NEWSLETTER

No 49, Spring 2003

 

FUNDAMENTAL REFORMS PROPOSED

 

Fundamental improvements to the state education system are proposed by Reform, an independent think-tank. In essence, these would remove state education entirely from political interference and give power and influence back to parents and teachers.

 

A research group led by former chief inspector Chris Woodhead has considered every aspect of the current system and concluded that standards will only improve if all parents have genuine choice, and heads and teachers are given freedom to concentrate on their primary function. All the taxpayers’ money currently given to schools, plus all the billions spent on educational bureaucracies, should go directly to parents in the form of a voucher to spend at the school of their choice.

 

The recommendations were launched at a conference (which also covered crime and health) in London on 7 April. Please consider these proposals carefully – they offer practical solutions to deep-seated problems and realistic hope for the future. For full information go to www.reformbritain.com or contact Reform, 45 Great Peter Street, London SW1P 3LT. Tel. 0207 799 6699.

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EDUCATION BUDGET ABUSED

 

The long quest to find out how the Department for Education and Skills (DfES) manages to spend so much taxpayers’ money continues, albeit slowly.  Answers to further Parliamentary Questions asked by shadow education secretary Damian Green inform us that the DfES’s accounting system does not distinguish between payments made as grants and routine contract payments. But improvements are planned after April 2004! 

 

Having been told that a list of organisations in receipt of DfES grants could only be provided ‘at disproportionate cost’, a further question from Mr Green has extracted a 75-page list of bodies receiving more than £20,000 from the DfES in 2001-02.  They include Campaign for Learning, Citizenship Foundation, Foundation for Human Development, Institute for Citizenship, National Children’s Bureau (also an umbrella group for the Sex Education Forum and the Drug Education Forum), Policy Studies Institute, Woodcraft Folk, WWF-UK and numerous trade unions.

 

So far, we only know that these organisations received more than £20,000 in that year.  We do not know exactly how much, or whether the money was a grant from the DfES or a routine payment. But on 16 February, The Sunday Telegraph revealed that the Woodcraft Folk gets an annual grant from the DfES of £52,000 and has had more than £500,000 from the National Lottery. Woodcraft Folk came under scrutiny because it is a charity and because it had given £2,000 to the Stop the War Coalition, whose steering committee includes ‘hard-Left figures from groups including Workers’ Power, the Socialist Alliance and the Socialist Workers’ Party’.

 

The ideological leanings of WWF-UK are evident  in Greenprints for Changing Schools by Sue Greig, Graham Pike and David Selby, which was co-published by the World Wide Fund for Nature and Kogan Page in 1989. (Extracts can be posted or e-mailed if required.)  

 

While schools can’t afford to pay teachers, ministers and their officials, it seems, can freely channel taxpayers’ money from the DfES to any ‘progressive’ cause of their choice. 

 

WILL MINISTERS BACKTRACK ON SOCIAL ENGINEERING?

 

On 14 March, the Daily Mail reported that Charles Clarke, the education secretary, seemed to be climbing down over plans to bribe universities to give preference  to ‘working-class’ applicants at the expense of better qualified applicants from good schools. But this apparent change of direction came only after several weeks of extremely bad publicity for the government’s education policies.

 

Among leader writers the overwhelming view was that instead of indulging in social engineering, ministers should concentrate on providing more good state schools, so children from less-affluent homes could achieve worthwhile qualifications,  and places at the best universities,  purely on merit.

 

Sadly, an honest change of direction seems  unlikely, when the DfES has already set aside around £265m to encourage universities to take less well-qualified applicants. £155m will be used to widen access to applicants with less than three Cs at A-level, £38m will go towards the postcode premium  and another £62m will be used to reduce drop-out rates which, on some courses, are as high as 45 per cent. 

 

ANOTHER SETBACK IN READING WARS

 

Accelerating Reading and Spelling with Synthetic Phonics: A Five Year Follow Up  by Rhona S. Johnston and Joyce E. Watson confirms the  superiority of teaching children to read by synthetic phonics, as compared with analytic phonics  (see www.scotland.gov.uk/library5/education/ins4-00.asp). Children taught by synthetic phonics showed a 7-month advantage in their first year in primary school and a 26-month advantage in their fifth year. Synthetic phonics also ensures boys learn as well as girls, which does not happen with  the flawed National Literacy Strategy (NLS).  

 

After this research was published,  the DfES held a seminar to consider  whether the NLS needs improvement in view of criticisms from Ofsted (the inspectorate) and many others. It was organised by Professor David Hopkins, who heads the government’s Standards and Effectiveness Unit.  

 

The Reading Reform Foundation (www.rrf.org.uk) was not invited to give a presentation, but its newsletters, which list all the relevant research, were offered for distribution. They were ignored. (Incidentally, those who support research-based teaching are vilified as ‘polarised critics’.) 

 

As a result of this ostrich-like behaviour by DfES appointees, millions of taxpayers’ pounds will continue to be wasted on the failing NLS. And thousands of children will not get the opportunity to learn to read as quickly and efficiently as they might if they were properly taught.

 

In the meantime, another government scheme to help under-performing 11- and 12-year-olds to catch up on their literacy and numeracy has been a failure. It cost taxpayers’ £200m, but when the children took a test in English at the end of their extra tuition, 70 per cent showed no improvement. After a year’s extra tuition, 82 per cent did not reach the required level in maths. Ministers have responded by ordering the Qualifications and Curriculum Authority (QCA) to re-write the tests.

 

MISGUIDED POLICIES AND MORE SPIN

 

As concerns over standards increase, common sense suggests that ministers should forget about schools where pupils perform at or above the national average, and concentrate on those that are failing their pupils. Yet, both Charles Clark and his school standards minister, David Miliband, are determined to undermine the remaining 164 grammar schools. 

 

However, on 11 December 2002, Charles Clark told the House of Commons Select Committee on Education and Skills that the argument about academic selection should not be ‘a purely ideological argument…it should be an argument that is founded entirely on standards’.

 

This sounded unusually sensible to the National Grammar Schools Association, so a meeting with Mr Clarke was requested and eventually arranged for 10 February.

 

The NGSA  delegation, led by its chairman, Brian Wills-Pope, hoped that honest evidence, taken from the work of Dr John Marks, Fred Naylor and Professor Sig Prais (which all favours academic selection) would stop the anti-grammar school spin.      

 

Sadly, it was all in vain (see Snippets). Mr Clarke was very angry when he was told that his officials were providing misleading information. Nor did he like the evidence he was given, which showed, among other things, that in the past 30 years, secondary modern schools have improved their exam results at 6 times the rate of comprehensive schools. This, of course, shows that recent improvements in exam pass-rates cannot be the result of abolishing selection, as those who favour a totally comprehensive system claim. (The evidence is available at www.ngsa.org.uk or by e-mail from cre@credyork.freeserve.co.uk)

 

A few days before the meeting, Mr Clarke had re-quoted false DfES statistics to The Times (17 January). These  purported  to show that the top 25 per cent of pupils in comprehensive schools achieved better GCSE results than those in grammar schools. Also, to encourage anti-grammar school campaigners, he had published a report on the performance of Kent schools. Kent is a largely selective LEA, placed 37th out of 150 LEAs on the percentage of pupils achieving 5-plus grade A*-C GCSEs. But the report was spun to undermine Kent’s selective schools. If it was read in full, the report was quite favourable, especially to the grammars: ‘Kent County Council has been categorised as an ‘Excellent’ authority… Performance at GCSE  (5+ A*-C) is above national figures…No Kent secondary school has serious weaknesses, compared with 2.5 per cent nationally. All the [four] Kent secondary schools that require special measures are secondary modern schools.’

 

The DfES has already tried to use ‘value-added’ measures to undermine grammar schools. That has not worked. In the Kent report, the Department used PANDA grades to manipulate the statistics. But PANDA grades are not based on the take-up of free school meals – itself a dubious method of measuring poverty. Instead they are based on  estimated eligibility for free school meals – an even more questionable measure, wide open to abuse. The Kent report was also spun as an independent contribution from Ofsted. Insiders said it was written by the DfES and Ofsted had simply been asked to ‘look it over’.   

 

Meanwhile, hoping to fool people into thinking the state system offers genuine choice, the DfES has produced yet another glossy brochure, this time extolling the virtues of its specialist schools. But the jury is still out on whether specialist schools raise standards. And A New Specialist System: Transforming Secondary Education points out that there are over 50 secondary schools where less than 15 per cent of pupils achieve 5-plus A*-C GCSEs, more than 200 where the percentage is only 15 to 25 per cent, and over 800 where the percentage is only 25 to 40 per cent.

 

NEW MODEL SCHOOL

 

Following a study commissioned by the think-tank, Civitas, a New Model School Company has been formed. This will aim to provide a safe and friendly environment, where all children learn traditional subjects and become fluent in reading and writing by age 6.  Initially, it is hoped to begin after-school classes for pupils in South East London who want to get ahead (or catch up) in reading, spelling or maths. Eventually, it is hoped to open a full-time school, which will have an explicitly Christian ethos but will welcome children from all backgrounds. It is expected that full-time fees will be around £1,300 per term, with reductions for parents willing and qualified to help in the school. More information at www.newmodelschool.co.uk or phone Civitas on 0207 401 5470.

 

MORE RESEARCH FINDINGS

 

As part of a study for Jolly Learning Ltd, IPSOS-RSL asked people whether they thought state schools should become totally independent with the government still paying the full cost: 44 per cent approved, 36 per cent were neutral and only 20 per cent disapproved. 

 

Mathematical Skills in the Workplace by Celia  Hoyles, Alison Wolf, Susan Molyneux-Hodgson  and Phillip Kent suggests that employers are so certain that standards are falling, they ignore GCSE maths qualifications and set their own tests for job applicants. Available at www.stmc.org.uk 

 

ImpaCT2, a study into the effects on standards of heavy use of computers in schools, has found little or no benefit in most subjects. Available at www.becta.org.uk/research/reports/impact2

 

POLITICAL CORRECTNESS PRODUCES STRANGE RESULTS

 

Pages and pages of new guidance on the Qualifications and Curriculum Authority’s  website  tells teachers how to introduce anti-racism into every subject. Entitled ‘Respect for All’, it  includes the ‘anonymous’ quotation: ‘I have no prejudices of which I am aware.’  The sinister inference, of course, is that everyone is either racist or prejudiced, but not all of us are aware of it. And isn’t the term ‘anonymous’ usually used to describe a quotation that was written so long ago its authorship is uncertain? This one looks as though it was written recently, but no-one dares to claim it! 

 

This politically correct anti-racism/multiculturalism is now so invasive, it is having strange effects. For fear of offending Muslims, the head of  Park Road Infants School in Batley, has cleared her library shelves of all books containing any mention of pigs. But Shaykh Ibrahim Mogra, of the Muslim Council of Great Britain points out that the Koran itself contains reference to pigs. ‘I wish schools would consult the religious authorities before doing these things’, he told The Daily Mail on 5 March.

 

Also to avoid offending children of non-Christian  faiths, hot cross buns have been banned by Liverpool, Tower Hamlets, Wakefield, York and  Wolverhampton LEAs. But a spokesman for the Muslim Council of Britain called the decision ‘very, very bizarre’. ‘Actions like this can only create a backlash…I wish they would leave us alone. We are quite capable of articulating our own concerns…British Muslims have been quite happily eating and digesting hot cross buns for many years and I don’t think they are suddenly going to be offended.’ (Sunday Telegraph, 16 March)

 

LOCAL NEWS

 

London:  Although 51 of the 60 Catholic secondary state schools in the Greater London area currently interview parents and/or children before offering a place, this will no longer be allowed under new admission arrangements.  The new arrangements give LEAs, rather than schools, control over admissions.  This means that, in future, excellent schools such  as the London Oratory will have no say over who is, and is not, admitted.   

 

Sheffield: Lydgate Infant and Junior School has room for 4 classes for each year in the Infants but only 3 in the Juniors. So instead of expanding the Juniors, the LEA wants to send some of the children on to other, less popular, Junior Schools. Parents have threatened legal action, as they were promised this wouldn’t happen.  Meanwhile, some incredible statistics about Sheffield appeared in the TES (17 January). Apparently, the LEA has 4,106 teachers, 4,630 non-teaching staff in schools and another 751 ‘central support staff’.

 

Swindon:  Windmill Hill Primary School choir was withdrawn from a music festival funded by Swindon LEA  after parents complained about the controversial lyrics the children were expected to sing.  ‘Euro Jazz’,  a series of songs in praise of European integration, included the words ‘no border fines, no fences, wires or nets, no red tape, no regrets’. The organisers denied there was a political agenda.

 

Wiltshire: Literature for a government-funded Personal, Social and Health Education/Citizenship (PSHE/C) programme used by Wiltshire LEA, promotes “the curriculum for ‘real life’” and disparages ‘competing pressures on the school’s agenda’ such as ‘literacy and numeracy’, the ‘dominant focus on raising standards’, ‘SATs, GCSEs [and] league tables’. The programme is based on non-judgemental ‘values clarification’ and has been challenged by Fred Naylor. (Challenges to Cornwall LEA are also planned.) And PSHE/C is working: thousands of children have skipped lessons to join anti-war demonstrations, many causing serious problems for the police.  Punishment for this truancy has been either minimal or non-existent.

 

LATE NEWS:  The Christian Institute informs us that the government plans to give teachers of sex education immunity from prosecution under the Sexual Offences Bill.  The Bill is intended to protect children and young people from sexual abuse, so the idea that sex education teachers should need immunity from the law is very telling and deeply disturbing.  Baroness Blatch is leading the opposition to this proposal in Parliament. But with the independence of the House of Lords now fundamentally weakened, the prospects are not good.

 

RECOMMENDED PUBLICATIONS

 

A levels: Fiasco and Future by Sheila Lawlor goes behind the rhetoric of last year’s A-level fiasco and explains  how little was resolved by Mike Tomlinson’s subsequent enquiry, done on behalf of the government. Dr Lawlor calls for A-levels to be de-politicised and the pamphlet includes three excellent commentaries from specialists in English, maths and history. £5.00 including postage from Politeia, 22 Charing Cross Road, London WC2H 0QP.

 

Macbeth: Shakespeare for the Modern Age is a shortened version (35 minutes) of Macbeth on video, performed by professional actors. It uses Shakespeare’s own words but is placed in a modern setting to initiate pupils’  interest. £16.90 inc. p. & p. from Steve Orme Productions, 1 Seaton Close, Mickleover, Derby, DE3 OQH.

 

A Judge Too Far: His Honour Judge Keith Matthewman QC, recommended in our last newsletter, is by Narvel S. Annable, not as previously stated. We apologise for the error. £11.95 including postage from the author at 44 Dovedale Crescent, Belper, Derbyshire DE56 1HJ.

 

SNIPPETS

 

In an interview yesterday, Mr Clarke renewed his attack on grammar schools. ‘The idea that all grammar schools are good and excellently run is not true in my opinion,’ he said. Ignoring the example of Northern Ireland, he went on: ‘It is not obvious that a selective system has higher standards than anybody else.’ The Daily Telegraph, 4 April 2003.

 

The volume of often poor quality paperwork issuing from the Department for Education and Skills remains [school] governors’ top gripe, with much of it described as ‘party political propaganda’, jargon-ridden and a waste of time. TES, 14 February 2003. 

 

In the past seven years I haven’t seen anything get better. I have seen funding cut, my school struggling from one financial crisis to the next, and the Government spending millions of pounds on this and that strategy which doesn’t teach us anything we didn’t know. Tony Phillips, geography and ICT teacher, who is leaving the profession, TES, 28 February 2003.

 

…Despite the expenditure of millions of extra pounds [at the Ridings School, Halifax]… that woeful 8 per cent [5-plus A*-C GCSEs] has become a pitiful 7 per cent.  David Helliwell, former Labour leader of Calderdale Council, TES, 14 February 2003.

 

But there are other issues too: reading books might seem like a fairly obvious skill, yet some students are accustomed to reading documents or short excerpts from books and have difficulty in reading efficiently a book in its entirety.  Dr Martin Conway, lecturer in modern history at Balliol College, Oxford. TES Teacher, 21 February 2003.

 

One in five British employees have poor literacy and numeracy skills. DfES advertisement for its campaign to improve literacy and numeracy  for 750,000 adults by 2004.

 

Does [Charles Clarke] believe the winner of an Olympic race should only get silver because the athlete who came second has parents on a lower income? Robert Bottamley, Daily Mail letters, 3 March 2003.

 

It would be the starting point for the common university system we’re trying to develop among the countries of the European Union.  Xavier Dacros, France’s education minister, welcoming moves in Britain to replace GCSEs and A-levels with a baccalaureate. The Independent,  24 January 2003.

 

Table 3. Non-continuation rate from first year to second year of entrants to full-time degree courses in 1999-2000 by risk category:  Young [students] Medium risk – A-levels or Highers 10 to 16 points; foundation courses; Baccalaureate ... Mature [students] High Risk – BTEC; GNVQ level 3; Baccalaureate (emphasis added). Funding for widening participation in higher education: Responses to consultation, HEFCE, March 2003.

 

AND FINALLY, A VERY SAD NOTE

 

We are immensely sorry to record the death of Stewart Deuchar on 23 March. Stewart had been one of our vice-chairmen since the Campaign began in 1987. He was an inspiration to us all and will be greatly missed by everyone who knew or worked with him. We extend our deepest sympathy to his wife, Beryl, and all the family, both in this country and overseas.

 

/Campaign for Real Education, April 2003

 

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