NEWSLETTER

No 58, Spring 2006

2006 BRINGS ALARMING NEWS

 

The year 2006 began with a series of alarming reports. 

 

On 25 January, details emerged of a study led by Professor Michael Shayer, a psychologist at King's College, London. It involved 10,000 children and  found that 11-year-old children are now between 2 and 3 years behind where they were 15 years ago in their ability to think and to reason. Much of this collapse in children's mental ability occurred between 1995 and 2000, but the downward trend has continued.   

 

Commenting in the Financial Times, Sir Digby Jones, director general of the CBI, said that Britain was heading towards social catastrophe unless educational standards were urgently improved. He  noted that 30% of those who leave school and go to work have to be remedially trained by employers in reading, writing and counting. And with growing competition from countries such as China and India, 'the failure of  basic schooling means we will all have a nastier and more dangerous society'. David Smith, chief economist at Williams de Broe, also spoke out: 'Unlike the government's fantastic elastic standards, this new research is actually trying to measure absolute standards and found that they are in freefall.'

 

On 5 February, a leading article in The Sunday Times observed that Tony Blair's attempts to reform the education system have been 'a spectacular failure'. The writer quoted Oliver Cromwell: 'You have sat too long for any good you have been doing', followed by, 'In the name of God, go!'

 

On 7 February, The Times reported a survey of managers from 222 of Britain's top companies. The Association of Graduate Recruiters highlighted disturbing shortcomings among graduate recruits: 'Poor spelling, grammar and mathematical ability mean that graduates make basic mistakes, write illiterate memos and need constant supervision.' Helen Bostock, a vice-president at JPMorgan, said  most job candidates had 4 grade As at A-level and good degrees. But they lacked wider interests. Even so, 'You must have good academics whatever job you want'.

 

On 9 February, The Daily Telegraph reported a survey of admission tutors from 250 universities. They complained that universities were losing valuable time providing remedial courses in subject knowledge and skills such as writing essays. At school, pupils are being 'spoon-fed'.   Because the essentials have been removed from many subjects, and A-levels have become a series of 'bite sized' chunks, university students now want to 'learn and forget' rather than to 'learn and know'. They 'lack independent thought', have 'a fear of numbers' and prefer the internet to books.

 

On 2 March, The Daily Telegraph reported new research by Dr Bernard Lamb of Imperial College, London. This highlighted the poor standards of grammar and spelling of students educated in Britain compared with those who had been to school in other countries.

 

On 12 March, The Sunday Telegraph reported a forthcoming study by the Royal Literary Fund. This found that many British undergraduates, even those who had won places at top universities to study English literature, cannot compose basic sentences. In the following week's paper, an article  on the decline of science noted that 'since the mid-1980s, exam entries for 15-year-olds studying physics and chemistry have fallen by more than 70%'.  Fewer than half of sixth-form physics and chemistry teachers have a degree in the subject and a quarter of mathematics teachers in England are not specialists in their subject. As a result,   university science departments are now closing at an alarming rate.

 

So already this year, psychologists, business leaders, university academics and literary people have expressed serious concerns about our declining state education system. Shouldn't those responsible follow Cromwell's advice?

   

BUT ROSE REPORT OFFERS SOME HOPE

 

Eight years after ministers introduced their flawed National Literacy Strategy (NLS), the final report on teaching children to read by Jim Rose has admitted the truth.  Research does not support the 'mixed methods' of teaching reading promoted by the NLS, because it fails to insist on 'synthetic phonics, first and fast'. The government's 'searchlights' model for teaching reading is also flawed, because it confuses small children with too many different strategies. (The full report is at www.standards.dfes.gov.uk).

 

In a remarkable U-turn, education secretary Ruth Kelly has accepted Jim Rose's findings. Thanks to many years of campaigning by genuine experts, there is now hope that reading will be taught effectively in all infant and primary schools.  But it will only happen when teachers take notice of  evidence instead of  'progressive' ideology.     

 

EXAM SYSTEM 'UNFIT FOR PURPOSE'?

 

Is our national exam system now 'unfit for purpose'? The downward pressures are immense. Top of the list are the ideological pressures from politicians and the state educational establishment. They insist that 'all must have prizes' and, more seriously, that all prizes must have equal value. There are also too many exams, too many entries for dubious subjects and too few qualified markers. Against all this, the system has little choice but to seek managerial, as against educational, solutions. A computerised, tick-box system is the probable outcome. Standards are the victim.

 

Promises to include English and maths in the 5 or more A*-C grade GCSEs measure (used in league tables) have shown disturbing results. Because schools have been allowed to count Information and Communications Technology (ICT) as equivalent to 4 A*-C grades, English and maths have been neglected. When these subjects are included among the 5 A*-Cs, the percentage of pupils achieving this level in individual schools in Oldham, Rugby and Birmingham has dropped from 72% to 13%, 71% to 17%, and 75% to 22% respectively. At one school in Hampshire, the percentage fell from 58% to a miserable 8% (Daily Mail, 20 January). 

 

A few days earlier (12 January), the Daily Mail had reported that Dr Martin Stephen, head of the independent St Paul's School in London, had concluded  that the revamped science GCSE was so easy and lacking in content, it would destroy A-levels by stealth. In future, his pupils will take International GCSEs, which have more content and less coursework. That option, however, is closed to state schools, because ministers will not approve  IGCSEs as official qualifications for school league tables.

 

On 24 February, the TES reported that the revamped maths GCSE, which is intended to make the subject more attractive to pupils and satisfy  the concerns of employers, would award a C grade in one paper for  only 25% of the marks.  Then it was revealed that the government's new 'functional' literacy and numeracy exams (also intended to address the concerns of employers) would be set at the level of the national tests for 11-year-olds (Sunday Telegraph, 2 April). So why introduce yet another exam?

 

The news on 'gold-standard' A-levels is not good either. To improve the exam's credibility, harder questions may be introduced, but the education secretary insists they must be optional. Candidates for A-level maths are re-taking some modules up to 6 times and the number of classical texts to be studied for A-level English literature is to be reduced from 4 to 3.

 

QCA's  NEW DIRECTOR STARTS WORK

 

Mick Waters, the new director of curriculum at the Qualifications and Curriculum Authority (QCA),  is now in post. Appointed 'to align vision with political expectations’, his annual salary is  £95,000 plus a 15% bonus for controlling 85 staff and an annual budget of £7.6m.

 

Mr Waters wants 1,000 primary schools to join a project 'which recognises that their curriculum is about more than subjects'. Primary schools, he hopes, will adopt the 'Big Curriculum Picture', a QCA blueprint 'to enable all young people to become successful learners, confident individuals and responsible citizens' (TES, 3 March). 

 

Few would argue that the curriculum is about 'more than subjects'. But with thousands of children leaving primary schools each year without firm foundations on which to build the rest of their education, is this the best the QCA can do?

 

Incidentally, Mr Waters' biographical notes on the QCA's website say his role is 'to develop a modern, world-class curriculum that will inspire and challenge all learners'. He was previously chief education officer for Manchester. What is not said is that Manchester's average percentage of pupils achieving 5 or more A*-C  GCSEs is less than 40% against a national average of 54%, placing the LEA 9th from the bottom out of 150 LEAs. Key Stage 2 test results for 11-year-olds were slightly better: Manchester was 19th from the bottom.

 

PSHE/C SHOULD GO

 

Less than a decade ago, Religious Education and  occasional sex education were the only areas of the curriculum primarily concerned with beliefs and values (not just facts). So the law allowed parental rights of withdrawal from these 'affective' areas.    

 

Now, with 'affective' Personal, Social, Health Education/Citizenship (PSHE/C) compulsory, such limited rights of withdrawal are insufficient. They should be extended to all PSHE/C. Or better still, PSHE/C should be removed altogether from the curriculum, so teachers can concentrate on honest subjects.

 

Sex education, which is now part of the 'health'  area of PSHE/C, brings numerous complaints from parents – perhaps because sex educationists  say it should be taught in a non-judgmental, value-free way, as if it were a 'cognitive' subject. It isn't.

 

It was David Blunkett, when he was education secretary, who turned PSHE/C, and sex and drug education in particular, into taxpayer-funded 'industries', with disastrous consequences. 

 

From 2000 to 2004, diagnosed cases of chlamydia increased from 68,337 to 103,932, gonorrhoea from 21,800 to 22,320 and syphilis from 342 to 2,253. Neither the teenage pregnancy rate, nor the abortion rate, has fallen. Drug education, too, has  been a dismal failure. A recent survey for the Department of Health  found that 19% of 11 to 16 year-olds have taken illegal drugs. When Mr Blunkett made drug education compulsory in 1998, the proportion was 11% (Daily Mail, 25 March).

 

Now every school is to have a nurse to give non-judgmental advice on abortions to children, and distribute free contraceptives and morning-after pills – all without telling parents. When will heads and governors put the welfare of their pupils first and reject these dangerous political initiatives?

 

A CONTRADICTORY EDUCATION BILL

 

The new Education Bill (228 pages plus 109 pages of explanatory notes), like the White Paper which preceded it, is packed with contradictory measures. It is unlikely to improve choice or raise standards.

 

A complicated admissions code, which gives bureaucrats control over school places, instead of parents and schools, will be enforced. To ensure 'difficult' or disruptive pupils get places in good schools, interviews with families before schools offer a place will no longer be allowed.

 

Academic selection, except for existing grammar schools, will be outlawed, unless it is done on the basis of 'fair banding'. This means that comprehensive schools, such as city academies, may select pupils if they take equal proportions of youngsters from each ability band. But with very few places in each band in each school, it is hard to imagine a more unfair form of selection – see snippet on Mossbourne academy on back page.

 

Damaging changes to the curriculum for 14 to 16 year-olds will become statutory. English, maths and science remain core subjects, but the only foundation subjects will be ICT, PE and citizenship. All other subjects, which are grouped in 'entitlement areas', will be optional. Even academic high-flyers will be compelled to spend valuable time on work experience. (Whatever happened to a broad, all-round education?)

 

Local Education Authorities will become Local Authorities (LAs) to reflect the state's change of emphasis from providing real education to controlling children's upbringing, attitudes and values. And how can schools be independent, when  ministers will have  political control and LAs will have 'strategic oversight' of everything they do?

 

LET'S HAVE MORE GRAMMAR SCHOOLS

 

An opinion poll carried out in March by ICM for the National Grammar Schools Association showed a majority of approximately 2 to 1 oppose moves by politicians to undermine or abolish England's remaining 164 grammar schools. Asked whether or not they would support the introduction of new grammar schools, especially in urban areas where none currently exist, more than two thirds (70%) of those questioned would support setting up new grammar schools.

 

The level of support for Northern Ireland's  grammar schools is similar. A survey there found 64% of respondents want to retain academic selection. Nevertheless, ministers in Westminster have published a statutory instrument entitled The Education (Northern Ireland) Order 2006. If approved, this will destroy Northern Ireland's 69 grammar schools by outlawing all academic selection. It will also turn curriculum subjects into 'contributory elements' which will be subsumed into 'areas of learning' with 'minimum content'. The contributory elements include 'media education', 'local and global citizenship' and 'personal development'. 

 

Yet a Parliamentary Question by James Clappison MP, answered on 9 February, reveals that in 2003-04,  60% of all pupils in Northern Ireland achieved 5 or more A*-C grade GCSEs and 51% achieved A*-C grades in English and maths.

 

Meanwhile, supported by Robert McCartney QC, the Parental Alliance for Choice in Education (Northern Ireland) is raising funds to defend their schools in court, if necessary. More information at www.paceni.org or from Stephen Elliott in Belfast, Tel. 02890 293788.

 

LOCAL NEWS

 

Devon: Pupils at Chulmleigh Community College in Devon are being taught in temporary huts, which were built during  the Second World War.  Some buildings are so cold, pupils keep their coats on. Others are so damp, electricians have warned against keeping computer equipment there. A spokesman for Devon County Council said there are other schools in the County in greater need of investment. 'We work on the basis of the greatest priority', he told the Daily Express (21 February).      

 

Kent:   The Study Guide, a 60-page 'textbook' for Personal, Social and Health Education lessons for 14 to 16 year-olds has outraged many parents.  Published by Co-Ordination Group Publications, it has sold 60,000 copies, which gives some indication of the number of irresponsible teachers working in this area of the curriculum. The Study Guide claims that 'this stuff's far more useful to you (and more relevant) than all the subjects you'll do in your exams'. It suggests that pupils engage in 'sexual touching, talking dirty face to face or on the phone, even sexy emails and text messages' as a 'warm-up' to sexual intercourse.  On oral sex, it says: 'There's no accounting for taste. Not everyone likes oral sex. Not everyone likes ham and cheese sarnies either.'   On anal sex, it says that 'some people like it because it stimulates the prostate gland in men, causing sexual pleasure. Some women like it too.'  (Sunday Telegraph, 12 February.)

 

Glasgow: The Glasgow Evening Times (14 March) reports that over the last 3 years, abortions have been carried out on girls under 16 almost every day in Scotland. In Glasgow alone, one girl under the age of legal consent terminates a pregnancy each week. 

 

Newcastle:  Girls as young as 12 are among hundreds receiving the morning-after pill in schools in the North-East, The Journal (11 March) has revealed.  Sexual health personnel admit that many parents may not know that 20 secondary schools in the region now have clinics offering free contraception and morning-after pills to pupils.  Figures obtained by The Journal show that, in Northumberland, 56 girls were given the morning-after pill in 2003-04.  In 2004-05, the number doubled to 116.

 

 

RECOMMENDED PUBLICATIONS/NOTICE

 

The Tina Project by Adam Grace is a thrilling and informative novel based on what is known about attempts by the state to engage in social engineering, mainly in the area of sex education and population control.  £8.50 including postage from Family Publications, 6a King Street, Jericho, Oxford OX2 6DF. Or from bookshops. 

 

The Nationalisation of Childhood by Jill Kirby explains how, 'in the guise of a caring, child-centred administration, this government is affecting a radical change in the balance of authority between parents, children and the state'.  This encouragement of division between parents and their children, it should be noted, is also part of the 'early-years' groundwork ministers are stipulating prior to the state's moulding of young peoples' attitudes and values in schools. £7.50 from the Centre for Policy Studies, 57 Tufton Street, London SW1P 3QL.        

 

SQE Forum is the quarterly journal of the Society for Quality Education in Canada, where the problems are remarkably similar to our own. It can be read or downloaded free at  www.societyforqualityeducation.org

 

The National Drug Prevention Alliance's website offers masses of research about drug abuse. NDPA is  well-informed and favours prevention over more common 'harm reduction' policies: www.drugprevent.org.uk 

 

Civitas is seeking a schools co-ordinator to help administer its New Model Schools and Saturday-morning schools. The successful applicant will have some teaching experience and be based in central London. Further information from Robert Wheelan, New Model School Company, 77 Great Peter Street, London SW1P 2EZ.  

 

SNIPPETS

 

If you set up a school and it becomes a good school, the great danger is that's the place they [all] want to go to. Deputy prime minister John Prescott, Sunday Telegraph, 18 December 2005

 

Mossbourne academy operates its own banded admissions system. The stated aim is to ensure that it admits pupils across the ability range...All Hackney parents who included, as I did, either of the two new academies or the Roman Catholic school on their preferred list received a curt letter requiring their child to attend for four hours and 15 minutes of cognitive abilities testing on a Saturday morning. The letter gave 10 days' notice and no explanation of the nature or purpose of the testing. Wendy Forest, TES letters, 17 March 2006.

 

When I looked at the sample O-level papers and syllabuses ... they amounted to no more than a couple of A5 sides... But they really did test understanding. Looking at GCSE exam papers for 2005 reveals page after page of questions broken down into multiple parts, nearly all requiring just a few words to complete or, at most, a few sentences. Specimen GCSE papers, matching the new science orders, make for disheartening reading. There is an increase in multiple-choice tests, filling in the 'gaps' with a missing word and linking words and descriptions with a drawn  line.  James Williams, TES, 31 March 2006.

 

Ruth Kelly's  plan to expand work experience for teenagers has been derailed by employers who say it would breach health and safety rules... The Qualifications and Curriculum Authority has warned it is 'not feasible' to offer some types of training to the 14 to 19 year-olds taking the [new] diplomas. Daily Mail, 23 February 2006.

Inspectors have been issued with a lesson in the basics. Apostrophes should not be used to indicate plurals, commas should be kept to a minimum  and Great Britain does not include Northern Ireland, which is part of the UK only, Ofsted's house-style guide reminds inspectors... A word list to help inspectors with spelling and when to use capital letters includes such tricky items as 'civil servant', 'database' and internet'.  TES, 23 December 2005.

 

The right of young people to make decisions about their own lives by themselves at the expense of the views of their parents has now become an increasingly important and accepted feature of family life. Mr Justice Silber in his High Court judgement ruling that parents need not be informed if their under-age child is obtaining contraception, an abortion or treatment for a sexually transmitted disease. News Update from Family and Youth Concern, January 2006.   

 

Now I can be sent to prison if my daughter breaks the law by not attending school, but I am not allowed even to know if she is breaking the law by having under-age sex. Martin Kleyman, Daily Telegraph letters, 26 January 2006.

 

A surge in classroom violence among schoolgirls

is worrying teachers and educationists. One local education authority in a primarily rural area reported yesterday that the number of girls suspended in its schools because of violent behaviour had risen more than five-fold in two years. Daily Telegraph, 14 February 2006.

 

/Campaign for Real Education, Spring 2006

WrapperContent

 

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