Saturday, July 14, 2007

Oh Dear

I didn't think it was possible for state schools to get much worse.

It appears that the Government has identified a few areas where pupils are still learning something.

The essential point about the new curriculum is that it gives teachers much more flexibility about how to organise learning. They do not have to be trammelled by subject labels. They do not have to plod methodically through programmes of study. Instead, they can pursue learning through cross-curricular themes. They can adapt the pace and content of learning to the needs of individual pupils.

In short, the new curriculum is designed to permit something the government has espoused - without really defining - "personalised learning".

As one curriculum expert put it, this whole vast exercise of revising the curriculum has really been about one thing - giving teachers permission to use their own professional judgement.

This really does sound like the death knell for state education in the UK. The reason the National Curriculum was introduced in the beginning (by the Tories) was to try and stop the kind of teacher who thought Romeo and Juliet was 'heterocentric' indoctrinating pupils. Alas, as the mighty Mel P described in "All Must Have Prizes", the last place you needed to look if you wanted a decent curriculum were the institutions that taught and theorised about teaching. The curriculum became a tool of the cultural Left, another of the endless series of culture war defeats of which the Tories, fighting their economic battles, seemed to be unaware.

Paradoxically, the only hope under these circumstances is for schools to be given even more freedom - above all to set their own admission - and exclusion - criteria. Vouchers aren't an essential part of that process - if money follows the pupils as currently you've pretty much got the equivalent. Today's Labour Party at bottom see social engineering as more important than education, so they will never do it.

Who are going to do it ? Cameron's Tories ?

These reforms will drive even more of those who can afford it to the private sector - which the Government will attack in whatever way it can. We're going to see polite trench warfare as Labour attack things like the charitable tax concessions - pricing out a few "poorer" parents as some red meat for their supporters while making no difference to the rich.

It's a pity this world is an overcrowded place, with no unclaimed habitable land. Did such a place exist, I'm sure there'd be a rush for some 21st century Mayflower equivalent.


Observer said...

If you read up on it you will find Thatcher never wanted the National Curriculum - simply the 3 Rs and Kenneth Baker and the Bureaucracy unfurled their dream of a Central Curriculum.

State Education is a failed experiment. It started with 18th Century Prussia and caught on late in England, about a century later, with the real push after 1945.....and the idea of using it to re-model society coming in the late 1950s.....reaching full disaster scale in the 1980s.

It has changed English society and made it more feral, just as in the USA. It is a key component of the Socialist Society to capture the children and to break down all structure in their thinking and learning as a means of deconstructing society. It has been largely successful.

Laban said...

Yet state education was pretty damn good from 1900 to about 1970.

I have some of my mothers old school books from the 1930s. She left at 16 and was doing stuff that would be way above GCSE now.

Foxy Brown said...

The real rot set in when Tony Crosland and Shirley Williams got their grubby little paws on state education. Instead of improving the secondary moderns and changing them from dumping grounds for children who had failed the 11-plus into technical schools (a little like the realschule model in german-speaking countries - something which Mel Phillips discusses in far greater detail in her excellent book cited by Laban) they destroyed the best vehicle for social mobility that this country has ever had - the grammar school.

youdontknowme said...

the only hope under these circumstances is for schools to be given even more freedom - above all to set their own admission - and exclusion - criteria.

I would go further and take education policy away from the government. I blogged about what I would do a few days ago. It involves telling the government where to stick their education wrecking policies and giving education policy over to elected education commissioners who actually have experience of working within the education system.

Bert Rustle said...

Has anyone seen a list of where the “Great And The Good” actually have their own children educated? I previously heard David Aaronovitch on Radio 4’s “Any Questions” and found his pronouncements somewhat at odds with reports that his child is privately educated. Is he another Billy Bragg?

Reportedly half of American State schoolteachers send their children private. Anyone know the figures for the UK?

Voyager said...

over to elected education commissioners who actually have experience of working within the

We once had elected School Boards, Burial Boards, Hospital Boards, quite separate from Councillors........wasn't it the 1902 Education Act passed by the Conservatives that abolished the 2568 School Boards under the 1870 Act and put LEAs in charge of schools ?

I think it was done because the Board Schools were outperforming the C of E Schools..........

Wikipedia says The school boards were abolished by the Balfour Education Act 1902 which replaced them with around 300 Local Education Authorities, by which time there were 5700 board schools (2.6m pupils) and 14000 voluntary schools (3m pupils). The LEAs remit included secondary education for the first time.

Board Members were elected by the ratepayers. (The number of Board Members was determined by the size of the population of the district.) Each voter could choose three (or more) Board Members from a list of candidates, and those with the highest number of votes were chosen for the existing number of seats available. It should be noted that a voter could cast all their votes for one person. This was known as 'plumping' and ensured that religious (and, later, political) minorities could ensure some representation on the Board. The franchise was different to national elections, since female householders could vote and stand for office.

The Boards financed themselves by a precept (a requisition) added to either the local poor rate or the municipal rate. They were also eligible to apply for capital funding in the form of a government loan.

Parents still had to pay fees for their children to attend schools.

Boards would pay the fees of children who were poor, even if they attended Church schools.

The Boards could make grants to existing Church Schools and erect their own board schools or elementary schools.

Boards could, if they deemed it necessary, create a by-law and table it before Parliament, to make attendance compulsory (unless there was an excuse, for example, sickness, or living more than one mile from a school, or unless they had been certified as reaching a certain standard of education - see below). In 1873, 40% of the population lived in compulsory attendance districts.

Religious teaching in board schools was restricted to non-denominational instruction, or none at all

Parents had the right to withdraw their children from religious education. This applied even to church schools

All schools would be inspected, making use of the existing regime. The individual schools continued to be eligable for an annual government grant calculated on the basis of the inspection ('payment by results').

Between 1870 and 1880, 3000-4000 schools were started or taken over by school boards. Rural boards, run by parishes had only one or two schools to manage, but industrial town and city boards had very many. Rural boards favoured economy and the release of children for agricultural labour. Town boards tended to be more rigorous in their provisions and by 1890 some had special facilities for gymnastics, art and crafts, and domestic science.

JuliaM said...

"Is he another Billy Bragg?"

God, I hope not. One's more thsn enough......

JohnM said...

giving education policy over to elected education commissioners

The only vote that counts is the vote of the parent expressing a preference for the school of their choice.

Anything else is just a layer of bureaucracy between the users and the producers. Any elected body will become politicised, so much better to keep it at the school level where politicisation can do least harm.

There's another "improvement" that Melanie proposes in that book. That is the elimination or radical overhaul of teacher training. She thinks that training should be centred on the schools with the best ones providing trained staff for others.

Norm has an interesting success story concerning education. People will be stunned to learn that Synthetic phonics works.

Ross F said...

Giving teachers more choice to decide what they teach is a good idea, with one important proviso, parents are free to choose where their children are educated and therefore to avoid the cranks who want to teach anti-racist calculus or whatever.

Foxy Brown said...

Ross F,

You jest but multi-cultural mathematics is actually being taught. Ideology is omnipresent.

pommygranate said...


Australia is debating whether to introduce a National Curriculum.

It makes you wonder why politicians dont look at what has happened in the UK and think, Jesus - no fucking way.

Susan said...

Foxybrown, you are not kidding. I saw a British textbook at a friend's house once (I am American) that was about teaching "non-racist science." I kid you not. I flipped through it and gagged at a section that showed teachers how to denigrate British water purification systems and out that they weren't any "better" than African tribal water purification methods. . .funny thing I didn't realize that cholera and other water-borne illnesses were rampant in the UK, as they are in Africa. . .

The mindset of the multi-cultis is frightening. The fact that they are writing textbooks showing teachers how to teach "non-racist science" is even more frightening.

Does England allow homeschooling?

Anonymous said...

Well both my kids are going through state primary education at the moment. The national curriculum has served them well. The teaching is excellent. Due to the fact that all schools get the same curriculum there is a wealth of teaching material available to teachers. The teachers have modified what they teach to counter perceived weaknesses in my kid's set of abilities. It has worked well and they are now both top of their class. They are doing better than when I was a child.

There is no left-wing brainwashing as such. One could argue that there is rather more limp Christian brainwashing than anything, with the kids encouraged to help the starving in Africa and so one. I'm not against that. Kids should start with some sort of idealism at least. Cynacism should be something you grow into.....

I would also point out that Tony Blair was ex-private school, so was Polly Toynbee. No escape in the independent sector from radical politics that's for sure.

Most teachers read the Guardian. That is just a fact. Each one is a little idealist in their own right. They always were prone to offering up their opinion outside the taught subject. But how many teachers did you ever really listen to or respect? Most have never been out of school their whole life so they couldn't influence anyone for long, only the totally witless.

Foxy has a point, because the model of the comprehensive was the secondary modern, not the grammar school. Therefore the state secondary schools are aimed at producing factory fodder, not captains of industry and future PMs. But my kids both WANT to be factory fodder so I can't really stand in their way and force them to be MPs when their only interests revolve around the internal combustion engine. They don't want to change the world - just build a faster F1 car....

Anonymous said...

"Most teachers read the Guardian."

There's the problem, in a nutshell !

Umbongo said...


The vital aspect of elected school boards etc was that they were elected by the ratepayers. In other words, not only "no taxation without representation" but "no representation without taxation". The present local government system (based on representation without taxation) which allows the election of somebody like Livingstone to, in effect, a local dictatorship in the areas where he has authority (eg traffic, London's foreign policy etc) has something seriously wrong with it.

Anonymous said...

I don't think the fact that teachers read the Guardian is a problem - it is a symptom. It is a symptom of that childish "Blue Peter" idealism that grews out of kids going striaght from school to university and then back to teaching in schools again. Teachers don't understand why capitalism works, or why feeding the starving in Africa backfires. Where would they learn such things? The kids usually end up knowing more than they do by the time they leave school.

But grammar schools are not the answer either. My father went to grammar school and can recite "The Rhyme of theAncient Mariner" off by heart. But why? hats the point?
At what time did he make use of it?
Grammar schools allowed ordinary people to take on the public schoolboys. But what has Eton and Fettes really taught Blair and Cameron that isn't taught in a Comprehensive school? Public speaking is the only obvious difference (and perhaps a tendency to put ambition before integrity). You could teach both in a Comprehensive school if that is what you wanted.

Education is outdated in this country. Grammar schools, public schools, comprehensive schools use teaching that is out of the Ark. We need to re-consider the whole thing. We should start by testing kids on what they have learned 3 years AFTER their GCSEs. If they have learned only 10% of what they were taught (which I suspect is what the truth will prove to be) then there is no point pretending that the other 90% of teaching was anything other than a waste of time.

Too much of teaching is about pearls before swine. It should be about training. You don't give people driving lessons but then say you don't need to do "traffic lights" because they seldom come up in a test, do you? Some things you should just have to know by the time you leave school. Most people can learn how to drive despite that fact that it is a pretty complex task - because they are motivated to learn. Kids should be motivated to learn but teaching is all about de-motivating kids.

Rant over.

Laban said...

Bert - Aaronovitch -

"My oldest daughter is being educated at a private school, the middle one at a highly selective state school and the time for decision now looms for the third. She would probably be fine at one of the local state schools, because — unlike the press caricature — they are good places and are getting good results, and the social mix is more educative. But if I want to be certain . . ."

Laban said...

Bert - Aaronovitch -

"My oldest daughter is being educated at a private school, the middle one at a highly selective state school and the time for decision now looms for the third. She would probably be fine at one of the local state schools, because — unlike the press caricature — they are good places and are getting good results, and the social mix is more educative. But if I want to be certain . . ."