Solving the problems in state education: it can't be done by spin or diversionary tactics  

The problems

'My eldest daughter will be going into year 5 in September and is now so far behind I will be forced to pay for a private tutor just so she has a chance of grasping basic maths and English before she starts secondary school. I will in effect be paying twice for her education'. (Letter from a mother of three living in Surrey, June 2006.)

"I teach travel and tourism at an FE college, and in my introductory session... I  wanted my students to mark some [tourist} attractions on a blank map of the UK... To help the sub-groups, I handed them some road atlases with all the features marked.

You could have cut the atmosphere with a knife – an amalgam of fear, stress and hostility. I realised I was way off-track when I noticed the Cotswolds being placed in the Brecon Beacons, the Peak District in the middle of Norfolk and the River Severn snaking its way through Birmingham. I stopped the class and asked them how many had done UK geography at school. Three hands out of 20 went up.

'What about the rest of you?'

'Well, we done volcanoes ‘n that.'  (Email from an FE tutor, June 2006.)

'16 per cent gets you a pass, 47 per cent an A*. So exams aren't being dumbed down, Mr Blair?'  (Daily Mail, 12 September 2005).

'It's not rocket science – Top school slaps a ban on new GCSE for being too easy' (Daily Mail, 12 January 2006).

'Employers attack drop in education standards' (Financial Times, 25 January 2006).

"Children 'lagging three years behind those of the 1990s'" (Daily Mail, 25 January 2006).

'Graduates unfit for work, say top firms' (Times, 7 February 2006).

'Spoon-fed pupils can't cope at college' (Daily Telegraph, 9 February 2006).

'"Catastrophe' of undergraduates who cannot write a basic sentence" (Sunday Telegraph, 12 March 2006).

'"GCSE tests in maths and English 'could be passed by 11-year-olds'" (Sunday Telegraph, 2 April  2006). 

'Billions for skills training are spent teaching the 3Rs' (Daily Mail, 25 May 2006).

'Pupils are taught to think like terrorists' (Times, 16 June 2006).

The reason

"When [my daughter] is older,  I want her to be taught specific subjects by people who have studied them in depth...I do not send my daughter to school to get her out of my way. Nor do I send her to be 'pastorally cared for'. I expect to be fully informed of her academic progress, but I do not want a stranger, whose values I may or may not share,  assuming responsibility for her 'education in human relationships'. The purpose of the school should be to meet those educationally desirable objectives that are beyond the scope of the home without usurping the parents' role."  Maths teacher David Williams, Teachers' Weekly, 7 September 1989.

"A change of emphasis was essential from academic to social subjects, and  from  the  learning  of information to the acquisition of skills...We  must  refuse to confine  secondary  education to the  culture  of  individualism  [ie individual academic achievement] and  design  a secondary education with more self-conscious social and political objectives." (Professor David H. Hargreaves, former chief  executive of the Qualifications and Curriculum Authority in his book, The Challenge for the Comprehensive School, RKP, 1982. 

The Solution

The politicians, managers and teachers who control the state education system should be clear about their primary purpose and focus on that. Instead of eliminating competition, they should welcome it and learn from it. Instead of constantly manipulating the system to disguise under-performance, they should honestly acknowledge and tackle the problems from the bottom up, not top down – most importantly, by producing challenging, rigorous curricula, tests and exams. Also by ensuring that basic standards are achieved at the lower levels before young people move up to the next higher level. 

/Nick Seaton, Campaign for Real Education, June 2006.


Chairman: Chris McGovern.  Tel: 07757 715145.  Email: [email protected]
Vice-Chairman: Katie Ivens.  Tel: 07990 997215
Treasurer: Dr WAD Freeman. Email: [email protected]
Secretary: Alison McRobb. Email: [email protected]