NEWSLETTER

No 69, Winter 2009

 

PRIMARY STANDARDS FALL

 

No wonder the teachers' unions and many politicians would like to abolish objective testing in primary schools!

 

This year's national test results for 11-year-olds show  that 1,472 primary schools failed to reach the government's floor target of 55% of their pupils achieving Level 4 (the expected standard) in English and maths. Last year 1,359 schools failed to reach the target, so more primary schools are failing this year than last.

 

The number of primary schools where fewer than half their pupils reached expected standards in these two core subjects has also gone up from 798 last year to 885 this year.

 

Yet teachers complain they are compelled to spend too much time teaching literacy and numeracy at the expense of other subjects. So why the drop in standards? If allowing more time isn't producing improvements, factors such as ineffective teaching and over-crowding the curriculum with social and political lessons at the expense of traditional subjects (see PSHE below) must  be undermining standards.  

 

Education spending has risen by 43% since 2000, yet Ofsted inspectors have again reported serious weaknesses in primary schools.  How long must parents wait for those in charge to use their common sense?    

 

AND 'EXPERTS' LET US DOWN – AGAIN   

 

A few months ago, Sir Jim Rose recommended that primary schools should do away with the subject-based curriculum and subsume the subjects into 6 'areas of learning'. Now the Cambridge Primary Review team has published similar proposals, along with a recommendation to delay the start of formal schooling until the age of six.

 

The Cambridge team, led by Professor Robin Alexander, recommends 12 'educational aims', such as 'well-being', 'promoting interdependence and sustainability', 'empowering local, national and global citizenship' – plus a 'community curriculum' with 8 'domains'. These are: arts and creativity; citizenship and ethics; faith and belief; language, oracy and literature; mathematics; physical and emotional health; place and time; science and technology.

 

This goes completely against the advice of good teachers who emphasise that the subjects provide structure for essential knowledge and content.  

 

In the meantime, our suggestions for a content-based primary curriculum are moving ahead, though more slowly than anticipated. Suggested content for geography and history is now at www.cre.org.uk/primary.html.  Recommendations for science are almost ready. Please note, these are only suggestions for teachers, parents, home-schoolers and others to build on, or reject, as they wish.   

 

PSHE TO BE COMPULSORY

 

In September, the Qualifications and Curriculum Development Agency (QCDA) published details of the responses to its consultation on personal, social, health and economic education (PSHE), which includes sex and relationship education (SRE). 

 

Out of 6,433 responses, only 32% agreed with education secretary Ed Balls's proposal to make PSHE a statutory part of the national curriculum. 68% rejected his plans.  Only 21% wanted parents to lose the right to withdraw their child from SRE and 79% thought they should retain it.  

 

Needless to say, these results did not suit Ed Balls and the Department for Children, Families and Schools (DCSF). So they commissioned another survey, this time by Populus.

 

After being told that the government intended to make SRE a statutory part of the national curriculum from September 2011, 80% of Populus's respondents agreed that every child should attend these lessons – as they would if it's the law. Even so, Populus found only 20% of parents and 26% of the general population thought parents should never be allowed to withdraw their child from SRE. But when 48% of the parents and 57% of the general population questioned by Populus didn't know that parents currently have the right to withdraw their child from SRE, how reliable are their responses?

 

That said, 80% in favour was a handy percentage for Ed Balls to quote when he announced his intention to make PSHE statutory from the age of 5 and remove parental rights of withdrawal from sex education once their child reaches 15.

 

Incidentally, the massive gap between what parents want and what 'professional' educationists want was highlighted in a series of conferences held by the QCDA on these matters: 90% of the conference attendees supported the proposal to make PSHE statutory and only 34% supported parental rights of withdrawal. Their anti-family training worked, it seems!   

 

TOP STUDENTS CAN'T WRITE ENGLISH

 

British undergraduates make three times as many errors in English as do those from overseas. This  was the shocking finding from a recent study done by Bernard Lamb, who teaches genetics at Imperial College, London. 

 

Although Imperial is one of the best universities in the UK, when Dr Lamb counted the errors in his students' work on points of grammar, punctuation, spelling and confusion over words, he found hundreds of mistakes.  

 

One of his students from Singapore told him that there, they regard any mark of less that 70% as a failure. How different from England, where 20-30% may be considered a good pass and mistakes are often uncorrected. 'We need constructive criticism and correction from primary school onwards', writes Dr Lamb in the Winter issue of Quest, the journal of the Queen's English Society (http://www.queens-english-society.com).  And so say all of us! 

 

BAN ON IGCSEs REMAINS

 

Sir Terry Leahy, the boss of Tesco, and Sir Stuart Rose, who leads Marks and Spencer, have publicly complained that school and college leavers aren't fit for work, despite all their qualifications. Yet  ministers still refuse to allow state schools to offer more rigorous International GCSEs in English, maths or science. 

 

IGCSEs are favoured by independent schools, because they have no coursework and offer better preparation for A-levels. They have been approved for state schools in subjects such as French and history. So why are ministers afraid of an option that could raise standards in the core subjects? 

 

THINGS THE PUBLIC MUST NOT KNOW

 

On 22 November, The Mail on Sunday reported  how Graham McAvoy, who not long ago was a key government adviser for promoting and setting up academy schools, has now become a private-sector consultant doing the same thing. But now his company can make millions of pounds by charging exorbitant fees for its work. These include: registering change of school's name - £585; opening a school bank account - £585; registering with exam boards - £585; registering with Ofsted - £1,755;  appointment of school governors - £1,755; drawing up a school timetable - £11,310.

 

New research by Civitas raises fundamental questions about academies too. Anastasia de Waal  asked 118 academy principals for details of their schools' exam  results. Only 40 responded and only 43% of these were willing to disclose the GCSE subjects and qualifications their pupils had been entered for. This strongly suggests youngsters are  being entered for vocational qualifications that are worth several GCSEs to make the academies' results look better. And isn't it disgraceful that academies are the only taxpayer-funded schools allowed exemption from Freedom of Information requirements?  More at  www.civitas.org.uk

 

BRAINS NOT REQUIRED

 

On 4 September 2009, the TES reported the results of a survey of 158 trainee teachers at Bristol University's graduate school of education. Dr Paul Howard-Jones asked for their views on how the brain functions. 

 

Almost a quarter of those surveyed thought that consciousness is, or may be, possible without a brain. Almost 1 in 5 believed that their brains would shrink unless they drank six glasses of water each day. 57% of trainees thought that pupils could absorb information without paying attention and 82% believed the unsubstantiated claim that pupils learn better when they receive information in their preferred learning style.

 

One qualified teacher interviewed by the researchers claimed that eating 'some components of walnut' helped to moisturise the brain. 

 

'We've unearthed a number of alarming findings', said Dr Howard-Jones, 'And these ideas are clearly impacting on attitudes and learning in the classroom.'   

 

'PROGRESSIVES' PLAN FIGHTBACK

 

Although 'progressive' education is widely favoured in the educational establishment (see Snippets, back page), sensible parents and employers – and most of the independent sector – remain sceptical. So a campaign to defend it is planned for the New Year (TES, 13 November 2009). 

 

Led by chief executive Matthew Taylor, the RSA (Royal Society for the Encouragement of Arts, Manufactures and Commerce) intends to form a coalition of parents, pupils, teachers and organisations to defend 'progressivism' and the RSA's education charter. The charter downgrades subjects and seeks to replace knowledge with skills, including ensuring pupils 'understand how to be happy'.

 

The essence of 'progressive' ideology is perhaps encapsulated in two quotations from The Challenge for the Comprehensive School by David H. Hargreaves. Professor Hargreaves is currently an associate director of the Specialist Schools and Academies Trust. He writes that:  'A change of emphasis was essential from academic to social subjects, and from the learning of information to the acquisition of skills.' He also recommends that: 'We  must  refuse  to  confine  secondary  education to the  culture of individualism [ie individual achievement] and  design  a secondary  education with more self-conscious social and political objectives.'

 

Regular readers will remember our Spring 2009 report on how the RSA curriculum was used at Christ's School in Richmond-on-Thames. It offers 12-year-olds only 3 periods of maths each week and 2 of science. There are no specified periods for English, geography, history or RE.  Yet 11 periods a week are devoted to 'Personalised Alternative Curriculum Experience', when pupils decide for themselves what to learn – or not.   

 

PARENTS VOTE WITH THEIR FEET

 

Parents in Northern Ireland have clearly demonstrated their support for their grammar schools.  Sinn Fein politicians Martin  McGuinness and Caitriona Ruane hoped to outlaw academic selection, but Northern Ireland's grammar schools have produced their own voluntary 11-plus tests.  Non-Catholic grammars charged parents £35 for each entry. But although the Catholic Church  supported Sinn Fein's attempt to abolish the grammar schools, entries for its own schools were paid for by an anonymous donor,  not parents.

 

Nevertheless, in total, almost 14,000 youngsters were voluntarily entered for this year's 11-plus – only around 1,000 fewer than when the tests were centrally administered and free.

 

Now they have successfully done this and know they have the backing of parents, we must hope all Northern Ireland's grammar schools continue down the path of independence in years to come. The politicians still refuse to defend parental choice, but who needs them? See http://paceni.wordpress.com.

 

OPPORTUNITY DENIED

 

One of the more disturbing pieces of information to emerge over recent months comes from the National Grammar Schools' Association.   

 

Last year, 1,810 pupils living outside Kent took the voluntary 11-plus test for places in the county's high-achieving grammar schools – an increase of around 50% within two years. 924 of these bright youngsters 'passed' their 11-plus but political opposition to academic selection meant only 268 could be offered a place. So in this area alone, 656 qualified 'out-of-county' youngsters were denied a place at the school of their choice.

 

Kent also has several academies. Last year, only 14% of pupils at Folkestone Academy achieved 5 or more grade A*-C GCSEs including English and maths. At Marlowe Academy, Ramsgate, it was 13% and at New Line Learning Academy, Maidstone, it was also 13% - approximately 35% below average. Why do politicians refuse to allow more grammar schools, but unconditionally support expensive, inefficient new academies?

 

LOCAL NEWS

 

Bedfordshire:  Parents in Bedfordshire have waged a magnificent campaign against their local authority, where councillors seem to be mesmerised by officials. Instead of thinking for themselves, elected representatives have been lured into a school re-organisation programme costing over £300m without any certainty they will get the funding from central government. Instead of planning moderate improvements where needed, the local authority aims to close around a dozen middle schools and create larger primary and secondary schools that parents don't want. The parents collected more than 10,000 signatures against the proposals, but councillors still voted by 19 to 17 to push ahead with their ill-considered plans. More at http://savemiddleschools.wordpress.com

 

Nottingham: 'We are the future', Barry Day, the chief executive of  Nottingham Academy, now Europe's  largest school,  told  The  Guardian (8 September). He has been promised £55m for new buildings to cater for 3,600 pupils drawn from 3 schools: Elliott Durham;  St Anne's, where the percentage of pupils achieving 5 or more grade A*-C GCSEs including English and maths was only 21% last year; and Greenwood Dale where the percentage was 53%. St Anne's had 1,350 places but only 350 pupils, whilst Greenwood Dale was oversubscribed.  Nottingham Academy is currently operating on 3 sites using 20 temporary classrooms.

 

Suffolk:  Councillors and their officials in Suffolk have been hoping to close the successful Clare Middle School and compel 11-year-olds to make a 20-mile round trip each day to enlarged secondary schools in Haverhill or Sudbury.  But parents and their supporters, including Tim Yeo MP, have worked tirelessly to produce a more sensible (and less costly) plan to keep Clare Middle School open and turn it into an 11-16 secondary school by adding a few classrooms for older pupils, for which there is ample space. Now, following a meeting with shadow schools minister Nick Gibb, the parents have been advised to explore the possibility of turning Clare Middle School into one of the Conservatives' first new state-funded, parent-run schools. However, Tim Yeo still needed to write to Suffolk's cabinet member for children's services urging him to 'use [his] authority' to ensure more taxpayers' money isn't wasted. Mr Yeo also put out a press release saying he hopes 'Suffolk County Council will not take any steps which could jeopardise the chances of this genuinely excellent project getting off the ground'  Further information at www.our-community-our-school.co.uk. Parents at other Suffolk schools are up in arms too.  Stoke-By-Nayland Middle School, for example,  is also scheduled for closure. Converting it to an 11-16 secondary school would create a school for 600-700 pupils. But that is not big enough for the local authority which aims for up to 1,200. More at www.sos-stoke-by-nayland.org.

 

Slough: Parents at St. Bernard's Catholic Grammar School have elected 3 new parent governors, all of whom support the campaign to protect their school against the local authority, the diocese and St. Mary's College, Twickenham. These 'sponsors' want to 'federate' St Bernard's with St Joseph's secondary modern school  to create a comprehensive academy. This may not be in accordance with the law, so why have John McAteer, the head of St Bernard's, and Howard McBrien, the chairman of governors, supported a draft 'Expression of Interest' sent to the DCSF?  The parent governors have now proposed more sensible options to retain parental choice and win the support of parents.  But why is the head of St Bernard's not keeping parents fully informed?  And why, instead of offering more choice, are the politicians and officials promoting academies determined to reduce it?  Further information is available at  www.savestbernards.co.uk.

 

RECOMMENDED PUBLICATIONS

 

Wasted: The betrayal of white working class and black Caribbean boys by Harriet Sergeant explains why  millions of vulnerable children are being betrayed. Change, she writes, will only come with a recognition of the source of the crisis and an end to the educational ideology that has damaged schools and betrayed children. £10 from the Centre for Policy Studies, 57 Tufton Street, London SW1P 3QL. Or free at www.cps.org.uk

 

Don't Fence Me In: Essays on the Rational Truant edited by Michael Conelly and Dennis O'Keeffe seeks to explain and understand truancy, suggesting it is often a rational choice and better use of  time than the pointless drudgery of the classroom. Published by the University of Buckingham Press, it costs £15.99 from the Institute of Economic Affairs, 2 Lord North Street, London   SW1P 3LB.

 

The Myth of Racist Kids: Anti-Racist Policy and the Regulation of School Life by Adrian Hart suggests that government regulations are creating racial tension. Schools are now required to report any incident presumed by anyone to be racist. If they report too few incidents they are 'complacent'. Too many and they are hotbeds of racism. £7 from the Manifesto Club at www.manifestoclub.com 

 

Wasted: Why Education Isn't Educating by (Professor) Frank Furedi explains that the purpose of education is the transmission of the cultural and intellectual achievements of humanity to children.  Once education develops an ulterior purpose, it cannot flourish.  Published by Continuum, it costs £16.99 from good bookshops. 

 

Core business by Dale Bassett, Andrew Haldenby and Luke Tryl recommends introducing a strong academic core for all pupils, consisting of five academic GCSEs, and changing school league tables to incentivise attainment in the core. £20 from Reform, 45 Great Peter Street, London SW1P 3LT or free at www.reform.co.uk

 

SNIPPETS

 

More than half of primary school teachers cannot name more than two poets, a study has shown. Research found 58 per cent could name either one, two, or none at all... 22 per cent of 1,200 teachers quizzed could name no poets at all. Daily Mail, 9 October 2009. 

 

Record numbers of pupils are being taught in 'supersize' primary schools of more than 800 pupils... They have expanded by more than 50 per cent under Labour...despite fears that children as young as four are 'lost' in huge schools. Daily Telegraph, 12 November 2009.

 

If the headteacher is backing the local authority, then parents concerned about the expansion [of a school] have no chance. I was approached, placed under a lot of pressure and told not to have a view on the proposal. As a headteacher, you have to go with what the local authority wants. But the parents began to become concerned that their children's education would be compromised. So I decided to stand my ground [in defence of my school]. Thankfully, I had the support of the chair of governors. Headteacher Melody Moran, TES, 30 October 2009.

 

Some people – mainly on the right – identify education with a subject-based curriculum. Others – mainly on the left – take a broader view, putting emphasis on educational aims and seeing subjects as only one vehicle of realising these.  Professor John White, The Independent, 10 September 2009.

 

I have resisted moving [from education] because I wanted to see this through...the vision that we've set out, I think this is the right future. The ideological choices that are on offer make me even more determined. Education secretary Ed Balls, TES, 4 December 2009.

 

With just three in ten pupils taking history at GCSE, academics are worried that a class divide is opening up as the subject disappears from the state sector to become the preserve of the privately educated. TES Magazine, 9 October 2009.

 

...There does seem to be a convergence of thinking...This consensus starts from the view that key aspects of the existing assessment and accountability regime have now become counterproductive... A more flexible curriculum is advocated, balancing the acquiring of knowledge with crosscutting capabilities and the goal of engaging pupils in understanding and designing the learning process. This approach might...be termed 'new progressivism'. RSA chief executive Matthew Taylor, TES, 13 November 2009. 

 

[The Campaign for Real Education is] one of the most high profile lobby groups in education... The group was cited 166 times in the national press in the past 12 months, many times more than most other lobby groups and comparable to some of the leading think tanks, such as the left-wing Fabian Society with 154 mentions. TES Magazine, 25 September 2009. 

 

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