage 2 with reading skills below level 2B’ – the expected average. Boys are still under-achieving compared with girls, though effective teachers, many of whom use sound, research-based  programmes such as Jolly Phonics, achieve similar results with both sexes.

 

In another report on literacy, maths and science standards among 24 developed nations, UNICEF   described the UK’s 10 per cent adult illiteracy rate as ‘a statistic of shame’.  It also found that 49 per cent of 14-year-olds in Britain could not accurately subtract 4,078 from 7,003. In Hungary only 13 per cent got it wrong and in Korea, only 12 per cent.  

 

Millions of extra pounds have been spent on additional computers in schools. But a new study published by the Royal Economic Society has broadly confirmed previous research and found a ‘consistently negative relationship between the use of computers and Year Four maths scores’. The researchers, Professors Joshua Angrist and  Victor Lavy, also found that the effects of computers in schools were ‘mostly negative’  at other ages and in other subjects (Daily Mail, 25 October).

 

WHERE HAVE THE TEACHERS GONE?

 

Research by Professor Alan Smithers of  Liverpool University shows the government ‘makes exaggerated claims for the number of extra teachers it has funded since 1997’.  It suggests an increase of 20,000; but its own figures show a rise of only 5,100 in full-time qualified regular teachers. To get to the supposed 20,400 rise,  it has to add in 6,900 part-timers, 5,600 unqualified staff and 2,800 school-based trainees (TES,  25 October). 

 

The TES also reports that the government has pledged an extra 50,000 support staff by 2006 on top of the 213,000 already in post. It is hoped  eventually to  have as many support staff as there are teachers. And the National Association of Head Teachers has estimated that in parts of Britain, one in five pupils is being taught by an unqualified or overseas-trained teacher. Thousands of teaching posts simply remain  unfilled.           

 

GEOGRAPHY HAS A ‘NEW AGENDA’

 

On 24 November, The Sunday Telegraph carried the headline, “Children ‘being brainwashed’ by new green geography lessons”.

 

A study by geography teacher Alex Standish, done as part of his postgraduate research at Canterbury Christ Church University College, found that the traditional geography curriculum has been replaced by a ‘New Agenda’ of values and attitudes such as environmentalism, sustainability and cultural tolerance.

Mr Standish studied curricula and textbooks, and 68 per cent of the geography teachers questioned thought there was less knowledge content in today’s curriculum. Although 64 per cent were concerned, a disturbing  70 per cent thought that citizenship should be part of the geography curriculum and 66 per cent thought pupils’ roles as ‘global citizens’ were more important than ‘geographical skills, such as map work’ (www.spiked-online.com).

A-LEVEL FIASCO NOT OVER YET?

Perhaps the only benefit to accrue from   this year’s A-level catastrophe was that the whole world saw what Daniel Johnson described as the academic and moral bankruptcy of our state education system.

 

‘The work of any individual student, however good or bad’, he wrote (Daily Telegraph,  20 September) ‘no longer matters to the authorities, so long as the overall statistic fits the political requirements of the day. How warped by ideology must be the officials and politicians who control the destinies of our children, if they cannot even understand the gravity of the deceit.’

 

The Sun was equally blunt: ‘Students have been robbed of places at their chosen universities so Government targets look good. That is the chilling manipulation of the old Soviet Union.’

 

Earlier this year, our newsletter noted a report from the Qualifications and Curriculum Authority (QCA), which had hired three international experts to look at its ‘quality assurance system’ for A-levels. The report gave the QCA’s processes for monitoring standards (not, it should be noted, the standards themselves)  ‘a clean bill of health’.

 

Only months after that, former chief inspector of schools Mike Tomlinson was forced to admit that there were no set standards. His first report into the fiasco said no-one was to blame and his final report was widely regarded as pure whitewash.

 

The truth is that they are all to blame: the only people who deserve any credit are the whistle-blowers: Roger Porkesss, a senior A-level maths examiner, has  estimated that the number of results wrongly down-graded could be 50,000 - rather more than the 1,945 that have been up-graded. But this cannot be verified because all the scripts are to be destroyed.  Meanwhile, the new chief executive of the QCA,  Dr  Ken Boston, has warned that problems may arise again in 2003. 

 

PRINCE CHARLES SPEAKS OUT

 

Speaking at an educational conference he had organised at Downside School in Somerset, Prince Charles said he thought ‘we are in danger of creating a society in which children won’t understand either their place in history or the distinction between good and bad.’

 

Dom Antony Sutch, the head of Downside, condemned government education policies, saying schools had been taken over by a ‘geek culture’ of box-ticking bureaucrats.  It must have been embarrassing for some of the audience – the Prince had invited the permanent secretary from the DfES, and the heads of OFSTED, the QCA and the Teacher Training Agency!

 

TOP SCHOOLS  IN GRAVE DANGER

 

One of the last actions taken by Martin McGuiness, Northern Ireland’s education minister before decision-making was taken back to Westminster, was to endorse the destruction of the grammar schools. Now Jane Kennedy MP  has confirmed  this decision from Westminster, although it was totally undemocratic – a household survey sponsored by the education department in Northern Ireland showed a 64 per cent majority wished to retain academic selection.

 

Just a few weeks later, MPs Valerie Davies and David Chaytor  used a Select Committee meeting in Parliament to question our education secretary, Charles Clarke, about academic selection in England.  Claiming the government favoured ‘evidence-based’ policy, Mr  Clarke praised the ‘great successes’ of our comprehensive system. Then he admitted to Conservative MP Andrew Turner that he ‘had not studied the academics’  and was not convinced that exam results in Northern Ireland are much better than in England.

 

Despite his ignorance, Charles Clarke  did not hesitate to urge LEAs with grammar schools to look at ‘their own practices self-critically’. But why doesn’t he look at the evidence himself, before encouraging the destroyers of  grammar schools?

   

UNIVERSITIES REDUCE STANDARDS

 

Many of the best universities have caved in to government pressure and are denying places to the highest achieving youngsters in favour of less well-qualified applicants from under-performing state schools.

 

Ministers have decided that the ‘postcode premium’, which gives universities more funding for pupils from deprived areas, is too crude. So now they plan to offer more funding for youngsters  from schools with poor A-level results, for those from homes with no tradition of going to university and for those from low-income families.

Knowing their pupils will suffer discrimination (as will grammar school pupils), the Independent Schools Council has condemned the plans as ‘social engineering’. Margaret Hodge, the higher education minister, is unrepentant, secure in the knowledge that her bribery will work. 

 

But can anyone think of a better way to encourage ineffective schools  to continue failing their pupils? 

 

LOCAL UPDATE

 

Devon: Ann Whittaker and at least 38 others have written to Devon Council  to complain about the County’s  efforts to reduce unwanted teenage pregnancies. Instead of giving young people moral guidance, the Council is  taking the bribes from central government  and simply directing young people to free contraception. 

 

North London:  Holland House School, where Irina Tyk is headteacher, has again produced outstanding reading  results. Independent tests show that in one class, where the average chronological age (CA) is 5 years 3 months, the average reading age (RA) is 8 years 5 months; in another class,  average CA is 6 years 4 months: RA is 9 years 3 months; and in another average CA is 7 years 3 months: RA is 10 years 7 months.  So why can’t  all state schools produce similar results and supply parents with similar information?

 

Manchester:  The Joseph Rayner Independent School was started several years ago by Mrs Karen Grace in her kitchen. The School, which is NOT in the leafy suburbs, uses traditional teaching methods and instills family values. It now has 80 pupils and is going from strength to strength.  Fees are around £2,800 a year  – much less than the amount per pupil spent by the LEA.

 

Newham: A complaint by parents backed by the Parental Alliance for Choice in Education (PACE)  against dubious school worship in Newham was supposed to have been resolved in February 2001 by  Jacqui Smith, who was then an education minister. But correspondence in 2002 from Ms Smith’s successor, Baroness Ashton, seems to confirm that Newham has been allowed to continue with daily worship that is probably illegal. Since 1997, ministers and their officials have used every trick in the book to avoid being taken to court,  and still the matter is not resolved. 

 

Redbridge: With full approval from Professor Sir Bernard Crick,  the citizenship guru, pupils as young as 10 have been using their citizenship lessons to make banners before joining a TUC-sponsored march against low pay. Schools whose pupils were reported to have joined the march include St Antony’s Primary School in Forest Gate, and Canon Palmer and Trinity Schools in Redbridge. 

 

RECENT  PUBLICATIONS

 

Newsletter No. 49 from the Reading Reform Foundation (and back copies) offer essential pointers to research evidence on the early teaching of reading. From Debbie Hepplewhite, Walnut House, Floreat Gardens, Newbury, Berkshire RG14 6AW (or at www.rrf.org.uk).

 

Experiments in Living: The Fatherless Family by Rebecca O’Neill is packed with research evidence favouring   more traditional family structures. £1.00 including postage from Civitas, The Mezzanine, Elizabeth House, 29 York Road, London SE1 7NQ.

 

Class Warfare: Besieged Schools, Bewildered Parents, Betrayed Kids and the Attack on Excellence by J. Martin Rochester paints a stark picture of the American education system.  £15.45 from www.amazon.co.uk

 

A Judge Too Far: His Honour Judge Keith Matthewman QC by former history teacher Annable Narvel provides fascinating social and historical insights. It costs £11.95 including postage from the author at 44 Dovedale Crescent, Belper, Derbyshire DE56 1HJ.

 

There is such a thing as society edited by Gary Streeter contains an interesting series of essays on social issues including education. £12.99 from Politicos Bookshop, 8 Artillery Row, London SW1P 1RZ. 

 

SNIPPETS

 

Mr Chaytor:  Secretary of State, you mentioned the departmental underspend earlier. Could you remind us what the total underspend was for last year?

(Estelle Morris) It is either £1.3 billion or £1.6 billion. Minutes of Evidence, Select Committee on Education and Skills, 10 July 2002.

 

I do not think [we] can be satisfied while a quarter of children leave primary school unable to read and write and count well…I also believe in an enriched curriculum. David Miliband, minister for school standards, to the Select  Committee on Education and Skills, 24 June 2002.

 

Ministers dread the August exam statistics. Rising pass rates are seen as ‘dumbing down’ and there is no strong evidence to rebut this claim. Conor Ryan, former special adviser to David Blunkett, TES,   23 August 2002.

 

The syllabus offered in English by each board is no more appropriate for the academic minority, consisting, as it invariably does, of literature based on the themes of racism, social class and ‘elitism’ in general. We do no favours to children by incarcerating them in a totally irrelevant and politically biased state education system after the age of 14.  Monica Waters,  Daily Telegraph letters, 3 September 2002.

 

I remember one science question being so poorly punctuated that to follow its exact  instructions would have led to an entirely different answer to what was in fact required. Savitri Patel, TES letters, 30 August 2002.

 

If one country’s PISA scores are higher than those of another country, it cannot automatically be inferred that the schools in the former are more effective…Knowledge and Skills for Life: First Results from PISA 2000, OECD.

 

Geography is about difference, distance and diversity. It’s about learning to grow up in a busy, booming complicated world… It embraces both physical and social issues, is a great way into citizenship and should not shy away from difficult questions of politics and race. David Lambert, chief executive, The Geographical Association, TES Teacher, 8 November 2002.

 

From a pedagogic point of view, sex and relationship education has little merit. It is not based on academic discipline. It lacks a corpus of ideas that can intellectually stimulate children. Unlike genuine subjects such as maths or English, it does not contribute to the development of abstract thought nor does it enhance appreciation for our understanding of life...The message is clear: let’s stop wasting time and energy on sex education and concentrate on providing real education. Professor Frank Furedi, ‘Sex education or real education’, The Daily Telegraph, 3 July 2002.

 

PLEASE CONTINUE TO SUPPORT US

 

Since it was formed in 1987, the Campaign for Real Education has been warning about the cumulative effects of the state educational establishment’s moves to use the system  to change young peoples’ attitudes and values.

Despite our efforts, these warnings have mostly been ignored. Indeed, since this government took office, the whole purpose of state education has changed – from transmitting knowledge to changing attitudes and values. The consequences are there for all to see, but we must keep trying.

So if you are not already supporting us with a standing order, please complete the enclosed form and send us a donation.  It will be put to good use and we shall be immensely grateful.

 

And finally…

We wish a happy and successful New Year to all our readers!

 

/Campaign for Real Education, December 2002.

 

Chairman: Chris McGovern.  Tel: 01435 830109 or 07757 715145.  Email: mcgovernchris@hotmail.com
Vice Chairmen: Jennifer Chew OBE, Jacqui Davies, Katie Ivens
Treasurer: Dr WAD Freeman, Ashgate, Halland, East Sussex, BN8 6PW.  Tel: 01825 840831.  Email: anthony831freeman@gmail.com
Secretary: Priya Dutta, 75 Truro Road, London N22 8DH.  Tel: 07701 088720.  Email: priyadutta@hotmail.com