NEWSLETTER

No 53, Summer 2004

PER PUPIL COSTS  SOAR

 

The sections on education in a new pamphlet, Better Schools and Hospitals: why parent and patient choice will work by Lord (Norman) Blackwell, should be compulsory reading in every staffroom. By dividing total spending on school-level education by the number of pupils, the Centre for Policy Studies has calculated average overall spending per pupil in the state system as follows: 2003/4 - £5,250; 2004/5 - £5,666; 2005/6 - £6,382; 2006/07 - £6,853;  2007/8 - £7,366.

 

Governors and headteachers may like to compare these amounts with how much per pupil they actually receive from their local education authority – such comparisons show how bureaucratised and inefficient the system has become. And parents will note the similarity between these amounts and the fees at many independent day-schools, where standards are generally much higher (see penultimate Snippet, back page).  

 

At a time when commentators are suggesting that the Conservatives need a ‘big idea’ to raise their standing, that is exactly what Lord Blackwell puts forward in the form of pupil passports or vouchers, which would solve most of the problems in the state system. All that is lacking is political will.

 

Better Schools and Hospitals costs £7.50 from CPS, 57 Tufton Street, London SW1P 3QL.

 

CONFUSION REIGNS

 

On the first week-end in July, the Institute of Ideas held a 2-day conference in London, attended by  around 300 teachers, educationists, writers and parents. Entitled ‘Crisis, What Crisis?’, the conference sought to re-examine what education is for. Speakers were drawn from all sides of the educational divide.

 

The overall impression was that educationists are now totally confused about what schools are supposed to be doing. Many of the speakers, such as Professors Frank Furedi, Roger Scruton, Alan Smithers and James Tooley, made sensible contributions. Others expressed a blind faith in ‘progressive’ ideology that was deeply disturbing.

 

Teachers didn’t know whether they were primarily teachers, psychologists, political commissars, pseudo-parents or social workers. One session considered ‘The Therapeutic Curriculum’ (see Snippets, back page). Apparently, the Department for Education is funding a pilot project in 25 LEAs. But do all children need psychotherapy?

 

OPPOSITION TO TOMLINSON GROWS

 

Opposition to Mike Tomlinson’s proposals for reforms to the exam system is growing. Despite  the rhetoric, there is widespread belief that the proposals are intended further to dumb-down the exam system in order to conceal ministerial failure to improve standards in schools.  Universities will be left to pick up the pieces. 

 

The independent schools are worried about retaining the identities of individual subjects.   Expressing ‘deep scepticism’ about Tomlinson’s proposals for ‘grouped awards’ or diplomas, they say that GCSE should be retained, but with the coursework element greatly reduced. Also that A-levels should be retained, strengthened and de-coupled from AS-levels. Vocational education, too, should be strengthened, with employers having a greater say in the design and assessment of vocational qualifications. All very sensible.

 

Similar views were expressed in June by leading   academics from the Universities of Buckingham, Cambridge and Liverpool. At a seminar organised by the Politeia think-tank, Professor Alan Smithers, Dr John Marenbon, Dr Robert Tombs and Professor Chris Woodhead raised fundamental concerns based on their individual knowledge and experience. If Mike Tomlinson were truly independent, he would seriously reconsider.     

 

MANY THANKS

 

Sincere thanks to everyone who sent us a donation in response to our last newsletter. We are most grateful and cannot over-emphasise the importance of our network of contacts and supporters.

 

Please forgive the delay with this newsletter  –  too much to do, but we are catching up!  Our updated website (www.cre.org.uk) is now almost complete. There were almost 2,000 ‘hits’ in the first week with considerable media interest, which centred mainly on standards in English, maths and the sciences. So special thanks to Mary Brett, John Corner, Dr Anthony Freeman, Som Gill, Chris Jolly, Daniel Moss, Nicholas Oulton, Dr Jonathan Ramsay, Alex Standish and Irina Tyk for providing informative articles/web pages. And to everyone else who helped.

 

This summer, improving national test and exam results have again contrasted sharply with levels of knowledge measured independently or by people outside the system. Political/establishment spin is no longer working, so please keep us informed.             

 

THE PRESS IS NOT IMPRESSED

 

A few days before this year’s exam results were published, the schools standards minister, David Miliband, tried to pre-empt suggestions that standards are falling. If he had taken notice of recent press reports, he could have saved himself some embarrassment. The reports included:

 

3 May: The Daily Telegraph reported on a study by Professor Alan Smithers. He found that the  oft-quoted PISA survey (OECD, 2001) which, among other things, showed pupils in England ranking eighth out 32 nations in maths, was flawed. (Other academics have reached similar conclusions.) 

4 May: The Guardian reported that: ‘The army is planning to pack a third of its potential recruits off to further education colleges for basic skills classes because they barely have the reading age of a seven-year-old.’ ‘Two fifths of the army’s intake fail basic training because of lack of basic skills. The problem is now too big for its own teachers to address.’

30 May: The Sunday Telegraph reported on its own survey of 1,309 children aged between 10 and 14 from 24 different schools. Asked about D-Day, only 28% knew that it was the beginning of the Allied liberation of occupied Europe. More than 1 in 4 did not even know that D-Day was an event in the Second World War.

1 June: The Daily Mirror reported the results of its survey among 1,000 under 25-year-olds. Only 6% correctly answered seven basic questions about D-Day and 73% did not know what it was, when it happened, or who was involved.

20 June: The Sunday Telegraph reported that the Qualifications and Curriculum Authority had again reduced its pass mark in the national tests for 11-year-olds in English.  When Labour came to power, children needed 57% to reach the standard. This year’s 11-year-olds needed only 41%.  So children could get most of the questions wrong and still reach the required standard.

27 June: The Sunday Telegraph reported the results of some ‘World Class Tests’ in maths, aimed at the top 10% of 9 and 13-year-olds. The failure rate in Hong Kong was 3%, in America it was 37%, in Britain it was 42% and in Australia it was 80%.

18 July: The Sunday Telegraph reported on a survey of university vice-chancellors. Forty eight per cent had been forced to provide special lessons in literacy and numeracy for first-year students. Two thirds stated that extra numeracy classes were now ‘the norm’. 

5 August: The Daily Mail reported on a BBC poll of 16 to 24-year-olds. Almost half of those questioned could not identify William the Conqueror as the victor in the Battle of Hastings. 

5 August: The Daily Mail reported that almost 600 students with fewer than three A-levels at grade C had gained places at medical schools, despite huge competition from better qualified applicants. This is because universities receive additional funding for students with fewer than 3 grade Cs. 

18 August: The Daily Telegraph described David Miliband’s claim of consistent standards as part of a new language: ‘Milibabble’.  

19 August: The Daily Mail reported that examiners marking GCSE English literature for the OCR board had been banned from penalising poor spelling and grammar. ‘They are forced to hand out top A* and A grades to students whose work is peppered with elementary mistakes and soap opera slang.’

19 August: The Times published an article by an examiner, Patricia Voute. She explained that ‘grade inflation is a reality and it benefits only students at the lower end of the spectrum: many who do not deserve to pass are awarded E and D grades.’ But the most able students are penalised, because the system does not allow them to excel.

On 22 August, The Sunday Times, The Sunday Telegraph, The Mail on Sunday and The Sunday Express carried major articles questioning standards.  Spinning had seriously backfired!   

 

UNFIT FOR OFFICE?

 

The report of the House of Commons Education and Skills Committee, Secondary Education: School Admissions, was published by The Stationary Office in July.

 

It is hostile to selective schools and parental choice. Instead, it favours the idea that LEAs should allocate 11-year-olds to each secondary school on the basis of ‘fair banding’.  This means that each secondary school would be allocated an equal mix of pupils graded by ability, say 25% high ability, 50% medium ability and 25% low ability. Fred Naylor of the Parental Alliance for Choice in Education (PACE) has described this as ‘compulsory academic and social mixing’.

 

During its deliberations, we submitted to the Committee 3 batches of written evidence (plus oral evidence) on parental choice and the above average performance of selective schools. This is listed, but not detailed, on pages 106/7 of the report. The National Grammar Schools Association and PACE sent similar submissions. Yet the report contains the following statements: ‘We are aware of no research evidence that indicates that schools which select wholly by academic ability help to raise standards…We invited as witnesses two supporters of grammar schools, neither of whom were able to furnish any statistical information to support their case.’  And ‘We have found no evidence that selection by ability or aptitude contributes to the overall improvement of educational standards.’

 

These untrue statements were challenged before publication by Andrew Turner MP (Conservative, Isle of Wight). But he was out-voted by MPs David Chaytor (Labour, Bury North) Valerie Davey (Labour, Bristol West), Paul Holmes (Liberal Democrat, Chesterfield), Kerry Pollard (Labour, St Albans) and Jonathan Shaw (Labour, Chatham and Aylesford), whose political ideology clearly outweighs their respect for the truth. But how can such people be described as ‘Honourable Members’? And are they fit for public office?    

 

EXPENSIVE TEENAGE STRATEGY FAILS

 

An analysis by Professor David Paton of Nottingham University Business School shows that expanding contraceptive services among young people has encouraged sexual activity, not reduced it. Sexually transmitted diseases have increased by 30% among 16 to 19-year-olds since the government launched its £63m Teenage Pregnancy Strategy five years ago. And the biggest increases have occurred where most has been done to promote family planning services among young people. The number of unwanted teenage pregnancies has not come down either so, to make it all worse, ministers plan to launch an advertising campaign to reassure under-age girls that their parents will not be told if they seek an abortion.  

 

Another study, led by Dr Judith Stephenson and reported in The Lancet on 23 July, compared peer-led and teacher-led sex education. It involved 8,000 pupils aged 13-14 in 27 schools. The researchers found that: ‘by age 16, only 35% of the peer-led group reported sex, compared with 41% of the teacher-led group’ (emphasis added).

 

There is growing concern about state interference with the rights and responsibilities of parents. So we would like to know instances where any child under the age of 16 has been given contraception (for example, the pill or the morning-after pill) at school without parental knowledge or approval.  We would also be interested to know cases where a child aged under 16 has been offered or had an abortion without the parent being aware of this at the time. In both instances, there may be a chance of a successful legal challenge.

 

BOYS CAN DO WELL – GIVEN THE CHANCE

 

This summer’s Reading Reform Foundation (RRF) newsletter includes an important report by Dr Marlynne Grant. The first cohort of children in a large primary school, who were taught synthetic phonics (Jolly Phonics) in Reception, took their Key Stage 2 national tests (for 11-year-olds) last year. The percentage of boys achieving Level 5 in writing was 33.3%, compared with an LEA average of 9.5% and a national average of 11%. This and much more at ww.rrf.org.uk

 

* Please note: The Queen’s English Society is holding a conference on Saturday 23 October 2004 in central London. Tickets (£20 members/£25 non-members) from QES Conference, c/o 23 Dale Road, Derby DE21 7DG.

 

LOCAL NEWS

 

Gloucestershire: Although the immediate threat against Gloucester’s 4 grammar schools has receded slightly, the controlling LEA (Gloucestershire CC) has not given up.  The LEA now proposes to undermine parental choice and reduce opportunities for pupils by removing 120 grammar school places each year. The grammar schools will also be encouraged into ‘federations’ with less popular comprehensive schools – a damaging imposition that the grammar school heads and governors seem unwilling to oppose. Also, an over-subscribed comprehensive school for girls, Barnwood Park High, will be amalgamated with a less popular boys’ comprehensive, Central Technology College, to create a co-educational school.  The loss of Barnwood Park has been publicly opposed by best-selling author Jilly Cooper, who is a friend and supporter of the School. 

 

In the meantime, the City Council and local businesses are holding a ‘Citizenship Challenge’.  A full day will be spent encouraging 16-year-olds to become ‘active citizens’, ‘more aware of politics’ and of ‘the power it can give to those who make the effort to get involved.’  So that’s why they go to school! 

 

London:  Civitas’s first New Model School will be open from 13 September 2004 at Queen’s Park in north  west London.  The New Model School is fully independent and is currently enrolling pupils aged 4-5 years.  Fees are  £900 per term. Further information from Robert Whelan or Seamus Heffernan, Civitas, 77 Great Peter Street, London SW1P 2EZ.  Tel. 0207 799 6688 (www.newmodelschool.co.uk)

 

Manchester: On 10 April, The Daily Mail reported that Manchester LEA planned to spend £100,000 on a new school in Bangladesh to cater for Manchester pupils who are missing lessons while on holiday in term-time. Manchester’s chief education officer, Mick Waters, said, ‘People want to take their children to see their heritage and we should respect that.’  He was backed by Councillor Jeff Smith, executive member for education, who said they were dealing with reality. Although the project was backed by the British Council and the Department for Education, the following day, The Mail on Sunday reported that ministers were blocking the scheme.

 

Norfolk: The Promethean Trust is offering a Rapid Recovery Programme, which will take dyslexic and other children with difficulties out of their mainstream school for a year for special tuition. (Please note, this is not the same as the state-provided Reading Recovery programme.) Fees will be £950 a term, but as The Times said, ‘The Promethean Trust has achieved miraculous results with dyslexic children in Norfolk’. More information from Tom Burkard, Riverside Farm, Easton, Norwich NR9 5EP. Tel. 01603 881158.

 

Stockton: The  long-running dispute between Ofsted and the independent Glenfield Nursery School in Stockton on Tees is still not resolved.  Mrs Jean Brown, the owner and principal, is a fully-qualified teacher, who runs a  structured, popular and successful nursery. Yet relatively unqualified Ofsted inspectors seem determined to criticise the school for pathetic bureaucratic ‘failings’ that are meaningless to sensible parents. 

 

RECOMMENDED PUBLICATIONS

 

A People’s History of Britain by Rebecca Fraser tells the history of Britain in chronological order from the Romans to the present day. Published by Chatto & Windus,  it costs £25 from good bookshops.

 

Maths Groundwork consists of 120 exercises and explanations for children needing to improve their maths.  £42.40 inc.  postage from Framheim, Glass, Huntly, Aberdeenshire AB54 4XD (www.mathsgroundwork.co.uk).

 

Instructing Children about Sex – the assault in our classrooms will inform, shock and outrage readers. Free from UK LifeLeague, 7-11 Kensington High Street, London W8 5NP. Tel. 0870 240 3158.

 

Sweden’s Smacking Ban: more harm than good by Robert E. Larzelere is free from The Christian Institute, Second Floor, Block A, Scottish Life House, Archbold Terrace, Newcastle upon Tyne NE2 1DB.

 

SNIPPETS

 

We also plan to work more closely with all the other parties involved – across health, education and social care – in creating the integrated children and family services planned for the future. Sir Brian Follett and Ralph Tabberer, letter from the Teacher Training Agency, 28 April 2004.

 

The term ‘personalised learning’ might be tumbling out of education ministers’ lips every time they make a speech at the moment, but many are struggling to pin down exactly what it means. TES,  21 May 2004.

 

Personalised learning is child-centred, which is a very traditional progressive ideal indeed. Bethan Marshall, The Independent, 8 July 2004.

 

A school course that advises children to try oral sex has won endorsement from the Government. The controversial A Pause scheme tries to divert youngsters from the risks of full intercourse. The Daily Mail, 11 May 2004.

 

Humanism, attitudes to sexuality and the ethics of wealth are to be taught alongside Christianity and other faiths in the first national curriculum for religious education, The Daily Telegraph, 27 April 2004.

 

Embattled Children’s Minister Margaret Hodge was plunged into a new controversy last night…Writing in the latest edition of the journal, Counselling in Education, Hodge said she hoped counselling would one day ‘be delivered in mainstream settings like schools’…The ideas are being explored as part of the Government’s consultation exercise on its recent Green Paper, Every Child Matters. The Observer, 18 April 2004.

 

Circle Time: This is most commonly used with young children, but can be equally effective with all young people. Working Together: Giving children and young people a say, DfES, 2004

 

The Therapeutic Curriculum: The national programme (SEBS – Social, Emotional and Behavioural Skills) to support the standards agenda will…develop Self Awareness, Managing feelings, Motivation, Empathy, Social Skills. Peter Sharp, Mouchel Parkman plc, handout at Institute of Ideas conference, July 2004.

 

117 ways to assess a child – and none of them useful…[The system] allows its goals to be set by educationists who are more interested in cultivating politically correct attitudes in children than in stretching minds. Daily Telegraph leader, 21 June 2004.

 

I would question the ability to assess the teaching of English by an inspection team which itself is quite clearly incapable of writing acceptable English. Bob Bell, chairman of governors at Broadmead Nursery and Infants School, after finding 21 basic English errors in the inspectors’ report.  TES, 23 April 2004.

 

Edexcel First Diploma for IT Practitioners Course (GCSE equivalent) Grade Descriptions – Pass: To achieve a pass the history of ICT should concentrate mostly on modern developments… Merit: To achieve a merit the learner must additionally show understanding.

 

Independent school pupils are up to five times more likely to achieve the highest marks at A-level than their state school counterparts…A spokesman for the AQA…said: ‘[Our research] shows that at A-level, the independent sector does much better than the comprehensive sector in the proportion achieving grade A and if there was an A-plus they would do even better’. The Sunday Telegraph, 25 April 2004.

 

Have A Levels become easier? The straight- forward answer is ‘Yes, without a doubt’. Furthermore, they had to become easier. In the early 1980s, 30 per cent of students were given a Fail in almost every A Level subject… Since then, far more students have started to take A Levels and the failure rate has dropped to 12 per cent and less…However, if more students are to go to university, these kind of adjustments in difficulty of A Level subjects are necessary. Professor C.T. Fitz-Gibbon, Curriculum, Evaluation and Management Centre, University of Durham (www.cemcentre.org).

 

/Campaign for Real Education, August 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