NEWSLETTER

No 59, Summer 2006

 

EDUCATION BILL CRAWLS AHEAD

 

The 2006 Education and Inspection Bill should  now complete its slow journey through Parliament towards the end of the year. It has created many hours of work for many people, including us, but no-one should expect much from the final Act. With no philosophical direction, thanks to 'consensus politics', it is a mish-mash of conflicting measures. 

 

The option for schools to gain greater autonomy by seeking trust status is undermined by the need to conform with the diktats of central and local government. And haven't too many headteachers now been seduced by the co-operative/dependency culture for them voluntarily to seek independence anyway? Unless, of course, schools are offered worthwhile inducements, which aren't yet apparent.    

 

The Bill was originally supposed to offer more choice to parents and give schools more freedom over admissions. But the code of practice for admissions, which will be produced by the Department for Education and Skills (DfES), will now be statutory, rather than advisory. So parental choice is almost certainly subverted too. MPs accepted this, even though the new code hasn't yet been published: they voted for something without knowing exactly what it is – normal practice now.

 

Questionable changes to the 14-19 curriculum and the exam system, including the statutory introduction of 'entitlement areas' and diplomas, largely escaped notice.    

 

As expected, Labour MP David Chaytor proposed an amendment to outlaw all selection on the grounds of high academic ability. If this had been passed, it would have turned England's remaining 164 grammar schools into comprehensives by 2010. Fortunately, his amendment was lost by 415 votes to 115.

 

But many of the MPs who voted against Mr Chaytor's amendment did not do so because they wanted to retain grammar schools. They voted that way to protect Tony Blair and the 'progressive' measures enshrined in his Bill. Current   Conservative policy is to reject the possibility of any new grammar schools, but shadow ministers have pledged to support those that remain. So passing the anti-selection amendment would have caused Conservatives to withdraw their support for the Bill, which would then have collapsed. 

 

There were also concerns about an amendment proposed in the House of Lords by Baroness Gould of Potternewton (Labour), Baroness Massey of Darwen (Labour) and Baroness Walmsley (Lib-Dem). This would have made Personal, Social and Health Education (PSHE) statutory from ages 5 to 16. Happily, this amendment was withdrawn, presumably because ministers know they can enforce PSHE without the force of law –  all they need do is to ensure that the Office for Standards in Education (Ofsted) inspects it, as explained below.     

 

OFSTED IS NOW JUST A POLITICAL TOOL  

 

Ofsted is not, as people assume, an independent body inspecting school standards. This government has turned it into an enforcement agency to ensure all schools, both state and independent, follow its policies (even though they may be educationally flawed – see NLS, overleaf). These are some of the conclusions drawn in a new book, Inspection, Inspection, Inspection! by Anastasia de Waal. 

 

Pupils' learning is now a secondary consideration and Ofsted does not rate schools according to the quality of education provided: it judges them on how many boxes are ticked on an Ofsted inspector's chart. This undermines the autonomy of teachers, regardless of how effective they are.

 

Also, the inspectors now use their powers over independent schools to interfere with their effectiveness and reduce their performance in relation to state schools. As Miss de Waal explains:  "In an attempt to salvage the legitimacy of state school reforms, there has been an attack on private practice. Rather than tackling its state sector problems, the government has attempted to mitigate them by 'planting' problems in the private sector. By imposing requirements on independent schools, the government has been able to make its schools look better and private schools look worse."  Few would argue that independent schools should comply with reasonable health and safety requirements. But Ofsted can, and does, destroy the reputations of independent schools without justification. (The establishment fears competition from state grammar schools too!)   

 

Many people who gave information for this book   had to insist on anonymity, as is now the norm in state education. Even so, it offers important insights into how 'guidance' and activities by educational bureaucrats turn seemingly beneficial reforms into something very different and quite sinister.

 

Inspection, Inspection, Inspection! costs £12 including postage from Civitas, 77 Great Peter Street, London SW1P 2EZ. 

 

RIGHT AND WRONG TO DISAPPEAR? 

 

The 'progressive' educational establishment is poised to take another leap forward in its strategy to shift the purpose of education – from teaching the  foundations of subjects such as English and maths to moulding children's attitudes and values to change society.   

 

On 31 July, it emerged that the difference between right and wrong will no longer be taught or recognised in state schools, if the advice of Dr Ken Boston, the chief executive of the Qualifications and Curriculum Authority (QCA), is accepted. The QCA clearly wants to 'outlaw'  traditional 'values transference' in schools and replace it with 'values clarification'.

 

Values transference is where responsible adults  transfer their values to young people. 'Values clarification' is more like brainwashing. It is is explained in an article by Jim Bowen, a Melbourne barrister, in News Weekly (3 March 1990):

 

"The core theme of values clarification is that there are no right or wrong values. Values education does not seek to identify and transmit 'right' values, but to help children discover the values that best suit them personally in a particular situation... Application of values clarification techniques in the classroom requires children to choose a value, affirm it publicly, and be prepared to defend it under pressure from the teacher and classmates. Children are subjected to searching questions about personal and family beliefs, attitudes and behaviour. In a context resembling group therapy, powerful psychological tools, such as sensitivity training, are employed to produce changes in children's attitudes and behaviour. In role playing games, children are subjected to mental stress through emotional involvement. Doubts concerning previously held values and loyalties are implanted while children are psychologically vulnerable, leaving them open to implantation of other values."  

Values clarification already lurks in the national curriculum under instructions to teach  children to make their own 'informed choices'. The technique is used in circle time and other PSHE lessons. Yet it is extremely dangerous, as evidenced in  books such as The Road to Malpsychia: humanistic psychology and our discontents by Joyce Milton (Encounter Books, 2002). 

 

STRANGE LESSONS IN CITIZENSHIP

 

A citizenship teaching pack entitled 9/11: The Main Chance invites pupils to imagine they are organising a terrorist attack. It contains a list of 'Osama's grievances' and was funded through the government's Neighbourhood Regeneration Fund.  Also included is a lesson on 'conflict resolution', which likens the Israel-Palestine dispute to a family argument about sharing (The Times, 16 June 2006). 

 

Also disturbing is a textbook, Key Stage Four Citizenship: The Study Guide from Coordination Group Publications. This lists the duties of  parents, teachers and the police, and the  rights of children. It tells youngsters they have the right 'to be protected from emotional or physical abuse', such as bullying. But also, unbelievably, 'cross-country'!    (Sunday Telegraph, 6 August 2006).  

 

On the same day, the Sunday Telegraph revealed that Geoff Hoon, the minister for Europe, has written to Alan Johnson, the new education secretary, urging him to ensure that lessons on the 'benefits' of the European Union are part of the national curriculum.

 

But that seems to be happening already: the question carrying the most marks in one of this year's Edexcel AS-level Politics papers was: 'Argue the benefits of further European integration.'  When challenged on the grounds of bias by the Democracy Movement, Edexcel replied that in the half of its papers now regularly devoted to 'European Integration',  it  tried to be impartial with questions such as 'What are the advantages of European Integration?' There are no questions on the disadvantages of integration.

 

NO TIME FOR ACADEMIC BASICS?

 

Amidst all the time and effort put into 'non-subjects', it is now reported that less than half of school-leavers reach basic standards (generally regarded as GCSE grade C or above) in English and maths.   

 

And after analysing this year's national test  papers in science for 14-year-olds, Professor Alan Smithers of Buckingham University said of the questions: 'They are very easy because you can answer most of them by common sense....The tests are not setting sufficiently ambitious goals.'   The results are 'misleading', because pupils could achieve the expected Level 5 with little understanding of the subject.

 

DITCHING NLS RAISES STANDARDS

 

In 2004, only 48% of the pupils at Brittania  Village Primary School in Newham reached expected levels in their national tests for English. Children weren't being properly taught to read. So in 2005, as an experiment for BBC Newsnight, the new headteacher ditched the National Literacy Strategy (NLS) and adopted the private-sector, synthetic phonics reading programme developed by Ruth Miskin.

 

Newsnight reported on the outcomes on 17 July.  In this year's national tests, 96% of the pupils reached the expected levels.  The school is situated in one of the most under-privileged areas in the country. Only 4 terms ago, one pupil was reading at the level of a 5-year-old, well below her chronological age. Now she (and others) have reading ages of 9. Their reading ages improved by 4 years in 4 terms. 

 

Soon, ministers are expected to publish new guidance to promote the effective teaching of  reading using methods based on 'synthetic phonics-first'. If the new guidance follows the recommendations of Jim Rose, it will contradict the strategies enshrined in the flawed NLS, which was introduced by ministers 8 years ago. It should also ensure that boys learn to read as quickly as girls and are, therefore, less likely to fall behind in other subjects. (See also www.rrf.org.uk).

 

NORTHERN IRELAND IS SENT DOWN

 

Northern Ireland's Department of Education (DENI) admits that almost 93% of the 9,778 responses to its consultation on proposals to 'reform' education were opposed to the abolition of academic selection. A further 9,804 out of 11,071 signatures on six petitions were broadly opposed to ending selection too (Belfast Telegraph,  12 June 2006).

 

Yet MPs and members of the House of Lords in Westminster have still approved The Education (Northern Ireland) Order 2006.  This will outlaw all selection on the grounds of academic ability in Ulster, thereby  destroying 69 grammar schools. It will also legalise some very 'progressive' changes to Northern Ireland's national curriculum, despite the fact that exam results (and staying-on rates) are better than in England.

 

A surprising number of those who voted to abolish Northern Ireland's grammar schools, had earlier voted against a similar proposal by David Chaytor MP to destroy England's remaining grammars. It seems that preserving 69 excellent schools in Northern Ireland was less important than saving Tony Blair's Education Bill. 

 

And a critical amendment was added to the Order: if the Northern Ireland Assembly is restored by 24 November, the Assembly will have the option to reject it. Tony Blair, Peter Hain and Angela Eagle led this  political game with children's education. The electorate should never, ever forget.  (See also www.paceni.org)

 

LOCAL NEWS

 

Kent: A 'federation' of 3 schools in Maidstone has caused huge controversy. Cornwallis, Oldborough and  Senacre secondary schools have all been placed under a single headteacher/chief executive, Dr Chris Gerry. Dr Gerry is so sensitive about his reforms, he has threatened legal action against sixth formers who criticised the changes on a website (Kent Messenger, 19 May 2006). The 'federation' is called 'New Line Learning' and Dr Gerry has reduced the Key Stage 3 curriculum to 2 years instead of 3. He hopes that pupils will take their Key Stage 3 national tests and GCSEs a year early, commence sixth-form studies a year early, and begin university studies on school premises a year early. The federation is promoting 'independent project-based learning', the Royal Society of Arts skills-based humanities course, spending £1.7m on new computer equipment, and 3 or 4 classes will be taught in one large open area. It is hoped that at least 90% of the pupils will achieve 5-plus A*-C GCSEs, but in which subjects? And where is the objective evidence to support such radical change?      

 

Lincolnshire: Two grammar schools, Boston (Boys') Grammar  School (BGS) and Boston (Girls') High School, have come under threat from their headteachers and governors. Conservative controlled Lincolnshire County Council (LCC) has sub-contracted its School Improvement Service to CfBT Education Trust, a private-sector provider. Although 26 schools in Lincolnshire have less than 35% of their pupils achieving 5-plus A*-C GCSEs, the School Improvement Service, headed by CfBT's Andy Breckon, seems to share the 'progressive' educational establishment view that  the way to improve schools is to undermine the best.

 

Mr Breckon has been showing a PowerPoint presentation which is incredibly biased against grammar schools. One slide shows the 'National distribution of school performance' with columns for grammar, comprehensive and secondary modern schools. All types of school are on the same slide, but different scales are used: the performance of grammar schools is measured by the percentage of pupils achieving A*-A grades and the comprehensives and secondary moderns by the percentage achieving 5-plus A*-C grades. Nor is there any consideration of the subjects in which the qualifications are achieved. This, of course, makes the performance of the grammars look poor in comparison. Along with questionable figures showing falling school rolls, this presentation has been used to convince heads, governors and LCC's cabinet member for education, Cllr Christine Talbot, that 'the only way forward' is to merge the two single-sex grammars. This will reduce the   grammar school places available in Boston each year from around 240 to perhaps 120. 

 

The girls' grammar school has been in trouble with Ofsted, though 97% of its pupils currently achieve 5-plus A*-C GCSEs. But with a new head, it's management is improving. A further complication is that the boys' grammar school, which has 93% of pupils achieving 5-plus A*-Cs,  has 'federated' with a local comprehensive, Haven High Technology College, where only 32% of pupils get 5-plus A*-Cs.  Incidentally, a local secondary modern, The Giles School, has a creditable 48% of its pupils achieving 5-plus A*-C GCSEs. 

 

Now, the heads and governors of the grammar schools have voted for a 'feasibility study' into merging their two schools. This could mean the end for at least one excellent school. A 'feasibility study' it may be, but a  half-page document, Selective Education in Boston: A Strategic View, which appeared just before the school holidays, clearly states that the merger will begin next year. Staff  have been told that there is 'no alternative'. They must all re-apply for their jobs, presumably to facilitate redundancies. Parents were not consulted at all.

 

However, a new group, Save Our Schools, has been formed to fight the plans. Led by Debbie Evans and Phillip Bosworth, SOS is supported by the National Grammar Schools Association and by us.  The promoters of these plans have much to answer for. (See also www.sos-bgs-bhs.co.uk)

 

Sheffield:  Parents with children at Dobcroft Infants School are horrified that headteacher Cathy Robson plans to show a Channel 4 sex education video, 'Living and Growing', to children as young as 5-years-old as part of a Healthy Schools Initiative. Children are expected to label body parts such as vagina, penis and clitoris. In 2003, parents of children at Campbell Infants School in Dagenham begged staff not to use the same teaching materials, which had caused some parents to burst into tears when they were given a preview (Daily Mail, 26 April 2006).

 

TIMETABLES NEEDED, PLEASE?

 

Parents are complaining that their children spend too much lesson-time on Personal, Social and Health  Education, Citizenship, Information Technology (computers) and 'Guidance' at the expense of lessons in English, maths, science, geography, history etc, each of which may be allocated only 1, 2 or 3 periods each week. This is what the government means by 'transforming' education. If you have access to a  pupil's  timetable and it doesn't look right, please email or post a copy to us. All identities will be kept confidential, of course.  

 

RECOMMENDED READING

 

* Is education improving? If not, why not? This 2,000 word essay by Irina Tyk challenges eight  negative features of today's educational orthodoxy and offers sound advice to parents.

* Solving the problems in state education (1 page) contains useful quotations, references to recent  newspaper reports and a recommendation.

* Personal, Social and Health Education/Citizenship (PSHE/C): An Update (3 pages)  was prepared in response to attempts to make PSHE statutory for all pupils. 

 

All the above are available at www.cre.org.uk or send us a stamped addressed envelope for free copies.

 

* 'O-levels are alive and well – but not in Britain' by Chris McGovern.  This article appeared in The Daily Telegraph on 7 June 2006.  It highlights the state educational establishment's fear of competition and calls on ministers to restore O-levels to their list of 'approved' qualifications. 

 

* Are A Levels and GCSEs getting easier? by Dr Robert Coe is available as a PowerPoint presentation at www.cemcentre.org.  Dr Coe finds that: "At GCSE, students of comparable ability achieved about half a grade higher in 2005 than in 1996. At A level, the performance of students of comparable ability has increased by an average of 1.3 grades since 1995; in maths it has increased by 3.2 grades since 1988. As well as individual subjects getting 'easier', there has been a move towards the 'easier' subjects."

 

* Forever Enslaved? Female Dependency and the State by Sheila Lawlor.  Women are supposed to be doing better than ever before. Yet  fewer are taking A-level maths, physics or even modern languages than a decade ago and more choose 'soft options' such as media studies and drama.  Dr Lawlor considers three areas of concern: education, work and motherhood.  £5.00 from Politeia, 22 Charing Cross Road, London WC2H OQP.

 

SNIPPETS

 

Children no longer need to know facts about history, geography or science because they can look them up on-line, teachers' leaders said yesterday. The Association of Teachers and Lecturers wants subjects and the national curriculum to be scrapped and replaced with cross-curricular inquiries teaching children the skills they will need for the workplace. Daily Telegraph, 11 April 2006.

 

Books are more than twice as effective as  computers in raising standards among pupils, says a senior academic who spent 30 years training teachers to use computers. Daily Telegraph, 20 May 2006.

 

Children as young as three should be taught about same-sex relationships, it was claimed yesterday [by the National Union of Teachers]. Daily Mail, 22 July 2006.

 

Citizenship education must ultimately be judged on its outcomes, namely by the society it produces. Changing Citizenship: Democracy and Inclusion in Education by Audrey Osler and Hugh Starkey, Open University Press, 2005.

 

A new survey [has] revealed that only five per cent of secondary heads have any interest in taking advantage of [the Education Bill's] centrepiece: the option of seeking trust status. Daily Express, 16 March 2006.

 

About half a million children are in schools without  permanent head teachers because of a mounting recruitment crisis, a survey showed yesterday. Lack of applications for what was once the most sought after position has led 1,200 schools in England alone to rely on deputies or temporary agency staff to run them, said the National Association of Head Teachers. Daily Telegraph, 29 April 2006.

 

Labour's flagship project to help deprived children and families could be making crime and truancy worse, instead of better... The £3billion Sure Start scheme is failing in its central aim to help society's most vulnerable parents, according to research published in the British Medical Journal. Daily Mail, 16 June 2006.  

 

Some of the most left-wing journalists I know pay school fees, or intend to do so. Others bus (or taxi) their children to a covertly selective state school, while making a fuss about how they didn't 'go private'. I can think of only a handful who chose a conventional council comprehen-sive. Peter Wilby, former editor of the New Statesman, in the TES, 28 July 2006.

 

/Campaign for Real Education, August 2006

 

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