NEWSLETTER

No 50, Summer 2003

 

FUNDING CRISIS: WHO IS TO BLAME?

 

Reports of inadequate school budgets still make  headlines.  Charles Clarke, the education secretary, has blamed  LEAs, accusing them of withholding £500m that should have gone into school budgets. David Miliband, his schools minister, told the Secondary Heads’ Association that the Department for Education and Skills (DfES) did not have a ‘war chest’ of money waiting to be handed out.  On 13 June, the TES reported: ‘Government officials in charge of resolving the schools funding crisis have admitted that they do not fully understand how the system works.’  So who is to blame?

 

First the DfES’s ‘war chest’. According to its latest Departmental Annual Report, the DfES will have £25,092m in its own budget this year. (This is on top of £25,018m earmarked for LEAs.) If the £7,269m cost of FE and the £7,176m cost of HE are deducted, the ‘war chest’ still contains £10,647m. Where does that go? 

 

One example: a staggering £1,401m will be spent on Modernising the Teaching Profession. Much of the remainder goes on similar political initiatives chosen by education ministers. Because the DfES is not properly held to account, many millions of  pounds go unexplained.  Parliamentary Questions by shadow education secretary Damian Green have failed to determine whether around £1bn a year of European Social Fund and European Regional Development Fund money is income or expenditure. There is no public record of individual DfES grants to numerous Non-Governmental Organisations. And remember how, several months ago, Estelle Morris couldn’t be sure whether the Department’s  underspend was £1.3bn or £1.6bn!   

 

And what of local government? LEAs’ provisional Section 52 budgets for this year show their Total Education Revenue Expenditure is £30,958m. Out of this, schools are given £22,898m for their budgets, including their shares of School Standards Grants and Standards Fund Grants. School budgets have increased by £1,510m this year, but central spending by LEAs has increased by £1,188m to £8,060m. Included in LEA spending is nearly £600m of Non-Devolved Standards Fund money, £781m on Strategic Management (including £452m on Statutory Duties), £71m on Admissions/School Places, and £16m on Promoting Good Practice.

 

So both central and local government bureaucracies are to blame for the problems faced by schools.

 

In mid-July, almost 4 months into the current financial year, Mr Clarke suddenly found a spare £846m in his ‘war chest’, which will go to schools over the next two years. But if the key amounts above are listed alongside the spenders, and it is remembered that the budget shares are divided between one DfES, 150 LEAs and around 24,000 schools, the mistaken priorities are very clear.   

 

MAJORITY SUPPORTS VOUCHERS

 

ICM recently surveyed a cross section of ‘swing’ voters for Reform, the Westminster think-tank. People were asked if they would like to be free to use the money the government spends on education (about £5,000 per year per child) to send their children to any school they choose, including private schools where they could top up the fees. Of those polled, 55 per cent described the proposal as a ‘good idea’ and only 29 per cent rejected it.

 

Among members of political  parties, 67 per cent of Conservatives and 54 per cent of Labour supporters favoured the proposal. Radical solutions to problems with ineffective public services were especially favoured by younger voters. Full details are at www.reformbritain.org

 

Sadly, no political party has yet decided to offer  freedom to parents by giving them purchasing power – though they are beginning to  wonder why people won’t  vote for them!

 

SHAMELESS POLITICAL BIAS

 

Earlier this year, Oxford University’s Department of Educational Studies hosted a series of lectures and seminars on ‘The Future of Comprehensive Secondary Education’. Also involved were the Centre for the Study of Comprehensive Schools and the Campaign for State Education. All these bodies share Labour’s policies against selective schools. Speakers at the lectures included schools minister David Miliband, Lord Hattersley, Professors Geoff Whitty, Richard Pring, Margaret Maden, Sally Tomlinson, David Jesson and Tim Brighouse. Out of 19 speakers, not one would have made a fair case for parental choice or grammar schools.  

 

Results show that grammar and secondary modern schools together outperform the comprehensive system. Why, then, are trainee teachers and educationists brainwashed against selection?  

 

POLITICAL BIAS IN TEXTBOOKS, TOO

 

Exploring Language and Literature by Steven Croft and Robert Myers (OUP, 2000) is described as a practical guide for those taking AS and A-level English Language and Literature. Written by two examiners, it devotes several pages to Tony Blair’s speech to the Labour Party conference in 1999.

 

This was the speech in which Mr Blair said: ‘Today’s Tory Party – the party of fox hunting, Pinochet and hereditary peers: the uneatable, the unspeakable and the unelectable…Under John Major it was weak, weak, weak! Under William Hague, it’s weird, weird, weird!  Far right, far out!’ 

 

Mr Blair also compared the Conservative Party with the characters in the TV programme, ‘The Addams Family’. The authors of Exploring Language and Literature conscientiously list the Addams’s characteristics: ‘their grotesqueness, their dysfunctional nature, the comical way they behave, the reaction of horror they provoke in some people.’

 

This book uses the Blair speech as an example of rhetoric. But it does not require much imagination to see the long-term effects such material will have on young minds – especially when there is nothing to suggest there might be an alternative view.   

 

CIRCLE TIME EXPANDS

 

We have been warning about the dangers of Circle Time since 1998. Yet in Quality Circle Time in the Secondary School: A Handbook of Good Practice (David Fulton, 2002), co-authors Jenny Mosley and Marilyn Tew claim that programmes such as Circle Time are now ‘flourishing in thousands of primary schools and beginning to be adopted in the secondary sector’.

 

They admit that Circle Time is based on humanistic psychology, especially the work of Carl Rogers and Abraham Maslow, inventors of values clarification. But the authors fail to mention that  Rogers and Maslow saw the dangers of  their techniques – and published their concerns. Dr William Coulson, the third psychologist who helped to develop values clarification, was so dismayed that he became a high-profile campaigner against the technique. Yet Coulson doesn’t even get a mention in this book.

 

So what are the dangers? After using Rogerian techniques on his students, Maslow wrote: ‘My students have lost the traditional Jewish respect for learning, for knowledge and for teachers.’  Following the use of values clarification techniques on 600 Catholic nuns, Dr Coulson was quoted in The Latin Mass (January-February, 1994): ‘Within a year after our first interventions, 300 of them were petitioning Rome to get out of their vows. They didn’t want to be under anyone’s authority, except the authority of their imperial inner selves’. These outcomes are well documented. So why, if they really care about discipline and standards,  are the DfES and Ofsted (the inspectorate) vigorously promoting Circle Time and values clarification?

 

TESTING AND EXAMS IN TURMOIL?

 

After 6 years of unfettered progressive ideology,  the pretence that standards are being maintained is becoming difficult to sustain. As the primary purpose of education has shifted from teaching the knowledge and content of academic subjects to producing a new, politically correct society, the establishment is being forced to take desperate measures to maintain confidence in the system.  

 

Earlier this year,  the QCA reported on work done by the Centre for Developing and Evaluating Lifelong Learning at Nottingham University and  MORI. This looked at perceptions of standards over time and found that ‘on the whole  teachers suspected that exam standards had not been maintained over time’. Also, that there was ‘some concern’ amongst parents that standards were falling. In general, those believing that exam standards were declining tended to be from industry, the main opposition political party and pressure groups.

 

Now, despite the supposedly successful National Literacy and Numeracy Strategies, Charles Clarke has announced that national tests for 7-year-olds will be replaced by (subjective) teacher assessment.

 

Doubts about test results for 11- and 14-year-olds are growing. On 22 June, The Sunday Telegraph revealed that the pass mark for 11-year-olds to achieve Level 4 in English (the expected average standard) has been reduced by 5 points this year – down to 44 out of 100. In 1996, pupils needed 57 marks to reach the same level. On 20 July, The Sunday Telegraph revealed that this year the proportion of 14-year-olds reaching Level 5 at one London school has rocketed from 47 to 76 per cent. A school in Yorkshire has seen its Level 5s  jump from 28 to 48 per cent this year.

 

Teachers themselves are becoming concerned and   asking for papers to be re-marked – downwards.  In particular, they are worried that such good results among 11- and 14-year-olds will prevent them from showing up well in the ‘value-added’ tables, when the same pupils eventually take GCSEs.

 

Perhaps in the hope of avoiding such problems, ministers and the educational establishment are now planning to replace GCSEs and A-levels with an overarching baccalaureate-type diploma. This will entail fewer written exams and more teacher assessment. These proposals, by the Working Group on 14-19 Reform headed by Mike Tomlinson,  were published in July.

 

To avoid charges of dumbing-down, Mr Tomlinson suggests that A-levels might possibly form part of the proposed new qualification. But it is, perhaps, significant that the totally independent International Baccalaureate has been rejected, presumably because that would prevent politicians from controlling the results. 

 

Further information on these proposals is available at www.14-19reform.gov.uk or by post from  DfES Publications, Tel. 0845 602 2260. Responses are required by 16 October.

 

INTERNATIONAL STUDIES QUESTIONED

 

Ministers frequently quote international studies in support of ‘rising’ standards. Best known of these is the Programme of International Student Achievement (PISA) survey, published by the Organisation for Economic Co-operation and Development (OECD). This placed British 15-year-olds fourth in science and eighth in maths out of 27 countries. But in the Oxford Review of Education, Vol 29, No 2, 2003, Professor S.J. Prais, an eminent statistician, explains that the design and the methodology of PISA were flawed.  

 

Another frequently quoted survey, the Progress in International Reading Literacy Study (PIRLS), placed children in England third for literacy out of 35 countries. There are doubts about that, too.

The participants from England had had between 1 and 2 years longer in school than those from most other countries, they showed a very wide range of achievement, and there were unacceptable    differences between boys and girls.

 

These international studies do not compare like with like, nor do they accurately measure standards, as people are led to believe. Nevertheless, progressives are encouraging  sympathetic politicians to base their policies on such studies. But if the research is flawed, what hope for the policies?  

 

SECTION 28 TO GO?

 

Section 28, which makes it illegal for local authorities to promote homosexuality in schools, is almost certain to be repealed. Hoping to protect children from unsuitable materials, Lady Blatch proposed an amendment in the House of Lords in July to give parents more control over their children’s sex education. Labour and Liberal Democrat peers described it as a ‘wrecking amendment’. It  was defeated by 180 votes to 130. 

 

Meanwhile, Margaret Hodge has been appointed minister for children though, as leader of Islington Council from 1982 to 1992, she presided over a child-abuse scandal. Despite several warnings from social workers, she refused to act to stop the abuse.  

 

WHISTLE-BLOWER VICTIMISED

 

Although exam boards are desperately short of examiners, Annis Garfield, a Cambridge classics graduate, has not been re-employed this year.  As an examiner with several years experience, Mrs Garfield had made her views about standards and grade-fixing known to the media, a cardinal sin in the eyes of the educational establishment. It now looks certain that she will join the select band of honest academics who have paid the price for their integrity.

 

LOCAL NEWS

 

Buckinghamshire: The Socialist Education Association’s website informs us that in Buckinghamshire, where there is a selective system of secondary schools, the percentage of pupils gaining 5-plus A*-C grade GCSEs in 2001 was 63 per cent. This compares with a national average of 50 per cent. So Buckinghamshire’s grammar and secondary modern schools, taken together, were achieving at a rate 13 per cent above the national average. Yet, rather strangely, the SEA quotes Buckinghamshire’s GCSE performance as a reason for abolishing selective schools.   However, all is not perfect, even in Buckinghamshire: in answer to a question about parental choice, John Clare points out in The Daily Telegraph (10 May) that more than 40 per cent of the 12-year-olds at Quarrendon Upper School cannot read properly. But is no-one tackling Quarrendon’s feeder primary schools?

 

Devon:  Armoral Carlyon  and Ann Whitaker of the Cornwall Community Standards Association, with a host of  supporters and the help of Fred Naylor, are still campaigning against Devon County Council’s ‘value-free’ health and sex education programme, which is largely funded by central government. A letter has gone to Kate Pordage, the course director of ‘Whole School Quality Circle Time’ at Devon County Council with  background information and some serious questions. Interesting answers are expected, so watch this space!   

 

Sheffield: Sheffield plans to be the first LEA in England to change all its ‘bog standard’ comprehensive schools into specialist schools. Ministers see their specialist schools policy as a way of appearing to offer parental choice, without really offering any. Yet even the government’s chief admissions adjudicator, Philip Hunter, seems confused about how specialist schools are supposed to select their pupils. In the TES on 11 July, Mr Hunter sought to explain how specialist schools could avoid breaking the law by differentiating between aptitude and ability. But despite the acknowledged assistance of Professor Dylan Wiliam of King’s College, London, Tim Oates of the QCA and Chris Whetton of NFER, his recommendations were an incomprehensible mish-mash of ‘Third Way’ fudge. Meanwhile, The Sunday Times (8 June) reports that Sheffield children as young as 10 are learning to use condoms in sex education. The lessons include a demonstration using a plastic phallus of  how to fit a condom. They are run by Southeast Sheffield Education Action Zone.

 

Staffordshire: Councillor David Nixon has sent us a copy of a reader’s letter by Malcolm Moore, published in the local Sentinel newspaper on 30 April.  This points out that 100 teachers face the sack in Staffordshire, because the DfES is passing education funds to political organisations such as the Woodcraft Folk, instead of  to hard-pressed mainstream schools. 

 

RECOMMENDED  PUBLICATIONS

 

‘QCA Guidance on Drug, Alcohol and Tobacco Education’ by Mary Brett (Education and Health, Vol 21, No 2, 2003) is highly critical of the QCA.  Mary Brett, who teaches biology and health education, writes that nowhere in the guidance could she find the word ‘prevention’, though the phrase ‘informed choices’ is used over and over again. A weak response to these criticisms, by Jan Campbell of the QCA’s  PSHE and Citizenship Team,  is also printed.  Copies of the main article at www.cre.org.uk – or posted on request.

 

‘OECD: The Trojan Horse Within’ by Fred Naylor is to appear in Current Concerns, the English language journal published by Mut Zur Ethic in Zurich.  The OECD, Mr Naylor explains, has replaced the educational aim of ‘equality of opportunity’ by ‘equality of result’.  The former is liberal, the latter is radical and ‘sometimes Marxist’.  Also at www.cre.org.uk – or posted on request.   

 

‘Abstinence under fire’ by Dr T.G. Stammers (The Postgraduate Medical Journal, August 2003)  asks why the government’s chief medical officer, Sir Liam Donaldson, claims that there is no evidence to support abstinence-based sex education, when this is clearly not true. Dr Stammers’ article provides a valuable reference for anyone seeking evidence to support abstinence education. Details from Family and Youth Concern, Tel. 0207 401 5480.   

 

Liberalising Education is a series of  publications from CfBT  covering international perspectives on several key issues including costs and diversity, co-operative schools, and private provision linked to public finance. They are available at www.cfbt.com/randd/publications or by post from CfBT, Tel. 0118 902 1224.  

 

SNIPPETS

 

All the sixteen-plus examinations must be abolished…My objection to the sixteen-plus examinations…is…that they have become occupational qualifications and thus an instrument of social injustice.  Professor David H. Hargreaves, The Challenge for the Comprehensive School, Routledge & Kegan Paul, 1984.

 

Contrary to the claim on your front page…, neither as chief executive of the Qualifications and Curriculum Authority nor subsequently did I advocate the abolition of the GCSE. Professor David H. Hargreaves, TES letters, 28 March 2003.

 

Does personhood begin at birth, at conception or, as developmental psychologist Mary John suggests, when the child begins to influence the behaviour of others?  Teacher trainer Melian Mansfield, TES, 30 May 2003.

 

The Standard Assessment Tests for seven-year-olds will be rejigged to make them less stressful…Question 8. Write down why people should eat fruit and vegetables. The Sun, 21 May.

 

Dozens of Manchester education officials are preparing to race round pupils’ homes to prevent them over-sleeping on the morning of the [GCSE] exam…The worst schools in Britain are still performing relatively poorly despite multi-million-pound government initiatives… The proportion of pupils gaining five good GCSEs in schools at the bottom of the league tables has gone up just four per cent since 1997.  The Sunday Telegraph, 25 May 2003.

 

Blair’s £800m [Excellence in Cities scheme] fails to lift city schools. But underachievers feel better, says Ofsted. Headline in The Times, 26 May 2003.

 

A levels are still regarded by employers, universities, teachers, parents and …students as some of the most taxing examinations that any student will take. Full page ‘advertisement’ for A-levels  in The Sun placedby the QCA, ACCAC and CCAA.  12 May 2003.

 

…A £2m project that would see [high-flying] Hurworth School developing a close bond with [failing] Eastbourne Comprehensive to help improve its academic performance. Northern Echo, 7 July 2003.

 

Official campaigns to abolish grammar schools have cost the taxpayer more than £1 million despite all ending in failure…Schools Standards Minister David Miliband revealed in a parliamentary written answer that £1,102,945  has been spent on expenses and a ballot – enough to fund 60 newly qualified teachers for a year. Daily Mail, 11 April 2003.

 

Teachers, support staff and a Labour MP are donating a day’s wages this week to help ease the financial crisis at a primary school. The school is one of hundreds around the country forced to set deficit budgets because they did not receive enough from the Government to cover their costs. The Daily Telegraph, 2 July 2003.

 

Labour is spending more than ever to support you. Headline for an article by David Miliband, who wrote that he was ‘proud of that’. TES, 11 April 2003.

 

An ICM opinion poll for the News of the World has revealed that…only 16 per cent thought the quality of state education had improved since Labour came to power in 1997. TES, 30 May 2003.

 

/Campaign for Real Education, August 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