NEWSLETTER

No 54, Winter 2004


GOOD SCHOOLS STILL THREATENED

 

In October, novelist Jilly Cooper presented two petitions to Gloucestershire County Council. One carried   15,170 signatures supporting Gloucester’s grammar schools and the other more than 3,000 in support of a popular comprehensive, Barnwood Park School for Girls.  As part of their ‘reforms’ in Gloucester, Labour and Lib-Dem councillors are proposing to merge Barnwood Park with Central Technology College, a boys’ comprehensive. This would remove the choice of single-sex comprehensive schools, but it was deceitfully presented as gaining a new (co-educational) school. Although the proposal is  opposed by 65% of those who responded to the ‘consultation’, it is still going ahead. 

 

An earlier LEA ‘consultation’ on plans to close one  of Gloucester’s four grammar schools found 82% were opposed. So that idea has been suspended – for the time being. Now the LEA has set up a Task Group of heads (with only 2 from grammar schools) to consider how to reduce grammar school places by 120 a year. The heads will also consider how to introduce ‘fair banding’ for admission to secondary schools.  ‘Fair banding’ means that all children are tested before they leave primary school and graded according to ability. The secondary schools are then ‘constrained’ to take an equal proportion of children from each ability range. In the hope of avoiding opposition to such totalitarianism before next Spring’s elections, the heads will not make recommendations until Summer 2005. New arrangements will take effect from September 2006. 

 

Co-operation over these plans between the Department for Education and Skills (DfES) and local Labour MPs has convinced many people  that this anti-democratic denial of choice in Gloucester is a blueprint for similar moves in other parts of the country. Also, what is happening in Gloucester closely follows the anti-choice proposals published earlier this year by the Labour-dominated House of Commons Education and Skills Committee in Secondary Education: School Admissions, Volumes I and II (The Stationery Office, 2004).

 

Local parents, who are fighting magnificently for their schools, have also noted that the governing politicians use ‘falling rolls’ as justification for the chaos they are creating. Yet when the LEA applies to the DfES for funding, it is claimed that school rolls will rise over the next 6 years from 40,000 to almost 43,000. So much for honesty in public life!

 

TOMLINSON FAILS THE TEST

 

Mike Tomlinson’s final proposals for exam reform were published on 18 October (www.reform14-19.gov.uk). He recommends that both GCSE and A-level exams should be absorbed into a European-style 4-level diploma with up to 20 optional ‘lines of learning’. Only ‘core learning’ (‘functional’ literacy and maths, plus ICT) will be independently examined at 16-plus. Qualifications in other subjects will be awarded according to ‘teacher judgement’.  Fewer exams and less coursework are promised, yet there will be more ‘extended projects’ to be graded by teachers. 

 

‘Functional’ literacy and maths may include only 50% of the content of a current GCSE, thus making way for ‘common knowledge, skills and attributes (CKSA) such as personal awareness, problem solving, creativity, team-working and moral and ethical awareness’. And Tomlinson’s assumption that schools need to concentrate on basic literacy and maths between the ages of 14 and 19 shows he has failed to grasp the importance of providing firm foundations at primary level.

 

All this is driven by political expediency and the need to give the illusion of success without the reality.  Dumbing down to improve pass rates and getting rid of what is left of the A-level ‘gold standard’ will do nothing to improve standards or subject knowledge. Ministers will respond in a White Paper, due in the New Year.    

 

WHY NOT FREE THE SCHOOLS?

 

In our last newsletter, we quoted the overall annual cost per pupil in the state system from Better Schools and Hospitals by Norman Blackwell (Centre for Policy Studies, 2004). Lord Blackwell  estimates that next year, the average cost per pupil in a state school will be £6,382.   This average for all ages can easily be divided between primary and secondary pupils. In the ratio  of 0.9 times average for a primary pupil and 1.1 times average for a secondary pupil, it works out at  £5,744 per primary pupil and £7,020 per  secondary pupil – similar to the fees charged by many independent day-schools.

 

So why not separate education from politics by giving vouchers/passports for these or similar amounts directly to parents to spend at the state or independent school of their choice? And why not give parents the freedom to top up their vouchers, if they wish to do so?

INDEPENDENTS SHOW THE WAY

Figures published by the Incorporated Association of Preparatory Schools show independent schools excelling in national tests for 11-year-olds. In the English tests, 53% of privately educated 11-year-olds achieved Level 5 (the expected standard for 14-year-olds) compared with 27% nationally. In maths, 58% of private pupils achieved Level 5 compared with a national average of 31% (Daily Mail, 22 September).

There are huge variations in GCSE results, too. In independent schools, 82 per cent of pupils achieve 5 or more grade A*-Cs, compared with 51% in state schools.  At A-level, of the youngsters who achieved at least 3 A grades in 2002, 38% came from independent schools, 27.5% from comprehensives and 16% from only 164 grammar schools. The remainder came from sixth form colleges. It is already public knowledge that  Exeter, Warwick and Edinburgh Universities (and probably others) now demand higher A-level grades from applicants from independent schools than from  state schools  (The Sunday Times, 3 October).

But such protectionism and discrimination, which will be enforced by the government’s new Office for Fair Access (Offa), have been fiercely attacked by Michael Beloff QC, the president of Trinity College, Oxford. He told the government to ‘take its tanks off Oxford’s lawns’ (The Times, 6 October). Emphasising that 70% of Oxford entrants had come from the state sector in the early 1970s, before the destruction of many grammar schools, Mr Beloff was very clear: ‘[Universities] are educational institutions, not laboratories of social engineering.  It is not for universities to be coerced into relieving the government of its responsibility for ensuring an improvement of standards in the maintained sector.’ 

MORE ATTACKS ON PARENTAL CHOICE

In Northern Ireland, the proportion of GCSEs graded A*-C  was 69.4% this year, way ahead of England. Almost certainly, this is because Northern Ireland still has a selective school system.

Yet although ‘consultation’ has shown that 63% of all parents want to retain academic selection, the 11-plus exam is to be replaced by ‘teacher recommendation’. As The Daily Telegraph leader  put it on 26 August: “Ulster will be forcibly integrated into the ‘all shall have prizes’ mentality of English educational theorists and teaching unions.”  Majority public opinion has been brushed aside, as in Gloucester.

The ‘progressives’ in Northern Ireland are masters of spin, too. They claim they are not abolishing grammar schools, just the 11-plus exam.  But, as the principal of Belfast Royal Academy, William Young, points out: ‘How can [grammar schools] exist, apart from in name only, if one removes the principle which makes them what they are – academic selection?’ (Belfast Telegraph, 23 October 2004).

STATE SYSTEM REJECTS TOP TEACHERS

Two similar news reports show how ministers, and their bureaucrats and regulations are failing state education.  

On 10 October, The Sunday Telegraph reported that the headmaster of Westminster School would soon retire and wanted to ‘give a bit back’ to the state system. With 30 years experience of teaching maths, which he still does for 10 lessons a week, Mr  Tristram Jones-Parry would be an asset to any school. Maths is the most popular A-level subject at Westminster, where 96% of this year’s 103 candidates achieved grade A or B.

But although state schools are short of 3,500 maths teachers, Mr Jones-Parry was told he could not teach in the state system unless he took a course leading to Qualified Teacher Status.  Carol  Adams, chief executive of the General Teaching Council,  said her hands were tied.

Two days later, just as the DfES was discovering  that Mr Jones-Parry could, after all, be fast-tracked to teach in a state school, The Daily Telegraph reported a similar case.

An American space scientist and former professor of physics, David Wolfe, who  teaches at the Royal Grammar School (RGS), High Wycombe, had been told by the General Teaching Council and the Teacher Training Agency that he must either pass a GCSE maths exam, or leave the school where he has taught for 3 years. Nearly a third of RGS’s 450-strong sixth form are taking A-level physics. But  in July, schools minister David Miliband had written to Tim Dingle, the head of RGS, confirming that there could be ‘no exceptions’ to the ministers’ rules. However, within hours of the media coverage, everything changed. Having previously denied it was possible, Mr Miliband suddenly found that, providing David Wolfe had a few hours of  ‘assessment’,  he could keep his job.     

RE IS SECULARISED

A disturbing new ‘national framework’ for Religious Education has recently been published (www.qca.org.uk/re).

Although the law allows different faith groups to have RE and worship in their own faith, the new framework recommends that all pupils should  learn about several religions, just as they would in  sociology lessons. (So why have statutory rights of withdrawal?) Christianity is slightly favoured, but the general thrust is that all religions have equal value, so none has any special value. 

Even 5 to 7 year-olds will be introduced to ‘a secular world view’– in RE lessons!  Those under 5 may also be introduced to tree-hugging: it is recommended that ‘foundation stage’ children should ‘take a walk and look at trees and touch trees…They talk about what it would be like to fly up into the branches.’  

This relativist, secularised RE has no legal standing. But the state is again undermining the rights of parents by not ensuring ‘education and teaching in conformity with their own religious and philosophical convictions’. 

YOUNG LIVES ARE BEING RUINED

 

This year’s league tables for 11-year-olds show that two thirds of the 134 primary schools that achieved perfect scores are faith schools (Daily Mail, 2 December). They also show that nationally, 22% of 11-year-olds left primary school unable to read and write properly – that’s 137,500 children.  The Daily Telegraph reported that: ‘Less than a third of the 11-year-olds at the 42 worst schools in the table had learnt  how to read and write properly.’

 

The good news is that  Parliament’s Education and Skills Select Committee has at last begun an inquiry into the teaching of reading. It will examine DfES policy and guidance on the teaching of reading, consider whether changes are necessary, and  whether policy/guidance has a sound base in research evidence, which we all know it hasn’t. Reliable evidence has already been taken from the Reading Reform Foundation (www.rrf.org.uk) and full proceedings are at www.parliament.uk

 

BRAVE MUM STEPS FORWARD

 

A courageous mother of two, Sue Axon from Manchester, has begun a legal action in the High Court to prevent the possibility of doctors carrying out abortions on either of her daughters without her knowledge. Mrs Axon is not against abortion in principle and there are no problems with her daughters. But official guidance from the Department of Health informs medical practitioners and educational professionals that they need not inform parents before providing abortions to children – even those under 16.  Sue Axon will claim that the state is infringing her rights as a parent.  Also that the guidance fails to comply with a legal ruling that ‘only in exceptional circumstances’ should parents not be informed about medical treatment given to their child.  Her  lawyers gave the Department of Health two weeks to withdraw the guidance or face a judicial review (Sunday Times, 17 October) –  but official stalling is inevitable. Meanwhile, Education for Choice, a government-funded charity, informs teenagers  that ‘doctors, nurses and other  health works have a duty NOT to give out information about you without your consent …whatever your age.’

 

TOLERANCE BUT NOT FOR CHRISTIANS

 

A 55-minute video for small children, which is intended to promote religious tolerance,  ignores Christianity.  Made by Katy Jones, an award-winning  TV producer,  and Linda Mort, a writer and nursery teacher, the video will be sold to schools for use in RE lessons.  ‘A Child’s Eye View of Festivals’ features Hindu, Jewish and Muslim  festivals and practices. But there is no mention of Christmas,  Easter or  Jesus.  Katy Jones told The Daily Express (20 October): ‘I don’t know what all the fuss is about’. John Coe of the National Association for Primary Education said: ‘We are strongly in support of this video and it is nothing Christians should worry about.’      

 

WHAT SHOULD BE DONE?

 

On 19 September, The Sunday Telegraph reported that: ‘More than a quarter of all state pupils have lessons with private tutors because  parents do not trust their schools to teach them well enough.’   Standards, choice and family values are all under threat.  We therefore plan to  produce a short paper  on what should be done to improve state education.  This will be published on our website (www.cre.org.uk) and circulated early next year. If you have any suggestions, please email or post them to us as soon as possible. In the meantime, we wish all our supporters a very happy  New Year.


LOCAL NEWS

 

Bath and North East Somerset:  Parents with children at Somervale School, Midsomer Norton, have received a note from the head, Michael Gorman, inviting them to a meeting.  It is proposed that boys as young as 11  will be issued with ‘C-cards’ or ‘condom cards’, entitling them to 10 free condoms from family planning clinics, youth centres or chemists. Girls will receive a  ‘U-card’ (Urgent card), which secures a fast-track appointment with a doctor for the morning-after pill.  Julia Kosmala, who has two daughters aged 12 and 14 at Somervale, is protesting to the governors and the LEA. But  LEA spokesman Tony Parker says they are only following national guidelines provided by the DfES and the Teenage Pregnancy  Unit.  

 

Birmingham: At the end of October, the Birmingham Evening Mail, the Wolverhampton Express and Star, and the Times Higher Education Supplement reported that top universities, including  Birmingham and Oxford, were being targeted by fraudsters. For several thousand pounds, the fraudsters could provide overseas students applying for places with fake A-level certificates and Ucas applications, which would be accepted without question. One Chinese agent claimed he had fixed places for thousands of students over the last three years. The universities concerned did expel a few students. But was it only the Birmingham Evening Mail that dared to suggest the obvious: that this is probably ‘only the tip of the iceberg’?

 

London:  Ofsted, the school inspectorate, has condemned an independent prep school in London, where 100% of the pupils reached or exceeded the government’s expected standard for 11-year-olds in English and maths.  Charterhouse Square School, which has around 160 pupils aged 3 to 11,  sends many pupils on to top independent schools such as Westminster. But although the Key Stage 2 pass-rate for 11 year-olds in neighbouring Islington is only 69% for English and 68% for maths, inspectors criticised Charterhouse Square for an over-reliance on set texts and exercises. As Chris Woodhead told the  Daily Mail  (16 October): ‘Private schools should be judged on their popularity with parents who pay the fees. The state has no right to interfere.’

NEW PUBLICATIONS

Comparing Standards: Teaching the Teachers edited by Dr Sheila Lawlor includes many sensible recommendations. One of the main conclusions is that teacher training in this country should put more emphasis on subject knowledge and less on questionable theory. Authors include Dr John Marenbon, Professors David Burghes, Alan Smithers and Chris Woodhead. £10 from Politeia, 22 Charing Cross Road, London WC2H 0QP. 

The Welfare State We’re In by James Bartholomew  (Politico’s Publishing) explains how services provided by the state have failed to provide what was promised. The chapter on education covers around 75 pages, which include new evidence and many references.  £18.99 from bookshops or cheaper from amazon.co.uk

Where Have All the Intellectuals Gone? by Frank Furedi (Continuum) highlights poor standards and questions how, in the age of the knowledge economy, we have managed to combine the widest ever participation in higher education with the most dumbed-down of cultures.  £12.99 from bookshops or cheaper from amazon.co.uk 

Those who can’t teach, socially include by Joanna Williams argues that education and social inclusion are impossible bedfellows.  Hard hitting and very perceptive: www.spiked-online.com/articles/0000000CA77F.htm

Love for Life provides teaching materials and gives presentations on moral issues to children, young people and parents in Northern Ireland. Although Love for Life is supported by many schools, bids for funding from the Departments of Education and Health have been refused. More information at:  www.loveforlife.org.uk

SNIPPETS

[Mike Tomlinson and his colleagues] have now produced a cogently argued, challenging and compelling vision of the future…They have laid the basis for the development of a broad consensus on the best way forward. Charles Clarke,  House of Commons, 18 October 2004.  

 

[Mike Tomlinson’s report] makes a compelling case for change…We look forward to working with the government and other agencies on these developments.  Ken Boston, chief executive, QCA news release, 18 October 2004.

 

When researchers questioned a group of children aged between 7 and 10 [for calculator maker Casio], they found two-thirds did not know that seven times nine made 63.  The Daily Express, 27 September 2004.

 

There was also criticism from examiners of Critical Thinking, an AS examination, who said vital terms were commonly misspelt, such as ‘arguement’, ‘biast’, ‘concluesion’, ‘credable’,  ‘relivance’ and ‘counterdiction’.  The Daily Telegraph, 3 November 2004.

 

A Labour education expert said: ‘If we bring back O-levels, it would simply be the first step towards the return of a two-tier education system.’ Mail on Sunday, 10 October 2004.

 

Mr Parker receives about 30 CVs a year from school leavers seeking a job at his furniture workshop in the Cambridgeshire town of St Neots. He estimates that half have to be rejected because their authors show little grasp of English or numbers skills… Furniture cannot be built if the craftsman cannot read instructions, understand architectural drawings, take accurate measurements and understand shapes. Financial Times, 19 October 2004.

 

Introducing his lively and inspiring address Mike Gibbons [Lead Director of the DfES Innovation Unit] asked ‘What do we mean by innovation?’ In answer to his next question ‘modernisation or transformation?’ he concluded that transformation is required…He identified the 500,000 teachers and 300,000 teaching assistants as potential agents of change, with the need to 'reconvince' others of  ‘our own professional depth.’ To be effective there needs to be a ‘radical advancement in teacher learning’; teachers also need to be better ‘at our own propaganda’…Critical to success in the future will be ‘learning to learn’.  Shaping the future of education in Gloucestershire, Gloucestershire County Council,  September 2004.

 

As Eric Hoffer says, ‘in times of change, the learners will inherit the earth, while the knowers will find themselves beautifully equipped to deal with a world which no longer exists’…Tomorrow’s learners [will be] making appointments with teachers for mentoring, progression coaching, social expression classes and lifestyle guidance. At home, at the drop-in social expression centre, at the sensorama learning mall. Accelerated Learning newsletter, November 2004.

 

Q. I am uneasy about a conversation I recently had with my line manager about registration…I have been asked to mark students present even though they have dropped out, at least until funding has been secured. To me this is fraud.

A. Is the funding system creating a culture of unscrupulousness and is there a tacit acknowledgement between FE and Whitehall that this kind of abuse goes on?  After all the Government is more concerned with statistics it can wheel out at election time than people.  TES, FE Focus, 5 November 2004.

 

/Campaign for Real Education, December 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