NEWSLETTER 

No 52, Spring 2004

 

OFFICIAL: STANDARDS HAVE FALLEN

 

Leading figures in the educational establishment have finally confessed that standards and exam grades can no longer be relied on. Launching his Interim Report of the Working Group on 14-19 Reform in February, former chief inspector Mike Tomlinson admitted that neither GCSEs nor A-levels are sufficiently challenging. Nor do they provide firm foundations for degree-level work.

 

Sadly, this new-found honesty is unlikely to lead to a more rigorous and reliable exam system. Mr Tomlinson has recommended a complex 4-tier diploma system that will subsume A-levels and include a ‘core’ requiring all school leavers to ‘develop a range of knowledge, skills and attributes such as self-awareness, self-management and inter-personal skills’. The stealthy removal of what remains of the A-level ‘gold standard’ may also make it impossible to compare standards over time. Another proposal, to allow youngsters to take exams at any age could, if it becomes widespread,  make it impossible to compare the performance of schools.

 

The Tomlinson recommendations have been widely condemned by employers and commentators. His  report is available at www.14-19reform.gov.uk and responses are required by 11 May.

 

Also published in February, Making Mathematics Count by Professor Adrian Smith, confirms that in maths, neither the National Curriculum  nor current  qualifications meet the needs of pupils, universities or employers. Available free by phoning 0845 602 2260. Or at www.mathsinquiry.org.uk

 

GLOUCESTER PUT ON HOLD

 

The consultation on Labour and Lib/Dem plans to close at least one grammar school in Gloucester  and a number of the City’s sixth forms showed 82 per cent against the proposals.  Only 9 per cent wanted to end selection altogether and even a majority of comprehensive school parents voted to retain the grammars.

 

Three local Labour MPs became so worried about losing their seats they enlisted the help of the education secretary, Charles Clarke, and his staff to produce more moderate proposals, which would  retain the grammars. Now, fearing the local elections in June, Gloucester (City) Labour group has decided it too will support the MPs’ proposals.

 

But the controlling county councillors have not given up: they have put their plans on hold until July or later – after the local elections. They have also allocated £200,000 on top of the £70,000 already spent to develop their plans. So until left-wing politicians decide between their ideology and saving their skins, Gloucester’s schools are condemned to a climate of uncertainty and fear.     

 

UNIVERSITY ADMISSIONS AND FEES

 

Government support of Higher Education should be shifted from the present system of grants to universities to a system of bursaries paid directly to qualifying UK students, writes Professor Stephen Bush in our latest pamphlet. 

 

Over a five-year transition period, this would free the universities completely from government control. Unlike the proposals in the government’s Higher Education Bill, admissions policies would be determined entirely by universities without regard to background: academic merit and motivation would be the only criteria.

 

At the end of  a 5-year transition period and with no real increase in the current Treasury grant for university teaching (about £4bn), the deficits in universities’ finances would be eliminated and they would be free to set their own fees and admissions policies. Treasury grants for research would move entirely to the Research Councils, freeing the system from the expensive Research Assessment Exercises. 

 

To achieve these freedoms, the Treasury grant would be converted initially to one million state bursaries (average value £4,000) to be paid to the student, and rising to about £5,300 as the number of bursaries declined to a more economically justifiable 750,000 (about a third of the age group). In addition, universities could receive about £2,700 in top up fees from the student to meet entirely the average cost of courses. From existing Treasury budgets, provision could also be made to fund around 50,000 full-fee scholarships for students from less well-off families. Another 25,000 one-year pre-university bursaries of £4,000 could be funded from LEA/school budgets for potential university applicants from ‘poor’ school backgrounds – this to  help them reach the more rigorous entry standards of a revitalised university system.

 

University Admissions and Fees costs  £4.00 from 18 Westlands Grove, York YO31 1EF.

 

MINISTER FOR MISINFORMATION?

 

When the Department for Education and Skills (DfES) published its value-added league tables for 14-16 year-olds in mid-January, BBC Newsnight presenters Kirsty Wark and Stephanie Flanders  knew something was amiss. It was clearly illogical that grammar schools had excelled in the value-added tables for 11-14 year-olds published just before Christmas but, only weeks later, appeared to have fallen from grace.

 

They  concentrated on The Crypt Grammar School in Gloucester, which is currently threatened with closure. In the 11-14 tables, The Crypt had been among the top 50 schools in the country. In the 14-16 tables, it had fallen to 2,202.  When Kirsty Wark asked schools minister David Miliband how this could happen, he floundered. ‘There are strengths in the early years of the School, but they’ve got some work to do in the later years’, he said. ‘Most schools are good in some subjects, but not good in others’. Asked whether The Crypt was a good school or not and why grammars were top of the league tables 4 weeks previously, yet only one grammar school was now in the top 50, Mr Miliband  replied: ‘For a different phase of education, Kirsty. With respect, education is quite complicated.’ But it only becomes ‘complicated’ when the need for deceit overrides common sense. Either the minister for school standards didn’t understand his Department’s methods of manipulating data, or he wouldn’t admit the truth.

 

The root cause of the confusion had been revealed a few days previously by Mark Tweedle, the head of Heckmondwike Grammar School. His 3-page paper for the National Grammar Schools Association explains that ‘the methodology used to calculate added value effectively prevents the most able students in selective schools from adding any value at GCSE.’ Because most grammar school pupils reach such high levels between 11 and 14, they need to achieve all A*s or better in all their GCSEs to ‘add’ more value between 14 and 16 – an impossibility. (This may disadvantage other types of high-performing school too.)

 

Mark Tweedle’s very informative paper is at www.ngsa.org.uk/value added

 

THE BLAIR GENERATION

 

Speaking at the Secondary Heads’ Association conference in March, David Miliband christened children educated under his government ‘the Blair generation’. They will be ‘the best educated generation in our nation’s history’, he said and  their standards will ‘rival the world’s best’.  Not content with around 50 per cent of youngsters in state schools achieving 5-plus high grade GCSEs, Mr Miliband hoped for 70 per cent.

 

Reporting his speech on 27 March, The Yorkshire Post also published the results of a survey of 1,500 teenagers carried out by health chiefs in Batley and Dewsbury. This found that among 14 year-olds, 1 in 10 have sex every week, 1 in 5 girls are addicted to smoking, 1 in 4 girls drink alcohol every week, and 1 in 4 girls take no exercise. 

 

Professor David Paton, an economist at Nottingham University, has found that sexually transmitted diseases (STDs) among 16-19 year-olds have increased by 30 per cent since the government launched its £63m Teenage Pregnancy Strategy just 5 years ago. The largest increases have been in areas such as Oxfordshire and Nottinghamshire, where in-school ‘health’ clinics,  free condoms and morning-after pills have increased, not reduced, both STDs and teenage pregnancies.

 

Meanwhile, to keep up the pretence of higher standards, ministers allow vocational  GNVQs to have the same value as two, or sometimes four, higher grade GCSEs in academic subjects such as maths, chemistry, physics or foreign languages.

 

DRUG EDUCATION IN EVERY LESSON?

 

New guidance from the DfES recommends that drug education should be part of the content of all subjects. Maths lessons should show pupils how to calculate the profit made by drug pushers, geography lessons should identify the location of drug cartels and Religious Education should explore ‘morals, values and cultural diversity’ relating to drugs. In music, pupils might debate the meaning of the Beatles song, ‘Lucy in the Sky with Diamonds’, which refers to LSD. According to the DfES, ‘Wherever drug education is located in the curriculum, it should be explicitly planned as part of a cohesive and progressive programme.’

 

But won’t this make drugs part of everyday life in schools and normalise drug-related activities? 

 

THE ROAD TO MALPSYCHIA

 

The Road to Malpsychia: humanistic psychology and our discontents by Joyce Milton (Encounter Books, 2002) tells how American psychologists Abraham Maslow and Carl Rogers hoped to make humanistic psychology the basis of a revolutionary, anti-religious movement based on the self. Their aim was to create an ideal society of ‘self-actualised’ individuals who, free from rules and restrictions, would all live in harmony.

 

Although many of their activities descended into chaos and many lives were ruined, this weird ideology spread across the world.  Thanks   to the DfES and its acolytes, the ‘values clarification’ aspects of humanistic psychology are now part of the National Curriculum: the techniques are used in Personal, Social and Health  Education, citizenship lessons (see opposite) and traditional subjects.

 

As Milton writes, “The encounter method [sharing feelings in groups, as in Circle Time] is problematical under the best of circumstances, but when people are dragooned into taking part in a ‘transformative process’, by facilitators with a pre-determined agenda, the only word for what goes on is brainwashing.”  The Road to Malpsychia should be read by all trainee teachers. It costs £15.50 (or cheaper secondhand) from www.amazon.co.uk 

 

LOOKING FOR GOOD TEXTBOOKS?

 

Galore Park was set up as a publishing house in 1999 by teachers who despaired of the growing tendency to dumb down every aspect of the school curriculum. They now publish a growing list of secondary-level textbooks, which so far cover Maths, Science, Latin and Spanish. Books for French and German will be out soon and all are suitable for use at home or in schools – indeed they are used and recommended by top public schools. Further details from Galore Park, PO Box 96, Cranbrook, Kent TN14 4WS. Tel. 01580 241025 (www.galorepark.co.uk).

 

Jolly Publishing, which caters for younger children,   also goes from strength to strength. Along with their Jolly Phonics books and other aids for teaching reading, they have recently published the Jolly Dictionary by Sara Wernham and Sue Lloyd. This  is for 5-8 year-olds and cost £5.95 from good bookshops, or direct from Jolly Learning, Tailours House, High Road, Chigwell, Essex IG7 6DL. Tel. 0208 501 0405  (www.jollylearning.co.uk).  

 

CITIZENSHIP OR WHAT? 

 

A teachers’ resource pack for citizenship lessons, aimed at children as young as 5,  claims pupils will: ‘learn to work effectively in pairs and in groups; explore their own feelings and views on a range of topical issues; learn to clarify and express those views coherently; make personal choices within a moral framework; explore and evaluate opposing views’. (Note the clever use of values clarification.)

 

Produced by People for the Ethical Treatment of Animals (who could be against that?), the pack promotes pressure groups such as the Campaign for the Abolition of Angling, Coalition to Abolish the Fur Trade, League Against Cruel Sports, National Anti-Vivisection Society, Vegan Society etc.  The pack asks if hunting should be banned, calls angling ‘hunting under water’, suggests that over-fishing has caused ‘a marine apocalypse’ and that zoos are cruel. All debatable issues. But is it really the job of teachers to manipulate the views of small children? And then, as requested in the pack,  report back on their pupils’ beliefs?

 

RECOMMENDED PUBLICATIONS

 

Government Failure: E.G.West on Education edited by James Tooley and James Stanfield costs £12.50 from the Institute of Economic Affairs, 2 Lord North Street, Westminster, London SW1P 3LB. Tel. 0207 799 8900.

 

University Challenge: Freedom, Fees and Future Funding by John Marenbon costs £5.00 from Politeia, 22 Charing Cross Road, London WC2H 0QP. Tel. 0207 240 5070.

 

Where Now for Universities? by Robert Stevens costs £5.00 from the Centre for Policy Studies, 57 Tufton Street, London SW1P 3QL. Tel. 0207 222 4488. 

 

Newsletter No. 51, Spring 2004 is now available from the Reading Reform Foundation, Walnut House, Floreat Gardens, Newbury, Berkshire RG14 6AW. Tel. 01635 524911 or at www.rrf.org.uk

 

Sex Education or Indoctrination: How ideology has triumphed over facts by Valerie Riches costs £6.00 from the  Family Education Trust, Jubilee House, 19-21 High Street, Whitton, Twickenham TW2 7LB. 

 

Sexual Conduct – Advice for Young Women and Sexual Conduct – Advice for Young Men, both by Dr E.S. Williams, from Belmont House Publishers, 36 The Crescent, Belmont, Surrey SM2 6BJ. Tel. 0208 642 9330.

 

‘Qualifications, qualifications, qualifications’ by Melanie Phillips provides a concise critique of the Tomlinson proposals for changes to the exam system. Daily Mail, 18 February 2004 and at www.melaniephillips.com

 

SNIPPETS

 

No solution to exam shambles: The verdict on secondary education by Mike Tomlinson… could hardly be more damning. Daily Mail leader, 18 February 2004.

 

The evidence that has been presented [by  colleagues on Gloucestershire County Council] is at best ambiguous, at worst flawed…We are grateful to the Secretary of State for Education and Skills and his staff for the support and guidance they have provided us.  Parmjit Dhanda MP, David Drew MP, Diana Organ MP,  Better Education for All: A Response to the Gloucestershire Education Reviews, January 2004. 

 

Gloucester has become a test case…[Charles Clarke should] support ‘what works’. Anti-grammar school campaigner Roy Hattersley, Guardian Education, 23 March. (NB. The County is among the top 10 LEAs for GCSE results!)  

 

Charles Clarke yesterday astonished the education world by claiming that the quality of teaching in many classrooms was almost ‘hit and miss’ after nearly seven years of a Labour government. The Guardian, 11 March 2004.

 

Q. Our school has just received the results of this year’s re-take exam in GCSE maths set by the OCR board.  On the first ‘higher tier’ paper,  candidates needed  only 16 marks out of 100 to be awarded a pass at grade C; on the second, they needed 15 out of 100.  Isn’t there something intrinsically wrong with an examination system that requires such a pathetic level of achievement? A. Yes: another feather in the cap of the Qualifications and Curriculum Authority, the ‘guardian’  of the nation’s standards. The Daily Telegraph, 17 January 2004.

 

The average reading age [of serious and persistent young offenders] is five years below their chronological age and over half the young people entering custody, most of whom are over 15, have a reading age below the level of an average 11 year old.  Youth Justice 2004, National  Audit Office. 

 

A university with one of the highest drop-out rates in the country will allow students to progress to the final year of their degree even if they fail to pass their second year exams… The move follows an earlier decision by Luton to allow the first year of its degree courses to be ‘foundational in character’, so that students could study ‘without fear of failure’. The Sunday Telegraph, 8 February 2004. 

 

Ministers are wasting millions of pounds of public money on duplicate organisations, pointless conferences and strategies that are no more than wish lists…Sir Anthony Greener condemned the disjointed initiatives and lack of vision of the Department for Education and Skills. TES, 23 January 2004.

 

/Campaign for Real Education, April 2004

 

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