NEWSLETTER

No 51, Winter  2003

 

ATTACK ON EXCELLENCE IN GLOUCESTER

 

Labour’s 1997 election manifesto stated: ‘Standards, more than structures, are the key to success. Labour will never put dogma before children's education. Our approach will be to intervene where there are problems, not where schools are succeeding. Labour will never force the abolition of good schools whether in the private or state sector. Any changes in the admissions policies of grammar schools will be decided by local parents.’  Charles Clarke, the education secretary, has said the debate about academic selection should be ‘founded entirely on standards’. However, he has been given evidence of the superiority of selective systems by the National Grammar Schools Association and he chooses to ignore it.

 

Now, thanks to a questionable need to reduce spare places and a requirement by the Learning and Skills Council to ‘review’ post-16 provision, Labour and Lib-Dem councillors are throwing thousands of pupils and every school in Gloucester into turmoil. They have set up a Working Group, nominally with 14 members. But 7 of them are LEA officials and the governor representative among the remaining 7 was not appointed. So the LEA has an inbuilt majority of 7 out of 13 members. There is no-one at all to represent parents.

 

Then, instead of acting responsibly, perhaps by improving or closing an under-performing (comprehensive) school, the Working Group produced a Strategic Review of all Gloucester’s schools, based on a confidential 13-page Data Book full of  dubious ‘evidence’.  On  the measure of 5-plus A*-C GCSEs, Gloucestershire is 8th out of 150 English LEAs, but that was ignored. The proposed re-organisation offers 4 possible ‘options for change’. All entail a reduction in grammar school places and all recommend the closure of at least one grammar school. (Closing  grammar schools under re-organisation plans is said to remove the statutory requirement to hold a parental ballot.)

 

Two very active parents’ groups have been formed to oppose the politicians who put ‘dogma before children’s education’: Review Action Group for Education (RAGE) led by Angus MacKellar  and Save Our Schools (SOS) led by Miles Bailey.  They have our full support.

 

FAIR PLAY ON ADMISSIONS?

 

Another attack on the best schools comes from a government Steering Group led by Professor Steven Schwartz of Brunel University  which seeks to promote ‘fairer’ access to universities. Objective criteria, such as good exam results, may be overridden by subjective, social criteria to manipulate admissions. Consultation on key issues relating to fair admissions to higher education is available at www.admissions-review.org.uk

 

The Schwartz proposals support the expansion of higher education, but give scant attention to  standards or the 40 per cent drop-out rate in some universities. If adopted, they will sever the remaining links between achieving a specified qualification at one level of education before moving on to the next. They will also reinforce current trends, whereby instead of the education system having its academic standards set by the universities (top down), they will be set by under-performing schools. Universities will be forced to lower their standards to comply (bottom up).

 

Although Professor Schwartz claims universities  control their own admissions, few, if any, seem to be refusing the additional government funding  available for discriminating against youngsters with  top-grade A-levels from  good state or independent schools, in favour of applicants with lower grades from ineffective schools or ‘poor’ areas (the postcode premium). There have been many reports of highly qualified applicants  from good schools being turned down by top universities. Even medical schools are taking financial incentives (bribes) from the government to accept students with fewer than three A-levels at grade C or above (Mail on Sunday, 2 November). The Schwartz proposals, coupled with the government’s ‘access regulator’, will legitimise this social engineering. 

 

Meanwhile, a new group has been formed to protect the link between honest achievement and entry to the top universities. Fair Play on Admissions opposes the lowering of standards of entry to universities and believes that priority should be given to raising aspirations and standards in state schools to enable more young people, whatever their background, to achieve the required high-level qualifications. The group is currently under the chairmanship of the philosopher and author, Professor Anthony O’Hear. For further information, please e-mail or phone us.

 

SCHOOL CHOICE TO GO TOO?

 

Because their incoherent reforms are failing to have much effect on standards in many schools, ministers are now trying a new tack. The latest idea is that if all secondary schools have similar intakes, their exam results, which are published in the league tables, will all be similar too. So admissions to schools, as well as universities, are to be centrally controlled.

 

Following the introduction of Parliamentary Regulations which, among other things, prevent schools from interviewing parents or pupils before offering a place, the Parliamentary Select Committee on Education and Skills has been  considering school admissions.

 

Almost all those  selected to give evidence have been hostile to parental choice. On 10 September, for example, Professors John Coldron, John Fitz and Anne West  confirmed to the Committee that they would all like to abolish selection in any shape or form.

 

Also favoured by the Select Committee is Labour’s favourite think-tank, the Institute for Public Policy Research. Papers by IPPR’s Martin Johnson, such as Schooling in London (February 2003), are deeply hostile to parental choice.  Johnson claims that “much of the discourse on ‘good’ and ‘bad’ schools is based on loose thinking and misleading data.”  He then repeats the discredited claim by Professor David Jesson that ‘selective systems result in lower educational performance’ and calls for ‘compulsion’ on schools to improve ‘fairness’ in the system.

 

His memorandum to the Select Committee  suggests that teachers and schools only contribute about 20 per cent towards pupil achievement – the rest is due to parental background, social class, peer-group influence etc. So schools should be ‘encouraged’ into ‘federations’ whose results should be published as a whole, not school by school. Independent schools should be invited to join the ‘federations’, and ‘a refusal should be taken as a lack of charity.’ Various forms of banding, plus carefully drawn or perhaps  moveable catchment areas, should be used to ensure that every school gets an ‘enforced balanced intake’ with equal shares of different ability ranges, (estimated) free school-meal pupils, Special Needs, etc.  According to Johnson, ‘the interests of social justice are not served’ by parental choice.

 

Dr Sheila Lawlor, director of the Politeia think-tank, and Nick Seaton also provided oral evidence and memoranda to the Committee. Unfortunately,  their pleas for higher standards and more choice for parents (and schools) did not seem to find much support.  

LONDON-WIDE ADMISSIONS PLANNED

In yet another development to undermine parental choice, plans are well advanced to control admissions to the capital’s secondary schools on a London-wide basis.

 

Dr Ian Birnbaum, chief education officer of the London Borough of Sutton, is now ‘chair’ of the Pan-London Coordinated Admissions Executive Board. Working with the Department for Education and Skills (DfES) and the new statutory requirements on admissions, it is intended to centralise all applications for secondary school places to ensure that each child gets only one offer.  With this in mind, the Office of the Deputy Prime Minister has given Wandsworth Council £1.4m to develop a suitable computer programme. By 2005, applications for places from all 33 London boroughs, plus 8 adjoining LEAs, will be entered into a single database. Each child will then be given only one offer, which may or may not suit parental preferences.

 

The danger, of course, is that this database will almost certainly record academic ability, entitlement to free school meals, ethnic origin, Special Needs and probably any behavioural problems too.  It will then be very easy for the Pan-London Board to divide pupils between schools according to the requirements of  politicians. 

 

Dr Birnbaum describes this as ‘the most complex piece of coordination ever put in place for local government…It represents a pilot project  which could be rolled out for England as a whole and indeed, it has been constructed with that very purpose.’

 

TEST RESULTS ARE DISAPPOINTING

 

Results from this year’s national test results for 11-year-olds suggest that standards have fallen in 69 out of 150 LEAs. The Daily Mail (4 December) calculated that more than 157,000 children left primary school this summer unable to read and write properly and 175,000 did not reach the expected level in maths.

 

Also, there is further evidence that the national tests are not as rigorous, or as objective, as they should be. A study by Alf Massey of Cambridge University has found that in 1999 and 2000, the marks required for 11-year-old (Key Stage 2) pupils to reach the expected level 4 in the national tests for  English were set too low to equate with  the standards of previous years.  In 1998, 64 per cent of the cohort met the standard, in 1999 it was 71 per cent and in 2000 was 75 per cent. These ‘improvements’ allowed ministers to claim that their reforms were working.

 

Disappointing results from 11-year-olds, coupled with ministers’ withdrawal of independent testing – leaving only teacher-controlled assessment – for 7-year-olds (Key Stage 1) have produced a disturbing situation, especially when there are doubts about  early reading. The next Reading Reform Foundation Newsletter includes a critique by  Jennifer Chew of the Progress in International Reading Literacy Study. PIRLS is frequently quoted as evidence for our ‘high’ standards of  early literacy. It seems that its findings are questionable. The latest RRF Newsletter will soon be available at www.rrf.org.uk

 

DfES MANIPULATED STATISTICS

 

The Statistics Commission has finally acknowledged that top civil servants from the Department for Education and Skills (DfES) have manipulated exam statistics to undermine the successes of grammar schools.  Richard Alldritt, the Commission’s chief executive, recently confirmed this to Fred Naylor of the Parental Alliance for Choice in Education, who has pursued this deception for many months.

 

Since 1999, education ministers and their political allies have claimed that comprehensive schools out-perform grammar schools. This assumption is based on statistics supplied by the DfES.  At that time, 96.4 per cent of all grammar schoool pupils were achievng 5 or more grade A*-C GCSEs.  The proportion of comprehensive pupils reaching the same level was 45 per cent. So the DfES statisticians compared the proportion of ALL grammar school pupils getting 5 or more A*-Cs (96.4 per cent) with the proportion taken from only the top 25 per cent of comprehensive pupils. By  considering only the top 25 per cent of  comprehensive pupils when 45 per cent were reaching this level, the tricksters ensured that any calculation based on the top 25 per cent was bound to show 100 per cent success! Using the same twisted logic, because the top 33 per cent of secondary modern pupils achieved 5-plus A*-Cs, if only the top 25 per cent of their pupils are considered, they too would show 100 per cent success, thus ‘outperforming’ the grammar schools! 

 

This deception has been backed by many leaders of the establishment, including Baroness Blackstone; Lord Hattersley; Charles Clarke; senior scientific officer Chris Kieszkiewicz; chief statistician Malcolm Britton; former DfES permanent secretary Sir Michael Bichard; and DfES permanent secretary David Normington.

GCSE MATHS RESULTS WERE FIXED

One of Britain’s most senior examiners, David Kent, has disclosed that he was forced to reduce the pass marks for GCSE maths this year to avoid failing too many candidates.

 

On 14 September, The Sunday Times revealed that if he had not reduced the grading marks by about 8 percentage points, tens of thousands of youngsters would not have achieved A*-C grades. Mr Kent, who was a chairman of examiners for 9 years, said that in previous years, the pass mark to achieve grade C had been at least 50 per cent. This year, the performance was so poor, he had had to drop it to 42 per cent. ‘The rules say the proportion passing should be around the same as previous years’, he said – clear recognition that standards can easily be lowered and cause grade inflation.    

Suspicions about the results were raised when Edexcel failed to show raw marks on candidates’ returned scripts. Professor David Burghes of Exeter University, also a former chairman of examiners, described it as ‘a complete fix.’

 

In a further move towards ‘all must have prizes’, the government’s Qualifications and Curriculum Authority has given its backing to a new GCSE exam which combines geography and history. The ‘spin’ is that it will help young people to make sense of the modern world. Many teachers and parents think both subjects will be seriously weakened.

 

BEWARE THE WRONG CONNEXIONS

 

We have been receiving disturbing reports about the Connexions service since its formation about 3 years ago. Set up by the DfES, in theory, it is supposed to give 13-19 year-olds advice on careers and counselling on personal matters. In practice, it takes the place of parents.  

 

On 28 September, Connexions was exposed in The Sunday Telegraph for distributing leaflets to schools giving step-by-step instructions on how to use cannabis. Written on a replica of a giant Rizla  packet, the instructions drew strong criticism from Mary Brett, a biology teacher and head of health education at Dr Challoner’s Grammar School, Amersham. With its £450m budget, Connexions employs  11,5000 staff including 6,600 personal counsellors for teenagers. 

 

The DfES has also come under fire for spending £50m last year to get 700 truants back into school – £71,428 for each child returned to the classroom.   

 

KILL THE MESSENGER

 

As may be guessed from the spelling, Kill the Messenger: The War on Standardized Testing by Richard P. Phelps is for, and about, America. But the situation it describes is very similar to what is happening in the UK.

 

The jacket says this is ‘perhaps the most thorough and authoritative work in defense of educational testing ever written. Phelps points out that much research conducted by education insiders on the topic is based on ideological preference or profound self-interest. It is not surprising they arrive at emphatically anti-testing conclusions.’

 

The preface, written by Professor J. E. Stone, whose work is much admired in the UK, explains perfectly: ‘To educators, knowledge and skills are important but not indispensable.  So-called thinking skills, attitudes and developmental outcomes are of equal importance. For example, many educators would consider students who have merely acquired positive self-esteem and an ability to work well with others to be educational successes.’

 

Standardized tests, this book makes clear, are essential for accountability. They may not be perfect, but they’re all we’ve got. That is why they are feared and hated by incompetent teachers and, of course, by the NUT.

 

Kill the Messenger is essential reading for everyone with an interest in  educational policy or state education generally. It costs £28.95 from The Eurospan Group, 3 Henrietta Street, Covent Garden, London WC2E 8LU or good bookshops.    

LOCAL NEWS

Gateshead: This summer’s GCSE results at Emmanuel City Technology College in Gateshead were outstanding. Between them, 27 pupils achieved  300 A* and A grade GCSEs, an average of 11 each.  The proportion of pupils getting 5 or more grade A*-Cs was 95.8 per cent, a record matching that of many grammar schools. Emmanuel College has a strong Christian ethos, which undoubtedly contributes to its success. 

Hertfordshire:  As a result of legal decisions against his rulings, Dr Philip Hunter, the government’s chief schools adjudicator, is now running scared. After he ordered two Watford schools to reduce the percentage of pupils they were selecting and was defeated in a Judicial Review, Dr Hunter has dropped his orders to 3 other Hertfordshire schools to reduce the percentage of pupils they select.   

Fulham: This year’s funding crisis has forced The London Oratory School to ask parents to increase their (voluntary) contributions to the School to £35 a month.  The Oratory is one of the best state schools in the country and was chosen by Tony Blair for his eldest sons. The extra money is required to retain teachers. One full-time and two part-time staff  have already left.      

Scotland: On 5 December, the Scottish Daily Mail revealed that while teenage pregnancies have fallen in Scotland generally, they increased by 10 per cent last year among 13-15 year-olds in the Lothians. This is remarkable because 3 years ago, the Scottish Office set up its Healthy Respect scheme for teenagers in Lothian. Intended to cut unwanted teenage pregnancies, Healthy Respect is a sex education programme that offers free condoms and morning-after pills to any young person who asks for them. Twenty-four pharmacies, including Boots, are taking part and even under-age girls are advised that the service is ‘free and completely confidential. We will not tell anyone you have used this service.’

RECOMMENDED PUBLICATIONS

Whatever Happened to Religious Education by Penny Thompson (Lutterworth Press) traces the gradual secularisation  of Religious Education over recent years. £19.00 including postage from Mrs P. Thompson, 14 Chestnut Avenue, Crosby, Liverpool L23 2SZ.

Lessons in Depravity: Sex education and the sexual revolution by E.S. Williams outlines the history of sex education in the UK and traces its links with the sexual revolution.  £8.00 from Belmont House Publishing, 36 The Crescent, Belmont, Sutton, Surrey SM2 6BJ or good bookshops.

‘Social justice in education: self-interest disguised as altruism’ by Professor Alan Barcan appeared in News Weekly, 6 September 2003.  Although this is about Australia, it is very relevant in the UK – not least because it explains how the term ‘social justice’ has been turned into a vehicle for ever increasing public-sector efforts and  expenditure. But ‘instead of getting the disadvantaged up to the educational mark, where they could hold their own in life stakes’, these efforts have generally failed.  Please send us an SAE,  if you would like a copy.

SNIPPETS

[The chairman of the Teacher Training Agency, Sir Clive Booth,] sympathises with the idea that a pupil with four good A-levels from a private school might be made a tougher admissions offer by a university than someone at an inner-city school with lower grades.  The Sunday Times, 30 March 2003.

 

The words ‘boyfriend’ and ‘girlfriend’ must be banned from the classroom, teachers are told, because they are not inclusive enough. Report on a new sex education guide published by the government-funded National Children’s Bureau. Daily Mail, 13 October 2003.

A recent survey [showed] that 31 per cent of teachers of German and 25 per cent of those teaching French have no formal qualifications in the subject. The Daily Telegraph, 15 October 2003.

Social work has been identified as the degree that attracts the least able students. It comes bottom of a list of 170 courses which were ranked according to the A-levels achieved by the undergraduates taking them. The degree course in secondary education was also in the lowest ten, at 162nd.  Daily Mail, 13 October 2003.

 

It started with a trainee [teacher] complaining that after five weeks of lectures, she had not been taught anything useful: ‘Nothing about lesson planning, classroom management, the national curriculum, teaching children to read or add up.’ Others joined in: ‘If I hear anything more about global education, I’ll scream; ignore most of what your lecturers tell you – they are mainly Left-wing idiots who haven’t got a clue; most lecturers are no good and the whole basis of PGCE is faulty.’  Comments from the TES website reported in The Daily Telegraph, 15 October 2003. 

 

/Campaign for Real Education, December 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