NEWSLETTER

No 62, Summer 2007

 

THE CURRICULUM IS CORRUPTED

 

A new book, published in June by Civitas,  explains how the curriculum has been undermined over recent years by politicians and their 'progressive' quangos and exam boards. The Corruption of the Curriculum is edited by Robert Whelan and includes an introduction by Professor Frank Furedi. Each of the main chapters is written by a subject specialist.

 

Michele Ledda explains how a pupil can now 'go through the school system and get top marks in English and English Literature without knowing that Spencer, Milton or Pope ever existed.' Yet Carol Anne Duffy may be studied twice, both at GCSE and A-level, because she deals with relevant issues such as disaffected learners.

 

Simon Patterson describes how the national curriculum compels maths teachers to keep returning time after time to topics such as fractions. In practice, this means everything is so rushed, there is no time to ensure things are covered in sufficient depth to ensure proper understanding.  

 

Science, writes physics teacher David Perks, has now conflated biology, chemistry and physics into 'scientific literacy' – the consideration of issues such as global warming and GM crops – and whether or not scientists can be trusted.

 

Geography has become a vehicle for teaching 'global citizenship, with environmentalism as its central theme', writes Professor Alex Standish. But teachers are treading on dangerous ground when they attempt to change the way children feel about things such as 'global values'.

 

Chris McGovern explains how history has been corrupted by 'New History', which is taught with no sense of narrative or chronology. Everything must  be filtered through politically correct 'perspectives'. So the views of terrorists are accorded equal value with democratic belief systems and important historical events are simply ignored.   

 

The study of modern foreign languages, writes Shirley Lawes, has become "a functional skill that teaches the sort of thing you find in a 'get-by' phrase book." Independent schools are producing 30% of all language graduates. Yet in state schools, foreign languages can now be dropped after the age of 14, and they usually are.  

 

Every politician who may have to make a decision about education should read this book – as should everyone else with an interest. £12 including  postage from Civitas, 77 Great Peter Street, London SW1P 2EZ.  

 

...AND THE IDEOLOGY IS REINFORCED

 

Only a few days after The Corruption of the Curriculum was published, Ed Balls, the new secretary of state for education, and the Qualifications and Curriculum Authority (QCA) formally announced plans to reform the  curriculum. But instead of introducing more rigour, they are reinforcing and legitimising the 'progressive' ideology that is already a major feature of many state schools.  

 

Geography, for example, will emphasise 'global citizenship' and cultural diversity. History will include the history of the European Union and the United Nations. 

 

Schools will be expected to include global warming, healthy eating and personal finance in the curriculum, as well as critical thinking and independent learning. Timetables may be re-arranged to include some lessons lasting only 5 minutes, and some where youngsters spend weeks  on a theme such as the Olympic Games.

 

Dr Ken Boston, the chief executive of the QCA, claims this is 'the internationally proven, research-based strategy for improved learning and raising attainment.'  But if that is so, why don't the most effective independent (and state) schools arrange their curriculum and timetables like this? 

 

TEACHING PROFESSION IN CRISIS

 

A new study from Politeia firmly blames government policies for the crisis in the teaching profession. Too much regulation and questionable targets undermine the recruitment and retention of good teachers. State schools now have 2 non teachers to every 3 teachers and there is too much emphasis on the number of people recruited, instead of their quality.  

 

Only 45% of entrants to the primary sector have 2 good A-levels and only 41% of entrants to the secondary sector train to teach in their degree subject. With 11% of headships vacant and 9% of teachers leaving the profession each year, should anyone be surprised that there are so many failing schools?  (The retirement rate is just over 2%.) 

 

Yet in countries such as France and Germany, where teaching is still seen as a high-status profession, there are 5 or 6 well-qualified applicants for each available training post. Teaching Matters: The Recruitment, Employment and Retention of Teachers costs £10 from Politeia, 22 Charing Cross Road, London WC2H OQP. 

 

'LEARNING STYLES' ARE NONSENSE

 

Identifying each individual pupil's 'learning style' and gearing the teaching accordingly is a key component of the government's drive for 'personalised learning'. Instead of using 'whole class' methods, teachers are now expected to classify children as to whether they learn better by 'visual, auditory or kinaesthetic' (Vak) methods. Visual and auditory are self-explanatory.  'Kinaesthetic' children are supposed to learn better by moving about. 

 

But Baroness (Susan) Greenfield, who is currently director of the Royal Institute and a professor of pharmacology at Oxford, says it's nonsense: 'After more than 30 years of educational research into learning styles, there is no independent evidence  that Vak... has any direct educational benefits.' (Sunday Telegraph, 29 July 2007).

 

OFSTED SHOWS ITS TRUE COLOURS

 

An intrusive and disturbing questionnaire for children called 'Tellus2' has been used by the Ofsted inspection service. It has 39 questions  for 8 to 16 year-olds, which illustrate ministers'   determination to use the education system to control families, and change  attitudes and values, whilst they simultaneously undermine youngsters' subject knowledge. Questions, with some of the suggested answers in brackets,  include:

 

Does the  mum or step mum that you live with have a paid job?  Which of these things, if any, would do the most to make your area a better place for you to live? (More or better shops.  Cleaner and less litter.  More or better sports clubs. Better public transport such as buses, trains, tubes.) What do you think of the public transport...in your area? How safe or unsafe from being hurt by other people do you feel – In school? At home? Which of these, if any, would you like to go to that you don't at the moment? (Park or play area. Cinema or theatre. Sports club. Youth club. Video-making group.)  Why don't you go to these at the moment? (Lack of transport. Parents don't let me.) Which of the following things, if any, do you worry about the most? (Being bullied. Getting into trouble. My parents or family.)  How many portions of fruit and vegetables do you eat in a day normally?  In the last four weeks, how many times, if any, have you got drunk? Which of the things below, if any, might help you do better in school? (More help from family and friends eg with homework.)  Which of these have you done in the last year? (Voted in a school election. Been on a school council or parliament.) 

 

11-YEAR-OLDS COULD PASS NEW GCSE

 

Thousands of youngsters are taking a new qualification, worth up to 4 grade A*-C GCSEs, which experts say an average 11-year-old could pass.

 

The National Level 2 in ICT (Information and Communications Technology), set by the OCR exam board, counts as 4 top-grade GCSEs in school league tables, even though it only requires the teaching time of one. Government consultants  found a pass in the exam's compulsory unit generally equals level 4 of the national curriculum – the standard expected of an 11-year-old, though some points matched level 5 – the standard expected of a 14-year-old.  (TES, 18 May 2007.)

  

In mid-July, a senior government adviser broke ranks and admitted that A-levels are getting easier. Sir Peter Williams, who is chancellor of Leicester University and chairman of the Advisory Committee on Mathematics Education, said: 'I don't think there is any doubt whatsoever that absolute A-level  standards have fallen. They have edged south continuously over a long period of time. I think all university academics and a good proportion of sixth-form teachers would agree.'  

 

There are other hopeful signs, too. Faced with competition from the International Baccalaureate and Cambridge Pre-U exams, ministers are being  forced to improve the credibility of A-levels. From 2008, there will be a new A* grade, for which candidates must score at least 90%. The number of units or modules will be reduced from 6 to 4 and there will be harder questions requiring longer answers. Spin or substance? We shall see.   

 

FOOLHARDY DASH FOR ACADEMIES?

 

Earlier this year, The Academies Programme, a study by the National Audit Office, was unable to report good results from the new academies. It could only say that their exam results were improving faster than those in other types of school. Now a study by PriceWaterhouse Coopers says that academies are taking fewer children from poor homes than they originally did. At one academy, the proportion of youngsters from less-privileged homes has fallen from over half to 12%. 

 

In a letter to The Independent (4 July), researcher   Roger Titcombe notes that academies' detailed exam results are exempt from the requirements of the Freedom of Information Act. But why is such secrecy allowed, when academies receive, either directly or indirectly, considerable sums of taxpayers' money?  Mr Titcombe also stresses  that, in their desperation to achieve reasonable percentages of pupils gaining 5 or more grade A*-C GCSEs, academies are dumping traditional subject options in favour of easy GCSEs, which are unlikely to benefit youngsters when they leave school.   

 

A TES analysis published on 18 May found that among the 14 academies that had so far filed  accounts, spending per pupil averaged over £9,000 a year, when capital costs are  included. Revenue spending alone averaged £6,500 per pupil. (For comparison, annual revenue spending in Lincolnshire grammar schools is around £3,500 per pupil.)

 

Building costs for a single academy have now risen to almost £50m – see Local News, below. Improving buildings and more choice of school are fine, where necessary. But which is more important? High-quality teachers or glossy, over-expensive buildings? 

     

WOOLLY CONSERVATIVE THINKING?

 

When, in mid-May, shadow secretary of state for  education David Willetts attacked grammar schools for failing to help children from poorer families, he and David Cameron, were subjected to a barrage of media criticism that continued for many  weeks. 

 

They had used research from the Sutton Trust (no friend of grammar schools), which found that grammar schools have lower proportions of pupils on Free School Meals than the averages for the areas in which the schools are situated. Another study had found the same 'flaw'  in top-performing comprehensive schools too. But that was ignored in the spin that accompanied the attack.

     

Eager to position themselves in the political middle ground, Messrs Cameron and Willetts  missed a key point: when  opinion polls consistently show that around 70% of voters support grammar schools and would like to see more of them, and barely  30% oppose this view, support for grammar schools is the middle ground!

 

These leading Conservatives also seemed to forget that the 11-plus selection test for a place in a grammar school is no longer compulsory. It is voluntary. Children who don't take the test (because they don't want to or aren't given the opportunity) or don't reach the required standard, almost invariably go to the local comprehensive. Why should anyone vote for a politician who seeks to deny such choice? (See also 'Grammar School Debate 1 & 2' at www.cre.org.uk)

 

LOCAL NEWS

 

Blackburn with Darwen: £15m has been spent on a new academy for Darwen before a single brick has been laid. This will bring its expected cost to more than £48m, against an original estimate of £34m.  Clearing the site for the academy is expected to cost £14.8m, of  which £11.7m has already been spent on buying up homes and commercial premises, and some early site preparation. An additional £3m-£4m has been spent by central government and the Specialist Schools and Academies Trust on design and technical fees. Now, a public inquiry must decide whether or not to confirm the council's compulsory purchase order for the homes that remain on the site. If the academy doesn't go ahead exactly as anticipated, the council may end up with £7.7m of debt and a site worth £1.7m (Blackburn Citizen, 27 June 2007).

 

Kent: Many conscientious parents remain deeply upset about New Line Learning (NLL), the 'hard' federation between Cornwallis, Oldborough Manor and Senacre Schools in Maidstone. A major worry is that all pupils are expected to take their GCSE exams a year early, which means youngsters lose a full year's preparation. This is bound to affect their grades. Cornwallis, the most successful of the 3 schools, was inspected in March. The inspectors noted that 'over the past two years, the school has efficiently reorganised... its patterns of teaching and learning'. They also noted 'the creation of three large learning centres to accommodate team teaching ... and for project-based independent learning with easy access to computers.'  But it is difficult to understand how the  inspectors dared to report that 'in-school assessments indicate that improving standards justify' the policy of 'a more project-based approach'. Last year's exam results told a completely different story. Between 2005 and 2006, the percentage of Cornwallis pupils achieving 5 or more grade A*-C GCSEs including English and maths fell from 40% to 34%. At Oldborough Manor, the percentage fell from 16% to 3%.  Now parents have received a glossy 'consultation' brochure from Kent County Council proposing to change the 3-school federation into 2 new academies. This praises the 'established and successful Federation' and claims, though the evidence so far suggests otherwise, that the academies will 'eliminate under-performance'.  The closing date for the consultation was 27 July. Yet on 20 July, Whitehall's newly named Department for Children, Schools and Families approved what is happening and the 3 schools will officially become 2 academies on 1 September this year.

   

Lincolnshire: Readers of previous newsletters will remember the plans to 'federate' Boston  Grammar School for boys and Boston High School for girls.  Following dubious advice from CfBT Education Trust, which is paid more than £2m a year to run the County's School Improvement Service, Conservative-controlled Lincolnshire County Council (LCC) is determined to merge these two schools into one, despite widespread opposition. Save Our Schools (SOS), the local parents' group, which supports the retention of 2 autonomous grammar schools, with help from experienced campaigners from Gloucester, has now demolished the original argument for the federation – falling rolls. School rolls had been falling but official figures show they will increase significantly in the coming years. Nevertheless, this 'hard' federation is being forced ahead from September, even though the promised feasibility study has never appeared.  Nor has it yet been decided from which single site the new federated school will eventually operate. What does seem certain is that a grammar school will be lost and the number of places available will be reduced from around 240 each year to perhaps 150. John Neal, the head of BGS, who took a leading role in forcing the merger forward, has retired this summer.  Under pressure from officials from CfBT and LCC, some of the existing governors of the two schools claim they have appointed  Helen McEvoy, the head of BHS, to be 'executive head' of  the new federation. This was done despite legal advice from the official Governor Helpline that such an appointment should only be made 'post-federation' by the new joint governing body. Charles Campion, the BHS governor who had this advice in writing, was prevented from reading it out to fellow governors by Andrew Wallis, his pro-federation chairman. There have also been accusations that the minutes of governors' meetings have been 'censored' (Boston Standard, 11, 18 and 25 July 2007).  Amidst all the disruption, BGS has lost 3 experienced teachers (of English, chemistry and physics), none of whom will be easy to replace. The good news is that SOS co-chairman Phillip Bosworth and one of his SOS colleagues, Peter Evans, have both been elected as parent governors.

 

PUBLICATIONS AND INFORMATION

 

Built on Love: An Autobiography for Two by Valerie and Denis Riches tells the story of their long defence of  traditional family values. The authors are best known for their work for Family and Youth Concern (now Family Education Trust) and Family Publications, so they provide a valuable record of the dramatic changes in society over recent years.  £12.95 from Family Publications, 6a King Street, Oxford OX2 6DF or phone 0845 0500 879.

    

The Spectre at the Economic Feast: Why Our Schools Should be Privately Financed by Professor Dennis O'Keeffe gives an insight into the current problems of the state education system and offers some possible remedies. Published by the Economic Research Council, it can be downloaded free at www.ercouncil.org

 

Challenge Team UK provides groups of young volunteers who visit schools and youth groups to give a 60-90 minute interactive presentation explaining why they have decided to save sex for their future marriage partner.  Because they are young themselves, the speakers fully understand the pressures their peers have to deal with.  More information from Communitywise, Ocklynge Road, Eastbourne  BN21 1PY.  Tel. 01323 721047. Or at www.challengeteamuk.org

 

SNIPPETS

 

This latest Innovation Unit think piece... signals a shift from R & D [Research and Development] to D & R – development and research. The idea of D & R has been around the education sector for a few years, but it is now becoming increasingly important... Personalising the learning experience of young people, as the government is committed to doing, means very different pictures of practice both within and between schools... The essential components of a D & R system for education [include that the system] expects multiple failure...we have to get used to and better at working with uncertainty.  Extracts from Innovation: a D & R system for education by Tom Bentley and Sarah Gillinson, [DfES] Innovation Unit, 2007.    

 

One in five children finishes 12 years' education too illiterate and innumerate to function properly in the adult world...120,000 11-year-olds still leave primary school unable to read and write properly. Britain has 200,000 persistent truants... This is not the failure of a few dead-enders, it is a mark of national disgrace. The Observer, 15 July 2007.  

 

The 5% rise in primaries and secondaries put in 'special measures' last term will increase pressure...over school standards. It follows a 17% rise in failing schools the previous term...Daily Mail, 1 June 2007.

 

The Mentfor project is at HM Prison Chelmsford and Young Offenders Centre, where [Jackie Hewitt-Main] works with dyslexic prisoners. 53% of those in prison have dyslexia and 60% have a reading age of 4-6. CNES News, June 2007.   

 

State secondary schools are being told to ditch lessons in academic subjects and replace them with month-long projects on themes such as global warming...The first sign of a backlash from teachers has emerged with a petition on the Downing Street website against the removal of some of the academic content from a science GCSE curriculum launched last September. About 130 science teachers have signed the petition, which calls for the course to be scrapped because it requires pupils to discuss issues such as pollution but not to learn 'hard science'. Sunday Times, 24 June 2007.

 

The Government's latest curriculum shake-up emphasises fashionable Left-wing issues at the expense of subjects that have stood the test of time...A gold star for the best summary of these changes goes to the spokesman of the Campaign for Real Education who described them as follows: 'A lot of trendy nonsense.' Daily Express leader, 13 July 2007.

 

Allow schools to teach what they like, how they like, and for as long as they like, and leave parents to choose the most successful of them. Their millions of individual decisions will be a far more potent force than the directives of a Whitehall bureaucracy. Daily Telegraph leader, 11 June 2007. 

 

If you are a young person of any age you can get sexual health advice, Emergency Contraception (Morning After Pill), pregnancy tests at Family Planning Clinics. Free condoms are available at OPOS, Connexions...Youth Team, SureStart Children Centre. Young Peoples (sic)  Emergency Contraception Leaflet published by SureStart and displayed at Boston High School for girls. 

 

A giant electronic database containing sensitive information on all 11 million children in England will be open to at least 330,000 users when it launches next year. The Guardian, 18 June 2007.

 

Britain needs an elite – brilliant linguists, mathematicians, scientists, engineers – to compete with countries that focus more on excellence than egalitarianism.  The Economist, 26 May 2007.

 

[Gordon] Brown misses the point about why parents opt for private education. It's not the facilities: it's the ethos of achievement...The average annual fee for a private day school in Scotland is £5,205.  The Scotsman, 3 July 2007.

 

/Campaign for Real Education, August 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