NEWSLETTER

No 61, Spring 2007

 

POLICIES ARE NOT ALL THEY SEEM

 

Speaking at a Department for Education and Skills (DfES) Innovation Unit/Demos/OECD conference on 18 May 2004, David Miliband, who was then minister for schools, made some unusually honest statements.

 

Talking about 'Choice and Voice in Personalised Learning', Mr Miliband largely dismissed 'consumer choice'. Instead, politicians must offer a new choice 'when the competitive mechanism [of school choice] is unavailable'. The solution, he said, was 'Personalised learning' and choice of curriculum in every school. 'Voice', he explained, 'is the attempt to change from within, rather than escape a particular institution.'      

 

Mr Miliband also remarked that: 'Excellence will always be monopolised by the well-off.' But it would be 'profoundly wrong' for ministers to take 'a social democratic approach...simply to tackle poor performance.' 'Excellence is a resource for a more egalitarian system [and] it can be a locomotive for improvement across the system.'

 

He identified 5 components of personalised learning: using 'assessment for learning' and data to identify 'the strengths and weaknesses' of students; recognising that 'multiple intelligences' require different teaching strategies; respecting students by offering 'curriculum choice'; 'a radical approach to school organisation'; and involving 'the community, local institutions and social services'. 

 

This, of course, is why the present government's educational policies have failed to raise standards. Instead of concentrating their efforts on tackling ineffective schools and allowing the good ones to continue providing a decent education, ministers insist on 'reforming' and 'transforming' everything in sight. High-performing schools and colleges, whether state or independent, are merely a 'resource' to be used in pursuit of a more egalitarian system. If all schools are the same, no-one can make embarrassing comparisons.     

 

This also explains the link between several   government policies such as personalised learning, federations between schools, the '14 to 19' agenda  and Building Schools for the Future (BSF). And their double-edged capabilities.    

 

Good teachers have always 'personalised  learning' and teaching within reason. But government   enforcement of skills and pseudo-subjects reduces the time and opportunity for serious study.  Knowledge gets lost in the chaos.

 

Federating very small schools may be a better option than closure, and effective headteachers should help their less-effective colleagues. But  federating schools to create massive institutions, all offering dozens of curriculum choices, will make them less manageable, especially where behaviour is concerned. Federations will weaken good schools and they will not compensate for the shortage of competent staff, caused, it must be said, by misguided political policies.  

 

Ministers also hope that the '14 to 19' agenda and raising the school leaving age to 18 will improve staying-on rates. But why is the '14 to 19' agenda undermining academic subjects, just to make schools and colleges more attractive to youngsters who, perhaps through no fault of their own, have decided that education is not for them? 

 

Then there's the BSF programme: £2.2bn annually and around £45bn overall. But why doesn't the government simply allocate the funds for worthwhile building projects? Why, instead, do ministers and the DfES use taxpayers' money as a lever (or bribe) by refusing to give the go-ahead for improvements unless everyone concerned submits to their damaging  ideological agenda?     

 

NEW CALL FOR MORE GRAMMARS

 

A new pamphlet from the Centre for Policy Studies, Three Cheers for Selection: how grammar schools help the poor calls for more selection within existing state schools and more grammar schools in areas of the country where they don't currently exist. The author, Lord (Norman) Blackwell, who was head of the Prime Minister's Policy Unit at 10 Downing Street from 1995 to 1997, accuses politicians of tolerating an education system that is both academically inferior and socially divisive. The comprehensive system, he   shows, has neither improved educational standards, nor has it increased social mobility.

 

Lord Blackwell proposes that all parents, wherever they live, should be given the choice of applying to a free, selective academic school. Also, that all parents should be given information on selective schools while their children are in primary schools. Free home-to-school transport should be offered to less well-off families for travel to selective schools. A voluntary 11-plus exam, only for those seeking places in grammar schools (now the norm in areas where grammar schools remain), means there would be no need to go back to the old system of a compulsory 11-plus.  

 

Details are also given of a recent ICM survey for the CPS, which found that 76% of those  questioned  believe that more academic children maximise their potential through streaming or by attending selective schools;  73% believe this applies to less academic children too.  These results are similar to those from an ICM poll done last year for the National Grammar Schools Association. This found that 70% of those questioned would like to see new grammar schools in areas of the country where they don't currently exist.

 

Three Cheers for Selection costs £7.00 including postage from the CPS, 57 Tufton Street, London SW1P 3QL.

 

CURRENT SYSTEM WASTES TALENT

 

On 31 December 2006, The Observer reported that Sir Cyril Taylor, who heads the Specialist Schools and Academies Trust (SSAT), had informed Tony Blair and schools minister Lord Adonis that 'tens of thousands of bright children in the poorest parts of England and Wales are being let down by schools that fail to nurture their talent.'

 

The SSAT has identified 30,000 11-year-olds as 'gifted and talented' from their scores in national  tests. Its own research has shown that only 28% of the  youngsters identified as 'gifted and talented' from their test results in 1999 achieved the 3 A-grades at A-level they should have done.

 

Sir Cyril knows there was no such widespread failure among the youngsters who attended  grammar schools or independent schools.  The 'tens of thousands' of very bright youngsters who failed to reach their potential were let down because they attended ineffective comprehensive schools. This is an ongoing problem – and a national disgrace.

 

Sadly, instead of arguing for more grammar schools, Sir Cyril recommends  a 5-fold increase in  spending on the 'gifted and talented' programme to £100m a year. But how can computerised tuition, plus a few week-end and holiday courses for the 'gifted and talented' compensate for their missing out on a full-time education at a good school with top-class teachers and surrounded by other pupils of similar ability? 

 

MORE ABOUT PERSONALISED LEARNING

 

International Networking for Educational Transformation (www.sst-inet.net) provides 'educators with opportunities to share best practice and discuss ways to transform education.'  Supported by the SSAT and HSBC Bank, iNet  promotes 'personalised learning' and another strange concept, the 'deeps'! 

 

The  website says:  'At the heart of personalisation is a commitment to deep learning by students. Whilst there is an acceptance of the importance of student performance in national tests, examinations and qualifications, learning cannot be limited to these; it must involve wider educational purposes and the student outcomes that realise such purposes.'  

 

'Deep learning', we are informed, 'is driven by the three gateways – Student Voice (through which learners articulate their needs), Assessment for Learning (through which assessment is used to improve learning not just record achievement) and Learning to Learn (through which students acquire the generic skills of learning). These...gateways overlap and interconnect, but deep learning is not limited to them.'

 

Furthermore: 'Developing the above three deeps cannot be achieved by conventional approaches to leadership. Deep leadership is the capacity to achieve the transformation of full personalisation.'  

 

One of the key phrases here is 'wider educational purposes'. But what are these purposes? In his book, The Challenge for the Comprehensive School (RKP, 1982), Professor David Hargreaves, an associate director of the SSAT, recommends refusing 'to confine ...education to the culture of individualism' (ie individual achievement) in favour of 'more self-conscious social and political objectives'.  Is that what schools are for?      

 

FROM POLICY TO PRACTICE

 

The extracts below are also from an iNet website at   http://www.cybertext.net.au/inet/cs2_1_17.htm

The writer, Dr Chris Gerry, is executive head of New Line Learning, a federation of three secondary schools in Kent (see Local Update, below).

 

'For [some] students, the current education deal – be compliant, work hard and you will gain what you need to move on – is not an attractive one. Indeed, this proposition is based on the language and behaviour of deferred gratification.'

 

On the curriculum, Dr Gerry suggests: 'There is a need to move away from traditional approaches, to involve students in more choice and the opportunity to work independently.  Project Based Learning offers a route forward here and, in particular, the use of meta questions that span traditional subject areas, for example, ‘Is all violence wrong?’  ‘Will science save us?’  ‘Is truth always necessary?’

 

Also: "We need to redesign learning spaces... At New Line Learning...we have developed a ‘learning plaza’ for 90 students using a different set of principles. We are using this as a test bed to design the next iteration of the concept."

 

Teachers 'have to be retrained to work in new ways, less as subject specialists and more as mentors and guides for students...The solution is to frame teacher work within a wider skills agenda and offer bespoke training with regard to specialised and identifiable skills that will be necessary to work in these new ways.'

 

'Exams are still necessary but they are no longer sufficient. To fully engage with pupils, we need to lay out skills pathways for them and to assess their progress with reference to them.'

 

Isn't something missing here? When youngsters go into the workplace, employers will look for solid qualifications – as will the better universities. Yet, last year, at one of the schools Dr Gerry is using as a 'test bed', only 3% of pupils achieved 5 or more A*-C GCSEs including English and maths. On the same basic measure of performance, results at all 3 of his schools are going down, not up. Is this fair to pupils or conscientious families? And where is Ofsted, the supposedly independent inspectorate, while this experimental nonsense is going on?  

 

RATIONAL CHOICES?

 

Tables in the DfES's Statistical First Release dated 10 January 2007 suggest one good reason why faith schools are popular with parents: in  2006, 53% of 16-year-olds in voluntary-aided and voluntary-controlled schools achieved 5 or more grade A*-C GCSEs including English and maths. In 'bog standard' community schools, only 40% reached this level – a considerable variation.

 

The figures also show a massive difference in performance between city technology colleges, introduced by the Conservatives, and the present government's city academies. In CTCs, on average, 64% of 16-year-olds achieve 5-plus A*-Cs including English and maths. In city academies (when the 3 CTCs  'converted' to academies are excluded), the percentage is only 22%. Although   academies have all-ability intakes, on average their results are worse than those of the remaining 180 secondary modern schools, whose average is 32%. At 297 per pupil, the academies' average 'uncapped' GCSE points score (excluding former CTCs) is also lower than in the secondary modern schools, where the average is 337. Even so, city academies have 3 applicants for each place. Perhaps people are more impressed by new buildings than what is  taught, and how?  Or perhaps there's nothing else?  

 

FATE OF 69 GRAMMARS STILL IN DOUBT

 

The Prince of Wales is reported to have expressed privately his support for Northern Ireland's 69 threatened grammar schools (Belfast Telegraph, 16 February).

 

Regulations passed last year by ministers in Westminster threatened the end for these excellent  schools. But the re-instatement of the Northern Ireland Assembly could, in theory, allow local politicians to reprieve them. To their shame, local politicians have allowed Sinn Fein to retain control over Ulster's education system. As it was Sinn Fein leader Martin McGuiness who made the original decision to destroy the grammar schools, their prospects of survival do not look promising. 

 

AND SCIENCE CRISIS DEEPENS

 

Concerns over the dumbing-down of school science to make it more appealing to youngsters who may otherwise reject it were re-emphasised in a letter in the TES (Times Educational Supplement) on 6 April. It was written by the head of physics in a high-achieving comprehensive school, though his name and address were withheld. For the first time in his career, he wrote, he is embarrassed in his own classroom by the 'appallingly bad' physics and chemistry components of GCSE science that he must now teach. Most colleagues, apparently, share these views and feel 'let down, embarrassed and helpless'.

 

So why have the Institute of Physics, the Association of Science Examiners, the Royal Society of Chemistry and the Qualifications and Curriculum Authority pledged support for the new specifications?  Doesn't science matter any more? 

 

LOCAL UPDATE

 

Brighton and Hove: Earlier this year, hundreds of parents held a demonstration in Brighton, when local politicians voted to allocate school places by lottery as recommended in new admissions guidance to schools. Only 3 out of 8 local secondary schools produce good exam results, so parental worries are fully justified. And as Chris Woodhead wrote in the The Sunday Times (4 March): '[This] is likely to destroy precisely the schools everyone wants to attend...A school which loses control of its pupil intake will cease to be the school it was.'

 

Lincolnshire: The consultation on the federation (merger) between Boston Grammar School for boys and Boston High School for girls ended on 22 January.  The numbers of responses for, against and undecided have not been revealed but, on the advice of the two heads and chairmen of governors who co-promoted the merger, the governing bodies of the two schools have decided to proceed. Reasons for the federation given to parents included claims of falling rolls, which the parents dispute, and the progressives' favourite, 'widening of our curriculum to meet student aspirations and needs relevant to the 21st Century'.  Now Conservative-controlled Lincolnshire County Council and its questionable 'School Improvement Service', run by CfBT Education Trust, plan to have the federation operating by September this year under a joint governing body. If the plans go ahead, a co-educational (and probably reduced) pupil intake will start in September 2008. Eventually, there will be a single headteacher and both schools will operate from a single site – two viable and successful grammar schools will have become one. People who attended the National Grammar Schools' Association annual conference in Stratford-Upon-Avon in February were horrified by these events. Paul Mould, the president of Boston Grammar School Old Boys' Association, has publicly vowed to fight the merger plans to the end. As, of course, will the admirable Save Our Schools group run by Phillip and Julie Bosworth, Debbie Evans and their colleagues.

 

Kent: New Line Learning (NLL) is a federation between Cornwallis, Oldborough Manor and Senacre Schools in Maidstone, headed by Dr Chris Gerry, mentioned opposite. More than 2,600 pupils are involved in the federation and the  trend in exam results is very disturbing:  in the last 2 years, the percentage of pupils at the 3 schools achieving 5 or more grade A*-C GCSEs including English and maths was: Cornwallis 2005 – 40%, 2006 – 34%; Oldborough Manor 2005 – 16%, 2006 – 3%; Senacre 2005 – 18%, 2006 – 17%.  NLL discourages textbooks and exercise books in favour of 'independent learning', which relies on portable computers. Now, regardless of common sense or, it seems, parental wishes, Conservative-controlled Kent County Council and co-sponsors Hewlett-Packard and Carillion plc propose to turn the 3-school federation into 2 academies, starting in September this year. The cost to taxpayers will be £60m (Kent Messenger, 23 February 2007).   

 

RECOMMENDED PUBLICATIONS/NOTICE

 

Step by Step Reading by Mona McNee is a straight-forward guide to teaching reading  using a method that has been tested for over 15 years.  Based on synthetic phonics, it will enable you to teach your child, an adult or even a class of children or adults to read in the simplest and quickest way possible.  Step by Step costs £13.49 directly from the publishers, Galore Park Publishing Ltd, 19/21 Sayers Lane, Tenterden, Kent TN30 6BW.  Or  order online  at www.galorepark.co.uk  

 

The 2007 Jolly Phonics catalogue of books, CDs and other materials for teaching reading, spelling and grammar to young children is now available, along with a helpful Parent/Teacher Guide, which is free on application. Half-day and whole-day training courses in various areas of the country are also on offer. More information from Jolly Learning, Tailours House, High Road, Chigwell, Essex IG7 6DL.  Or at www.jollylearning.co.uk

 

Better Government by Patrick Barbour is a 20-page pamphlet in which the performance of British politicians and civil servants as providers of services is examined and found seriously wanting. Educational outcomes are well covered and everything is carefully referenced. Published by The Taxpayers' Alliance, it can be down-loaded free at www.taxpayersalliance.com/campaigns/bg4gb/BetterGovernment.pdf

 

• The 2007 Schools Bible project organised by Christian Projects/OCU offers cash prizes for schools of £500 and £250, plus other cash awards and personal prizes for pupils. It is open to all secondary pupils in the UK. Those who enter write an essay about Jesus using the Scriptures as a prime source. Last year, in addition to the top prizes, 45 schools won certificates of Merit or Special Merit.  Prizes were presented by Baroness Cox in the House of Lords. Full details from Christian Projects, PO Box 44741, London SW1P 2XA.  Completed essays are required by 30 June.

 

SNIPPETS

 

We need a way for users to be treated with respect and consideration when they cannot exercise the sanction of taking their business elsewhere... Perhaps the choice we need to consider is less about choice between institutions, and more about choice in what students learn and how they learn it...Schools would have to form networks and federations which shared resources and centres of excellence...A universalised, personalised learning service would indeed be a revolutionary goal.Learning about personalisation; how can we put the learner at the heart of the education system? by Charles Leadbeater,  DfES/Demos/NCSL, 2004.

 

The shape of things to come explicitly links two policy agendas which are deeply interconnected but have often been treated as if they were separate: personalised learning and school collaboration. The argument here is that if our aspiration is personalisation for all learners, schools will need to work together to achieve it. Valerie Hannon, director of the DfES Innovation Unit, in the foreword to The shape of things to come: personalised learning through collaboration by Charles Leadbeater, DfES/NCSL, 2005.

 

Floristry, along with qualifications in hairdressing and Indian head massage, are treated on a par with maths and physics A-levels in new league tables... A pass in the Advanced National Certificate in floristry is worth 263 points – more than a B grade at A-level, which is allotted 240 points. A diploma in hairdressing  is worth 210 points, equivalent to a C-grade physics A-level... Certificates in soft furnishings and aromatherapy massage are worth 158 points each, more than an A grade at AS level. The Sunday Telegraph, 7 January 2007.

 

Almost 1,500 secondary schools did not enter any of their pupils for GCSE history, official figures reveal...In Knowsley, Merseyside, only 16 per cent of pupils were entered for GCSE history last year. Five per cent gained a good pass – a total of just 86 pupils across the whole local authority. Leicester, Leicestershire and Newham also entered less than 20 per cent of teenagers. The Sunday Telegraph, 11 February.    

 

Schools are teaching children as young as four about same sex relationships to comply with new gay rights laws...They are introducing youngsters to homosexuality using a series of story books in preparation for when the controversial regulations come into force...Dr Elizabeth Atkinson, reader in social and educational inquiry at Sunderland University, said: 'The purpose is to support schools in meeting their requirements under the [new] Equality Act.'  Daily Mail, 12 March.  

 

Bureaucrats at the Department for Education and Skills are being given crash courses in punctuation and the use of basic words amid fears that official letters and emails are riddled with errors. A series of primary school-style guides have been sent to staff, reminding them how to use the apostrophe and tell the difference between 'easily confused words' such as 'two', 'to' and 'too'. The Daily Telegraph, 24 March.  

 

/Campaign for Real Education, April 2007

 

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