The latest Pisa study on educational attainment is given surprisingly modest coverage in some newspapers. It shows Britain falling quite dramatically in the standings as the coverage in the Daily Mail makes very clear:
Travesty of our 'stagnating' schools: In a damning indictment of Labour, OECD condemns British education which is now inferior to Estonia's
By Kate Loveys
Britain has plummeted down worldwide education rankings in the last decade, according to definitive figures which shame Labour’s record on schools.
Despite doubled spending since 2000, the education of teenagers has ‘stagnated at best’.
The verdict is a damning indictment of Tony Blair’s mantra that his three top priorities in government were ‘education, education, education’.
Falling behind: British students are at a disadvantage compared to many others around the world
Britain has now fallen behind such relatively poor nations as Estonia, Poland and the Slovak Republic in reading, maths and science.
Although spending has risen from £35.8billion to £71billion, the education of teenagers has failed to register any improvement and in some areas has deteriorated rapidly.
In stunning proof that taxpayers did not get value for money, the UK slipped from eighth to 28th in maths, from seventh to 25th in reading and from fourth to 16th in science over the same period. Poland now ranks ten places ahead of the UK in reading and is three ahead in maths.
Even more disturbingly, the study found that a fifth of 15-year-old Britons are ‘functionally illiterate’, which ‘significantly reduces their chances of success in later life’.
The figures were released yesterday by the highly respected Organisation for Economic Co-operation and Development, which compared the standards of 15-year-olds in 65 developed countries.
British children’s poor reading skills are said to be partly because they spend too much time on computers rather than reading books, but are also a tragic reflection of the education they have received.
Nor has it helped that the UK has a relatively low proportion of students from disadvantaged backgrounds. And having some of the world’s ‘best-educated’ parents has not improved the standards of Britain’s children – raising serious questions about the effective role of parents in UK schools.
The study was based on two-hour tests of 500,000 15-year-old schoolchildren by the OECD. Some 65 countries were listed in this year’s rankings compared with 54 three years ago.
Andreas Schleicher of the OECD said overall scores achieved by UK pupils were ‘stagnant at best, or marginally lower, whereas many other countries have seen quite significant improvements’.
The UK, despite being the eighth-biggest spender per pupil on education, with an average of £8,892 a year at secondary level, performed below the international average in maths, only just above in reading and slightly better in science.
The Far East had strong performers with the region of Shanghai-China coming top in all three subjects and Korea, Hong Kong, Singapore and Japan all ranking high.
Finland, which places strong emphasis on teacher quality, was ranked highest European nation.
Subject by subject: This table shows just how far the UK has fallen down the league tables
Read more: http://www.dailymail.co.uk/news/article-1336410/OECD-condemns-British-education-inferior-Estonias.html#ixzz17X1vaQGo
The OECD Pisa studies are far from perfect, for reasons mentioned in The Welfare State We're In. In at least one earlier report, the study flattered the British state schooling in two ways: 1. The overall figure included private schools which had outstanding results on an international basis and 2. Some schools declined to take part in the study and it seemed likely at the time that these were schools with lower attainment levels. So a drop in the British position may be partly because the OECD has simply improved its methods of assessing British schools.
The remark about 20% functional illiteracy is, in itself, an appalling condemnation of British state education.
Meanwhile I cannot help being a little suspicious of the stand-out result for Shanghai. I note that the assessment was done by a third party. I can imagine that the Chinese authorities saw it as a matter of pride that the country should do well rather than that it should be objective. So I wonder whether any techniques were used to skew the results.
But one thing about the article below is most remarkable: the assertion that the vast majority of Chinese children have private tuition in addition to their official schooling. This is also true in South Korea.
However, the OECD noted that China has long been organised around competitive exams, with schools working their students long hours every day and into the weekend.
Students are accustomed to "intense examinations and tests" and therefore may have been better suited to the PISA test. In addition, it estimated that eight out of ten Shanghainese schoolchildren get additional, out-of-hours, private tuition.
Meanwhile, Chinese students tend to spend less time on sport and other activities which are not core components of the "gaokao", a set of exams that determines their place at university, and indeed in life.
The pressure of the gaokao has been blamed for a lack of creativity in China by some critics. Xu Jilin, a professor of history at East China Normal University, whose son is at a Shanghai middle school, wrote in October that "this rigid examination system has created an exam-oriented education from the kindergarten, a destruction of talent and waste of youth."
He added that he felt that 80 per cent of his son's studies had not helped him learn something new, but had prepared him for tests. "Doing exercises every day is like practising gymnastics, repeating the same moves every day, dozens or hundreds of times in order to make sure that absolutely no errors are made during the exam."
The testing in Shanghai was carried out by an international third-party, working with Chinese authorities, the OECD said.
Full OECD report here.
I have just watched on BBC iPlayer a television programme about Toby Young's struggle to set up a new school within the state system.
The most shocking thing about the film is the campaign to stop these schools which appears to be endorsed by the National Union of Teachers. The NUT is using its power in a bad cause. The campaing against free schools is a disgusting.
There seems an unwillingness to understand or care that Young's school and others like them are wanted by parents because they are not happy with the existing state schools on offer. Is that really so difficult to grasp? Not happy. They don't think many of the state schools are good enough. There is a mass of evidence to support their view. Yet the NUT still has trouble with getting this - or perhaps caring about it.
Those who are angrily against the idea of a new, free schools in the state sector seem to think of the existing state system as a religion rather than as a means to give to the best possible education. If it is system, not a religion, it should be willing to be compared to rivals. This is what the NUT seems unwilling to agree to. Perhaps it does not want competition because, deep down, it fears that the free schools will be better. Their comfortable monopoly will be broken. They might be exposed as not, as in their view, virtuous heroes but as part of system which does not work very well - which actually lets down millions of children.
Free schools are an affront to their pride. They should stop caring about their pride and start caring about children who, in the current system, are not getting five good GCSEs and who are far from realising their potential.
One point they keep leaving aside is the fact that no one will be forced to go to these schools. They will only go if they want to. So what the NUT wants to do is deny people the choice of going to a free school. There is a totalitarian aspect to this which is actually repulsive.
Another point they choose to ignore is that Young intends the school to be open to people of all classes. It is not to be only a middle class enclave. In fact, those of lower social classes will be able to take advantage (I mean this in a good way) of the middle class people whose energy and belief is creating the school. Isn't that a good thing. And why should the phrase 'middle class' be regarded as an insult?
Here is a link to BBC iPlayer. You can find the programme by going to BBC2 and choosing 7pm on Wednesday 29th September (yesterday. I am not sure for how long this will continue to be available. Perhaps only a few days?
In Britain we are now glumly entering the age of austerity and everyone expects unemployment to go on rising. It is normal here for a lengthy lag between growth starting and unemployment falling.
But Switzerland is different. There, unemployment is already falling. It is down from being relatively low in the first place to being even lower. It has fallen from 4.5pc to 3.8pc since January.
If you go to Zurich and ask the reason why, you have a good chance of being told: “employment is picking up fast because it is cheap to sack people”. It is a classic paradox and not the only one to be found in this part of the world.
In recent years, British policy-wonks have looked at how things are done in the USA. Meanwhile the Left has long had a warm glowing feeling about Sweden – usually unsullied by much research into the place. However there may be more to be learned about good social policy in little Switzerland. The country may not, apparently, have invented the cuckoo clock, but it has made a better fist of a welfare state than most countries. That is to say, it gets better results and, just as crucially, it avoids causing as much collateral damage.
The boom in lone and unmarried parenting is one of the ways in which our own welfare state has damaged our society - not only the children involved but also the women and men. Of course I am not blaming all lone parents, only saying that the research shows it is a less than ideal way of bringing up children and the effects on the children are well-documented. In Britain, 46pc of our children are born out of wedlock. In Switzerland the figure is vastly lower at 16pc.
So what happens, I asked, if you are, say, a young mother in Switzerland with a little baby but no husband or similar on the scene and nowhere to live? There is no countrywide answer to this question because it is not dealt with on a national basis at all. It is not even dealt with by one of the 26 cantons. It is dealt with by your local commune. There are 2,900 of these and the population can be anything between 30 and over 10,000.
Officials from this ultra-small local government will come and investigate the circumstances individually. The father will be expected to pay. The mother’s family, if it is in a position to, will be expected to house and pay for her. As a last resort, the young mother will be given assistance by the commune. But the people who pay the local commune taxes will be paying part of the cost. You can imagine that they will not be thrilled at paying for a birth or separation that need never have taken place. Putting yourself in the position of the mother – and perhaps the father – you can imagine that you will be embarrassed as you pass people in the street who are paying for your baby. Instead of feeling you have impersonal legal rights, as in Britain, you are taking money from people you might meet see at your local café. No wonder unmarried parenting is less common.
A similar system applies if you need means-tested benefits. Those made redundant receive, for a while, generous unemployment insurance payments from the cantonal governments. But once these payments run out, people depend again on their local commune. You would be cautious of claiming fraudulently because, if you worked in the black economy, your chances of being spotted would be high. And so it is that Switzerland has the second highest rate of male employment in the OECD. Britain’s rate is about 50pc worse.
Switzerland has arguably the most successful system of healthcare in the Western world. It is an insurance system with a twist. You are obliged to take out health insurance but you can choose which company to use. There is no state monopoly. So you can choose an insurance group which is connected to your line of work. Or you could go with a trade union-run insurance cooperative. Or a private, commercial company. That means there is some competition among these companies to provide the best possible service for the lowest possible price. Then these companies, in turn, have some choice over which doctors and hospitals they commission to work for them. So again, the doctors and hospitals have to compete to offer the best facilities and treatment at the lowest possible cost. The pressure is on and the performance is one of the best in the world. Poorer people get credits which enable them, too, to choose insurance.
The Swiss health service is decidedly superior to that in Britain, too. It has more doctors per capita, more advanced scanners, better cancer outcomes and so on and on.
All right, it is not perfect. Costs have been running ahead because, effectively, people get treated for free and since the service is easily available and good, they tend to overuse it. Thus the costs have been rising worryingly, as with other social insurance systems. However, it is still one of the best systems around. It provides less of a barrier to employment than most social insurance systems. The cost of the premiums is borne by individuals, not shared with companies as in Germany.
Swiss schools are also better, on average, than British ones. That has, again, surely got a lot to do with local control – not the fake kind that we are used to. Primary schools are run by the little communes and secondary schools and universities by the cantons. It means there are villages where the officials in charge of a school will all know the headmaster and many of the students. There is much less wasteful bureaucracy and much more direct accountability. But I should add that I gather home-schooling is virtually illegal. Those of us who care about the freedom of the individual versus the state do not like this part of the system one bit.
But the Swiss system really scores over ours when it comes to preparation for work. We have got used to Labour politicians and some Tory ones, too, spouting that university education is vital for economic success. This theory was comprehensively debunked in Alison Wolf’s book Does Education Matter? The Swiss example is an illustration that it is nonsense. While Tony Blair was claiming that half of young people must go on to university for economic success, Switzerland was and remains content to have a mere 24pc doing so. It has, at the same time, achieved much greater economic prosperity. Education is only compulsory until the age of 15 but actually the vast majority keep going voluntarily because the schools, colleges and universities are pretty good.
Most of the other three-quarters of students progress from school to vocational training. They don’t do airy-fairy theory. The training typically consists of one and a half days a week at college and the other three and a half at a commercial company. This truly prepares people with the skills and attitudes desirable for a successful career. The result? Switzerland has only 4.5pc youth unemployment compared to 18pc in France where they have the supposedly economy-boosting 50pc of students at university. It seems that writing essays on Racine does not make you a shoe-in at a pharmaceutical company. Funny that.
Let’s be honest. No welfare state is perfect. All of them do damage of one sort or another. And there are some claustrophobic, controlling elements in the Swiss system that are unappetising to British taste. There is a continuous pressure there towards centralisation and regulation. But there are plenty of lessons worth learning amid those lakes and mountains. The Swiss way of welfare is a darn sight better than the British.
The above is the unedited version of an article which appears in this week's Spectator magazine. I would simply link to the Spectator website but I can't locate the article there.
Only 18 useless teachers axed in 40 years despite '17,000 failing staff' in our schools.
From the Mail.
An organisation that does not sack some of it members has fallen under the control of the 'producer interest'. It serves its staff as a priority of serving its customers - the children.
There was nice irony in the juxtaposition of two news stories yesterday. In one of them, Ofsted said that almost half children are at schools which do not warrant the term 'good' or better.
In the article immediately below, it was revealed that the same Ofsted thinks that those who wish to home-educate should be questioned, registered and inspected.
So there you have it. Half of British state schools, registered and regulated by Ofsted are not good. At the same time, Ofsted thinks that registering home-schoolers is a great idea. Let us hope one day politicians and the publish will realise that registration and regulation is not what makes things work well.
Is Google successful because it is regulated? Obviously not. Is St Paul's School for Girls an outstanding academic school because it has been registered? No. Has registration make 'bog-standard' comprehensives which one former Labour Secretary of State for Education 'would not touch with a bargepole' excellent? Obviously not. There is something else that is key for good performance and, in the words of the Bob Dylan song "you don't know what is".
It is chilling to read the paragraph in which Ofsted says why many children are now being home-schooled:
Although some parents opt for home schooling for religious or philosophical reasons, the majority of those interviewed by the inspectors said they decided to act out of concern for their children's education and wellbeing.
In other words, some parents and their children are finding the state, registered education so poor or the encouragement to crime so bad or the bullying so frightening that they are taking the daunting step of resorting to home-educating. What is Ofsted's answer to this? To make saving their children from such problems even more daunting for parents. To face parents with registration, inspection and questioning.
This will deter parents from undertaking home education and will therefore result in more children than otherwise being badly educated, bullied and led into crime at state schools, nine per cent of which Ofsted itself describes as 'inadequate'.
Ofsted seems desperately keen to keep children at schools. This shows a lack of realism - a failure to recognise the truth of poor schooling which Ofsted itself has described. It shows a disregard for the true interests of children let alone the right of a parent to take primary responsibility for his or her child - not the state. It also shows the self-regard of the classic bureaucrat who thinks that control by people like himself or herself must surely be the best thing. It is the delusion of vanity.
The superior performance of private schools seems likely to be become even more obvious with the introduction of the A* grade in A levels.
In the latest study, the ISC analysed A-level results over the last three years to find out how many A*s would have been awarded.
It found that an estimated 16.5 per cent of all entries in ISC schools would have gained the A* last year, compared with 14.5 per cent a year earlier.
If the trend is repeated this year, it would result in around one-in-six A-level papers being awarded the new elite grade.
Last week, research from Ofqual, the qualifications regulator, found that around seven per cent of all A-level entries last year would have gained an A*.
But the latest study said: “If the results from ISC candidates are excluded, this figure falls, so that only five per cent of non-ISC candidates would have been awarded an A*.
“This would mean that entries from ISC pupils would have been more than three times more likely to be awarded an A* than non-ISC pupils.”
In all, some 36.5 per cent of all A*s awarded last year would have gone to pupils at ISC schools, it was claimed, even though independent schools educate just over one-in-10 sixth-formers nationally.
This is from an article in the Daily Telegraph yesterday.
Of course there will those who suggest that the dramatically superior results of the private schools is entirely due to the socio-economic background of the parents. But the work I did in The Welfare State We're In comparing the results of a top grammar school which it is extremely difficult to get into and has parents who are high up the socio-economic scale with one of the supposedly less academic private schools suggested that this is not true.
What is worrying for those who spend a small fortune on private schooling is that some of the results their children get are apparently going be ignored by Oxford University.
The disclosure – in a study by the Independent Schools Council – is likely to fuel controversy over university admissions.
Leading institutions are currently split over the use of the A* amid fears that the elite grade will be dominated to such an extent by private school pupils that it risks skewing the social mix of the student body.
Oxford is refusing to employ the A* in admissions this summer, but it will be used by Cambridge and Imperial College London.
I feel it is reasonable that universities should have regard to a student's potential as well as his or her achievement so far. But this should only be up to a point.
The danger for Oxford and others is that this looks like outright desire to ignore achievement. It could cause more parents to send their children to university in the USA or elsewhere. This could, in turn, further undermine the finances and standing of British universities.
More on the failure of British schools to teach history:
Nearly half of 18-24-year-olds (45 per cent) do not know that Nelson led the British to victory at the Battle of Trafalgar, with more than one in six (15 per cent) believing Cromwell was responsible, according to a survey commissioned by the national schools singing programme Sing Up.
More than one in four thought the Battle of Trafalgar was part of the English Civil War, while 34 per cent were unaware that Charles Darwin was English, with one in seven (14%) believing he was American.
This is from a Telegraph article today.
I was even more appalled, though, when I asked a 16 year old I know who led the British at Trafalgar, where was Darwin from and who built Hadrian's Wall? This is a 16 year old girl at a top private school who, unlike many of her colleagues, is taking a GCSE in history. She knows a remarkable amount about Hitler's foreign policy because that is on the national curriculum.
She got the Darwin question right. Who led at Trafalgar? Wellington, she suggested. I suppose at least he was from the right war. Who built Hadrian's Wall? Hadrian, obviously. OK. But where was he from? England.
Dear oh dear. I then, as a bonus question, asked who the Goths are or were. They were people who wore a lot of black. Did she know of any Goths who existed before the last 100 years? Well they built funny buildings that were called Gothic. Anything else? No.
Those parents who assume that their children know about Trafalgar and so on should try giving them a little test. It might provide a nasty surprise.
Postscript: When told that Hadrian was not English, the 16-year-old asked "Where did he come from? " Told that he was a Roman emperoror she exclaimed, "What were they doing over here?"
It makes you weep.
Further postscript: the girl doing history at GCSE is studying four subjects - international relations between the first and second world wars, Germany between the same wars, the Russian revolution and the development of warfare in the 20th century. These are all potentially interesting subjects but please note the omission: direct study of the history of Britain.
This is a question which a 16 year-old girl studying for her GCSEs put to her classmates. This girl is at one of the top 100 private schools in Britain.
The school, like many others, now emphasises the sciences. It is compulsory there to do three separate science GCSEs. I think some of them are international GCSEs which are more difficult than ordinary GCSEs. So there is no doubting that this girl knows plenty about science. But history is not a compulsory GCSE at this school. Nor, of course, is the Christian religion. And even in the lower classes, the time devoted to religions and philosophies is spread among plenty of subjects including Islam, Buddhism and so on.
It is therefore not so surprising that this 16-year-old at a top school wonders whether Hitler - who wanted rid of the Jews - killed Jesus, who was a Jew. She just has not been taught much about history or Christianity.
The fashion for science over the humanities has, I suggest, gone too far.
I have obtained a copy of the recent Sheffield University report on literacy and numeracy in Britain. It provides a bewildering array of statistics and the challenge is to work out which ones are reliable and which are not. The confidence placed in the consistency of the standards of the GCSE, for example, would not be shared by everyone.
In any case, I was struck by some of the comments. Here is one on a studies done by Massey and Elliott (1996) on writing looking at samples of age 16 English examination scripts from 1980 (GCE O-Level), 1993 and 1994 (GCSE), and later Massey et al. (2005) looking at GCSE scripts from 2004.
The results of the extended study showed that, while 1993 and 1994 were relatively poor years, the 2004 scripts had returned to the 1980 level (though not in spelling, where 1980 pupils were much better), and in some cases (e.g. punctuation) exceeded 1980. However, the use of non-standard English had increased through the years, and Massey et al. (2005) suggested that there was a case for an attempt to reverse this trend.
In other words, between 1980 and 2004, the report card would read:
1. Spelling - much worse
2. Punctuation - better
3. Use of non-standard English - worse.
Of course, this is only one assessment and for all I know it may be flawed (or it may not.
Here is a rather tantalising entry:
People at this level can handle only simple texts and straightforward questions on them where no distracting information is adjacent or nearby. Making inferences and understanding forms of indirect meaning (e.g. allusion, irony) are likely to be difficult or impossible. This is less than the functional literacy needed to partake fully in employment, family life and citizenship and to enjoy reading for its own sake. About 17% of young people in England are at this level. While this is lower than at some older ages in England, it is higher than in many other industrialised countries.
It is the final sentence that is intriguing. The authors are suggesting that the level of functional illiteracy in Britain is worse than in 'many other' industrialised countries. I have not read the full report with care as yet but I have not found the data which full describes this. I hope to discover more.
Incidentally, I seem to remember from previously looking at such studies that at least one PISA study did not get a full sample from Britain making the British outcome less than wholly reliable. It seemed quite possible that the PISA result flattered the British performance because lower-achieving schools were the ones which declined to take part.
I note that the Sheffield University study makes no attempt to separate out the performance of the private and the state sector. The PISA report that I once studied showed the the performance of the English private sector was the best in the world out of all countries and all sectors. This, inevitably, dragged up the overall level of the UK performance from what it would otherwise have been
I have often quoted a government report from the late 1990s saying that one out of five adults in Britain is 'functionally illiterate'. Now comes a report that provides further confirming evidence of this appalling state of affairs.
It is a government-funded report by Sheffield University:
The latest evidence on reading shows 17 per cent of 16- to 19-year-olds are functionally illiterate and Professor Brooks said this had also been the case for at least two decades.
“People at this level can handle only simple tests and straightforward questions on them where no distracting information is adjacent or nearby,” his report says.
“Making inferences and understanding forms of indirect meaning, eg allusion and irony, are likely to be difficult or impossible. This is less than the functional literacy needed to partake fully in employment, family life and citizenship and to enjoy reading for its own sake.”
This coverage is from the Times Educational Supplement which, unsurprisingly given its bias, fails to see this evidence as an indictment of state schooling or of teaching methods that have been used. Instead it quotes an NUT official demanding one-to-one tuition.
There is less complacent coverage from the Daily Mail.
See also this BBC story from last year.
Here is a video from the Cato Institute. It argues that there is a lack of honesty and transparency about the true cost of places at 'public schools' - what we call state schools in Britain. The same is true here, though I cited some estimates in The Welfare State We're In. Places at private schools are not so much more expensive as people assume - the waste much less money on bureaucracy. It is especially hard, incidentally, to find out how many people are employed by local authorities in state education. Anyone would think they did not want you to know.
I went to a debate entitled 'Free Schools - Yes or No?' featuring Toby Young, in favour of them, and Kevin Courtney, deputy general secretary of the National Union of Teachers (NUT), last night.
I found the the arguments against free schools depressing in that they were so thin, mean-spirited and, in a sense, hypocritical.
The hypocrisy was revealed when Kevin Courtney argued against free schools because, as he thought, the idea was to give places on a first-come, first-served basis. He said that this would 'cut out incompetent parents' who might be slow off the mark. In saying this, he gave the game away. He showed that he had no doubt that parents - both competent and incompetent - would want their children to go to such schools. He implicitly accepted the idea that parents would think that their children would do better there. In other words, unless he thinks parents are stupid, he thinks these schools would be better than the existing state schools.
So, he wishes to prevent the opening of schools that are better than the existing state schools. Yet at the same time he argues that the existing state schools are perfectly good. That is hypocrisy and double-talk. His arguments are self-contradictory.
This is part of what made me think that his motivation - and that of other opponents of free schools - is not to be found in the actual arguments used but in what you might call the behavioural psychology of education politics.
The opponents of free schools, I suspect, are nearly all part of the state system and deep down they want to prevent any suggestion that the teaching they give can be improved upon. Psychologically they feel it is a challenge to their belief in the value of their own work. It is thus a function of vanity, not of altruism or socialist ideology or anything of that sort. There is also, perhaps, an element of a desire to control everything in education - a desire that their control should not be challenged by parents, children, private provision, charitable provision or anything else. They know best. There is something distinctly unpleasant and Orwellian about their opposition.
It is sad to hear people who want to prevent the creation of schools that would serve children better.
Imagine you are the head of a school. You receive a constant supply of instructions from national and perhaps local government. You have a huge volume instructions on encouraging equality and community cohesion and things of that sort as well as instructions on actual education. The strength of these instructions varies from guidelines up to laws.
There is such a vast quantity of this material that you are faced with a choice. Do you:
or 2. Bury yourself in reading in detail all the instructions
or 3. Be reckless (and not look at it)?
That is the situation in which heads of schools in Britain now are, according to Amanda Spielman, Research and Development Director for Ark Schools which has opened eight academies. She gave a speech last night hosted by the Learning Skills Foundation. It was a superb speech because it described in detail the sort of regulation to which schools are subject, how the regulations are increasing in number and the damage that they do. There was no doubt that this was authoriative and balanced. This made it all the more grim. At the end one wondered why anyone would want to face the onslaught of instructions. It is against human nature to be, at once a leader of a school and, at the same time, a servant to myriad instructions from various levels of government.
She referred, for example, to EU procurement rules which "add enormously to the cost of business". Then - just as an example of one rule out of hundreds - there was the code that outlaws schools giving preference to siblings who have left a school. This is now actually illegal. Schools must have 'behaviour partnerships'. She commented that most of the rules were ones which one could see were in favour of desirable things. Co-operation is a good thing. But this has gone from being something desirable to being something obligatory.
Meanwhile there is an unending demand for data from government. The National Curriculum is prescriptive. The government insists schools should do social engineering in favour of equality. It demands schools have policies in favour of 'community cohesion'. She commented that this policy was originally intended to get schools in one town to integrate more with the rest of British society. But, because rules are rules, those schools which have a complete mix of children and thoroughly 'cohesive' are obliged also to follow the instructions and demonstate that they are doing so.
All this takes a great deal of time and paperwork and most of it does absolutely nothing to improve the education of children - the purpose of schools.
There are many adverse consequences.
- The time and effort of key personnel used on these things instead of on promoting education.
- Amanda Spielman said there was an element of intimidation. She referred to a talented and able head of a school being distressed and completely throwing out policy statements she had written because they were not liked by OFTSED inspectors.
- Barriers to entry. The bureaucratic jungle acts to deter anyone from trying to start a new school or academy - particularly those who are small in scale. In fact the big companies and organisations gain something from this barrier to entry - they know it keeps out small, new and perhaps innovative competitors.
What can be done?
She would like a tougher test for new regulations. At the moment, the test seems to be 'is this desirable?' If so, the regulation is put in place. Instead, she suggests, the test should be 'could we survive without it?"
She suggests that in a previous generation, legislation was to provide punishment for seriously bad things like murder. Now legislation aims at risk management - outlawing things that might have bad consequences.
A member of the audience who works in a school said that the government first wanted to insist on the introduction of expensive soft surfaces on playgrounds so that children do not injure themselves. Then the government came to think that learning about danger was a good thing for children and came to the view that adventure areas were good. This is an example of how schools are pushed this way and then that by government.
Amanda Spielman said there was a culture now whereby whatever the government decided was good became universally compulsory.
One of the audience was senior in a group of schools (which, to protect her, I will not name). She said that heads should ignore great swathes of the instructions. She said that the government left alone those ones which were doing well.
Amada Spielman said, separately, that if a business is in trouble, it goes back to basics and cuts out non-essential activities to get the main one right. But with schools in difficulty they could not behave like this. They were obliged to go on with all the government regulations even when their backs were against the wall.
I fear I have not done justice to an excellent and persuasive speech. I hope that she will go into print herself on this.
I have recently inherited a dauntingly large archive of letters and papers relating to my mother's family. They include letters and diaries written by my grandfather as long ago as 1901. Looking at just a few of these - the tip of the iceberg - I came across a little packet of letters of condolence sent to him in 1939 on the death of his wife, my grandmother. As I never met my grandmother, I was interested to know more of what she was like. This is one of the letters:
Yesterday I called at 57 Pont Street to learn with deep regret the sudden passing of Mrs Beresford.
Of the many hundreds of people who graced the staircase during the two and a half years I was parlourmaid to her Ladyship, Mrs Beresford with her sweet naturalness was always outstanding in my memory.
I left her Ladyship to take over a small business on the 4th Sept. Unfortunately war broke out as everything was settled and so many people from whom I could buy are out of town. But faith is a conquering power which stands us in good stead even in the darkest hours.
Please forgive me Sir, for writing to you but I feel so inwardly urged to do so, and to accept my profound sympathy during these dark days through which you are passing.
With my best respects
The letter is evocative of that time in all sorts of ways. But what struck me most of all was the richness of the writer's expression. As a former parlourmaid, she was obviously from the poorer half of British society. I wondered, if she were alive today and came from the same relative social class, would she be able to write such a letter? I doubt it. The letter is not perfect but the second sentence contains 31 words (the number two and a half was written with figures) and starts with a long sub-clause which has a terrific image of many people on a staircase that she had seen in her work. That complexity and elegance of expression would be as much or more than you might hope these days from an Oxbridge graduate. I doubt that you would expect it from someone in her relative position. And remember, most adults now left school aged 16 or 18. Ruth Craven probably left school at 11 or 14.
I don't offer this letter as proof or even strong evidence that educational standards have dropped. It is only one letter and there could be all sorts of reasons why it was written as it was. But for those of us who already believe, due to a wide variety of accumulated evidence, that educational standards have dropped, the letter is a possible illustration of just what has been lost.
At an Intelligence Squared debate last week, Professor Mary Beard gave some indications of how the teaching of languages has suffered in state education.
- Fewer than 500 state schools now offer any classical languages and much of this teaching is offered in the 'twilight' hours after most classes have finished.
- The government is not providing enough training of classics teachers to replace the ones who will retire.
- The numbers taking French GCSE have fallen by 100,000 since 2004.
- There is some difficulty in finding sufficient translators for the London Olympics.
- Generally speaking she was Left-wing and disliked private schools but she wished them to survive because they were the place in which language and classics teaching were continuing.
Why do the people who frame the curriculum and GCSEs want to take out the tough, scientific content (see entry below)?
It certainly suits politicians to make exams easier to pass. Higher grades give the impression of successful education. Also if they make science exams easier, they calculate that more children will chose them than otherwise. This is politically useful because it slows down any flight in state schools from hard subjects to soft ones. Politicians wish to slow down this flight because it reveals the way that state schools are underachieving and this reflects badly on them.
However, teachers would not - one hopes - want to be associated with such political calculations.
Some, though certainly not all, have come to think that teaching children to think about science - or other subjects - is more important than teaching them a body of specific knowledge. On the surface, the idea has its appeal. I remember when I was compelled to learn Latin that the justification most frequently given for the task was that it would help me to think logically. It is also true that knowledge that is considered useful, important or up-to-date keeps on changing. But in most subjects, there is plenty of knowledge that does not change and more still that will not change for a few decades, at least.
But how did many teachers come genuinely to think that rigorously learning a body of knowledge, particularly in science, is of secondary importance?
Did it start with some theorist of teaching who then got taken up by politicians because they could see the ideas would help them? What were the mechanics of the dismantling of educational standards?
How important was the idea that tough science (and other subjects) are elitist because they are too difficult for less bright students? For those who feel like that, the appeal of the idea of teaching more accessible stuff about evaluation and problem-solving would be strong. But what they did not consider properly was how the clever state school students would be disadvantaged. With the debased science GCSEs, those bright state school students have their career prospects severely damaged.
This is a re-edited version of an entry posted earlier today. My apologies for re-writing it:
Origin of the idea: "teach skills, the knowledge will be irrelevant".
Unfortunately the dominant mode of thinking is that, if the argument makes sense, it is probably true. There is far too little "critical thinking" and use of evidence.
After hearing this line from the ATL union official a few years ago, I went through the GCSE science curriculum to see what could be "out of date" in 20 yrs.
Atoms? Elements? Cells? Expansion? Metals? Energy transfer? You get the picture: none of the basics will change. It's science!!! Its the way we explain the natural world.
On top of this there is clear and irrefutable evidence that trying to teach context-free "skills" does not work. They need to be learned in one context before they can be transferred somewhere else.
I detect an increase in "helplessness" from pupils who claim that the reason for their low marks is "the teacher was rubbish" rather than "I did no work".
I did not expect the dependence culture to get all the way down to the learning process - but I now meet so many "learning disabled" (backed up by "my rights" parents) I despair for them.
The excellent letter below illustrates how state schools now reduce social mobility. The state schools are not allowed to take IGCSEs. But only the IGCSEs offer a rigorous training in science. So only those who have studied the sciences at private schools are in a good position to go on to do well in science A levels, get a good science degree and a science career. And it is not only careers in science per se that are affected but also science-based careers such as medicine. Whole swathes of bright, potential scientists at state schools are handicapped in their chances of getting good science-based careers. It is shocking. And these lives are hampered to suit the views of Left wing politicians.
Fact-free science lessons
SIR – The Government has spent huge sums on a laudable campaign to increase state-school students’ interest in becoming scientists and engineers, while simultaneously distorting the curriculum to make it more “relevant” in ways that make it more difficult to learn enough science to follow it as a career.
Content has been steadily removed in the name of accessibility. That which remains is largely chosen to illustrate wider “societal” themes, without sufficient regard to the theoretical coherence of the science being taught. I am head of science at a comprehensive school and was told at a training day: “It’s all about skills now. They [the students] can look up facts on Google.” Would you want to be treated by a doctor who has spent five years honing evaluation skills instead of mastering tedious old anatomy facts?
The International General Certificate of Secondary Education (IGCSE), which does retain a coherent structure, isn’t offered in state schools as it doesn’t conform to the “Science Subject Criteria” (the very cause of the problem). Calls to offer the IGCSE are denounced as “elitist”.
A two-tier system is returning to British education. Are we happy with private-school students learning about electromagnetism, while their peers at comprehensives have to grapple with identifying “the use of evidence and creative thinking by scientists in the development of scientific ideas”?
The refusal of the government to recognise IGCSEs is surely because the Labour Party wants to obscure the fact that the private schools generally vastly outperform government-run schools. It is nothing to do with good government. It is everything to do with propaganda. It is not the first time that the league tables have been fixed to make the private schools appear to be doing less well than they are.
However there is a hope that this time the measure is so obvious that it might backfire. The sight of St Paul's and Winchester and Westminster at the bottom of exam tables will strike all but the most prejudiced observer as being as ridiculous as placing Manchester United and Chelsea at the bottom of the Coca-Cola League Two.
Footnote: We have here another example of how civil servants have been turned into spokesmen for the Labour Party. When questioned about it, the spokesman does not confine himself to explaining government policy. He talks like a party fighter. He calls the argument for counting IGCSEs 'fatuous'. Note also the tone of scorn towards private schools. This is not the language of someone who wants the best for all children in Britain. It is the language of someone who has a political agenda that government schools are a good thing, government frameworks must be of prime importance and private schools deserve no consideration. Here is the final para of the article in the Telegraph:
But a spokesman for the Department for Children, Schools and Families said: "This is a fatuous argument. The IGCSE does not meet the requirements of the National Curriculum and so it is not approved for use in curriculum in state schools - it would make absolutely no sense for it to be included in the end-of-year tables just because some independent schools choose to offer them."
Essential reading for understanding how the NHS receives a lot of money from government but is always short of it for spending on healthcare.
There is a very similar story to be told in education, too.
A former teacher who was falsely accused by a pupil suggested that one of the reasons for classroom disruption now is the Children's Act. Speaking on Radio 5 Live this morning, he said that the Children's Act meant that any teacher who was accused by a child of doing something wrong was immediately suspended. Teachers were terrified of being accused. He suggested that this was linked with the high rate at which teachers leave the profession.
The solicitor who spoke on the same programme who clearly was involved with children's rights had no sympathy for him and clearly thought that children's rights are a black and white matter on which there is no room for compromise. She might like to consider what damage is done to children by
a) the loss of good teachers.
b) the disruption of classes that would not take place if the teachers were more often able to maintain good discipline.
Good policy in education is surely better decided upon by considering what is in the best interest of children rather than inventing 'rights' and then adhering blindly to them regardless of the consequences.
See also here.
At Cecil and Nathan's comprehensive, where there is no after-school sport, there are regular fights between boys from rival schools and gangs.
These take place on Mondays, Wednesdays and Fridays. At a nearby comprehensive attended by a 13-year-old called David, they kick off most Friday lunchtimes.
All three boys said the police were rarely called - and then usually only the day after a fight. 'The teachers are scared,' said David with contempt.
Shockingly, both these inner-city schools were passed as 'satisfactory' in their last Ofsted inspection reports.
In fact, Ofsted has branded nearly half the schools in the country 'satisfactory' or worse - so the scale of the problem is clear.
One assistant head shook his head and told me: 'All we're doing is containing the children and keeping them off the streets, and we're barely doing that.'
Last year, classroom disruption was running at record levels, with schools sending home 2,200 children every day.
As well as failing to teach them how to read and write properly, too many schools are failing to protect boys from low-income families, to socialise them and to open up the world to the brightest
More than 200,000 were expelled or suspended the year before for violent, threatening or aggressive behaviour directed at teachers or other pupils.
It is, of course, extremely hard to learn - or teach - in this kind of environment.
This is from one of Harriet Sergeant's recent articles in the Daily Mail.
Last night I went to a school to learn about the 'A' levels that one of my children might do. It was a grim reminder of how central government now dominates education and damages it.
I was told that not one of the examining boards for French 'A' level now sets a single piece of French literature. The students will not read a single French book or play. Instead they will go through a textbook which includes one chapter on literature and three on the environment. This is a sick cocktail of philistinism and eco-propaganda.
I did French 'A' level myself many years ago. In fact I failed it (it was possible to fail in those days). I can't remember all the literature we read but it included the boisterous play, Le Malade Imaginaire, a sinister novel by Francois Mauriac (please excuse the lack of an accent on the first 'c', I don't know how to put it in), beautiful poems by Ronsard and L'Etranger by Camus.
I have no objection to 'A' levels including less literature and more about modern France. But no literature at all? It is absurd. And no history either. Instead, those who are very concerned about the environment have taken over the show. I defend with enthusiasm the right of such people to have their say and for the issues they raise to be discussed in school with all sides of the argument represented. It would obviously be a relevant in Geography. But to push it into every conceivable subject, even languages, is outrageous and shows that such concerns have gone beyond opionions openly debated into being dominating propaganda that no one dares oppose. Propaganda is the enemy of education. Education should be at least in part about challenging received opinions, not about ramming them down throats.
What is more objectionable still is that there is no choice. A school cannot avoid this hugely unbalanced curriculum by changing examining boards. The QCA, apparently, has determined the balance: masses on the environment, nothing on literature.
I came across something similar in History. There central government has determined what periods of history in which countries students will study all over Britain. There is apparently a choice that can be made between the 19th century and the 17th century and these choices involve different countries. But it is still highly prescriptive. This is control freakery verging on totalitarianism. It is obnoxious to anyone who believe education is about enabling the mind to roam. It is absurd to anyone who understands that teachers and children alike are more motivated and excited about the teaching and learning process if they have some choice and control of their what and how the study takes place.
In both these subjects, regret at the changes in the curriculum was freely expressed by the teachers concerned as well as myself. "We were not consulted," the French teacher said sadly.
Here are ten pretty dramatic assertions about how Labour has affected the welfare of the poor during its twelve years in power. They are extracted from an article by Fraser Nelson in the The Spectator:
1. "Even by Labour’s favourite measure, the Gini index, which measures income gaps across various countries, inequality is at a record high — towering above the levels seen in the Thatcher years."
2. "Scandalously, the poorest 10 per cent now have a disposable income of £87 a week, down from £96 a week eight years ago."
3. "Foreign-born workers account for all net job creation in the private sector since 1997. That is to say, strip out the public sector and there are fewer British-born people in work now than in 1997."
4. "As for youth unemployment, that is now a third higher than when Labour took office."
5. "At no point since Labour came to power has the number on out- of-work benefits fallen below five million."
6. "Of these working-age people, 1.1 million — equivalent to the population of a city the size of Birmingham — have never worked a day in the Labour years."
7. "International surveys show school standards are declining, with the poorest hit worst."
8. "Studies set up in the early Labour years to track progress have in fact tracked decline."
9. "Infant mortality gaps between the rich and poor have — quite extraordinarily — widened under Labour."
10. "Ditto the gulf in life expectancy."
These points are mentioned almost casually in his article. But each is powerful. Assuming they are true, should be far better known. Television and radio interviewers should all be sent a copy to put the points to Labour ministers when they are crowing about their supposed successes. Tory shadows should repeat them frequently.
I would be glad if it were possible to have links to the sources of the data supporting these assertions. Fraser Nelson says in his article: "none of the above figures have [sic] been published by the government - this magazine lodged a request for their release".
It would be good if he would put the sources up online so the assertions could be repeated with confidence.
But the big point, which he makes well, is this: "The Prime Minister's greatest contribution to convervatism... has been to test to destruction the idea that money solves social problems."
And again, "Mr Brown's government spent like no other, and was socially regressive."
The Cato Institute fears the consequences.
When I was in the USA recently, it seemed that Obama was talking mainly about trying to cap the cost of health insurance. But it still appeared to be very vague. There were meetings and consultations. Nothing definite appeared to have been decided.
Guess where this sad and ineffective school is and whether it is government-run or private? Does it exist now or in some grimy past?
Every two years, it loses half of its staff, many emergency certified and ill-equipped to deal with teaching in a school where only 6 per cent can read at the expected level.
I was prepared for the security guards, the wire mesh on every window, the self-locking doors and the metal detectors. What I hadn't expected was the total lack of inspiration. There were no signs of welcome, no work on the walls, nothing to denote it as a place of learning - just endless corridors of lockers. Yet, despite the school's appalling reputation, there were no fires blazing, no chairs through windows, just pupils eager to hear if every pupil in England wears a tie and blazer.
They worked quietly, with varying degrees of effort, from a 1,600-page textbook so heavy it could break a foot. The teaching was not good, but I don't want to disparage a fellow teacher as I've no doubt he would have been excellent had he been given more than four weeks' training. He received no support from colleagues and was isolated in his classroom, muddling through planning and assessing students who could barely read.
Is it perhaps in some Third World country struggling with poverty? No it is in one of the richest countries in the world: America. It is a government-run school. (Full article in the TEShttp://www.tes.co.uk/article.aspx?storycode=6014530.)
Only by having government-run schools is the one of the world's richest countries able to produce education this bad.
One of the persistent myths about the USA is that it is capitalist, red in tooth and claw. In fact it has a massive welfare state in which government-run education has a major role.
There is, however, a puzzle about American education. It is that many wealthy people are perfectly content with the government schools (actually they are operated by the individual states). They do not opt for private schools to the same extent that wealthy people do in Britain. Why?
I am not at all sure.
One factor is, I suspect, precisely that the schools are run by the states not the national government. That means, perhaps especially in the smaller states, that there is a greater sense of local involvement and commitment which helps the morale and operation of the schools.
Secondly, I am beginning to suspect that there is an even greater segregation between good and bad government-run schools in the U.S. than there is here in Britain. Rich people in the right areas have a satisfactorily good local school. The school is filled with the children of ambitious, successful people. The other side of this, of course, is that the government-run schools in the inner cities have a great concentration of children whose parents are not only poor - that does not of itself mean a lack of ambition for their children - but who themselves have had a bad educational and family background. In other words, the ones who really suffer from this educational apartheid are the ones who are already start in an unfortunate position. That of course is the great tragedy of government education: it fails most those whom it was intended to help most.
Thirdly, I wonder whether American private education is increasing? I visited a private school in New York State last year. It was an admirable place. It had been started in the last thirty years with eight or so pupils. Some local farmers had been unsatisfied with the government school and created their own. By the time I visited, the numbers must have been over 100. It is just one anecdote. I would interested for any overall statistics.
I wonder how many people know that head teachers are only allowed to observe lessons given by a teacher for three hours in any one year?
It is an example of the power of the teacher unions and how they can interfere with the effective management of schools and thus with the best possible education of children.
I only learned this because of a recent article in the Times Educational Supplement:
Michael Gove, the shadow schools secretary, said he would put an end to regulations that constrain normal classroom observations to three hours per year.
“It’s absurd that heads should be legally restricted from entering classrooms in their own schools,” he said. “We need to trust professionals if we want to get the most out of our education system, and that means scrapping regulations like this.”
One of the worrying things is that Mr Gove feels the need to justify his view in the most cautious terms. He is obviously worried about rousing the wrath of these unions. He says that young teachers may need more help. Is it not also possible, that some teachers may be giving weak lessons and should be told to get their act together or be sacked? That is how a good school should be run. Bad teachers should be sacked otherwise the school will not give the best possible education which, lest the unions forget, is the purpose of the exercise. All teachers should know that they have to maintain a standard and that this will be monitored.
The outrageous rule that teachers can only be observed for three hours a year is a very strong example of the 'producer interest' at work - employees organising things for their own benefit rather than that of their customers. It occurs in all organisations but in a state monopoly with strong unions, it runs riot.
It is quite clear that the present Labour government has allowed the unions to play a role in deciding policy on such things:
At present, teachers’ unions - with the exception of the NUT - are consulted by the Government and help to decide policy affecting teachers’ pay and conditions, including the limit on classroom observations.
Mary Bousted, general secretary of the Association of Teachers and Lecturers, said the so-called “social partnership” would be under threat if the Conservatives gained office. She issued a warning to Mr Gove to take it seriously.
“He is not committed to any formal structure for the social partnership to take place,” she said. “It’s not inviting the unions in for beer and sandwiches and then telling us what’s going to happen. There is real negotiation.
It is a disgrace that the present government has allowed any union to take a role in deciding policy. It is politically corrupt. The government is elected by the people to decide for the benefit of the people. It is not elected to allow unions to write laws or to allow any interest group to have the privilege to write laws.
This story makes one wonder how many other laws are there that have been written by unions in the decade - in education and perhaps health, too?
Sir Alan Steer has claimed that Britain's pupils are better and better behaved, according to the Times Educational Supplement (April 24th). The teachers' trade paper comments that "raised eyebrows and cries of disbelief" greeted Sir Alan's comments. However the paper's commentator, Michael Shaw goes on to support Sir Alan's view.
He says that NUT surveys became more positive about behaviour between 2001 and 2008. He also comments "youth crime also seems to have fallen over the past 15 years, with the proportion of ten to 17-year-olds who are reprimanded, warned or convicted by policy down by 12 per cent since 1992."
He also recommends a book, State Schools Since the 1950s: The Good News, by Adrian Elliott who apparently found that students were four more times likely to truant in the 1950s and he also offers other indications that there was no perfect discipline in a supposed "golden age".
These measurements deserve to be looked at closely. However here is a little anecdotal observation of my own from the other side. Near to me is a well-known comprehensive school in a pretty smart area of London, though many of the students travel in from council homes further out. I often see the children come out of school in the afternoon. At that time I usually see three or four "community police officers" stationed in the street that is nearest. They are clearly there to police the children.
When I have been in the shops nearby, there have sometimes been two or three other officers making sure there is no disruption in that area either. I once saw a shopkeeper angrily shooing off some students who wandered into his shop. I don't think it is too much to guess that he has had trouble with the children before.
Of course, it would not be new for children to shoplift. But when I was young, I went to school near to what was called then a "secondary modern". I often saw students from that school. I never saw a single policeman or any trouble on the streets at all.
Yes, yes. I know this is merely an anecdote and proves nothing. It is just a sliver of evidence. Perhaps more substantial are the figures obtained by David Ruffley, the Conservative police reform minister. He has found that the number of persistent young offenders has increased by 60 per cent over the past decade:
In 2008, there was a total of 15,819 persistent young offenders in England and Wales – up 60 per cent on the 9,868 recorded by police forces in 1997.
The full account is in the Telegraph.
The government minister responded that the figures "are not designed to measure overall trends in youth crime, and will give a misleading picture of the true trend if used for this purpose."
Unfortunately his reasoning for thinking that the figures are misleading has not been reported, or perhaps he gave no reason. In any case, I am afraid I am now sufficiently cynical about government statistics that the only ones I am inclined to trust at all are ones which are not normally cited by anyone and therefore have not been subject to political manipulation. On this basis, these figures obtained by Ruffley may be an excellent indication of the trend. But now attention has been drawn to them, we can expect a remarkable apparent improvement.
Many indicators (quoted in the book) make me confident that children's behaviour has deteriorated in the past 50 years. I strongly suspect that the decline continued in the past decade.
The Labour Government wants more state school children to get into the top universities but at the same time is putting an obstacle in way of them getting there. It is refusing to fund the more demanding exams for 16 year-olds - the International GCSEs or IGCSEs . These exams stretch pupils and make them better qualified to go on to the top universities.
Why on earth would the government try to stop children from less well-off families getting to the top universities? Because, I suppose, it is politically determined never to admit that the GCSEs have been dumbed down. Or perhaps, more likely, it is because the government wants to maintain the fiction that all state schools offer a realistic chance to their pupils of getting into the top universities. The governments wants parents to think that if all children are taking the same exams, then surely they all have a chance of getting in. Of course this is rubbish. And it comes from politics. Clever children at the best state schools suffer as a result. Therefore the Labour government, for political reasons, acts to prevent children from less well-off families having the best chance of getting into top universities.
The information quoted below comes from the Times Educational Supplement Magazine. Note the remarkable rise in the numbers of students at private schools now taking the IGCSEs. The top state schools are prevented from following suit.
So far the retreat from the GCSE has been confined to private schools. When one state school, Bexley Grammar in Kent, announced last year that it planned to offer the International GCSE, an alternative that focuses on final exams rather than coursework or modules, it was barred from doing so. Even though Ofqual, the qualifications regulator, has since approved IGCSEs in 15 subjects, the Department for Children, Schools and Families (DCSF) has not agreed to fund it, so it cannot yet be offered in state schools.
Rod MacKinnon, the former head of Bexley Grammar who moved to the fee- paying Bristol Grammar School last summer, says his issue is not with the GCSE as such, but he feels it may not suit some pupils in some subjects. At Bexley, Mr MacKinnon tried to introduce IGCSE science on the grounds that the GCSE equivalent did not stretch the most able children. “It is a reputable examination, but my view was that in Bexley’s context, the IGCSE was more appropriate for some pupils.”
Bristol Grammar, his new school, offers the IGCSE in maths, on the basis that it provides a more challenging syllabus. The IGCSE includes calculus, for example, which pupils do not have to study for the GCSE. The school is considering offering the IGCSE in English.
The GCSE was introduced to fuse together its predecessors, O-level and CSE, into one course designed to suit children of all abilities. But Mr MacKinnon suggests it is time to accept the one-size-fits-all approach has not worked. “There are lots of really good arguments why we would want one exam for everybody, but in reality we’re not able to stretch the full ability range.”
He believes giving schools and pupils the choice of exams is a logical extension of personalised learning. If learning is to be tailored to each child’s needs, then why make everyone sit the same exam? “There is nothing profoundly essential about having one exam,” he says. “I can’t see why it should be a problem having two or three different styles.”
Much of the flight away from GCSEs has been towards the IGCSE. This year, almost half - 46 per cent - of private schools are offering at least one IGCSE, up from 34 per cent last year. Edexcel, one of two exam boards administering them, reports that the number of candidates taking the exam has almost doubled in two years, from 45,000 in 2006 to 85,000 last year. Cambridge Assessment, the other board offering IGCSEs, is coy about releasing figures, but will admit to a 20 per cent increase in entries this year.
Incidentally, the quality of coverage of education (and medical services) in the newspapers seems to have deteriorated substantially in recent years. The Daily Telegraph used to have a superb pair of journalists writing daily on education matters. As newspapers have cut back on staff in recent years, coverage of politics has been maintained but coverage of the welfare state has suffered badly.
A discussion on the radio this week centred on lunches for children at schools. How healthy are they? How easily can the children leave school and eat at the local chip shop? Then someone said that the teachers often did not not superintend the lunches in school. Or, if they did, they then were entitled to take a long break. It sounds unlikely but I thought a two-hour break was mentioned.
What a contrast there is between this idea and what I have seen at two private schools - one in Britain and one in America. Most notable was the private school in New York State where, I think, all the teachers had lunch with the children and, even better, each teacher went to a separate round dining table so that he or she would talk with the children on that table. It must surely be the case that this is a civilising practice for the children. They are more likely to learn the boundaries of good behaviour and more likely to have sensible and even, occasionally, educational discussions.
When I visited this school last year, I sat on one of these round tables with the headmaster on my left and children on my right. Doubtless it was no accident that the child I was placed next to was extraordinarily bright. He told me his favourite subject was history and he preferred European to American history because it was longer and richer. He must have been about 13 or 14, I think. Of course, the school did not make him as clever as he was but it certainly enabled him to thrive.
The other school, in Britain, was Hampton Court House in South London where the teachers ate with the children. This was entirely informal, I think, and children could avoid being with teachers if they wanted to. But I got the impression that they were perfectly happy having lunch with teachers and, again, this must surely be a civilising influence. Children can learn about history and science in class. But at lunch, any subject can be discussed and the child can have the benefit of the perspective of an educated adult.
The private boarding school that I attended had no teachers present at meals and it was pretty shambolic. I guess that many private schools would benefit from having the teachers present at meals. I would not be surprised if among the government-run schools there is more of a rule that teachers cannot be obliged to go to lunch with students. I would also guess it was pressed for by the teachers' union. I would welcome any information on this.
If that indeed is the case, it would be an example of teacher union power being used to the detriment of the interests of the children.
Last night I learned of a wonderful absurdity in the world of government monopoly education.
As pretty well everyone will know, head teachers in the government-controlled sector live and die by targets. Their careers depend on them. One of the targets is high attendance.
Then came the snow last week. Most schools in London were closed on the Monday. But more schools managed to open on the Tuesday. Now you might think that those schools whose head teacher and staff struggled into work for the benefit of the children in their care were particularly conscientious. Not in target-land however. They were mugs. Since their schools were open, the many absences of children from their schools on that snowy day will count against them when it comes to calculating how good their attendance figures have been. But those schools which stayed shut will be deemed to have been shut because of exceptional circumstances and their attendance figures will not be affected at all.
So the conscientious schools that opened will be punished with bad attendance figures. The less conscientious schools that stayed shut will be rewarded with high attendance figures. Thus does the state give perverse incentives.
Similarly, the government encourages schools to adopt a warm, welcoming spirit to those of minority faiths. At the same time, any school which has Muslim children will have days when many of the children are absent because of the Eid - the Muslim holiday that marks the end of Ramadan. So on the one hand the government says, "be welcoming and understanding of minority faiths". On the other hand it effectively says, "Do everything you can to upset Muslim families by trying to stop Muslim children being absent on Eid days or, failing that, hit your attendance targets better by accepting as few Muslim children as you can".
These examples are just a small part of the madness of target-land. The world works largely on the basis of incentives. If the incentives are perverse, the results often are too.
I argued in The Welfare State We're In that the performance of many grammar schools in Britain is boosted by heavy oversubscription for places (far higher than for most private schools), the high social class of many of the parents and private tuition. In the sense that there is a great deal of private tuition, part of 'state education' is not actually done by the state at all. It is supplied by the private market. This was very publicly the case with one of the children of the former Prime Minister, Tony Blair. The boy was tutored by a teacher at Westminster, one of the outstanding private schools in Britain.
Yesterday there was further evidence of the role of private tuition in state education:
In the latest poll, market researchers GfK NOP surveyed parents of children at some of England's 164 remaining grammar schools.
The survey - for the BBC - revealed 81 per cent of parents coached sons or daughters to pass the entrance test.
Half paid for private tutors and the remainder taught children themselves at home.
Those using hired help spent an average of £700 on fees - receiving 90 minutes of tuition every week.
Research by Professor Brendan Bunting, psychologist at Ulster University, has found pupils coached for nine months improved their 11-plus scores by 40 per cent.
This research referred to students getting tuition in order to get into the grammar schools. It seems highly likely that a high proportion of grammar school children also receive private tuition to help them get better results in their public exams.
The full article is here.
Several newspapers report on the assertion that science GCSEs are easier than the equivalent "O" levels were in the 1960s. Here is the Daily Mail version which includes a great question from the 1960s.
Even I could get all three questions from the recent paper right. They are questions that almost anyone who is literate with a little bit of general knowledge could answer. Increasingly the better schools in the private sector take International GCSEs in preference to the devalued ordinary ones.
Extracts from article on GCSE results this summer:
One in six pupils finished 11 years of compulsory schooling without achieving a single C grade in any subject.
This summer only 382,228 took GCSEs in languages - down from 559,115 in 2002.
Fewer than a quarter of state schools require GCSE students to learn languages, according to a report last year.
It found they are fast becoming the preserve of grammar and fee-paying schools as many comprehensives allow them to decline to 'extremely low levels'.
84,900 students - 13 per cent - failed to secure one GCSE grade D
The gulf between independent schools and state comprehensives continued, with almost one in three pupils at fee-paying schools - 30.3 per cent - emerging with three As at A-level, against 7.6 per cent at comprehensives.
The above is from a Daily Mail article here.
Last night I attended an Intelligence Squared debate in London on the subject: "All schools, state as well as private, should be allowed to select their own pupils".
Lord Tebbit, one of the speakers, said that when he did National Service after the war, this was a time when the literacy of every young man was tested. He said that 95% of the young men called for National Service were found to be literate - and that despite the enormous dislocation to education that resulted from the war. This compares with some 20% of the present population who are now said by the government to be "functionally illiterate".
He was using this statistic to support his argument that the reduction of selection since the war had damaged state education. I would be glad to obtain chapter and verse on this. If the figure stands up well, it is very important since it indicates more clearly than any other fact one is likely to discover that the quality of state education has been on a declining path.
In this case it would fit in with my main contention on education, that state education has been a disaster for Britain and has deteriorated more the longer it has gone on. In the 1940s, there were plenty of genuinely independent church secondary schools and many primary schools had not been in the hands of governnent for very long.
Lord Tebbit went on to suggest that all state schools should be denationalised and handed over, I think he said, to charitable trusts. Most of the vast bureaucratic superstructure of local authority and central government would be removed. There would be vouchers which would be worth more for those children with difficulties. This, he suggested, would transform our low standards of education as schools competed for custom and parents could genuinely make choices.
The motion was clearly carried. Before the debate, there were 339 votes for, 200 against and 152 abstentions. After the debate, there were 451 for, 202 against and 48 abstentions.
For myself, I regard the argument over selection and, in particular, grammar schools as a distraction from the most important point about education: that nationalisation of education has been a disaster and should be reversed.
One small part of the cultural decline of Britain consists of the way in which newspapers now have sentences such as this: "Chelsea fall behind in title race".
This is the use of a verb in the plural with a singular noun. The sentence should read: "Chelsea falls behind in title race". There is only one Chelsea. The fact that it is a collective noun is irrelevant. It is still singular as any grammar book will confirm.
The use of plural verbs with singular nouns can - and is - defended as being one of those developments of the English language which naturally takes place over the years. Yes, indeed it is. Not many years ago, the Daily Express, of all papers still held out against it. But now I believe it has given way. Or, "Now they have given way" as many people would write these days.
But my view is that this is not simply a development of the English language that is arbitrary and means nothing. It is a change which reflects the failure of schools in Britain to teach much grammar for the past thirty years or so. That is why the change has taken place. It is a result of the inferior education which millions of people have experienced in recent decades. It is also an example of the way in which culture can travel from the least educated upwards as well as from the most educated down.
I am sure that all the top people in the BBC are well enough educated to know that it is bad grammar to write, "Charlton Athletic have announced that they have called off takeover talks with potential investors." (Link here.) But presumably they sanctioned the change. They felt that this was now common usage and that they should follow it, even though it was wrong. Thus has our written culture been formed by the least literate. Does any heroic newspaper still hold out against bad grammar?
I thought I might check out the Times of India. Yes, it has this sentence in the current online edition: "Arsenal has kicked ahead in the Premier League title race". Ah! Marvellous. A verb in the singular. What a relief. (Link here.) But unfortunately the headline for the same story is, "Arsenal make big move in Premier League title race." So the Times of India is not wholly holding the line against the poor grammar taking over the former 'mother country'.
How about The Times here in London. Does it cling to correct grammar? No. From today's online edition: "Arsenal have thrived while Chelsea are running run out of steam in the absence of Drogba". (Link here.)Dear, oh dear. It is a long way from the days when the advertisement used to read, "Top people take The Times".
I know that I have probably made a number of grammatical errors in writing this post. I know, too, that whenever someone writes about grammar, there is nothing more pleasurable than pointing out his or her grammatical failings. I have prepared myself to suffer such blows. It will be worth it for the pleasure of writing, as I have long wanted to, about this change - no, this deterioration - in the writing of English.
The government continues to suggest - without much objection from most of the media who simply assume it must be true - that this country must do everything possible to increase the number of graduates. The theory is that this is an information society where an increasing number of people who want jobs need to have higher level skills and education.
The first skill which state welfare in Britain is failing to teach to as many as one in five children is the ability to read. Undaunted by this failure, the government likes to imagine that the wholesale increase in university places has been a 'good thing' and there should be much more of it.
The specific argument of the government is that this expansion of places is necessary on economic grounds (not cultural or to further individual well-being). It is this ground that is demonstrably absurd for a number of reasons described in The Welfare State We're In. Now comes further evidence. High numbers of those who go to university either do not want or cannot get jobs that reflect the level of education they have received. There is no apparent desperate shortage of graduates. There is no apparent need, therefore, to make more of them. Not on economic grounds, anyway.
One in three graduates ends up in a job that does not require a degree, researchers have found.
Art, design and humanities graduates and those from former polytechnics have the worst job prospects, while students of vocational courses, such as law, medicine and teacher training, are most likely to find degree-level jobs.
This is from the Telegraph a few days ago. And again:
In 1992, one in five male graduates was engaged in non-graduate work at the age of 25.
But by last year, the number had risen to more than one in three. Among women, the proportion rose from one in four to just under one in three. Among creative and arts graduates, almost six out of 10 ended up in jobs for which they were over-qualified, as did 30 per cent of English and humanities graduates.
Meanwhile, only one in 10 who did vocational courses took on non-graduate jobs, while the figure was one in five among those who did maths and sciences.
Researchers at Kent University found graduates of former polytechnics were three times more likely to end up in a job for which they were over-qualified compared to their Oxbridge counterparts.
The full article is here.
The true scale of the failure of state education in Britain is reported only rarely. That, in itself, is a subject of interest. But today is one of those rare days when truly important figures providing evidence of this failure are on at least one front page.
This is an excerpt:
A quarter of teenagers are leaving school with practically nothing to show for 11 years of compulsory education, a report discloses today.
Last year, about 147,000 pupils failed to get any GCSEs higher than a grade D. This included 28,000 - almost one in 20 - who failed to gain a qualification of any kind.
The findings, in a report published by the Joseph Rowntree Foundation, come just weeks after head teachers warned that schools were producing an "army of the unemployable'' as tens of thousands of teenagers quit education at 16 with no qualifications.
Mick Brookes, the general secretary of the National Association of Head Teachers, said the Government's over-emphasis on testing and targets was fuelling truancy rates and causing children to skip exams and slide into delinquency.
The report criticises primary schools for failing to help children early enough - and says secondary schools often entrench disadvantage.
It says working class pupils are more likely to attend worse-performing secondary schools, which will be seen as an explicit criticism of government reforms.
Researchers also warn that the Government's obsession with league tables had "adverse effects for low achievers.
(full story in Daily Telegraph)
It is easy to be distracted by relatively minor facts and the major, central ones can go unreported for most of the time and forgotten. But this is truly important and should be stuck on the computer screens of every education journalist: 147,000 children each year fail to get a single grade C or above in their GCSEs.
It is shocking. It is a dreadful failure of state education. It should be a scandal which reverberates year after year, as the scandal of NHS waiting lists used to do. I do not blame the present Labour government in particular for this - though it has probably made its contribution to the lower of achievement. It is the fault of having education supplied by a state monopoly. State monopolies tend to be incompetent. They tend to put in the wrong incentives for many of those involved including parents and children as well as heads, teachers and the vast, uncounted army of non-teachers employed in education by central government, quangos and local authorities.
Anyone who cares about education in general and particularly the life chances of those in the lowest quarter of society, should be demanding the abolition of state education as we know it. It condemns thosuands of children to illiteracy and makes them more likely to become alienated delinquents as they are forced to stay in education despite having lost all interest in it.
Why, then, is this failure of state education so rarely written and talked about? There are a variety of reasons. One is that those of us in the media tend to be middle-class. We are not the ones primarily damaged by the failure. Middle-class newspapers, particularly, just are not that interested.
A second, perhaps more important, reason is that education correspondents, with a few honourable exceptions, tend to 'go native'. They go for civilised briefings from well-intentioned civil servants and politicians. They thus tend to be sucked into the official view of how things are going. They read hundreds of optimistic government press releases.
Thirdly, there is a desire to believe that state education is a 'good thing'. Evidence to the contrary is seen briefly and then put to one side and forgotten.
All these are human reactions. Quite unexceptional. But it can also be seen as negligence - negligence in reporting the truth.
I have just spent eight days in Naples. My daughter and I stayed at a flat in a relatively poor part of the City with a young couple. (They advised us not to wear good watches or carry credit cards or any substantial amount of cash.) The wife told me to that "most" children in Naples go to private primary schools. The children on the floor above with whom my daughter played - offspring of a family of modest means - were at a private school.
"Why?" I asked.
She said it was because the government schools were not 'secure'. There were children there who were aggressive. There were knives.
This seems to be the turning point for many parents around the world. I think it is often very difficult for parents to see that their child is getting a poor education. But they quite clearly grasp and react to any physical danger to their children.
The wife is not an educationalist and there was no sign of any newspapers in the house. So, while liking and respecting her greatly, I would not use the information she gave me as evidence in a book or article. It needs to be investigated and confirmed. But it interesting, as an anecdote at least, that there are people who are not rich at all, in Italy, who send their children to private schools.
She said it was quite different in Sicily, where she comes from. There, most children go to the government schools. Implicitly, the schools are safe there. She also said, more puzzlingly, that in Naples most children do go to the government schools at the secondary school stage. Her explanation was that, by then, the good children have learnt to cope with the bad children. I think that definitely needs more investigation.
The price paid for the schooling seemed incredibly low. She said it was 140 Euros a month and that the children went from 8.15 to 4.00 for that price. The cost was much lower if they left a few hours earlier. I wondered how on earth the cost could be so low.
It is a pity that, as far as I know, there is no on writing about the failure of state education in advanced countries. James Tooley writes about its failure in poorer countries. But there is another big story out there. If anyone has the time to find out more about the numbers using private schools in Italy, I would be fascinated to learn more.
To my astonishment, James Tooley and I this evening won a debate in which we proposed the motion: "this house believes that state education has failed". The debate took place at the English Speaking Union, in London. The voting was 48 in favour and 12 against.
The contribution that struck me most came from a woman who said she had been teaching in adult education for twenty years. She said she had noticed a significant change in her students. Now, three out of four of them had trouble with reading. They also had a poor understanding of grammar and punctuation. So instead of getting into analysing the works of Shakespeare, she was having to spend time helping with these basic literacy problems.
This interview with Richard Sykes, head of Imperial College, is another reflection of how disastrous Britain's state education has been:
Sitting in his neat office in Imperial's main administration building - a dizzying cube of blue glass that hovers at the centre of the South Kensington campus - he still gets worked up at the thought of the new GCSE. "It's superficial stuff, fine for the general populous, but where are these people who are going to be the drivers and leaders of tomorrow? How are they going to do their A-levels if they're never getting the grounding of the single subjects?"
His tirade against falling standards is backed up by a count of those he welcomes to his college every year. "More and more come from outside the UK: 30% of our students now come from outside the EU and 50% come from outside the UK. What we're doing is educating the elite of the world, not the elite of the UK. Young people in the UK today, particularly from the state schools, are not able to get the qualifications to come to a place like this."
The full article is in the Guardian (see also the entry below).
What is the point of David Cameron if he is going to send his children to maintained schools? Why have a Tory leader who leads his children towards an underperforming nationalised industry?
We have had universal free state education in Britain for more than a century, yet swaths of our population remain uneducated. The government's own Moser report of 1999 found that one in five adults was functionally illiterate (given the Yellow Pages, they could not find the page for plumbers).
And this section is to the point:
Cameron should advocate vouchers for the UK. He may have found a good maintained school but, by sending his children there, he has ignored the many pupils who leave school functionally illiterate and innumerate.
The full article - in the Guardian(!)- is here.
Figures have now been released which provide further evidence that the supposed improvement in educational standards under the current administration is not what it has been claimed to be. Fewer than half of children manage to get five GCSEs that include maths and English.
Overall the pass rate drops from 56 per cent achieving five A* to C grade passes to 45 per cent once maths and English are included.
The full Telegraph story is here.
The only thing that surprises me is that a government that has been so keen to mislead the public for so long about its achievements in education should now be releasing these figure.
The BBC website has slightly different figures. The following story also shows that the performance of state schools looks even worse once they are separated from the independent schools:
The tables confirm that, across the country, 45.8% of pupils at the end of Key Stage 4 of the national curriculum attained the equivalent of five GCSEs at grade C or above including English and maths.
The director general of the British Chambers of Commerce, David Frost, said this figure was "shocking".
The tables, compiled by the Department for Education and Skills, provide a school-by-school breakdown of those national averages.
In 114 schools every pupil achieved the new English and maths benchmark - 34 of them state schools, the rest in the independent sector.
New benchmark includes English and maths GCSEs
43.8% of pupils in state schools attained it
This short, simple story below - from the Independent - really brings home how badly state education has failed:
Millions 'cannot read well enough for karaoke'
By Paul Bignell
Published: 17 December 2006
Millions of adults have such poor reading skills that they will struggle to keep up with karaoke lyrics at Christmas parties this year, government research has found.
Research for the Department for Education's Get On campaign found classic songs like Frank Sinatra's "New York, New York" require the reading skills expected of an 11-year-old, lacked by more than 5.2 million adults. Other karaoke hits, such as "Angels" by Robbie Williams, pose a harder challenge, which nearly 18 million adults will fail.
I sat in on a class at a state primary school recently. I have been a severe critic of state education and I remain so. But I aim to be honest even when evidence appears that is against me. I have to say that the class I saw was nothing but exemplary.
There were 30 children in it. They were attentive. The teacher was respectful of them but also maintained his authority. The class was designed to help them look critically at their own compositions and improve on them. That seems to me a worthwhile thing to do and it was very well done.
It is true that the teacher knew well in advance that I was coming. So perhaps I got a better lesson than average. But I am not inclined to be sceptical. Most of the class was interactive and it would have been difficult to 'fix' a good class of that sort.
State education has been, in my view, a terrible mistake. But it is fair to say that sometimes there are genuinely excellent classes.
I have previously suggested that schools are teaching that global warming is a major threat and that it is caused by human beings. I have suggested that this should be called propaganda, not education, since there continues to be debate among scientists about the truth of these assertions. Some people have suggested that no, there is no real debate. So I link here to a speech in the US Senate on the subject. I am no expert in global warming but it sounds like a debate to me.
I was interested to hear of a particularly warm period in medieval times. If indeed it did take place, it clearly was not due to 'Chelsea tractors'.
I suspect - for I can offer not proof - there is a certain 'madness of crowds' in the fervour with which people are so ready believe that mankind is doing something terrible and that we are being 'sinful' in our apparent damage to the environment. Having been looking at Italian history recently, it reminds me of the dictatorial enthusiasm of the supporters of Savonarola. Among other things, they went around Florence demanding that others give up their irreverent frivolity. There is self-hatred, bossiness and a longing to believe in something in all this.
I heard George Osborne, for the Conservatives, saying on the radio yesterday that his party would improve schools by giving them independence. He would give back schooling to teachers.
I am not fully up to speed with current Conservative policy on education. But I would observe that giving independence to schools and giving power to teachers would - if that were the only change - be very risky and potentially damaging. If you give untrammelled power to the producer interest (teachers, in this case), then the consumers (the parents and their children) are likely to suffer. Teachers could indulge their pet theories regardless of exam performance or achieving what the parents want schools to achieve.
Independence and autonomy can be very important in causing schools to do better. But it is vital that is combined with consumer choice. For consumer choice to be a reality, instead of just political talk, the schools would have be 100% independent and capable of going bust.
Schools should be free but they need an incentive to be good and to do what the parents want. That requires competition between them and choice for the consumer. Politically, it is almost impossible for a school to go bust in the state system. So to ensure real competition, we would need, essentially, the end of most state schools and the replacement of state ownership by the ownership of independent trusts, charities and commercial companies.
It should not be difficult to spot the flaw in the argument for making all children stay at school until they are 18. It is contained within the first two, short paragraphs of the news story in the Daily Telegraph:
Teenagers should be forced by law to stay in school or training up to the age of 18, the review of skills ordered by Gordon Brown said yesterday.
More than one in six young people leave school unable to read, write and add up properly and the proportion of 16- year-olds staying on in full time education in the UK is below the average for developed countries, it said.
To put the same information in a different way, this advisory body suggests that children whom Britain's state schools have failed to teach even to read and write should be compelled to stay at those schools for an extra two years.
This is absurd. You might call it 're-inforcing failure'. This is an idea according to which, if you have a system for climbing a mountain which does not work, then you should be made to go on using it.
The damaging consequences of increasing the school-leaving age are serious. We already know - in a big and undeniable way - that many of those children whom state schools have failed even to teach how to read and write, are disenchanted by school. It would be surprising if anything else were the case.
We also know that such children - especially the boys - are the ones who are likely to establish gangs within the school, to disrupt lessons, to bully, to truant and to commit crimes. This is already a major problem. An astonishingly high proportion of street crime is already committed by children of school age in school hours.
What would be the effect of keeping even bigger boys at school who are disenchanted by the experience and who have not even learned to read and write and who have already formed gangs and become juvenile delinquents? It would undoubtedly be to breed bigger and more dangerous young men present in school. It is not an exageration to say that the crime rate in Britain would increase. More teachers would be too frightened to even attempt to exercise authority. More knives and drugs would be brought into school. More lessons would be disrupted. At present, those who stay on are the keener ones. They have a better chance to make progress in those two years because the disenchanted ones have left. That chance would be seriously endangered by this proposal.
Raising the school-leaving age is a seriously bad idea.
Which country is this about? "We argue that the prevalent private tutoring is a market response to the government's rigid and uniform education policy".
Is it Britain? Certainly in Britain, private tutoring is now 'prevalent'. It is used by parents of children at all sorts of schools - perhaps most frequently of all by ambitious, well-off parents who send their children to what they hope are the best government schools but who realise that the education their children are getting - while wonderfully cheap (free) - is not always so very good. So they pay for tutors to try to get their children into better universities.
It is easy to think of an example of this: Mr and Mrs Blair hired tutors for their children. Not any old tutors for them but tutors from Westminster, one of the best private schools in Britain. So in this country, the Prime Minister, while ostensibly a great believer in state education, has found it inadequate and paid for private education on the side.
But Britain is not the country in question. The government of the country does its best to squash private education. But...
"Unsatisfied demand for education by parents and students in a highly regulated educational environment has resulted in an enormous increase in private tutoring despite government's strong policy measures to reduce it."
It is a fascinating example of private education flourishing in face of government opposition. The government tries to ban it but the people, finding state education so inadequate (like Mr Blair) go for it anyway.
This is a link to an academic paper on the subject which refers, incidentally, to private education in other countries around the world. In the narrow debate in Britain, people often assume that Britain is unique and strange in having private education. Actually private education occurs all around the world and for the obvious reason. State education tends not to be good enough. In some places - in certain schools in America, for example - government education is morally and physically dangerous.
Some of the science in the national curriculum is what could be called 'doh!' science. It consists of statements which, though perfectly true, do not greatly advance a child's understanding of the world.
In my home-educating I cover the science in the national curriculum in case my daughter should need, at some time, to take a test in it. Most of the science in the national curriculum is fine - how plants reproduce themselves and 'what makes you ill?' are well worthwhile. But there are also parts which are either statements of the obvious or else consist of defining and categorising rather than teaching something scientific.
For example, in my Schofield and Sims revision guide for Key Stage 2 science (one of the better such guides), there is a double-page spread on 'materials and their uses'. In this, we learn that "Windows are made from glass because it is transparent and hard". I would suggest that the appropriate reaction to this information is 'doh!'.
A similar reaction is called for in response to the information that "Tables and cupboards are made from wood because it is hard and strong". The creators of the national curriculum are trying to teach children that different materials have different 'properties'. In short, some things are hard, some are soft. Some are flexible and some are brittle. Well, that is certainly true. But how many children did not realise this? How many did not know that a steel knife is stronger than a woollen one? How many children, even in the most backward areas, try to cut their food with a knife made of sponge?
Another example: 'The human life cycle' has a pretty high 'doh!' rating. In this guide it appears on page 16 and informs children that you start off young, become an adult and then get older. (Death is tactfully left out.) Well, well. Fancy that.
It is tempting to laugh. But for the teachers who must teach this and the children who must listen and carefully write out: "Your body changes as you get older", it must be dreadfully tedious.
A head teacher of a primary school told me tonight, 'schools are lying' about the results for their tests of young children. Young children take SATS tests (in year 2, I think). Children are then tested again in year 6. The government uses the figures to create tables of 'value added' by schools. The idea is to measure how good the schools are at improving the educational standards of children. The reason the government introduced this was not unreasonable: to give credit to those schools which have an intake from difficult backgrounds yet which manage to improve the educational performance of such children.
But, as with many government tests and targets, ways have been found to manipulate them and render them unreliable, perhaps even meaningless.
A head teacher told me today that schools with 'good' intakes (i.e. middle class children with English as their first language) 'lie' about the results of the first assessment. They mark the results down. He named three primary schools in London which, he argued, had absurdly low marks for their Key Stage 1 assessments. Judging by their names, these were Church of England or Catholic schools (in the state sector).
By marking down their results for younger children, these schools could easily achieve a big improvement by year 6. So their 'value added' looked good. But the whole thing was a farce and an illusion. The obvious implication of what he said was don't trust 'value added' tables.
Incidentally, how does a school mark down its test results? According to a colleague of the head's, the Key Stage 1 test calls for quite subjective judgements by a teacher of a child's command of English and his or her knowledge of the world. If that is right, it would be easy to assess young Jonathan as having only a modest command of English, compared, at least, to Benedict or Charles, his companions at St Toff's school in Belgravia.
One of the problems with the state take-over of education is that a single way of doing things is prescribed. This happened with the learning of reading. Teachers were told to use the 'whole word' method of teaching. It plainly did not work well at all. It has resulted in millions of children now being 'functionally illiterate'. It has been a disaster.
Another, less serious, example of government prescribing one way of doing things is the current way in which children are taught history. This, from yesterday's Times, gives a good explanation and critique of it:
David Starkey, the television historian and a Fellow of Fitzwilliam College, Cambridge, said that A levels were too often taught as if they were miniature degrees, with so much analysis crammed in that the periods they covered had to be cut short into “tiny gobbets of chewed-up material”.
He said: “There is no point in doing merely a fragment in time with no sense of what might have led up to events and what consequences flowed from them. At the moment, pupils study a bit of American history and a bit of Hitler. That’s almost useless.” Dr Starkey said that it was absurd that the main history syllabus covering Hitler stopped in 1939. “There is no Second World War and no Holocaust. This approach does a lot of damage. It glamorises Hitler. You have to ask yourself, what is the point of studying it at all?”
He was equally critical of how syllabuses tackled Henry VIII and the Reformation, his own specialist period. “With Henry VIII, the syllabus covers 1502 to 1529. It stops when things get interesting. The other part of the syllabus covers 1529 to 1547 — the interesting bit. This is an absurd fragmentation. It leaves no space to take a step back and discuss what came before or after.
“History, if properly taught, should give people a sense of time and a map of time. You should be able to place yourself in time,” he said.
Dr Starkey said that teaching also placed far too much emphasis on the science of gathering evidence for historical events, an approach known as the discovery method.
“Teachers use the discovery method to teach when the Norman Conquest was. We know when it was. What’s the point in having a teacher if not to tell the students what the facts are?” He added that the study of original documents and the search for evidence should not come until university level.
Dr Starkey also despaired of the way his own works and those of other historians were used in schools, with teachers focusing increasingly on historiography — the study of the way history is written — rather than history itself.
“A-level students would not be able to tell you what happened at the beginning of the Civil War, but they would be able to tell you what (the historian) Conrad Russell thought about the Civil War,” he said.
I agree with Starkey that it is worth studying some history before going on to historiography. Not that there is anything wrong with historiography. It is an interesting and worthwhile thing to study. But the government has simply gone too far with the idea of teaching it.
The troubles that arise when the government decides what should be taught (and how) keep on mounting up. The government makes mistakes. There is a kind of totalitarianism about it which is repellent in itself. Education and intellectual activity should be open and involve debate and different ideas. Let a thousand flowers bloom. Don't let us have a government deciding what is good education and what is bad.
It is worrying that people should have so much confidence in governments as to think they are bound to be right. Firstly the evidence is against governments. Second, what happened to the spirit of freedom and independence that used to be so strong in western civilisation? Third, it is through experiment, variety and opportunity for independent action that new ideas and methods come through.
Reverting to the particular point about the teaching of history, I have noticed in bookshops that there are quite a few histories of the world for sale. Publishers are responding to a desire among people to know the narrative of the history of the world as a whole. It is natural for people to want know where they stand in time and space.
I should add that there are some perfectly good things about the teaching of history today. I think it is quite reasonable to learn about how the Romans and Egyptians lived. That is something that did not exist when I was a child. History-teaching in the 1950s and 1960s also tended to concentrate too much on small periods of time. It was mimicking the activities of academics. It was failing to give students an understanding of 'the big picture'. So I do not look back to a 'golden period' of history teaching. But I do think that modern history teaching has chucked out too much of the narrative and too many of the facts.
There is a great deal of 'green' propaganda in schools these days. It is concentrated in geography classes but also reaches into science lessons, school assemblies and even drama classes.
My younger daughter, prior to being home-educated, had a drama class in which she was told to hug a tree. She understood that this was because trees were precious and in danger.
My other daughter, on one occasion, had a school assembly in which there was a presentation on renewable energy and then she went into her first lesson of the day, a science class, in which the subject was, lo and behold, renewable energy again.
Of course, you can teach children about renewable energy in a wholly scientific way. But it would be naive of us, surely, to think that this subject is being taught without there being a 'sub-text'. The sub-text is either that our non-renewable energy is running out in a way that should give us considerable concern or else that burning non-renewable energy is a danger to the planet through global warming.
Again, of course it would be possible to examine the merits of these concerns. But that is not what actually happens in schools. In my experience, children are only given one side of the story. They are told that the non-renewable energy is running out quickly. They are told that burning fossil fuels is causing a present danger to the planet. They are told that forests are vital to the survival of the planet and that they are being quickly depleted (by ruthless capitalists, if the propaganda is really running hot).
This is not education. This is propaganda.
A vital part of education is learning to assess opposing sides of a argument. But when it comes to green issues, the children are not even told that there is an argument at all. That is why it should be termed 'propaganda'.
I recently have started using the well-known book, The Skeptical Evironmentalist by Bjorn Lomborg as the basis for countering some of the propaganda my younger daughter has already received. In doing this, I hasten to add, I emphasise to my daughter that there is considerable disagreement about these matters.
In the section on forests, Lomborg states that in the previous 50 years before publication (in 2001), contrary to the assertions of various people and organisations, the total area of land covered by woods and forests barely changed at all. He cites figures produced by the United Nations.
When it comes, specifically, to tropical forests, he states that the best estimate is that the area covered by them decreased at a rate of 0.46 per cent a year in the previous 15 years. Again, he cites United Nations figures in his analysis.
I don't say that Mr Lomborg's analysis is right. I am not an expert in the area at all and do not pretend to be. But he is a man with considerable credibility on the subject. I tell my daughter that his view is clearly not shared by others. We write down in our summaries that these facts are claimed by him and we describe the source of his information. It is a beginning, I hope, of an a true sense of enquiry after truth. It gives her, I hope, some notion that one needs to compare evidence. These things, I suggest, are quite different from what many schools are now teaching when the subject has any connection with the environment.
The following is not directly on the subject of this blog. It is the unedited draft of an article that appeared in the Spectator the week before last about home-educating my daughter. But it does contain, among other things, some of my concerns about how education has developed in Britain. It seems to me that the state's influence has extended increasingly from the state schools into the private schools, too. I should emphasise that I believe there are many fine schools and excellent teachers. But there are problems, nonetheless...
Unlike most nine-year-olds, my daughter Alex, is not back at school this week. She is not having last-minute morning rushes to find her self-losing shoes. She is not getting used to a new classroom or meeting a new form teacher. For during this term at least, I am going to home-educate her.
Alex has been at good private schools. Most recently she has been at a warmly encouraging one with an outstanding headmistress (who has been very good about what I am doing). Before that, she was at a school noted for its academic and sporting success.
But by the time you read this, Alex and I will be in a little cottage outside Aix-en-Provence, staying with an old friend who lives with her bee-keeper boyfriend. The first objective of our home-education will be for Alex to learn French.
Of course, in theory, she has already been learning French for five years and more. At the particularly academic school, she had, I think, three French lessons a week. But a few months ago I asked her - and her 12-year-old sister who is now at one of London's top private secondary schools - to decline the verbs etre and avoir. Neither of them got close. Even the best private schools - or most of them - don't seem to teach French grammar any more.
You might wonder what do they do in French classes? I am not sure but I remember the day my elder daughter's French homework at the 'academic' preparatory school consisted of finding pictures of tourist sites on the internet, drawing them and colouring them in. That reflects something about how French is taught these days - and many other subjects. Another great educational tool of our time seems to be papier mache.
I would like Alex to have some notion of English grammar, too. My children often say things like, "There is loads of..." and "I could of gone on the trip". They have little idea about nouns, verbs, adjectives and adverbs. As for their spelling....
I don't want to give the impression that I will be a Gradgrind. We will have some fun, too. Alex loves to paint. We will go to the current major Cezanne exhibition in Aix and see his paintings of Mont St Victoire. Then we will see the mountain itself from the same viewpoint that he used. I hope we will settle down to paint it ourselves - perhaps copying Cezanne's technique.
One of the joys of home education is that one has the freedom to pursue things that already excite a child. Alex is fascinated by bugs. She likes shells and stones. I hope to use these interests to lead us into natural history.
While in Provence we will also go to Arles to see the amphitheatre and other Roman remains. We will learn some Roman history. History is still taught in schools and better, I think, than most subjects. But it has been squeezed into fewer lessons to make way for Information Technology, Design Technology and any other 'technology' that 'educationists' can think up.
I have the idea, which some may think eccentric, of giving Alex a big picture of the past, starting with the creation of the universe, going through the development of the surface of the earth and then on through the Egyptians, Greeks and Romans to the present. Perhaps that will prove overambitious. But having been repeatedly taught the 'Tudors 'n' Stuarts' through my childhood, I want her to get an idea of the big narrative sweep.
I think it is right that parents should be able to pursue particular ideas on what they want their children to learn about. Why should politicians and civil servants decide what is important and cause it to be learnt by every child in the country - in the process ensuring that many other things, such as a second modern language, are not taught?
Private schools are not - in theory - obliged to follow the national curriculum. But they live in terror of a bad report from school inspectors who follow government guidelines. One thing Alex wouldn't get in any London preparatory school I'm aware of is a knowledge of Italian. She is already getting towards the end of the time when she is most easily able to absorb a foreign language and I don't want to leave it any longer.
Home education is growing fast in Britain and has already become big business in America where two million children are now being educated at home. The reasons, as in my case, can be a mixture of things.
One of my minor reasons is that I want to remove her - for a time at least - from the undercurrent of propaganda in most schools today. Geography lessons have, to a remarkable extent, been turned into vehicles for passing on the views of Friends of the Earth. My children come home from school believing as uncontested facts that forests are being destroyed apace and that, if this does not stop, the planet is doomed. .
Much teaching about the environment is based on one side of the argument alone and I think that is the opposite of what education should be. Another kind of commonplace propaganda is a quiet but insistent sub-text in the teaching of many subjects that business and capitalism are bad. I would like her to hear the other side of that particular story.
More personally, I want Alex and I to have more contact while she is young. She is a lively, charming girl. I don't want to see her only in the evenings when she is tired and has homework to do. I want to know her better and for her to know me. I want to enjoy her sparkle and share the learning experience with her. I think that will be exciting.
The reactions of friends are usually positive and teachers, surprisingly, are often the most enthusiastic. But there is one recurring, negative response: "What about her socialisation?" Many worry that children cannot learn to rub along with others without going to school. Yet I am told, by those who have studied the evidence, that it is actually the other way around: those who are home-educated are better "socialised".
I have also noticed with my elder daughter that the longer term goes on, the more she says "whatever" and affects disinterest in pretty well everything (except horses). Only as the holidays progress does she rejoin the human race and allow herself to be enthusiastic. I have come to wonder whether schools have a tendency to put children off learning.
That could be arrogance before a fall. Alex may be going to resist learning even more when I am her main teacher. She may refuse to decline etre and not give tuppence for the universe. I can't know whether this is going to work. But I am going to have jolly good go at it.
Over the holidays I have been reading Washington: the indispensable man.
I was interested to see that although not much is known about his education, one of the two subjects he is known to have learned about is astronomy. I occurs to me that one could make quite a good case for astronomy as one of the subjects that should be studied at primary schools. (I think it is sometimes included in science lessons but only to a minor extent.)
What could be more fundamental than to learn about the universe in which we live? For millenia, people have struggled to understand the nature of the world we inhabit and what is in - or beyond - the sky. Now, at last, we understand more about the extraordinary universe than ever before. We know we are a planet in a vast solar system which is, in turn, a small part of a much bigger galaxy which is one of many, many galaxies.
Yet while knowledge about this is far more extensive than it was in Washington's time, he learnt about it whereas children today do not.
The subjects that children are told to study at school have developed in a haphazard way. In the 19th century, religion was the main thing. Currently, the government decides the curriculum and thinks that the main purpose of education is to promote economic success - a rather grim idea
IT and CDT have become fashionable and now take up plenty of time in the curriculum. Languages take a back seat. And so on.
In addition to astronomy, there are cases to made for studying geology, industry and agriculture. I am sure other people could make cases for other subjects, too.
We should not allow ourselves to be trapped into a fixed idea of what children should study.
As I mentioned in the additional chapter in the paperback edition of the book, I was impressed by the way a secondary school in Miami was teaching aviation. The subject involved plenty of science and gets otherwise disenchanted boys interested.
(I will be away for a while, so please do not be offended if I do not get round to approving comments for a time.)
The number of schools offering the International Baccalaureate (IB)has jumped from 34 in 2000 to 85 this year. The organisation which runs it expects the number to increase to over 100 next year.
Of course, while A levels have deteriorated markedly, the IB is not ideal. Anthony Seldon will host a conference this week on alternatives to A level.
Further research by Robert Coe of Durham University provides further evidence of the dumbing down of A levels.According to his work, an average candidate who got a who got an F in A-level maths in 1988 would have got a C in 2005.
The above, with more detail, is in an article in the Sunday Telegraph today.
Stephen Pollard, a talented and likeable journalist, wrote an article for the Daily Mail today which, like my own article below, dealt with the disproportionate success of children who go to private schools. He looked back with nostalgia to the existence of far more grammar schools.
It is true that grammar schools used to give people from less well-off families a better chance of success. But I disagree with the idea that bringing back grammar schools is the great solution to our problems. My main reason for dissenting so is that it would still leave us with a large body of schools providing wholly inadequate education for most of the less well-off.
A secondary reason is that I believe the standard even of most grammar schools has declined. For my reasoning on this, please see the education chapter of the book.
The unedited version of my article in today's Daily Express:
Sometimes terrible truths come out just 'by the way'. Alan Johnson, the education secretary, made a speech on Wednesday about the challenges facing Britain and how he was going to make our schools 'even better'. But a long way down his speech, just incidentally, he mentioned some appalling facts.
"Despite all our progress," he said, "five million adults in Britain cannot read". And, as if this were not sufficiently bad, he added "and 15 million people, almost half the workforce, are not properly numerate".
These are staggering statistics. The state has provided free primary education for nearly 90 years. Yet five millions adults in this country cannot read this newspaper because they are incapable of doing so. They are living in a world that those of us who are able to read can only imagine. They have difficulty filling in forms or understanding such things as advertisments for pop concerts. The twilight world in which they live represents a shocking failure.
To ram the point home, it also emerged this week that 54 per cent of top news journalists in this country went to private schools, a very large proportion considering that more than nine out of ten children attend state schools. The Sutton Trust, which researched the figure, previously discovered that, similarly, 70 per cent of top barristers went to private schools and 42 per cent of those at the top of politics.
Everyone knows Tony Blair went to Fettes College, a private school in Scotland and David Cameron went to Eton. But there are plenty more. In journalism, for example, Jeremy Paxman went to Malvern College and Katie Derham to Cheadle Hulme School - both private schools. Yes, it is true that the BBC's inquisitor, John Humphrys, went to Cardiff High, a state school. and both Gordon Brown and William Hague also went to state schools. But state-school children who have reached the top have beaten the odds. You could even say that, though their success, they have shown that they (or their parents) have been exceptionally clever and determined.
I am a governor of a state primary school and I know how dedicated and talented many of the teachers there are. But state schools were created partly to equalise the life-chances of the rich and poor. We need to face up to the fact that this isn't working. State schools might actually be reducing the chances of the least well off. The proportion of privately educated children getting to the top seems to be rising. An earlier study showed that a bright girl born into a low-income household in 1958 had a four in ten chance of getting a university degee. Twelve years on, a similar girl had only a three in ten chance of getting that far.
Prior to the creation of widespread government education, there were a surprising number of people who rose from the working class to the top. Nye Bevan, the minister who created the NHS, was a miner's son who left school at 11. But there was no question of him not being able to read or write. David Lloyd George, one of Britain's most famous prime ministers, was brought up by his uncle, a cobbler, and educated at an independent church school in a remote part of Wales. When he left school at 14, he was better educated than many a graduate of today.
Sadly, the way our state system works, the poor tend to end up in the worst schools. The upper middle classes - people like Tony Blair - get their children into the best ones. So the least well-off start with disadvantages and then often go to schools which give them virtually no chance of breaking out.
But why? Why have state schools failed to do what was intended and hoped for?
Could it be that they have let us down because governments - of any political party - are not much good at running things? The state was notably bad at running an airline and a telephone service. We discovered after privatisation that literally hundreds of thousands of people who the government employed in the gas industry were not really needed at all.
The cost of a place at a state school is not much less than one at a private school. It only costs about a fifth less. But much of this money never reaches the schools themselves. The Department of Education takes a slice, then the educational quangoes and then the Local Authorities and their 'education advisers'. In the end, only about two thirds of the money gets through. Huge amounts of cash are wasted.
The heads of state schools have less autonomy than the heads of private schools. They are under enormous pressure to do whatever the government 'recommends' and these recommendations have often been lousy. The disastrous method of learning to read that has been recommended in the past twenty or thirty years is responsible for much of the poor literacy of today.
Meanwhile a private school only survives at all if it satisfies the parents. If it fails to teach children to read or to pass exams which get them into good secondary schools, parents stop sending their children to them. Unfortunately, an appalling state school can go on for decades. Private schools are free to expel children who disrupt classes. But, in some state schools, the job of teachers is really crowd control rather than teaching.
For decades, governments have thought they can make state schools better. It has all been hope and hype. It is time to recognise the truth and think that maybe there is a better way of running education in Britain - a way that embraces the advantages enjoyed by private schools instead of pretending they don't exist. A way in which everyone, instead of just the lucky few, get to have a private education. We owe it to the next generation not to go on with a system that has failed so many, a system that has not managed to teach five million people even to read.
Despite all our progress, 5 million adults in Britain can not read and 15 million people, almost half the workforce, are not properly numerate.
In the workplace, basic skills are a pretty fundamental requirement for success, as the IoD has argued; whilst, nationally, poor basic skills costs us £10 billion a year in lost productivity and welfare benefits.
From a speech by Alan Johnson, Education Secretary, yesterday
From John Clare's column in the Daily Telegraph yesterday:
My son, who has just turned 16, is being urged by his school to sign up for a "Connexions Card". What's it all about?
Another Government black hole. More than a million cards have been issued over the past five years supposedly to encourage youngsters aged 16 to 19 to "keep learning". Holders collect "reward points" for turning up at school or college and then "spend" them on CDs, DVDs, mobile phone accessories or whatever the scheme's commercial sponsors are peddling.
As harmless - and pointless - as a supermarket "loyalty card", you might think. But so far, issuing the cards - which contain a chip storing the holder's personal details - has cost taxpayers £72 million, of which £66 million has gone to Capita, the Government's favourite private-sector dog'sbody.
What proof is there of any educational benefit? "There is no evidence that the originally intended impact on increasing post-16 participation in further education and training is yet being achieved" - Beverley Hughes, a junior minister in the Department for Education (with commendable honesty). Capita, however, has been told to carry on churning out the cards, for which it will be paid another £40 million between now and December 2008. Isn't it fun wasting other people's money?
So how do O-level and GCSE exams compare? In history, the difference is stark. O-level requires candidates to know and understand rather a lot. GCSE requires them to know and understand rather little. This is obvious from a study of the exam papers.
Take, for example, questions about the League of Nations and the Treaty of Versailles from last year's GCSE history paper set by the AQA board and compare it with O-level questions covering the same period from the Cambridge board's specimen paper.
The first question for GCSE candidates was: "What does Source A tell us about the main aims of the League of Nations?" "Source A", printed immediately above the question, said: "The League of Nations aimed to keep peace through collective security and to encourage disarmament." So it is no more than a simple test of comprehension.
By contrast, the first question for O-level candidates is: "Show how the peace settlement of 1919-20 changed the European boundaries and reduced the power of (a) Germany and (b) Austria. To what extent were German-speaking people disadvantaged by the peace settlement?"
The above is from an article by Chris McGovern, a history teacher, in yesterday's Telegraph.
The standard of Latin required for getting a GCSE has 'plummeted', according to the author of modern textbooks in both Latin and Greek. John Taylor, head of classics at Tonbridge School, says the unseen translations that used to be required at 'O' level in the 1950s and 1960s would now be considered 'A' level standard.
One other little piece of information: only one in 800 children now takes Greek at GCSE.
John Taylor was giving a talk this morning on the teaching of Greek and, to a lesser extent, Latin.
When he remarked that standards of language required had 'plummeted', another teacher said, "We're not supposed to say that".
Her remark suggests, though of course it does not prove, that teachers often have an unspoken agreement that they will try to reassure parents that everything is just fine in education. Perhaps they see themselves as having a vested interest in the status quo. Perhaps they think they have some kind of duty of loyalty to government propaganda on the subject (and rather less loyalty to the children, the parents or the truth). But there are other teachers who have a submerged sense of outrage at the dumbing down they believe they see.
It was suggested at John Taylor's that nowadays, Latin student do more literary criticism. This is the kind of excuse that is now used across all subjects. The idea is that children are being taught to think.
In many case, I would suggest, the primary and secondary school teachers who are supposed to be 'teaching people to think' are not well equipped to do so. But in any case, this attempted exercise - whose effectiveness should be demonstrated, not just asserted - does not need to take place in all subjects. Lessons in philosophy, particularly, but also English literature and history are places in which learning to think is or can be pretty well part and parcel of the subject.
The reason why this obsession with the idea of 'learning to think' is worrying is that it takes away from the business of communicating to children a substantial body of knowledge. That, surely, is at least a part of what education should be about.
The revised and updated paperback edition of The Welfare State We're In is published tomorrow. As part of the publicity for the launch, I have written an article that appears in the Sunday Telegraph today. Here is an extract:
According to research published last week, Britons have the worst reputation for yobbish behaviour in Europe.
Three-quarters of Europeans think Britain has a problem with anti-social behaviour - a higher figure than for any other country on the Continent, the study, devised with help from the Jill Dando Institute, discovered.
It blamed drunkenness and a breakdown in discipline in homes and schools.
The Victorians would have been appalled and astonished. A principal finding of this report would have been quite contrary to one of their strongest beliefs: the idea that schools have contributed to the "loutification" of Britain.
Victorians thought that education was crucial in the fight against crime.
When I first came across the assertion that compulsory state schooling had contributed to the amount of crime in British society I found it an extraordinary idea. We are so accustomed to thinking that schools are good, admirable institutions that it is strange to think that they might be doing harm in any way at all. But the more one considers the evidence, the more credible this surprising thought becomes.
The full article is here.
There is more on the subject in the chapter on education in The Welfare State We're In.
Gordon Brown would like to send taxpayers' money to provide more education in Africa, by which he means more state education. There are far better ways of helping Africa. Below is part of an article in yesterday's Sunday Telegraph. It graphically describes how money put into state education in Pakistan has been wasted on an astonishing scale.
Of course Africa is not Pakistan. But it is hardly renowned as a place where government corruption is unknown. And James Tooley's Newsnight report from Africa last year indicated that, on the contrary, money spent on state education in certain countries there was by no means well spent.
If poor people in Britain were taxed in order to hand over their money to African government to waste in anything like the way described below, it would be appalling.
Millions of children in Pakistan are denied even a basic education because of wide-scale corruption and inefficiency in the state system, an independent watchdog has revealed.
At one school, the playground is so full of rubbish dumped by neighbours that the stench is too foul for children to play, in another, the classrooms are used to store grain and at a third, 49 teachers draw salaries even though there are no pupils.
Yet a report by the Human Rights Commission of Pakistan claims that such cases are far from unusual, and that state education is so crippled by graft and its accounts so poorly monitored, that millions of pupils are receiving no meaningful education. About 40,000 "ghost schools" stand empty or are used for other purposes.
Of the often-squalid, crowded schools where teachers and pupils do actually meet, more than 60,000 (39 per cent) have no drinking water, 96,000 (62 per cent) have no electricity and 76,000 (49 per cent) have no lavatories, the report, published last month, reveals.
At Karachi's Haqqani Chowk School, 49 teachers are on the payroll, costing the school £7,170 a month, but no pupils are registered. At another primary school in the city, 40 teachers have been appointed to teach only 11 enrolled children.
"Most of the teachers in public-sector schools have secured postings to institutions where they need not attend every day, and at least 50 per cent of the teaching staff in public-sector schools are 'ghost teachers'," said Abdul Wahab Abbassi, a senior education official.
The absentee teachers handed between 30 and 40 per cent of their salaries to district education supervisors to ensure that they kept their "jobs", Mr Abbassi added.
In Sindh province, of which Karachi is the capital, 3,228 school buildings are used as autaqs - gathering places for men - or for grain storage, and their playgrounds as livestock pens.
I was at a supper this evening at which it was suggested to a senior member of the shadow cabinet that all state schools should be made into private schools. The senior Tory agreed and said that that was the current policy. But this assertion was really an exaggeration, as became clear.
The current policy, it seems, is that state schools should be made into independent trusts. That is not the same as privatisation. A privatised company can be taken over. It can go bust and nobody except the shareholders will care too much. It can, if it is successful, take over other private companies or develop new ones. These are all things that would help to lead quickly to better schools. These are things that would happen if all state schools were sold to companies and/or charities and/or trade unions. But the Tory plan, it seems, is that they should all be made into these independent trusts - a very different matter.
This would mean, in the overwhelming majority of cases, that the same heads would remain in position who would probably continue with the same teachers to administer the schools in pretty much the same way as before.
The senior Tory said that parents would choose some schools over others, so the bad ones would die out. But because they would be independent trusts and because they presumably would not be able to be taken over by companies, they would die long drawn-out deaths that will cause outcries among parents and in the media. They would survive from year to year with their dwindling student numbers by selling off bits of land here and there. The complaints about this would put enormous pressure on the government of the day to send in 'experts' to try to rescue the failing schools.
It would be far better if failing schools could simply be taken over by companies and new heads put in place with a new approaches and perhaps the benefit of new investment. The possibility and actuality of takeovers would lead to quick improvements and vitality. The trust model is doomed to be slow and to run into terrific political problems. It would be far better if Tory policy were to put through the wholesale and genuine privatisation of all state schools.
Incidentally, I am far from sure, even now, that I really know what the Tory policy on this is. In a recent speech, David Willetts (not the man at supper tonight) seemed to imply that not all state schools would become trusts anyway.
Here is the recent speech on education by David Willetts. It does not address the issues abpve but has, as you would expect with Willetts, has plenty of evidence and intelligence in it. The evidence is about the benefit of choice. What he needs to look at next is the benefit of private ownership compared to trust status.
"Nationally, of 313,375 students who began degree courses in 2002 and should have graduated last summer, 22.6% - 71,000 - failed to do so, as did 22.1% the previous year. Although some of these undergraduates moved to other universities or switched courses, 14.4% dropped out completely.
"And research has found that those who leave university early are much more likely to suffer from problems such as depression, low-self-esteem and unemployment later in life.
"The ones most likely to fall in this trap? White males from traditionally working-class backgrounds. Precisely the people, in fact, who Tony Blair insisted would be helped by his plan to open up the universities to allcomers."
The above is from an article by Tom Rawstorne in today's Daily Mail.
Rawstorne also says that more 'soft subjects' are being taken. He used search engine to find courses. He found:
962 media studies courses
545 public relations
457 human rights
206 computer games
which he compares with only
144 automotive engineering
142 aerospace engineering
He adds "drop-out rates are highes among those who enter university with the lowest grades (the rate for Derby University, for instances, is 27% - Cambridge, by contrast, is just 1%"
The education chapter of The Welfare State We're In makes the point that the government's belief that sending more and more people to university will improve economic performance is flawed. These figures add support to this view. The extra people being sent to university are, disproportionately, those who are less well qualified to be there, less likely to be doing a 'hard' course and more likely to drop out. The economic advantage of them going through the three years (or starting to do so but not actually making it that far)is likely to be much smaller than sending the brighter teenagers to university. In fact there is likely to be a net economic cost in sending these people to university.
"One of the study's key findings is that social segregation in England is not driven by the existence of private schools. About 80 per cent of segregation is accounted for by the uneven spread of children from different social backgrounds within the state school sector."
This is from Social Segregation in secondary schools: how does England compare with other countries? by Stephen Jenkins (University of Essex) and others. It is Working Paper 2006-02 published by the Institute for Social and Economic Research at the University of Essex.
Not long ago, someone commented on this site that whenever all or part of the NHS runs out of money, wards are closed or operations are delayed or some other cost-saving measure is taken. But never are salaries cut back.
The fact illustrates the way in which government-provided services, as opposed to commercial or charitable ones, have a particularly strong tendency to look after their staff first, rather than the customers (or patients or students) who receive the service. Of course it does not feel like that to the doctors, nurses, administrators, teachers and so on. It feels to them like they are badly paid and enduring difficult and frustrating conditions. This is often true, too. But the fact remains that their pay and pensions are kept sacrosanct that would not apply if they were in the commercial or charitable world.
Further evidence of this came at the weekend in this story:
Studies of the proportion of council tax used to fund pensions are usually restricted to contributions that go solely to the pension funds of local authority staff.
But Mr Anderson discovered the hidden cost to council tax payers was much greater - when the money used to fund centrally administered "pay as you go" schemes benefiting the police, firefighters and teachers was added.
"We calculate some 26 per cent of council tax receipts go towards public sector pensions. There's every possibility this figure will rise over the next five years as age-related costs continue to feed in."
Such is Mr Anderson's expertise that he is regularly called in to advise Government departments on pensions. His calculations were based on a trawl through the books of 16 county councils.
The full story from the Sunday Telegraph is here.
People have the wrong idea about choice. They think "Why do we want choice? We just want good schools." The point about choice is that this is a way to get those good schools. Choice is one side of a coin. On the other side is competition.
This is from an excellent article by David Green in the Telegraph today.
Sweden is the only European country operating a universal voucher scheme. The reforms began in 1992 when independent schools were guaranteed the right to receive funding from municipalities. Vouchers are now valued at 100 per cent of the average cost of a place in a local state school. Any type of school that meets the requirements of the National Agency for Education is entitled to this funding, whether religious, for-profit or charitable. Schools are prohibited from charging top-up fees and are not allowed to select pupils by ability. They must also meet specific academic standards and adhere to the national curriculum.
The voucher system has resulted in an increase in independent providers. Before the reforms, independent schools in Sweden accounted for less than one per cent of pupils and few of those received any government funding. According to the Swedish National Agency for Education, there were 565 independent schools in 2004/05, accounting for 11 per cent of the 4,963 schools overall. An independent study found that competition from independent schools has improved results in state schools. Moreover, it has been found that new independent schools are more likely to be established in areas of under-performing state schools serving disadvantaged children.
I am told that there is a remarkable private university in Guatemala. It is much bigger than Britain's only private university, Buckingham, although the population of Guatemala is much smaller.
Apparently it has had 12,000 students but it is hiving off the purely vocational courses and then will be left with 3,000 students - still far more than Buckingham (although I don't mean to insult Buckingham at all. It is an admirable institution. I just mean to emphasise how remarkably successful this university in Guatemala has been.) Apparently it is very free-market oriented with rooms named after people like Hakek and Milton Friedman.
This is on the front of its home page:
The mission of Universidad Francisco Marroquín is to teach and disseminate the ethical, legal and economic principles of a society of free and responsible persons.
Its website is here.
"The Government's much vaunted city academies are among the nation's worst schools.
Half of the privately-sponsored schools have less than 30 per cent of students achieving five good grades at GCSE."
This from the Daily Mail today. Note that though these schools have some private sponsorship, they are still very much under the control of the government.
If the league tables don't show that state schools are improving, then fix them. Fix the tables, that is. You make easier to get GCSEs count the same as ones in the more difficult - but absolutely fundamental subjects - like maths, English and science. You also pretend vocational qualifications that are less academically demanding are equivalent to GCSEs, or even worth more.
The league tables are now becoming useless as a means of genuinely telling if one school has a better academic performance than another. The farce is neatly revealed in this account of what went on beneath the surface in the 'most improved' school:
A survey published yesterday by The Times Educational Supplement showed that the Government's most improved school, Waverley, in Small Heath, Birmingham, achieved the status primarily by less demanding vocational qualifications given the same weight as GCSEs.
Its 75 per cent of pupils achieving five or more GCSEs drops to 22 per cent when maths and English are included. The survey also shows that no pupil gained a double science GCSE, only three per cent gained at least a C grade in a modern foreign language or history and eight per cent in geography.
By contrast, 85 per cent passed the vocational GNVQ in ICT and 48 per cent the GNVQ in science, both of which count for four high grade GCSEs.
That was in the Telegraph. The full story is here.
The following, by Huw Jenkins, was one of a series of comments about a recent post on education. I have pasted it here because it is very close to my own view. Again and again, those on the Right talk about grammar schools as if they were the holy grail and would solve all educational problems. But, as Huw says,...
"The problem I have with the grammar (selective) school system...is that, just like comprehensives, they would be part of a state-organised system imposed on everyone from above.
"Libertarians should be against any centrally-imposed system. Providers should have to cater for the market in the way they see best and be answerable to their 'customers'. I don't begrudge John East the choice of a selective school, but not if this removes the choice of a non-selective school for other people. It would also be interesting to know whether those that advocate imposing a selective system would be quite so keen if they thought their child wouldn't 'pass' the selection process.
"When I was choosing a secondary school for my daughter, I had no choice in the state sector - just the local comp (generally considered quite good as I'm in one of the top 10 LEAs judged by GCSE results) as most state schools in the area are over-subscribed. However, in the independent sector, we visited many choices and whittled it down to two. One was selective and the other not. We would have been equally happy with either - we chose the selective one because my income went down and it was cheaper. One of my daughter's friends (equally academic) chose the non-selective school partly because she could go to the same school as her less academic siblings. In fact, children from my daughter's prep school (some very unacademic) have gone to all sorts of independent secondary schools - and everyone seems to have found one that suits them.
"So the independent sector, in which there is no 'system', just alternative suppliers that have to cater for market demand, offered a more satisfacory choice. The question should be how we can make this choice available for everyone."
I would only add that we alreay have sink comprehensives in which the children of the poor end up and get a parody of a proper education. Having more grammar schools would do nothing to put that terrible situation right.
There is a moment in the Dambusters film when the bomb goes off. We stare at the blank, unmarked face of the dam. All looks peace and calm. Then a crack opens in the façade, then a rift and suddenly the whole thing comes crumbling down.
The impending introduction of new science GCSEs is just such a bomb, which is why St Paul's is getting out from under the dam and opting for the high ground represented by the International GCSE (IGCSE) in the sciences.
That is the beginning of an article by the head of St Paul's (the boys school, not the one for girls. The full article is here.
This is the unquestionably significant part of the story in the National Audit Office's report (the Daily Telegraph version of the story is here):
It found that 28 per cent of primary schools and 20 per cent of secondaries lacked a permanent head teacher last year.
"The situation is likely to get worse as more heads retire next year," said Angela Hands, the NAO's director of education reports. "Younger teachers are not keen to follow the role of headship in their careers."
Without ploughing through the report, I am not sure exactly what 'lacked a permanent teacher' means. Does it mean lacked a permanent head all year or for part of a year?
But even if one in five secondary schools has no head for a single term each year, it is still amazing incompetence on the part of the state education system. It is extremely rare for any private school at all to have no head for term, ever. Many heads stay for ten years and more. When a head retires, a replacement is sought and found by the governors long before the actual date of retirement.
Meanwhile, the headline that 'one million children are taught in poor schools' is less of a reliable statistic. Any decision about whether a school is acceptable or not must be highly subjective and precise figures are frankly not credible. Consequently I also give no credence whatever to the assertion that the number of 'failing schools' has gone down. Such analysis is not only too subjective but, under the current administration, may also be subject to political pressure.
Article of the day: John Clare's dissection of David Cameron's new education policy....
An education policy designed to offend no one was what David Cameron, the Tory leader, announced yesterday.
Out go the two great totems of the last two elections, "a grammar school in every town" and, most recently, "the right to choose" backed by an education voucher that parents could spend where they pleased.
Instead, the Tories will now echo Labour's education policy in every important respect - on trust schools (whatever they are), on city academies, on urging heads to group more pupils by ability, on leaving schools to decide whether to select up to 10 per cent of their intake, and on charging university students top-up fees.
David Cameron seems to be moving so far towards New Labour that it is increasingly difficult to see what is the point of the Conservative Party under his leadership?
There is room for real anger here. I had lunch yesterday with a New Zealander who told me he survived what we would call a 'bog-standard' comprehensive school in his home country. He said it made him furious that people like Cameron, who had been to private schools, should say that comprehensive schools are fine and continue to condemn hundreds of thousands of children to schools which, on average, provide education and circumstances that are so inferior to what they could experience without the damaging state monopoly.
David Cameron is busy 'positioning himself' for power. Meanwhile children of poor families are having their chances in life undermined. My New Zealand friend said he was so 'arrogant'. You could also say it was self-seeking and unprincipled.
I suppose there are a few aspects of the free-market and low-tax ideas of Thatcherism which have survived the Cameron purge. He supports top-up fees for students. And, little noticed among all the emphasis on supporting the NHS, he has said he wants to increase the proportion of private operations performed within the NHS. But these are only a few comforts among the many disappointments.
Who will Thatcherites and free-marketeers vote for in the next election. Will they come to think tht Cameron is so Left-wing that there is no advantage in voting for him? Will the population continue to find all this attractive? If so, I fear it says something very worrying about the British people.
Updating statistics from the book, I have found that it remains the case that nearly one in four children in their final year of compulsory schooling fails to get a single GCSE at a grade A to C. The latest exact figure is 23.2%. It is terrible reflection of the poor quality of state education. Indeed, if you took out the results of private schools, the figure would be certainly be higher.
(The figures, from the 2005 'Education and Training Statistics' publication on the Department for Education and Skills website, are for 2003/04.)
One of the continuing myths among the richer members of the middle class is that they will put their children at no disadvantage by sending them to British state schools. I gave some evidence for this in The Welfare State We're In, but now along comes more.
In fact, of the 37,500 children in the top 5 per cent [the brightest children when tested at 11], 30,000 went on to state secondaries and 7,500 were educated privately. By the age 16, all 7,500 in fee-paying schools had achieved at least five GCSE grades A* or A. But only 20,000 of the original cohort in state schools reached this standard.
The professor said that 13,000 students in state schools achieved three A grades at A level. In independent schools, the number was 7,600.
“At age 11, 7 per cent of all pupils are in independent schools. By age 16, 25 per cent of those achieving five A* or A grades are in independent schools. At 18, 33 per cent of those with three As at A level are in independent schools, and 44 per cent of Oxbridge entrants,” Professor Jesson said.
“There is the evidence not merely of a state-independent school divide, but of a state-independent divide on pupils who are similar. This is evidence of a severe talent drain.”
Oxbridge admitted 3,500 candidates from the state sector in 2004 and 2,600 from independent schools. Bright children in independent schools therefore had a 1-in-3 chance of getting into Oxbridge compared with a less than 1-in-8 chance for students in the state sector.
Let us look at these figures another way: the chances of a bright child at a private school going on to get five GCSEs with an A or A* grade are virtually 100%. But for a similarly bright child at a state school, the chances are only 53%. That is a huge difference.
You could argue that some children at state schools have difficult family backgrounds which affect their results, but these children achieved their good results aged 11 despite such backgrounds and it does not seem likely that, on average, their backgrounds should have deteriorated markedly between the ages of 11 and 16. So, it seem likely that when rich people prefer to send a bright child to a state secondary school, they reduce the chances of that child doing well academically quite markedly. State secondary schools fail their bightest students. We also know from other evidence that they fail their weakest students. They are a tragic waste of student talent.
Incidentally, Professor David Jesson is quoted as saying that it is a myth that the brightest children go to private schools. Obviously it is true there are more bright children at state schools than at private schools since the population of state schools is vastly greater. But what about the proportions? His broad-brush statement is not defined more closely in the article and the statistics quoted do not, of themselves, support the idea that there is the same proportion of bright children at state schools and private schools. (Obviously there are big problems defining 'bright' students. A test at age of 11 is a test of schooling and background, not just IQ.)
Professor Jesson is said to be comparing 7,500 private school bright students with 30,000 state school ones starting at secondary schools. On this basis, it seems to be the case that 20% of bright students start at private secondary schools. But what proportion of the whole student population is that? In primary schools, only 7 per cent of the student population are at private schools. It seems unlikely that the proportion shoots up to 20% or more by the age of 12. In which case, it may be that there is a higher proportion of so-called 'bright' students at private schools.
I have been revisiting some of the statistics quoted in 'The Welfare State We're In' to see how the picture has developed since the book went to print.
One of them was on the subject of degrees awarded by Oxford University. As with quite a lot of other statistics, updates make the points made in the book look all the stronger.
In 1955, for every three third class degrees awarded by Oxford University, there was only a single first. Fast forward fifty years and in 2005, for every three thirds there were nine firsts.
Almost every child is affected by bullying and is growing up in a society that sees violence as "the norm", the children's commissioner has said. Professor Al Aynsley-Green argued that, despite good work in schools, there is still denial about the "existence, severity and effect" of bullying.
He told the Observer that violence had become the norm in the workplace, on television and in the home.
This is from BBC online this morning.
Professor Aynsley-Green's comments came just days after 15-year-old Natashia Jackman was stabbed in the head while at school in Camberley, Surrey.
And on Wednesday, 19-year-old Tommy Kimpton, of Penryn, Cornwall, was sentenced to two years in prison for killing a friend who had bullied him.
All this is likely to get worse, not better. The social problems which give rise to it, including unmarried parenting, mass unemployment, benefit dependency, compulsory attendance to the age of 16 of children who are not successfully taught even how to read and write, are all still in place and in some cases even more serious than 15 years ago.
It is often quite difficult to get at the convincing detail of how the state is a bad provider of services such as schooling and healthcare. Most people simply do not see the waste, inefficiency and organised morale-sapping in action and so do not believe they all exist. Here, though, is one example culled from the excellent 'Any questions?" column by John Clare in Saturday's Daily Telegraph.
The question asked is:
What is the "endless paperwork" teachers are always complaining about?
It varies from school to school because heads interpret the centrally imposed requirements differently. It also depends on the stage of a teacher's career. For recently qualified teachers, the biggest burden can be having to write a detailed plan of every lesson they teach, carefully differentiated according to the needs of able, average and less able pupils, as well as the "gifted and talented", those who have special needs or speak English as an additional language. In some schools, that can run to 2,000 words a day.
The heaviest load is carried by heads of department, who are responsible for the elaborate self-evaluation forms that Ofsted inspectors now demand. Most time-consuming for rank-and-file teachers is the regular - often fortnightly - grading of every pupil, the form-filling generated by every disciplinary action they take and - most controversially - the innocent-sounding "helping pupils with their coursework", which can involve extensive (but illegal) rewriting of lengthy essays. Every teacher could add to the list and most of it is time taken away from teaching.
From George Osborne's speech at the Conservative Party conference last month:
"...competing in an age when our skills are at a premium...means building the best state education system in the world. A system so good that parents want to opt in - not opt out." (His emphasis.)
"Why shouldn't the best schools in the country be State schools? Open to all, on merit alone, regardless of background and income".
It is astonishing and distressing
that Mr Osborne should be under the illusion - or perhaps pretend to be under the illusion - that an administration of which he would be a part would have some magic reform which would transform British state schools from being a disaster, especially for poor people, into being better than private schools.
For over 50 years, people will far more knowledge of state education have believed that they could make British state schools excellent. They have all been wrong. It is an illusion that there is any such magic reform. It is the fact that these schools are controlled and owned by the state that has made them perform so badly. The teachers are fine people in the main. The building are fine. The problem is the government control.
If Mr Osborne really believes that state control of schools can be made to work superbly, he is deluding himself. The position is, incidentally, essentially a socialist one. If he merely pretends to believe state control of schools can be made to work well, he is a cynic deliberately misleading the public to gain power and position for himself.
After all the evidence of recent years that state education has caused widespread illiteracy and alienation, especially among the poor, the idea that the Conservative Party is about to adopt George Osborne's friend and political ally, David Cameron, is depressing. It would be the Conservative Party saying, "Yes, we know the country has major problems that ought to be address. But we care far more about getting elected than saving our country."
Education without the state has a bad image. It is provided above all, as so often with bad images of the 19th century, by Charles Dickens. In Nicholas Nickleby he turns his attention to schooling and claims that he is describing the sort of conditions that actually existed in a part of Yorkshire.
The young man Nicholas Nickleby becomes an assistant teacher and is appalled by what he finds in Dotheboys Hall. As he looked as the children who he is meant to teach,
How the last traces of hope, the remotest glimmering any good to be derived from his efforts in this den faded from the mind of Nicholas as he looked in dismay around! Pale and haggard faces, lank and bony figures, children with the countenances of old men, deformities with irons upon their limbs, boys of stunted growth, and others whose long meagre legs would hardly bear their stooping bodies, all crowded on the view together; there were the bleared eye, the har -lip, the corked foot and every ugliness or distortion that told of unnatural aversion conceived by parents for their offspring, or of young lives, which, from the earliest dawn of infancy had been on horrible endurance of cruelty and neglect...and so on for some time. Continuing later,
...What an incipient Hell was breeding here!
It is indeed a Hell that Dickens goes on to describe - of cruelty and greed perpetrated by this school and the apparently ‘unnatural’ parents.
In Oliver Twist, of course, the hero is born in a poor house and treated with utter cruelty.
Then there is the ghastly teacher Gradgrind in Hard Times.
Dickens is the most read author of the 19th century. I love his works, especially A Christmas Carol.
But taking Dickens as a reliable source for understanding conditons in the 19th century - as many people do, who know no better - is as absurd as taking Harry Potter as an accurate guide to contemporary schools in Britain.
First, let us not forget the simple fact that Dickens was writing fiction. Second, in the case of Nicholas Nickleby, people in Yorkshire were so outraged by his calumny against the county that in the second preface, Dickens withdrew and said that he understood that such places no longer existed. It is pretty clear that no such place ever existed at all. Thirdly, Dickens was always writing about England at an earlier time in the 19th century. As we shall see, education changed drastically in that amazing century. To talk about education in, say, 1810 is utterly different to talking about it in 1880. They are like two different countries.
I recently spoke to the head of a large private school in London who believes that university education in Britain has noticeably declined in quality compared to what it used to be.
We discussed whether it might be better, now, to go to an American university instead. More and more parents with children in private education are looking to America which certainly has far more universities that are rated among the best in the world.
There are doubts and concerns about the different teaching methods. The tutorial system, for example, has always been regarded as a particular strength of Oxford and Cambridge in particular. How does America compare in this regard?
The Daily Telegraph today has some articles on American universities. One is by a young man currently at one of them. This is part of what he wrote:
British teachers sometimes talk in disparaging terms about the first year of American college, claiming that it is less challenging than our A-levels.
Although it is true that introductory level classes are designed for those with limited experience in the subject, classes are taught by difficulty, not according to year group.
Bright first-year students are able to take classes "meant" for students in their last year. If they can convince professors that they are up to it, they are even allowed to take post-graduate seminars.
As the extent of the re-drawing of the political landscape after September 11 became apparent, I was able to switch my focus from comparative literature to political philosophy. For my major cultures requirement I studied Contemporary Islamic Civilisation.
In order to help me with my final thesis on technology my last year saw me studying non-human primate behaviour, quantum physics, Marx, and the mathematics of surfaces and knots.
Now that UK Universities have started charging fees, they have entered a market in which US colleges have a considerable head start.
Students need to know that the university and the course they have chosen have a reputation that carries with potential employers and one that will endow them with self-belief, organisation, and valuable contacts in return for their financial investment.
I have just returned from giving a talk to sixth-formers and teachers at St Paul's School (the elite boys private school in London).
I gave them part of the quiz which appears at the beginning of the book, inviting them to call out what they thought might be the answers, even if they were only guesses.
1. In the mid-nineteenth century, before state schooling, what percentage of children had five to seven years schooling?
There were calls of 5% and 10%.
2. Now, 150 years later and 86 years after free elementary education was made available to all by state statute, what is - according to the government - the rate of 'functional illiteracy'?
They called out 5%, 1% and 2%.
3. Out of seven million working men in industry in 1892, how many were members of a friendly society?
A teacher said, 'Perhaps you should tell them what a friendly society was.' One of the students called out 'a few hundred thousand'.
4. In 1950, after Beveridge, Attlee and so on, what was the proportion of people on means-tested welfare benefits?
There were calls of 5%, 10% and 20%.
5. In 2,000, after growth in GDP per capita of 165% and the benefit of the governments of Harold Wilson, Edward Heath and Gordon Brown, what percentage is now on such benefits?
One person suggested 40%.
6. When was St Bartholomew's Hospital founded and who by?
One person guessed 1890 and another 1940. No one offered a suggestion as to who founded it.
7. Which of London's leading teaching hospitals was founded by the NHS?
One boy offered "UCH".
Given that these are sixth formers mostly studying politics, economics and/or history at oneof the best private schools in Britain, I thought these were remarkable answers.
They showed ignorance of important aspects of the truth of the situation in the nineteenth century up the present in welfare matters. More worrying than that, their guesses showed that they thought far worse of the 19th century than was true and generally far better of the current situation than is true.
These are their answers compared with the truth: According to a government survey 95% of children in 1860 had between five and seven years education - not five to ten per cent as they guessed. The rate of functional illiteracy now is far worse at 20% now, not 1% to 5% as they guessed. Six million out of the seven million men working in industry were members of friendly societies in 1892, not a mere 'few hundred thousand'. No one can really understand late 19th century Britain without knowing something of the friendly societies.
They all over-estimated the number of people on benefits after the Beveridge, Attlee and so on. There were only 3.4% whereas they thought 5% to 20%. They had no idea how independent people still were at that time when Britain was very much poorer than today.
They nearly always underestimated the independence of individuals and welfare provision that existed before the modern welfare state. They nearly always overestimated the achievement of the modern welfare state. The only exception was when one of them guessed that 40 per cent of people are now welfare dependants. I suspect he might have seen a figure which included those people on the basic state pension.
They had no idea that St Bart's was founded in the 12th century and one of them, at least, thought that University College Hospital was founded by the NHS (whereas in fact it is the result of amalgamating various hospitals which pre-dated the the NHS). In fact not a single leading London teaching hospital was founded by the NHS.
The students generally had the wrong idea for a reason which soon became evident.
The history teacher who was present was a passionate advocate of the welfare state. One of the politics and economics teachers referred, over lunch, to 'capitalist exploitation' of the working class in the 19th century - fingers being chopped off workers in factories and so on. In short, the two teachers who spoke most were both strongly Left-wing if not actually Marxist.
The children will have been fed by these teachers information selected for emphasising how poor and downtrodden the workers were and how they were greedily exploited by ruthless capitalists.
The politics and economics teacher even went so far as to suggest that the 95% of childrenwho had some education were only given it because this would provide them with just enough skills to permit them to be exploited by the capitalists.
'Nothing to do with the parents wanting them to be educated, then?' I asked.
It is a curious thing. The most financially successful members of middle or upper class are generally - though by no means always - sympathetic to the Conseverative party and pro-capitalist. They send their children - at great expense - to private schools like St Paul's where they are taught most often by people who are somewhere between Left of centre and outright Marxist.
Afterwards, the boy who took me to my car said that there were some Right-wing teachers. He said it worked out quite well really because the boys got a Right-wing viewpoint at home and a Left-wing one at school.
I don't take quite so sanguine a view. Most of the data on which they will rely in the future for deciding their own views will have come from the schools. And these schools are not, I suspect, even trying to put both sides of the argument. The teachers, being human, are likely to be indulging their own views and promoting them. One of the children referred to 'vast miserable slums' in the 19th century. Another said that poor law guardians were physically attacked because provision for the poor was so mean. They did not get these ideas from nowhere. They got them from their school. Meanwhile the school did not appear to have given them any positive idea at all about welfare provision in the 19th century. As already mentioned, one teacher reckoned they would not even have heard of Friendly Societies - a crucial part of social life at that time. These children are not being educated in anything other than an extremely partial view of history. It is history as pro-statist propaganda.
And if it is like this even in private schools, what sort of message is being promoted in the state secondary schools?
Nearly a quarter of first-year students - more than 71,000 - will fail to graduate from the university or college at which they enrolled, the Higher Education Funding Council said yesterday.
Even 15 years later, most of the drop-outs will still not have achieved any higher education qualifications.
The figures, based on official projections of universities' performance, implied a waste of about £500 million a year and called into question the Government's policy of urging even more young people to enter higher education.
Not included in the statistics are the thousands of students who enrol in haste during clearing but decide that university is not for them and pull out before Dec 1.
More on this Daily Telegraph story here.
The short story is this: state further and higher education has been obliged to take ever bigger numbers. The quantity of tutors has not been similarly increased. So the amount of personal interaction between students and tutors has decline drastically. The courses are therefore less satisfying and intellectually stimulating. The quality of students taken on is, necessarily, on average of a lower academic standard than before. Meanwhile many of the practical courses are pseudo-academic (in a way that must be boring and frustrating) and not truly practical. So they lead nowhere. With all these factors combining together, it is no surprise that the drop-out rate is now so high. Nor is it a surprise that the most low-grade 'universities' giving the most Mickey Mouse courses have the highest number of drop-outs. In some cases, it is verging on one in two of the student intake.
(Also in the same edition of the Telegraph was this article claiming that most students are satisfied with their courses, a rather surprising claim given that so many leave. There is also this leader.)
Are we seeing the beginning of the decline of state education in Britain? It might sound extraordinary - especially as we have a Labour Party in power. But the evidence is piling up.
Ruth Kelly, the Education Secretary, told local government leaders this week that she intends to bring in charities, parent groups, religious groups and 'mutual organisations' to run some schools. Local councils, she announced, "don't add value through micro-managing heads". Councils, she suggested, could be reduced merely to "commissioning" schools instead of running them.
This is a radical - perhaps we should say a 'desperate' - new idea. On its past record, one must doubt how much will come of it. But this is the second time the government' has shown a willingness to break up the state monolith. It aims to create 200 City Academies by 2010. These schools are supported by money from business and are meant to enjoy a little more independence than normal state schools. Frankly they have disappointed so far, probably because the independence they have been given has not liberated them sufficiently. But these two policies show that even a Labour government is willing to shift the balance of British education.
Despite its regular claims that schooling in Britain is getting better every year, the Government knows in its heart that our wholly state-financed, state-run education is in serious trouble.
Ruth Kelly - and, more to the point, Tony Blair - knows that according to the government's own research, one in five adults in Britain is 'functionally illiterate'. They know that despite hundreds of initiatives and new punishments, truancy is high even on the official figures - never mind the unofficial figures which would include bunking off from classes after children have registered.
They know about the disorder and the way some sink schools have become academies in delinquency. And in case they forget any of this, they have Dianne Abbott sitting behind them. She is the Labour MP who took her child away from state education in Hackney saying that only nine per cent of black children in the area got five decent GCSEs.
So they know there is a problem and now, in his last term as Prime Minister, Tony Blair belatedly wants to do something about it, even if it means giving up the old Labour idea of state education for all.
Not that state education was really a Labour Party invention in the first place. It began before the party existed.
It was a Liberal government that passed a law in 1870 enabling local councils to create schools to 'fill up gaps' in the provision of education by religious and commercial schools. These 'gaps' were not as big as most people assume. The government reckoned that the overwhelming majority - 95 per cent of all children - received between five and seven years education. The government set the ball rolling that led to modern state education, only to help that last five per cent of children.
In the century after that, many politicians including David Lloyd George and RAB Butler (in his 1942 Education Act) expanded the scope of state education. But there was no intention at the outset that state education should do more than supplement schooling provided by others. If the government now welcomes charities, religions and companies into education, it will simply be taking us back to where education originally arose.
It will also be bowing to mounting pressure from below. Parents are increasingly heading away from dependence on state education anyway. A new generation of new, less expensive commercial schools is beginning - schools without frills and cheap enough to attract parents of middling means, instead of only the rich.
Fee-paying religious schools are also growing apace - particularly evangelist and muslim ones. The number of independent, faith-based schools jumped from 170 to 276 in 2004/05 - a rise of over 60 per cent in a single year. I visited one, The Tabernacle in North London and met two boys who had been saved from lives of crime because their single-mothers had made heroic financial sacrifices to take them out of a bad inner-city comprehensive and send them to this evangelist school.
'Home-schooling' is also growing fast. There are more and more aids for home education such as learning through the use of computerised courses.
Parents - famously including Tony Blair himself - are turning more and more to private tuition, too, to make up for the deficiencies of their children's schools. One in four children at state schools now receives private tuition at some point.
The move towards allowing choice for parents is world-wide. France might still be sticking to a full-blooded state system, but Denmark allows parents to set up their own schools with state money. Netherlands has a large element of independence in its schools. Sweden has more competition between schools than we do and gets good results on international tests. And in America there is a major political movement towards allowing parents more choice - including the chance to choose a private or religious school. Even the state school of which I am a governor has recently become more open to the idea of trying new ways of teaching children to read that have been developed by the private sector.
State education, of course, is still powerful as an army and as resistant to change as a mountain. The trade unions won't like change. But there is a bit of movement at the top and certainly a passionate desire for better things at the grass roots. The institution of state schooling has passed its peak.
(This is the unedited version of the article which appears in today's Daily Express.)
How much time does a modern undergraduate get talking to a tutor?
I talked to a London University student today. He has two parts to his course. I cannot describe what they are because that would identify him and could get him into trouble. I will call them subjects A and B.
In subject A, he has no personal contact with a tutor at all. He writes essays and gets them back, marked, in his pigeon hole. He does have some contact with his 'personal tutor' in the subject. His personal tutor is supposed to see him once a term. He has been seen for ten minutes on these occasions.
Subject B is a bit better. He can have contact with a tutor if he collects his essays. That contact lasts about 10 minutes and this takes place up to four times a term. His personal tutor in this subject never sees him at all.
There is no teaching at all in the summer term, although there is some revision contact in subject B. Teaching only takes place in the other two terms.
He is approaching his third year and has embarked on his dissertation. He has contact with a dissertation supervisor. This takes place five times a term and last about 15 to 20 minutes. But rememember that this dissertation contact take place in only two and a half terms out of his nine terms at university.
His regular contact with a tutor in each term has amounted to:
Personal tutor in subject A: 10 minutes
Subject tutor in subject B: 4 x 10 minutes
Total = 50 minutes a term.
When I was an undergraduate at Oxford, I had mmore than that each week of the term.
Fifty minutes a term is not real teaching. As one tutor remarked to him. "We are not judged on our teaching. We are judged on our research papers." That is a part of why the teaching is so niggardly. But perhaps more important, tutors no longer have the time for personal contact. There are oo many students and too few tutors.
It is hard to explain to someone who has never experienced tutorials (with three or four students) just what a difference they make. If you come forward with arguments and they are questioned and taken apart by a seriously clever academic, it is a mind-developing experience.
If you just go to lectures and read books, it is not the same at all. But that is what modern British universities - even 'top' ones like London - now offer. It is sad. Is there anywhere in the world that still offers a proper university education?
There is a primary school in Bethnal Green that normally gets excellent results. But suddenly its performance slumped last year. I rang the deputy head and asked what had happened. She told me that seven or eight children in the fifth form had left to go to a new Islamic school nearby. Their replacements were not as advanced in their reading.
Later the same day I went to a school governor's meeting the other side of London. I mentioned this little exodus. "Oh yes," came the weary seen-that-before response. "We lost three children out of reception this year. They went to an Islamic school, too."
There is something important going on here and there is going to be a dog-fight about what it means.
These schools are growing seriously fast.
Not only the Muslim ones but also Evangelical Christian ones. According to OFSTED, in the academic year 2004/04, the number of independent, faith-based schools jumped from 170 to 276. That is a rise of over 60 per cent in a single year. The trend is continuing, based on anecdotal evidence. Numbers at the existing schools are probably growing, too. It seems likely that more than eleven per cent of all independent schools in Britain are now Jewish, Muslim or Evangelical and cater to parents who are not well off at all.
The default reaction of ultra-conservative centre-leftists like Jeremy Paxman is to be worried, if not angy and appalled. That is the reaction he exhibited when he interviewed David Bell, the chief inspector of schools who reported earlier this year that some Muslim schools were not, in his opinion, providing enough of an understanding of other faiths and "the wider tenets of British society". Paxman, a soi-disant tolerant liberal, wanted these schools to be forced to teach these things - the sort that he believes in himself.
Presumably he wants children to be taught what he likes to imagine are his own virtues and values: democracy, women's rights, individualism, state welfare, tolerance (we may allow ourselves a wry smile at this one) and so on. But his tolerance gives out - big time - when it comes to children being taught anything else. Underlying this kind of angry reaction is a fear that some children are being taught Muslim fundamentalism and even that they will be turned into gun-wielding terrorists.
Actually something very different is going on - something the BBC and most other parts of the media have not begun to grasp.
Calm down Jeremy. This is not about religious fanaticism, let alone terrorism. I asked Ghulam Rasool, the head of Al-Hijra School and College for boys in Birmingham, why parents send their children to his school. He said the prime reason was not the Muslim faith at all. The parents want their children to be taught "good values". They intend their children to be learn respect for themselves and others. They want good manners. More selfishly, they want the children to show respect to their elders (ie themselves), to be obedient, to be confirmed in the idea of the family and extended family as units to which they should be loyal. They want their children to continue to believe, as they do, that children have a duty to look after their parents in old age.
These are values, which are "very common", he said, and not particularly Muslim. Well, they used to be common. They are values which Michael Young, the writer of the famous Labour Party manifesto in 1945, found when, soon afterwards, he studied the working class in the East End. They are values which have fallen into disuse in Britain, being increasingly replaced by a culture of selfish individualism.
I recently talked to a mother of two children at an Evangelical school in West London. She had been giving up 40 per cent of her net income to send her children there. Again, it was not primarily about religion. She had realised her elder son - at a comprehensive in Westminster - was being led towards a life of crime. She sent him to his faith-based school to save his future.
These new faith-based schools create children who are more decent, kind and civilised than most others. The more children who go to them, the more civilised and decent Britain will be. Those of us who care more about our country than the ideology of state schooling, need not be appalled at their rapid growth. We should rejoice and give them all possible support.
The above is the unedited version of an article which appears in this week's Times Educational Supplement. It was written before the bombings. I still think I was right to suggest that these schools do not, of themselves, do anything to encourage terrorism. In fact the reverse may even be true. I notice that one of the suspected terrorists was a young man called Hasib Mir Hussain. According to the Daily Mail, a friend of his who wished to remain anonymous said about his school days, "It was always whites against Asians and there were so many fights. Hasib was really quiet and didn't get into any fights himself but he was in the thick of gangs that did. Maybe that played a part in making hin feel alienated from the country of his birth and Western society".
One could well imagine that it would.
There is a slightly strange article in the Telegraph today about what is said to be a good state school in Brixton. It is curious because the author sends her child to this school yet, ostensibly, the article is critical of the parents of children there. Although the school is in Brixton, the parents are generally middle class and in some cases quite able to afford private education. These parents apparently flatter themselves that they are being virtuous in sending their children to state schools. They believe in state schools because they, they think, they give opportunities to poorer parents. Yet in fact, poorer parents generally cannot manage to get their children into good state schools such as this one. The implication is that these parents are not really being virtuous at all. Yet the author herself is sending her child there. I find it confusing that she is implicitly criticising parents of children at the school when she herself is one of them. Perhaps all would have become clear if she had had more space in which to explain.
In any case, she describes a classic instance of something that I made much of in The Welfare State We're In: that the poor get the worst of the services - particularly the education - provided by the state.
Our local state primary school happens to be one of the best in the country, consistently praised by school inspectors, and it was one of the first schools to be awarded ''beacon'' status.
Sudbourne Primary is a lovely school where children are encouraged to express themselves and be confident, yet have consideration for others. The school's website boasts proudly that it was where Tony and Cherie made their first official visit, the morning after the 1997 election, and you can see how the school has become a Blairite mascot. Despite its location, everyone's middle class there (well, nearly).
and further on she writes,
The strategies used to get a place at this school could put any office Machiavelli to shame. Renting or buying a second home close to the school entrance is fairly standard practice. But I've heard of far worse - including a parent a couple of years ago who asked her doctor to say that her child had special needs as there are some places reserved for pupils in this category.
What can be less fair than what happens around good state schools in London? Such is the pulling power of the good one that the price of a family house close by has skyrocketed to figures way out of reach of ordinary Brixtonians. Many of the local children who might benefit from a place at this championed primary school don't even get a look in. It happens all over London.
There are schools that may not be private, but are in effect only available to the privileged few. What's so egalitarian about that?
The full article is here, but you need to register on the Telegraph website to see it.
Below is part of a Sunday Telegraph report by a woman who was a supply teacher for six months and visited 16 schools in that time. She was reporting for Channel 4 Dispatches and the programme will be shown on Thursday at 9pm. It should be worth watching.
What struck me very early on was that poor, even outrageous indiscipline - children leaping across tables or wandering around brandishing fire extinguishers - had become acceptable. At one school, I was calmly advised by a female colleague to lock the classroom door while I was teaching, to "protect" myself and my class from the marauding groups in the corridors. The look of surprise on my face did not seem to register with her.
Time and again I would be surprised, and shocked, and eventually deeply saddened by what I saw in the state school system. A combination of classroom disorder, endless supply teachers, conscientious but jaded staff and school managers who seemed prepared to pretend that all was well had created a situation that was a million miles away from the Government rhetoric of rising standards.
Every day children told me that they could not learn, that there "was nowt to learn for". Yet in every chaotic classroom, there were one or two pupils huddled over books trying to do their work.
There is a section on how her school put on a false mask for the Ofsted inspection. It makes one wonder about the value of any inspections which are not completely unannounced. The new inspection regime that is starting this year, reduces the warning that schools get, but they still get some time to delude the inspectors.
When Ofsted inspectors arrived the week after for a two-day visit, however, the school was suddenly transformed. I got through a whole lesson without incident, the corridors were mayhem-free, the atmosphere calmer. The mystery was solved by a classroom assistant who told me in a hushed exchange in the lavatory that more than 20 of the most difficult pupils had been sent on a "day trip".
As inspectors monitored lessons, senior managers popped up taking classes that they did not normally teach. Experienced teachers from neighbouring schools were parachuted in. One teacher, who appeared seemingly out of nowhere, said: "I've been drafted in basically to give support to this department while HMI are in. It's a bit of a con-job really." Staff at three other schools told me that "hiding" problem pupils from inspectors was common practice.
One should probably put in a few caveats. It is quite likely that those schools which make the biggest demand on supply teachers are the ones with the greatest problems. So what she describes probably does not describe the average but something below the average. However it is a grim picture. We also know that poor people are the ones who end up in the below-average schools. So people like Tony Blair who can get their children into the above-average state schools, are spared this.
This letter in the Daily Telegraph today provides good anecdotal support:
Sir - How to rescue Africa from Mr Blair's and Mr Brown's good intentions? James Bartholomew (Opinion, June 30) [this posting] cited Professor James Tooley's research to indicate how spending $7 billion a year of someone's money to give every African child free state education would shatter the standards of education already in place.
I can cite my own experience of simultaneously serving as a governor of a large comprehensive in Mr Blair's native ground of Islington while repeatedly visiting the remote Bakonzo people of the Ruwenzoru mountains in Uganda's far west. There, where virtually every child goes to one mission-founded school or another, paying tiny fees, the standards of literacy, grammar, maths, handwriting, general knowledge and, of course, scriptural history, were (and are) markedly higher than at the struggling Islington comprehensive, age for age, right through from 12 to 16.
Tom Stacey, London W8
While there is time, I recommend you have a look at the part of Newsnight last night about private education in a slum in Africa, presented by Professor James Tooley. The programme is here. The section concerned starts after 32 minutes - you can fast forward to it. I think this Newsnight will no longer be viewable after the next one appears tonight.
This looks like a key report on the deterioration of maths teaching in Britain. It ties in the experience of parents even at private schools where they find that their children are doing what might be regarded as trivial, meaningless puzzles instead of learning 'real maths'. At the age of eleven, such puzzles are being done whereas, forty years ago, such children would be learning algebra.
Teaching of maths in spiral of decline, say dons By John Clare, Education Editor (Filed: 28/06/2005)
Maths teaching in schools and universities has entered "a spiral of decline" and the Government has failed to grasp the nature of the crisis, leading mathematicians said in a report yesterday.
They said the performance of more able pupils had collapsed; the numbers taking A-level maths were falling dramatically; those with top grades were "increasingly innumerate and even ineducable"; the shortage of qualified maths teachers had reached "dangerous" levels; national test results were grossly inflated; and postgraduates with a PhD in maths from a British university were now "largely unemployable" in British universities.
The country was "no longer producing sufficient competent mathematicians to supply the bulk of its core needs". The maths community could no longer reproduce itself.
The report said: "Our society is increasingly dependent on mathematics, yet a disturbing number of jobs - from teaching, through IT, to serious research in science and technology - can now only be filled by attracting those trained in other countries.
"The UK is in danger of becoming totally dependent on imported intellect."
The report, by mathematicians from Cambridge, King's College London, University College London, Warwick, Manchester, Birmingham and Hull, said that maths had been dumbed down under political pressure to make it easier, more "accessible" and to show continuously improving results. Over the past 15 years the subject had become fragmented - reduced to a collection of simple, one-step routines that had made mathematics unappetising and unchallenging.
As a result, the numbers taking A-level maths had fallen by more than 50 per cent since 1989.
The number of qualified maths teachers had declined from 46,500 in 1988 to 30,800 in 1996.
The full article in the Daily Telegraph is here.
Here is an excerpt for a Guardian article about 'youth cabinets' discussing the problems of the young:
There are too many exams; gangs are out of control (although some thoughtful voices ask what the difference is between a group of friends and a gang, concluding that it depends on which neighbourhood they are from); bullying makes many lives a misery and knives are becoming a common sight in playgrounds.
Sapphire, 15, from Leeds, thinks that by the time she has children most primary school pupils will be carrying knives. One boy says a gun was brought into the playground at his school. Crime seems a daily reality in these children's communities.
For some time now I have been confident that the number of children being home-schooled has been rising fast.
Now comes confirmation from an article in the Sunday Times. What the article does not analyse is the cause of the trend. I would suggest that it is partly
1. dissatisfaction of middle class parents with the quality of education their children can get particularly, but not only, at state state schools.
2. Inability readily to pay for private education (which, arguably, is much more expensive than it should be, for a variety of reasons including state rules on planning, health and safety and so on).
3. Desire of parents to save their children from the violence and influences towards crime, drugs and teenage parenting in some of the more 'bog-standard' inner city comprehensives.
Here is the Sunday Times article:
Number of children taught at home soars Lois Rogers, Social Affairs Editor THE number of children taught at home has almost doubled in the past five years, a trend that experts say reflects a crisis of confidence in the state school system. Government figures show the number of five to 16-year-olds educated at home jumped from 12,000 in 1999 to 21,000 last year.
The increasing number of parents opting out of the school system reflects a similar trend in the United States, where one in 20 children is now taught at home.
Though children have to be educated, there is no legal requirement in Britain for them to attend school. The progress of children at home may be monitored at intervals by the local education authority.
Home teaching groups claim the number taught at home could soar to 150,000 by 2015, equivalent to one child in 30.
Mike Fortune-Wood, of Home Education UK, a website that provides advice on home schooling, said there was a “quiet revolution” going on. “People find that at home they can provide their children with an education far better suited to their individual needs,” he said.
Janey Lee Grace, a Radio 2 presenter and mother of three, teaches her two older sons, aged five and six, at her Hertfordshire home. She relies on a network of like-minded parents, informal tutoring groups and an organisation called Naturekids, which stresses the link between learning and nutrition.
“I think the school system fails most kids,” she said. “It’s fine if you want to be in the army, but not for most people who are more individual.
“I know a home-taught 11-year-old who is taking her maths GCSE. She will take the rest of her GCSEs at the normal age, but because she is good at maths she is going at her own faster speed.”
In the next academic year parents teaching at home will have the further support of the country’s first internet secondary school. The £165-a-month online school is being pioneered by Paul Daniell, 42, a senior physics teacher in south Wales.
It will use the internet and conference-call technology to offer GCSEs in seven core subjects. Teachers will give morning classes online to small groups and set them work for the afternoon under parental supervision.
To date, more than 40 children have been signed up to the “Inter High School”, which has three teachers. Numbers are expected to grow, with interest from families abroad and even teachers in conventional schools who wish to use the lessons.
One of the many reservations I have about the Richard Curtis/Bob Geldof/Gordon Brown bandwagon to 'make poverty history' and have a million people pressurising the G8 is that they all, effectively, wish to bolster the state apparatus in African countries.
One of the areas where this could be counter-productive is education.
Professor James Tooley has been to third world private schools and reported on how the private schools often do more good for the poor than than the state schools.
He has written an article in the latest edition of Economic Affairs which is introduced thus:
In many developing countries, private unaided schools are serving the poor in large numbers. Some commentators view their presence as undesirable in particular assuming that there is a conflict between 'commercial gain' and 'concern for the poor'. We show one way in which there is no conflict the private unaided schools offer free or concessionary places to the poorest of the poor. Using data from a random sample of schools in Hyderabad, India, and a smaller sample in Makoko, Nigeria, we show that such places range from 1020% of all places offered.
The full text is here.
On Thursday 16th, David Cameron issued a speech about education. Since then Boris Johnson and other rising young stars have endorsed David Cameron as a candidate for the leadership of the Tory party.
After reading the speech David Cameron made, I find this all very depressing. It is a speech in which Mr Cameron positions himself as the Tony Blair of the Right. But more important than that, it is a speech in which Mr Cameron shows that he has not got to grips with how and why the country's welfare state - particulary the education part - is in such trouble. And the fact that many rising young Tories have endorsed him, suggests that they have not understood either.
He said in his speech,
In recent times party political debate has often been in danger of missing the big point in education.
The Labour Party has talked primarily about "resources", talking about spending per pupil, per school and as a share of our national wealth.
The Conservative Party has talked more about "structures", giving parents greater choices between different sorts of schools.
Both are important - but there is a danger of missing the absolutely vital bit in the middle: what actually happens in our state schools.
Will our children learn to read, write and add up properly? Will they be safe in class? Will they be stretched to the best of their abilities? Will they be taught the skills they need to have a successful career when they leave? Will our local school do the best for our child?
These are the questions parents ask themselves - the issues we stress about when considering our children's education.
Mr Cameron is, of course, quite right to think it is important that children should learn to read, write and add up properly. He is not exactly being controversial, either, in suggesting that it would be a good thing if they were safe in class and that they should be 'stretched'. These are views that anyone might have. The important issue is how do we get schools which actually achieve these things.
Mr Cameron seems to think that merely saying that such things are important and that they are common sense amounts to a policy. Does he really think that being education minister and thinking these things is going to make a difference? To be fair, he does name a genuine policy - one of giving heads the power to expel pupils without there being an appeals tribunal. But while he wants children to learn to read and write, he does not say if he is going centrally impose the synthetic phonics he approves of. If he did so, he would be going against the 'celebration' of school independence which he favours.
He has plenty of good wishes and intentions but distinctly short of methods to make them happen. It is all talk and no action and in this is is very like the superficial appeal and actual uselessness of Blairism. But the worst thing about his speech is this:
He dismisses as, at best, a subsiary idea the only realistic chance of making schools the way that he wants them. He attacks his own party saying that it has 'missed the big point' by talking about 'structures'. But on the contrary, it is only by changing the structure of schools that there is any chance of bringing about major improvement.
State schooling overall has performed lamentably badly. When he talks about children not being safe, he is really talking about them not being safe in state schools, not private ones. When he suggests they are not being stretched, he is not referring to private schools. State schools perform badly precisely because they are state schools. The only way we are going to get high quality schooling in Britain is if most or all schools are private ones with a high degree of independence enshrined in law. That is a matter of structures.
My preference would be for wholly private schools paid for by parents directly. I would understand if Mr Cameron would think that the British public is not ready to listen to that idea. But he could still go for many other options that would make really big difference to the culture of education in Britain:
1. State schools made into individual charitable trusts or sold to private companies or trade unions or friendly societies.
2. Vouchers for every child to go to a private (or any remaining state) school.
or 3. Education tax relief at the standard rate, up to a limited amount.
4. Abolition of the national curriculum.
5. Abolition of Ofsted and many another educational quango.
The structures Mr Cameron thinks are of secondary importance are, on the contrary, 'the big point'.
Imagine it is the early 1980s. Mr Cameron is a leading, 'modernising' member of the party. The privatising programme is getting under way. He declares, "The Conservatives are missing the big point about the telephone service. The important thing is that the service should be good - that the telephones should actually work and that one should be able to have a new line installed in less than three months. It does not matter so much whether the telecommunications service is privatised or not."
But of course it was only because the structure was changed - the telephone service was privatised and opened to more competition - that its quality dramatically improved. The same goes for education now.
Mr Cameron and his supporters like to describe themselves as modernisers. In fact they are, in the traditional sense, 'conservatives'. They don't want to change anything much. They certainly don't want to change structures. They don't understand how much structures matter. They are not radicals, let alone Thatcherites. Lady Thatcher, indeed, would have called them 'wets'.
It is very sad that after, all this time, a new generation of Tories has come along which, instead of showing new courage has been made gutless and meaningless by the 1997 defeat.
The Guardian and the Mail have a story which does not appear elsewhere in the national press, as far as I know. Why? Because this is a story about education that was not announced by the government.
The usual sort of stories reported by education correspondents are the ones announced by a minister and therefore widely reported. The plan that schools should offer 10 hour days was a recent one. These announced, 'good news' stories involve more money being spent and facilities offered.
But this story, only reported in two papers, is about education cuts.
Thousands of evening classes and part-time courses are being scrapped following a cut in government funding, further education colleges said yesterday..
More than 200,000 adult education and training places on courses ranging from A-level English to painting and decorating will disappear in September, with further closures expected in 2006, principals warned. The Association of Colleges said fees for many of the remaining courses will double or even quadruple as colleges try to make up shortfalls in their budgets
The amount of truancy from Britain's state schools is even higher than previously reported. It now emerges that:
Children who miss school during the rest of the summer term will not be counted in the official annual absence statistics for the year in England.
Schools are required to report pupils' attendance from September up to the end of May only.
Attention has been brought to this by the Liberal Democrats. The BBC Online story is here.
The objections to a ten hour school day, as proposed by the current education secretary, Ruth Kelly, are:
1. It will estrange children even more from their parents, leading to more children who feel unloved and become aggressive and ultimately delinquent.
2. The care will be cheap and bad.
3. Insofar as the state pays for this, families who actually look after their children will be taxed to finance childcare for families who don't have time to look after their children. This is undesirable and unfair.
4. Insofar as the state will not pay for this, it is something which schools could do now if they were so minded. (And if it is to become compulsory, then the state will end up paying, which takes us back to 3.)
Here is the Telegraph's coverage of the story.
The government threatens penalties for truancy. So what, in the real world, do we expect to happen? A smart reduction in truancy? or this...
Research for Cambridge University found sickness absences in a sample of 76 schools in England rose from 4.05% to 5.37% between 2002-03 and 2004-05.
Some head teachers and welfare officers said they thought parents were pretending their children were sick - or taking them on holiday.
The rise coincided with a government clampdown on term-time holidays.
You cannot get rid of truancy without getting rid of the causes of truancy. The most important of these is the poor quality of many state schools. Many of the children do not learn how to read and write easily. The classes they attend come to mean nothing to them. They become disenchanted. They are compelled by law to stay until they are 16. The consequences - truancy and delinquency, too - are inevitable.
The full BBC version of the story is here.
I went to an event at the Institute of Economic Affairs last night at which several of the authors of a new book, Margaret Thatcher's Revolution, including Norman Tebbitt, spoke. Here are some of their remarks:
Dennis O'Keeffe: "much 'special needs' is about children who have not been taught to read".
David Marsland: Privatising the supply of healthcare (ie hospitals and doctors) is relatively easy. Privatising demand is more difficult. But a start could be made by using tax rebates to enable people to opt out of state-financed care.
James Stanfield: He went to a comprehensive school. He did GCSE in English Literature and did not do any Shakespeare at all. The year after he left, the headmaster was punched by a pupil as order faded. He reckons he got out 'just in time'. He wanted governments, if they are subsidising education, to subsidise the consumer, not the producer. He said he had been to Kenya and was appalled that the British government was exporting the failed British model of 'free and compulsory' education. He said, "British money is destroying education in Africa."
Norman Tebbitt talked of the huge transfer of assets that took place under Thatcher from the public sector to the private sector. He reeled off a list of companies privatised that was far longer than most of us can easily remember. On top of that was the sale of council homes. He said these things combined to make a big difference in social attitudes.
He admitted some failures.
He said, "we failed in the non-economic aspects of policy" and "I bitterly regret that we weren't bolder in our programme in 1987 - particularly in health reform and education reform".
On Europe, he suggested the policy now should be to describe a European Union of a kind that we would like and, if we cannot get it (or, presumably, something close, that we should leave the EU. He said that Thatcher tried to make the European Union into more of the kind of place she wanted with the Single Market. But this had not worked: "Have we got a single market? Have we hell!"
He was asked what was the biggest mistake of the Thatcher years. He had no doubt that it was joining the Exchange Rate Mechanism. Up until the ERM fiasco, the Conservatives were ahead in virtually every opinion poll on the question of which party would be better at running the economy. Ever since the ERM, the Conservatives have been behind on the same question.
In describing Margaret Thatcher's view of things, he said, "she believed fundamentally that people behave logically". He said approvingly that she was "predictable". You know what she would think on any issue. You did not have to ring up Number Ten and ask. When she and he were both making speeches on the same night, they did not need to exchange speeches to ensure they would not contradict each other. The line was clear and predictable. He pitied those who worked for Blair who would have no such certainty. [For example, does he believe in the state running things or private companies? One minute Railtrack is nationalised, the next he is contracting out hospital operations to private companies.]
The evening brought home how many radical things she did - things that are easily forgotten like removing exchange controls, pay limits and dividend controls. Tebbitt remarked, "we were thinking so many unthinkable thoughts we almost frightened ourselves".
Dennis O'Keeffe said that under the Thatcher administration he came to be proud of Britain. In looking to a future leader of the Tory party, he thought we would need one who could make us proud again.
The story about how graduates can expect to make less of a premium in the way of extra income in their working lives is more important than it first appears.
It is easy just to think, 'oh well, that is not surprising. There are more graduates so their extra skills are not as highly valued.' But it goes much further than that.
The main justification for the vast expansion of university education under governments of both complexions has been that university education benefits the economy. How have governments known that university education benefits the economy? Because the old statistics used to show a big premium on the earnings of graduates and that was taken to indicate that university education made them much more productive and valuable parts of the economy than non-graduates.
We are now seeing one of the flaws in this line of reasoning (there are others - see the relevant part of the education chapter in The Welfare State We're In). It is that the more graduates you have, the less needed the next one is and therefore, on the logic of the government, the less the benefit of university education to the economy.
So the falling premium given to graduates means that the economic benefit of making more of them is even more dubious than it was before. The government is almost certainly not adding to Britain's economic growth by further expanding university education.
Here is one the recent articles on the subject.
King's College previously offered students a choice of A levels or the International Baccaleureate (IB). Now it is going over entirely to the IB, says The Times.
I enjoyed the comment about A levels by one of the students:
Fresh from his IB higher-level chemistry exam, Chris Sharpe, who has a conditional offer from Cambridge to study history, agrees these new exams require more effort than A-levels. Of the 30% of his fellow sixth-formers who chose the A-level programme he says: “Are they more laid back? They are flipping horizontal.”
The head notes that not everyone likes the ethos of internationalism in the IB. See previous posting about this.
So synthetic phonics are now officially approved. But will this superior system of teaching reading and writing actually be adopted in schools? Will it save us from the current situation in which 20 per cent of British adults are 'functionally illiterate' according to the Government itself? It must be doubted.
Here is a (slightly edited) email from Tom Burkard, the well-informed and always interesting educationalist. He reveals - at least it is news to me - the personal background to the change that comes from within Tony Blair's family. He describes the ineffective implementation he fears and a better way he recommends:
Ruth Kelly has executed a stunning U-turn on the National Literacy Strategy.
Pressure had been growing ever since February 12. That is when the Scottish Office released the latest data from their trials of the teaching method known as 'synthetic phonics'. Pupils who were originally taught with this method in 1997 are now 3 1/2 years ahead in reading. These results are all the more remarkable in that the schools are located in a deprived rural area of Clackmannanshire, and that pupils from disadvantaged homes read just as well as their more favoured classmates. There are several other schools in Britain that have achieved similar, or even better, results through synthetic phonics.
However, ministers stoutly supported the official National Literary Strategy, despite pressure from Number 10 and a Commons Education Committee enquiry which was against the mandarins at the DfES. No doubt Ruth Kelly--like all recent Education Secretaries--had in mind the fate of poor John Patten, the last one to ignore the advice of his 'advisors'. Yet from her statements in defence of the NLS, there can be little doubt that Ruth Kelly is yet another 'true believer' in the entrenched orthodoxies of the educational establishment. On Thursday (June 2) the Sun published a photo of Kelly, apparently making her statement through clenched teeth.
There is no doubt that the change is a result of extreme pressure from Tony Blair, who elevated Andrew Adonis and appointed him as a junior minister in the DfES in order to get a grip on his insolent civil servants. It is an open secret that one of the Blair children was taught to read by a synthetic phonics tutor, and that he has long been impatient with official foot-dragging. However, it remains to be seen how things will work out.
Jim Rose has been appointed to conduct a study , one of the so-called 'three wise men' who (along with Robin Alexander and Chris Woodhead) wrote the 'Alexander Report', which was highly critical of extreme progressive orthodoxy. However, Rose is an experienced mandarin himself, and it remains to be seen how he will react to DfES pressure. Part of the problem is that some advocates of synthetic phonics are eager for the Government to impose synthetic phonics by dictat. This simply won't work since the only means of 'enforcement' currently at the Government's disposal is the Department For Education and Skills. This is the Department which has fought synthetic phonics tooth and nail ever since the first Scottish Office results were announced in 1998. Giving the task to the DfES would make as much sense as asking a defeated army to draw up the peace treaty - it really is that adversarial. Admittedly, it would be possible to create yet another quango with the remit of introducing synthetic phonics, and perhaps this will happen. But even then, it is almost impossible for ministers to think in terms of letting the market work. Trying to introduce synthetic phonics through command-and-control measures will work no better than current measures to restore discipline in our schools. There is only one way forward for Jim Rose: he must initiate trials of synthetic phonics, allowing schools to volunteer to try out different commercial synthetic phonics programmes. Rather than adhering to the current practice of getting all the 'experts' around a table and hashing out a compromise, these experts should simply get out there an do it. As I argued in my March 2 pamphlet (After the Literacy Hour: Let the best plan win! published by the Centre for Policy Studies), teachers need to see synthetic phonics working in other local schools. The best schools are always the ones which are open to new ideas, and these are the ones that should act as the shock troops for synthetic phonics. This whole affair has been a sorry fiasco, and it is to be hoped that ministers will start to consider a drastic curtailment of the DfES. The behaviour of those in charge of the NLS has been little short of criminal, and beyond question their incompetence has been demonstrated. It is true that a true market in education would produce some awful schools, but they wouldn't last long. In any case, this would be a lot better than the uniform awfulness that results from the meddling of bureaucrats.
Why is the Labour Party leadership renewing its attack on private schools? Because private schools are like fox-hunting. Tony Blair does not really care about them one way or the other. But he attacks them both to try to persuade disenchanted Old Labour MPs and voters to keep on supporting him.
Private schools are disposable, as far as he is concerned, just like the men in red jackets blowing horns. If it pleases his rebellious troops to victimise them, he will do it. Pontius Pilate would have understood.
In the Queen's Speech two weeks ago, the government announced it will bring back the Charities Bill which ran out of time in the previous parliament. The effect of the bill - if it becomes law, as it probably will - will be to force many independent schools to do more charity work to avoid losing charitable status and therefore suffering more tax. This will make life harder for them. It will, at a minimum, result in higher fees for the parents.
Chris Woodhead is one of those who think the attack is not too serious. He has said that giving up charitable status would add four per cent to fees and this should not present too big a problem.
Four per cent would certainly do some damage to those who are struggling to afford private education and for whom this would be the last straw. But there is a worse threat. Private schools with charitable status may not be allowed to give it up. A school that did not want to do the charitable activity required, might not be permitted to 'go commercial'. Its assets were created by charitable donations and the law might insist that they remain for charitable use. The assets could be assigned, perhaps, to some other charity. So the pressure on such schools to do charitable work could be as powerful as the threat of being closed.
What is wrong with that? Isn't charitable activity a good thing? Yes, most of us agree with that. But this is not charity. Charity, by its nature, is voluntary. This will be done under duress. It is more like extortion.
It is unjust treatment of the parents of children at private schools. They are already paying for their children's education twice. They are paying through their taxes, then paying the school fees. Making private schools do charitable work would mean they would pay three times. This is would be penal and create an even bigger discouragement to private education than the existing laws. (Quite deliberately as far as Old Labour M.P.s are concerned.)
What about one of the fast-growing, relatively low-cost, faith-based schools? Their customers are often not rich at all - I have met one who was a single mother living on a council estate who has been giving up 40 per cent of her income to save her children from a comprehensive school where they were being turned into delinquents. She took them out and put them in an evangelist school instead. If such schools for the poor were taxed, this would be obscene. But if such schools were not taxed, private schools would suffer tax depending on whether the customers were rich or poor. This would expose the fact that this is really an attack on the wealthy - an exercise in class hatred.
Old Labour hates private schooling, its growth and the growth of home-schooling because these things imply that state schooling is not good enough. The easy way to dispose of that uncomfortable suggestion is to make life as hard as possible for private schools and, if possible, destroy them.
It is sometimes argued that private schools should not get a charity 'tax break'. That is a sick joke. The parents pay twice, as already mentioned. But more fundamentally, education should not be aggressively taxed anyway. You don't need to think education is necessarily a charity to believe it is a 'good thing'. Instead of increasing further the burdens on private education, parents should be allowed to take the cost of the state education of their children and spend it on private schooling instead. That would give poorer parents - above all - a real choice. They are the ones whose children are most frequently condemned to 'bog-standard' comprehensives. They - and hundreds of thousands of others - would benefit by a reduction in the burdens on private schooling, rather than an increase.
(This is the unedited version of an article which appeared in the Times Educational Supplement last week.)
Mr Brown thinks it is awful that many people in Africa have a limited amount of education. Without entering the truth or otherwise of that, his assumption that he should therefore subsidise state-provided education is wholly wrong. State education in Africa, as elsewhere around the world, is inferior to private and charitable education.
On a personal note, I know a young Zimbabwean woman who does what we in Britain would consider low-paid work. I asked her whether her young child in Zimbabwe would be going to a private or a state school.
She said the child would be going to a private school. She had no doubt that the state schools were to be avoided if at all possible. This is like the experience I had in Miami, visiting a religious school where the children wanted to be there because of the guns, knives and drugs at their previous government-run school. And here in Britain, it is like the religious school where I interviewed two boys who said that if their mothers had not moved them from their comprehensive school in Westminster, they would have become criminals.
For Mr Brown to promote state schooling in Africa is to visit on that Continent the same mistake that has been perpetrated in Britain.
At the Independent Education Conference earlier this month, I met a headmaster who told me that the number of schools using the International Baccalaureate in preference to A levels is rising fast. From memory, he said that there were 45 last year, there are 63 this year and there are applications to use the exam which, if they were all successful would bring the number up to over 150 next year.
It is a damning indictment of A levels.
I was surprised to hear two other things about the IB, though:
First, a large proportion of the schools using the International Baccaleureate are state schools and sixth form colleges. I believe some of the grammar schools in Kent are among them. There is also, of course, a lot of interest now from the independent sector.
Second, the IB is promoting a belief in 'internationalism' as a required article of faith and this is working through the curriculum. George Walker, the current Director General of the IB, apparently takes the title of his book To Educate the Nations from this quote (by Harry Ree): "We must continue to aim at world government and educate the nations that this is their only hope."
There are other reasons why some heads are uneasy about the IB. With this added, I am further confirmed in the belief that a wholly new exam board should be established which gives schools - and parents - a real choice and a chance to pursue studies where knowledge and the ability to argue a case are valued above the political prejudices of those setting the exams.
The number of homeschooled students has increased from 15,000 in the 1980s to an estimated 2 million in the current decade. Now, homeschoolers represent 1.8 percent to 3.7 percent of the U.S. student population, says NPRI.
In the UK, I believe there is also a boom in home-schooling just as there is a boom in faith-based, lower-cost private schooling. It is a case of people finding any way possible to avoid the defects of state schooling.
An email received today:
I've recently read your book and you raise a lot of good points. I teach in a college that retrains unemployed disabled adults and it is only too apparent that the welfare system has hindered as well as helped a large number of our students in the ways in which you describe. For many the financial incentive to work just isn't there, especially those with families, although often we are sucessful in changing peoples outlook and raising their aspirations.
In a lot of cases the disability, physical or mental, is secondary to the problem of a poor basic education in the first place. Without basic literacy, numeracy and organisational/reliability employment prospects are massively limited. We are certainly seeing a large proportion of youngsters for whom you wonder what they actually did at school.
It's pretty clear that for a long time gov't thinking was on inclusion in mainstream education and organisations, charity based and specialised like ourselves, were not flavour of month. There is now a realisation that this approach does not work for everyone and has left many people marginalised as mainstream providers have not got the resources or skills to give the level of support necessary. This seems to be changing but the problem that a lot of charitable organisations have when applying for funding is the enourmous levels of beaucacy that accompanies any application e.g. setting targets,
review procedures, equal opps, inspection and auditing etc. In other words, introducing the same levels of inefficieny and inflexibility that the state insists on for itself!
(This is an edited and slightly changed excerpt from my talk at the Independent Education Conference in Brighton last week.)
1) Don't be ashamed about what you do.
State schooling has failed. The emperor has no clothes.
According to the Department for Education and Skills, 34 per cent of the population has not achieved five GCSEs at grades A to C. Given that anything less than a C may not reflect true understanding or competence in a subject, it is a disturbing statistic. More than 14 per cent of the adult population in England has obtained no exam passes at all. That is even worse.
How many people is 14.1%? 4.4 million people – individuals who have been totally failed by state education. Overall, one fifth of adults in this country are functionally illiterate according to the government. That is a measure of the failure of state education. In contrast, virtually no one leaves a private school 'functionally illiterate'.
In addition to being better at teaching, some private, low-cost, faith-based schools are taking children from the badlands and changing their lives. You, here, are generally not doing something as dramatic as that. But you are doing something worthwhile that many state schools do not achieve. You are, in the main, creating young adults who will be decent. They will take jobs and get married, most of them, before having children. Yes, they might well have turned out all right in state sector. But then again, maybe not. The chances of them turning out as good citizens are higher because they attend your school.
The second thing you should do, follows from the first.
You, as heads of private schools are forces for good. If you come to believe this - which I profoundly do - then you should tell the world.
2) Argue in public fora that private schooling is good. That it is better than state schooling.
You should not do this to boast. You should do it because it is in the national interest. State schooling has failed and private education is better. To argue for private education is not just self-indulgence or self advertisement, but public duty. This is a political battle and if you don't fight, you will get squashed. You are already under attack, though the charities bill, in particular.
You have the ability and the money. But to win you need to make the moral case as well. Which leads to third thing you should do with your independence.
3) Team up with the growing number of religious private schools.
They are the ones where the dramatic stories of children being rescued from bad lives demonstrably take place.
4,) a group of you who subscribe to what I am saying could create your own association and put forward these ideas.
This group would have a press spokesman and parliamentary lobbyist who, in the most reasonable but firm terms, would argue that private schools are a force for good and that they should be treated well by government instead of increasingly told what to do.
5) As a group - since I know it is tough to do individually - publicly declare that you will no longer subscribe to the national curriculum.
The curriculum has no clothes and you can do better.
The original idea of the “national curriculum”, introduced in 1992, was to force state schools to teach children the three Rs. But now the national curriculum has been turned into a tool to shape all education, including private education. I asked one headmistress of an "independent" school why she did not give up computer lessons or merely provide a short course, instead of taking time away from genuine, academic subjects. She claimed it was “the law”, which it isn’t. But “Information and Communication Technology” (ICT) is indeed in the national curriculum and so there is pressure to teach it.
This pressure is transmitted partly through inspections. Not long ago, independent schools were not inspected at all. Then many schools began to fear the Government would start inspecting them so they got together and offered to create their own inspectorate, thinking they would keep control of its agenda. That was a pipe dream. The Government now lays down an increasing number of things which it requires the “independent” inspectorate to check on. As for those independent schools which do not accept the independent inspectorate, they must receive OFSTED, the Government’s inspectorate, instead.
So any school which does not do the approved things in the approved way is on the defensive. If it does not do “design technology”, it risks being criticised. By being different – in other words, truly independent – a head is likely to get a critical inspection report, which could make the governors and potential parents nervous.
The Government likes to throw its weight about. A passing-through bunch of politicians and a few civil-servants-cum-“educationalists” are vain enough to think they have all the answers. In an extreme case, Summerhill, a school which allows children to decide whether or not to attend lessons, was severely criticised in an OFSTED report and the Government threatened to close it down. Summerhill won in the courts in 2000. But there is no occasion to celebrate since the Government has subsequently given itself further powers to tell schools what to do in the 2002 Education Act.
Personally I find it galling to spend a fortune in fees for an independent school only to find it is increasingly dominated by the state – the very organisation whose incompetence in education I am trying to get away from.
6) Set up a new exam board which explicitly is your own design and not in hock to government ideas.
Last year I visited a lot of British private schools.
I went round schools to choose the next one for our children. Before we started visiting, I assumed we would come across a wide variety of attitudes to education. Instead, I was struck by how similar they were. It was the educational equivalent of The Stepford Wives. Each school was worryingly like the last one and, even more worryingly, subscribed to Government propaganda about nearly everything.
Control of the exams is one of the ways in which the Government has increasingly come to dominate private education. Exams frame what our children learn in class, day by day. The exams determined, for example, that for a while, children taking A-level French were not required to translate from English into the foreign language.
Exams used to be set by a dozen or more different, independent educational boards. They had contrasting reputations and some offered several different syllabuses in subjects like history and English literature. Schools had a terrific choice. But since then, the boards have been intimidated by Government to merge so now only three are left. All depend on the approval of the Qualifications and Curriculum Authority, a quango appointed by the Government. Indirectly, therefore, the Government now strongly influences exams.
So set up your own board, or boards.
7) Take teachers who have been privately trained or not trained at all or trained by you.
The willingness of most “independent” schools to submit to government is strange. They have been regularly shown to outpeform state schools in their results. Yet they meekly accept instruction from the same state that they beat hollow. Why?
One reason is that the state gets hold of teachers early. Most primary school teachers have taken a B.Ed. course to “qualify”. That means they have been subject to at least two years induction into Government-approved educational theories. Secondary school teachers have received less Government propaganda, but still some.
So accept teachers from the course in Buckingham University and anywhere else that has a teacher-training course that you approve of, regardless of whether it is anything to do with the government.
8.} Look abroad
Look to what is happening around the world, to Sweden - where 75 per cent or 85 per cent of what would be spent on a child's state education can be transferred and spent in a private school. Look to the Netherlands and Denmark where semi-independent schools are a major part of the education system. We don't have to stick with the existing system. You can influence the political debate.
9) Argue for private education for all.
State education only got going 135 years ago. It was understandable and, in many cases, idealistic in its intentions. It was meant to save the poor. Instead, it has condemned them. A mere 1.7 per cent of the lowest social class gets to university.
It was understandable to think that state education might be a good thing. But it would be cowardly and dishonest not to recognise that, instead, it has failed and has caused real damage into the bargain. It is our duty to argue that the whole population should have the benefit of private education.
One of speakers at the Independent Education Conference last week was a lawyer from the Charities Commission. He explained the law which the Labour Government almost brought in during its latest period in office (it ran out of time). He said it would, effectively, have obliged independent schools to do more charity work in order to avoid being taxed more heavily. The same law is now likely to brought in during the next few years. (The Queen's Speech may have more details.)
The truth is that the New Labour leadership needs ways to curry favour with Old Labour MPs and other supporters. Attacking private schools, like banning fox-hunting, is one way of achieving this end.
As with fox-hunting, the attack has necessitated various illogicalities and a large dose of hypocrisy to enable any kind of justification for the changes proposed. There is every reason to believe that, if the attack is at all successful, it would cause harm rather than good.
Chris Woodhead, in an excellent speech towards the end of the conference, clearly did not think the attack was too serious. He said that giving up charitable status would add four per cent to fees and that this would not be significant given the large fee increases of recent years.
Four per cent would, of course, do some damage - to those who are struggling to afford private education and for whom this would be the last straw. But there is a worse threat which he did not mention. It is possible that schools may not be allowed to give up charitable status. A school that does not do as it is told and do the charitable activity required, may not be permitted to 'go commercial'. Its assets were created by charitable donations and the law could easily say that they must remain for charitable use. The assets could be removed and assigned, perhaps, to some other charity. (Whether it would necessarily be another private school or, say, a charity supporting state schooling the lawyer did not say.)
So the real threat is that private schools will be closed down if they do not obey. The chances are, in the circumstances, that they will obey.
What is wrong with that? Isn't charitable activity a good thing? Yes, I certainly agree with that. But this is not charity. This is an extra tax under the guise of charity. Charitable activity is voluntary. This is not voluntary. It will be done under threat of closure. It is more like extortion.
Two essential points are missed - deliberately - by the government:
1. Parents at private schools are already paying for their children's education twice. They are paying through their taxes. Since they do not use the state education they are buying with their taxes, they are effectively already paying state scholarships for two or more of the children of other people. Then they pay the private fees. So they pay twice. Making private schools do a lot of charitable work - perhaps free places for children of parents without much means - would mean they would pay three times. This is unjust and penal. It is a discouragement to private educaiton. Deliberately so.
2. One of the fastest growing kinds of schooling is that provided by relatively low-cost faith-based schools. The customers are not rich - one of them whom I met was a single mother living on a council estate who gave up 40 per cent of her income to save her children from a crime-producing state school and put them in an evangelist school instead. If such schools are taxed, this would be obscene. But if such schools are not taxed, on the basis that it would be taxing those who are of below average means, this would mean that schools suffered taxation depending on whether the customers were rich or poor. Private education of the poor would be untaxed, education of the rich would be taxed. The brutal fact that this proposed change in law is an attack on the wealthy - that class hatred, is the motor - would be exposed.
Another underlying truth about those who favour this change: they hate private schooling and its growth because it suggests that state schooling is not good enough. The truth of this is something which they loathe to admit. The easy way to dispose of the uncomfortable suggestion is to make life as hard as possible for private schools and, if possible, destroy them.
Of course it is said that private schools 'get a tax break'. That is absurd. In the first place, the parents pay twice, as already mentioned. In the second, education should not be taxed anyway. It does not have to be regarded as a charity to be regarded as a 'good thing', like medical care. Private medical does not suffer VAT. Nor should private education.
It is also said that private education is divisive. No. It is state education that is divisive. It is state education that creates seriously badly educated children. It is state education that has produced an adult population a fifth of whom are functionally illiterate. State education has created a divide in society that private education would never have done.
The great irony is that the Labour government - the political descendants of Nye Bevan who nationalised the vast majority of hospitals in this country to make the system more efficient - is trying to patch over the failure of this NHS model by buying operations wholesale from the private sector.
If you want to know why waiting lists have been reduced, it is by a Labour government going, in desperation, to the private sector.
Ms Hewitt said £3bn will be spent on private sector treatment over five years to pay for 1.7m operations.
And NHS figures released ahead of her speech have shown waiting lists and times have fallen again.
The money will pay for the second wave of independent treatment centres, which carry out non-urgent surgery, and more private operations to help create a patient-led NHS, Ms Hewitt told a conference in Birmingham.
It will mean the number of operations carried out by the private sector, but paid for by the NHS, will rise from 5% at the moment to between 10% and 15%.
This coverage is from BBC Online.
I attended the Independent Education Conference at Brighton College yesterday.
One of the speakers was from OFFA, the Office for Fair Access. He explained the assembled heads of private schools that there was no need for them to think that OFFA was setting quotas for the proportion of children to go to universities from state schools - or, to put it the other way round, that there will be a quotas on children with better exam results from private schools that will be allowed to go to such universities. No, no. It was just that higher education was a 'public good'. Higher education resulted in economic benefits and those who had it were less likely to commit crimes, among other things. Access should be widened.
He said OFFA believes very much in 'autonomy' for universities. So what was going on was not OFFA-imposed quotas. Rather, universities were being asked to set their own 'targets' for the proportion of state school students and these targets and approaches to widening access were being "agreed" with OFFA.
After that, OFFAs role was to "monitor" how well each university was doing. He admitted that if a university did not do well and was clearly failing in its targets, then - and only as a last resort, he emphasised, because he was confident of agreement in the vast majority of cases - then the university might not be allowed to charge top-up fees.
This was, as one delegate said, "double talk".
To my mind OFFA - an instrument of government bullying - is like a man who goes to a woman and says: "Sexual intercourse is a public good. There is a lot of research indicating that it gives pleasure benefits. You are under no obligation to have sex with me. But I want you to write an 'access agreement' which includes a target of how often you will have sex with me. I very much believe in your autonomy, so I will set no quota. It will be your own target, which you set and I agree. After that, I will monitor how well you keep to your target. Incidentally, I have got a gun. What do you say?"
The NHS is the world's third-largest employer with a million people on its books, second only to the Chinese Army and Indian railways. We spend some £80 billion a year on the NHS, equating to £1,400 annually for every man, woman and child. Despite this the number of NHS beds in England has halved in the past 25 years.
The average British woman will have 2.2 healthy pregnancies in her lifetime - almost enough to keep the UK population stable - but will give birth to only 1.7 children. The difference is accounted for by the number of abortions.
The number of people working in the public sector has increased by 10 per cent since 1998, accounting for some half a million of the new jobs created since Labour came to power.
Total public sector employment in 5.29 million, up from 4.71 million in 1997.
In 1981, 600,000 people claimed incapacity benefit. Now it is 2.2 million.
The greatest increases in recorded crime since 1997 have been in drug offences (509 per cent) and violence against the person (281 per cent) and there has been a drop in burglaries by nearly a fifth.
More than half the households in Britain have less than £1,500 in savings, and a quarter have no savings at all.
Teenage birth rates in Britain are twice as high as in Germany, and five times as high as in Holland.
150,000 children are educated at home, and the figure is rising. Bullying, harrassment and religion are the reasons most cited by parents for taking their children out of school.
From Britain in Numbers published by Politico's and serialised in today's Daily Mail.
The most remarkable statistic is the final one:
...independent school pupils, who accounted for only 15 per cent of the total number of A-level candidates, were achieving a disproportionate share of A grades in the hardest subjects: 60 per cent in modern languages, 48 per cent in chemistry and 46 per cent in physics and maths.
At the same time, the gap in performance between independent and state schools was widening.
Over the past four years, the proportion of A-levels taken by fee-paying pupils had risen to 23 per cent, and the proportion of A grades they achieved to 40 per cent.
From the Daily Telegraph.
Of course, those who think state education is fine will like to think that the outperformance of the private schools (which take only 7 per cent of children at the outset) is all due to the richer families and the smaller classes in the private schools.
They are now having to carry a huge weight of private outperformance on this pin of 'richer families'. It is, frankly, incredible to anyone who is open to the evidence, that it is all due to that.
There are plenty of state schools which have plenty of ambitious middle class and upper class parents. Tony Blair is the obvious example. The London Oratory has plenty of them. So does Our Lady of Victories in London. Then there is Henrietta Barnett in the North London, which has seven applicants for every place and children being tutored to get into it. The list goes on and one. Yet even when these 'top' state schools are full of the cleverest children of the well-educated and ambitious, they still underperform the private schools.
Those who defend state schools are in denial about their failure. For the sake of the next generation of children, it is important that they face reality.
One of the former art teachers is currently in court, claiming unfair dismissal from Eton College and claiming that she was told to help Prince Harry with his A level course-work.
In statements, she claimed that Mr Burke ordered her to help the prince with his AS-level art coursework in May 2002, which was to count towards his A-level result. She was told to add text to drawings he had done, explaining their context and inspiration.
(From the coverage in The Daily Telegraph.)
Coursework is one of the ways in which A levels have been degraded to the point that the results cannot be relied upon. Coursework is now plentiful and it is not only Prince Harry would, allegedly, has been 'helped'. Coursework is surely an open invitation to parents and teachers to help students get grades they otherwise would not achieve. It undermines the drive of a student to succeed by his or her own intelligence and work. It confounds trust in the system.
Why has coursework become so big in Britain? It would be interesting to know the process by which it happened. But it certainly serves the interests of government and many teachers in maintaining the pretence that standards of education remain high. When the test is not objective and unarguable, the result is all the more open to manipulation.
The people that the expansion of coursework does not serve are universities, employers, parents and children from backgrounds (normally the poorer and less well educated) where they will not receive 'help' with their coursework.
More people are saving more to pay for education.
What they are spending it on precisely is not revealed by this survey. At a guess the money is partly for tuition fees, partly for living expenses for the increasing numbers going on to higher education and partly because more people are resorting to private tutoring. According to a previous survey, one in four children at state schools has tutoring at one point or another. There is also the apparently rapid growth of fee-paying faith schools which may not be captured by the usual statistics on private schooling.
The media - especially the broadcast media - coverage of this election has been trivial and misled people about the importance of the differences between the parties.
BBC Television News last night was dominated by its senior political journalists traipsing after the three party leaders like lap-dogs. Andrew Marr, a clever, sophisticated journalist, was reduced to showing pictures of Tony Blair and Gordon Brown getting out of a helicopter and someone who used to be a Labour supporter expressing discontent to Mr Blair.
The newspapers concur with the idea that there is not much difference in the 'vision' of the parties. But that is nonsense.
The Conservative Party has proposals which are radically different from those of Labour.
If it actually got into power and gave people the right to use tax money to buy private education (at a school charging no more than the cost of state education) it would transform schooling in Britain. The supply of cheap private education would increase from its small base and over a period of, say, ten years, the landscape of schools would be very different.
The Conservatives also proposed to give people money towards operations in private hospitals (half the cost of the NHS operation). That would dramatically change the balance between government-supplied and private hospital care - especially because private care is already quite substantial.
These policies would have their drawbacks and problems but they offer the prospect of more choice for more people than anything equivalent in, say, the United States. They would enable healthcare and education in Britain to regain something of their former world standing.
It is true that the Conservatives themselves have not put these, their most radical policies to the fore. One gets the impression that the leadership believes in the policies but fears they do not have big electoral appeal. But the media should be zooming in on them, because they do represent a radically different vision. The Labour Party thinks that another few quangos and another few billion pounds will fix the lamentable performance of government-supplied medical care and schools. The Conservatives don't. They are offering a chance of private-provided healthcare and education for those who cannot easily afford to buy their way out already.
They are offering a life-line to people whose lives are educationally impoverished and physically endangered by the current government-dominated system.
I am in Miami and about to go to see a private school which takes children with state education vouchers and then a Catholic hospital which takes the poor.
It has been stimulating here. I have been reminded how big is the cultural gap between Britain and America in the way people talk, dress and relate to each other as well as in the landscape.
The most interesting part of the Heritage Foundation 'Resource Bank' (which seems to mean 'conference') was the session in which Patricia Levesque, a very personable, friendly, intelligent, senior woman of a sort we don't see much in the Britain, from the office of the Governor, Jeb Bush, explained the Florida programme for offering choice for school children. It became clear that the choice programme so far is tiny and yet has encountered fierce opposition. A man called Jay Green, from the Manhattan Institute, went through the testing of the success or otherwise of this same choice programme. The data he supplied appeared to be overwhelming. Not only did the children benefit but the children in the schools that were 'left behind' benefitted too.
There are many different programmes, but the biggest one allows handicapped children to move from the local government schools to other local government schools or to private schools (with the benefit of local government funding). You could call this a voucher scheme.
It was fascinating that the Manhattan Institute had actually gone to the lengths of testing what was the effect on the local government schools of having some children leaving. The effect was actually positive. He reckoned this was because of the incentive to perform that was placed on the local government school.
More soon. I have to go.
State education was meant to improve the chances of the poor, but a here">new report suggests it is failing.
Among boys born in the poorest quarter of families in 1970, 38 per cent remained in the same bottom quarter of earners when they grew up. That is worse than boys born twelve years before, in 1958. Only 31 per cent of such children did not manage to go on and better themselves. It is an extraordinary indictment of 60 years and more of state control.
A system that was intended to give the poor an opportunity to rise in the world seems, instead, to be keeping them down.
Ruth Kelly, the Education Secretary, yesterday admitted there had been problems and said it was for "many reasons" - a weaselly response if ever there was one. She claimed the main reason was the expansion of higher education which had disproportionately benefited the middle classes. That could be a very small part of it. But far more fundamental is the fact that the poor are not being equipped by the state system to get into top universities in the first place.
Ruth Kelly argued that it was nothing to do with the grammar schools. Is that right?
Let's recall what has been done to grammar schools. In the 1960s, Tony Crosland, the then Education Secretary, famously - and obscenely - declared, "If it's the last thing I do, I'm going to destroy every f****** grammar school in England and Wales and Northern Ireland."
The grammar schools were founded well before the state took over British education. Most were created in the 19th century and before. Rich people endowed them with land and money to subsidise the education of poor children.
Then the state took control of most grammar - and religious - schools. For a long time, they held onto the standards of behaviour and academic excellence which they had developed over decades and centuries. They continued to do well for their children.
My uncle, now retired, came from a family of modest means. He attended one and went on to Oxford University and a top job in the civil service. A friend went to a grammar school and then to Cambridge and a fortune in investment management. Grammar schools were often more academically intense than private schools.
But three things happened. First, successive Labour governments, led by Tony Crosland, closed down as many grammar schools as they could. Second, their independence - and the independence of the religious schools too - was gradually undermined by governments of both colours. And third, because there were fewer top schools within the state system, the middle and upper classes struggled ever more determinedly to get their children into them. As a result, the poor got squeezed out.
Tony Blair, for example, found a way to get his boys into the London Oratory - one of the best state schools in London. At the London Oratory in 2002, nine of ten children got five or more good GCSE grades. Nearby, meanwhile, at another state school called Phoenix High, barely more than a fifth of the children managed the same. And who went there? The poor, including 18 per cent asylum-seekers.
Richer people move houses to get in the catchment areas of better schools. A house within the catchment area of a good primary school can cost as much as a third more than a similar home in the next street. Richer people have their children tutored to get into the grammar schools. The system is now manipulated for the benefit of the better off, leaving the poor with the 'bog-standard comprehensives", as Alastair Campbell, the Labour party spin-doctor once called them. It is not surprising, therefore, that among the lowest socio-economic group, a mere 1.7 per cent go on to receive a full university degree - a twentieth of the proportion among the top group.
It is an enormous contrast with what happened to one boy, brought up by his uncle, a cobbler, in a remote part of North-West Wales. While at his local school, he read Thomas Macaulay's History of England, Edward Gibbon's Decline and Fall of the Roman Empire and classic fiction including novels by Charles Dickens and Victor Hugo. He learned Latin and knew his bible so well that he was able to quote from it at will for the rest of this life. He became a successful lawyer and eventually Prime Minister. David Lloyd George went to a Church of England school before such schools were controlled by the state. What chance would a boy in such circumstances now have of achieving the same? Precious little. The average standard of schooling has deteriorated.
The best result would be achieved by a return to the independent system of the late 19th and early 20th centuries. For those who think that is 'politically impossible', there is another alternative. The recent report says that the opportunities for the poor in Britain are worse than in certain Nordic countries including Sweden and Denmark. These have less monolithic state education structures than we do. In Denmark, parents can take the money provided by the state and use it to send their children to independent schools. They can even start up new, independent schools. Parents, including the poor, have real choice.
Sweden, in 1992, allowed parents to take 85 per cent of the cost of state schooling and spend it at any kind of school they like. Grades have improved significantly.
We need to face the fact that our state education system is failing the poor. It is only through radical change in the structure that we will enable the poor of the future to have a better chance of success.
If you were born in 1958 into a family in the bottom quarter of income earners then you had a 17 per cent chance of getting into the top quarter of income earners by the age of 30. If you were born in 1970, that chance had declined to 11 per cent.
Peter Lampl, quoted in The Sun today.
Research by the Centre for Economic Performance is reported in many newspapers today. But this is the point at its most succinct.
State education was created to give children equal opportunity. Some even believed it would eliminate entirely the advantage of those who come from richer and better educated families. In fact it has done the very opposite. It has reduced the chances of the poorest to advance themselves. They have, instead, been condemned to the worst of the state schools where they have a very small chance indeed of getting an education that will give them the skills and the ambition to get to the top.
State education for the poor is now so inadequate and, in many cases, positively damaging, that probably the fastest growing trend in education today is for poor people to pay for private - usually faith-based - schooling.
The link to the report is here.
The Heritage Foundation in the USA has a new website covering 'school choice' - that is how parents in different states are able to make choices in schooling, whether in private or public (local government) schools.
The Foundation asserts that school choice is a growing trend in America.
Home schooling is an example of 'school choice' and has grown very dramatically:
Home schooling is the practice of schooling students at home by parents or guardians. Home schooling is the fastest growing form of school choice. From 1994–2003, the number of home-schooled students rose from 345,000 to 1,100,000.
Charter Schools did not exist at all prior to the 1990s:
Since Minnesota enacted the first charter school law in 1991, over 3,000 independent public schools of choice have opened their doors. A charter school is a public school sponsored by a local school board, university, state board of education, or other state governing body and operated by groups of parents, teachers, other individuals, or private organizations. Charter schools are granted more autonomy than district-run public schools and are held accountable for student performance. Because of the flexibility granted to them, charter schools may differentiate themselves by employing a curriculum that is different from the district’s, having a thematic approach, instituting a longer school day, requiring parental involvement, or using innovative technology. Like other public schools, charter schools are open to all students and are funded through tax receipts.
I was surprised to read that 11 per cent of American school children go to private schools:
According to U.S. Department of Education statistics, 11 percent of students are enrolled in private schools.
The source for this is a here but I have not found the precise reference in the document to check that the figure is not at all misleading. I had previously been told that Americans did not bother with private education except at university.
At any rate, it does seem as though school choice is a growing phenomenon in the USA. It would be good to understand it more fully mand discover, in Britain, what is the extent of the growth of fee-paying faith schools and of home-schooling.
These are examples of people fleeing the unsatisfactory welfare state delivery of services.
Over time, people will try to find ways to get round the poor and mis-directed delivery of services by the welfare state.
In education, since many schools are ineffective in their teaching, a large minority of parents now resorts to private tuition.
Since some schools are now places to be apprenticed in crime-craft, a small but fast-growing number of people - including those who are poor and thus condemned to the worst state schools - are moving their children to low-cost, fee-paying schools. These are often religion-based and teach good behaviour.
I wonder if the news that part-time further education has dramatically grown is another example?
This is from Guardian Online:
The number of part-time undergraduate students leapt by more than 80% last year, according to the first official figures detailing who went to university in 2003. Numbers of part-time students increased from 13.1% of all undergraduates in 2002 to 23.2% in 2003, today's figures reveal.
In total, there were 188,360 part-timers studying for first degrees in 2003 compared with just 103,545 in 2002.
Today's figures show that 41.7% of all students in higher education now study part-time. And, while the number doing postgraduate courses has remained static at 31.2%, the bulk of those studying on a part-time basis are working to secure programmes for sub-degree courses, such as foundation degrees and higher national diplomas.
Part-time students are more likely to be women (62.4%) and are expected to be aged 30-plus (71.1%).
Previous studies have shown that more than half of part-time students chose to study that way so they can continue their careers, or advance their career prospects.
It could be that the sudden growth in part-time courses is a response to tuition fees. However, part-time further education was clearly a major part of further education even before that.
It seems that people who either never had further education, or else had what was prescribed by the Government and found it did not achieve what they wanted, now increasingly use education for something that they do really want: getting a better job. They may well be finding that when they choose the course themselves with a specific purpose in mind, that they get more out of it.
They are therefore, it seems, more willing to pay:
Part-time students' fees are already deregulated
This phenomenon, incidentally, of people fending for themselves and being prepared to make sacrifices for what they really want, suggests part of the answer to the paradox noted in a previous posting: that now the government controls the training and employment of doctors, there is a shortage, yet when doctors had to finance their own training (aided to some extent by donations) and they were employed by charitable and other hospitals, there was no shortage.
(The Guardian article, of course, is phrased in terms of how universities want more government subsidies but that could well damage the flexibility and quality of the courses and the commitment of the students.)
Democracy is a lousy system of government. It is just not as lousy as other systems. Here is Mike Baker, the BBC education journalist, pondering how it is that important issues in education are not being covered in the current election.
...general election news conferences are curious animals, much removed from ordinary journalism, not least because they are a televised showcase not only for the politicians but also for the star political journalists.
It is almost as if they run to a pre-prepared script. The first question always goes to the political editors of either the BBC or ITV. Then it is the turn of their counterparts on Sky News, Channel Four News or Five News.
They ask good, tough questions - although sometimes the question is as much honed for its sound-bite quality as the answers are - but it is a badge of journalistic independence that they almost always ask about an agenda which is quite different to the theme of the news conference.
Of course, there are usually specialist journalists (education, health, or home affairs correspondents) at these events too. But they rarely get a look in as they are not regulars in this Westminster circus.
Indeed the specialist correspondents sometimes feel they are intruding on a private show. A specialist question, seeking clarification on policy, often brings a collective sigh of annoyance from the political journalists who, perhaps, see it as playing into the hands of the politicians.
In case this is sounding sanctimonious, let me add that I was certainly guilty of the same sort of thing
The trouble is that these daily news conference have become theatre. A gaffe here, a momentary loss of memory there, and that becomes the "story".
That is fair enough, up to a point, but the whole event often becomes little more than a jousting match between political correspondents and politicians.
In case this is sounding sanctimonious, let me add that I was certainly guilty of the same sort of thing when I was a political correspondent.
The truth is that Westminster-based correspondents do not know the ins and outs of policy in areas as diverse as education, health, and welfare. But tax and spend, and political personalities, are their bread and butter.
The only way issues such as health or education ever get to dominate these events is when there is the emotional appeal of a dramatic case study - a child denied an operation, a patient left on a trolley in a hospital corridor, or a parent facing the closure of their child's special school.
Yet surely issues such as classroom discipline, class sizes, and tuition fees are very important to many voters? There are clear choices on offer between the parties on each of these, and other, education issues.
Of course, voters can read the manifestos themselves. But the role of the media is not just to try to trip up weary or unprepared politicians but also to explain, compare and contrast policy issues.
One of the worst aspects of journalism is the pack mentality - it is safer to hunt together than to rove independently. If the big beasts of the journalistic jungle are going on one issue, others will follow.
And even the big beasts must feel constrained. They usually only get one question at these events (although they are usually canny enough to say "my question is in two parts...").
So, while they might like to test out the details of the class size policy, they dare not miss their one chance to try to wrong-foot the politicians on an issue that has cropped up elsewhere.
Many commentators are concerned by the public's lack of interest in the election campaign
I fear, and I speak as a television journalist, that this problem is largely the consequence of the daily news conferences being broadcast live on 24-hour news media. Journalists like to get their questions on the air almost as much as they want to hear the answers.
Indeed one or two political journalists, not necessarily broadcasters, produce long-winded statements as preambles to their questions. It is almost as if they are standing for election, not the politicians.
They are often witty, and occasionally they land a metaphorical punch on the politicians, but - call me old-fashioned - I thought the point of news conferences was for journalists to ask questions about the issues being presented to them, not to inject their comments into a memorable sound-bite question.
It sounds as though the select committee on reading has not taken as strong a line on 'synthetic phonics' as expected. Disappointing. The way that Mr Twigg, the minister, says that anything that the teachers do must be right, is a prime example of the way that the 'producer interest' is allowed to thrive in a state monopoly. This, of course, is at the expense of the interests of those whom the minister ought to be primarily concerned about: the children.
A series of interesting comments on a previous posting:
In response to my remarks on the failure of state education to improve social mobility, 'Joe' commented,
State education is only failing because the Tory criminals neglected it for so long. I dont think youll find they have the same problems with properly funded state education in European countries like Germany, France and Sweden. What your proposing would reverse social progress in Britain by 200 years, just to save you a few pounds on your tax bill.
Joe, Take an objective view for a moment - the left have set the terms of the debate on education and social provision more or less unchecked since the war. During this time, Britain's educational performance has declined by all international standards regardless of which party has been in power. The answer is obviously not to do more of the same thing - it clearly is not working.
It is time for the left to move out of the way and let the whole system be opened up to new providers coming in, and (shock horror!) giving the parents what they want.
Trust the people, not the system.
and HJHJ added,
In Germany you have a constitutional right to choose an independent school and have the state handing over same the funding as for the state sector.
In France, similar arrangements apply. In Sweden they have introduced freedom for practically anyone to set up a new school and to have the funding follow the pupil.
All these factors keep state schools on their toes, albeit perhaps not to a sufficient extent, but still better than here.
The problem here is that the government not only funds the schools, it insists on running them on a monopoly basis. When the government hugely increased funding a couple of years ago, did it get through to pupils? No - over three quarters of it went into teachers salaries and pension plans and higher national insurance - a clear case of producer interest.
There is a debate to be had about whether schools should be state funded (James Bartholomew believes other arrangements would be better) but social justice is not furthered by having a monopoly supplier and giving the disadvantaged no choice. If you really had the interests of the poorest and most disadvantaged at heart you would want to make sure that they had the same choice as the richest - they're just as capable of making such choices, they presently just lack the opportunity.
The original posting was:
The facts on social mobility are depressing. As the middle classes expanded after the war, there was considerable movement. But since the early 60s academic surveys tell us that mobility has declined. Studies show that for people in their 30s, the social class of their parents matters more than it did in the past.
Who said that?
Ruth Kelly in an article in today's Guardian.
Does she therefore conclude that state education, far from having improved social mobility, has damaged it and should be abandoned. Of course not, she concludes that she is capable of making changes that will reverse the course of the past 50 years and make state education a success.
A few things that have emerged about Ruth Kelly's plan to improve school food:
1. The money promised is mostly coming out of the existing education budget. It is not new money as was claimed at first.
2. The much-quoted figure of £280 million is misleading as a headline. I, probably like many people, assumed at first that we were talking about £280 million a year. In fact the money, or most of it, will be spent over three years.
3. The government carefully says that schools will be 'able' to increase the spend on primary school meals to 50p. But it is up to the local authorities whether or not this actually happens.
4. The extra money amounts to only 5p per meal.
The willingness of the Government to be misleading is breathtaking.
I would like to link to a strong piece in the Mail by Edward Heathcoat Amory but I cannot find it on the Mail website. Here is another good article by John Clare in the Telegraph.
The government has been shamed into having a stab at making school meals more nutritious. The main requirement is simply making more money available for schools to buy in higher quality food than you can get for 37p per child. But the government does not feel it has really intervened properly in a problem unless it does much more than that. So it is doing the usual things:
1. Set up an advisory body of well-paid professionals. This costs money. £60 million in this case, to be precise.
2. Arrange for inspections, in which well-paid professionals will go around schools demanding to know exactly what the children are eating. This costs money, too.
3. Impose centrally-drawn up requirements, requiring more well-paid people to have discussions, go to conferences, have secretaries and send out the instructions, and then insist that the headmaster (or perhaps other staff hired just to read instructions from various parts of the department) spends time reading and making sure the instructions are adhered to. This costs money, too, because the time of school staff has to be paid for.
4. Shift possible blame onto other people. In this case, create a 'toolkit' for parents (a subtle hint that it is all the fault of bad parents) and put responsibility onto governors of schools.
5. Spend money on (government-run?) training. This will require training the trainers, creating facilities and taking cooks away from their work in order to 'train'. This will cost money which will be inefficiently spent.
Also, in this case, we have a throw-back to Old Labour since the Government also appears to be encouraging supply of food by the schools themselves instead of by contractors. This, inevitably, will mean less value for money. New kitchens will be built. The value for money of spending on kitchens that are only used once a day and only in term-time does not appear to concern Ruth Kelly.
At the end of all this, some of the money will probably get through to better meals. But huge amoung of money is going be wasted. This is a case study in what is wrong with this Labour government.
It is amazing how it can make such a dog's dinner out of something as simple as making a meal.
Oh, and after three years, the extra money for school meals will be reviewed. This is so that in a few years' time, the chancellor can say, to roars of approval and delight, "the extra spending on school meals has raised standards and I can confirm today that the spending, which was originally only for three years, will be continued for another three years for the benefit of our children"
Here are the announcements as they appear on the Department for Education and Skills website:
• £220 million new funding grants direct to schools and local education authorities to ensure they can transform school meals, including a minimum spend on ingredients of 50p per pupil per day for all primary schools, and 60p per pupil per day for all secondary schools, as well as providing increased training and working hours for school cooks;
• £60 million from the Big Lottery Fund and the Department for Education and Skills to enable a new School Food Trust to give independent support and advice to schools and parents to improve the standard of school meals;
• tough minimum nutrition standards developed by an expert panel to be rolled out to primary and secondary schools from September 2005, and becoming mandatory from September 2006; the panel has been asked to strongly consider the use of nutrient-based standards and whether any individual foodstuffs should be banned;
• proposals to enable parents to work with schools and the School Food Trust to improve the quality of their child’s school meal, with a dedicated ‘toolkit’ for parents to be published in May;
• Ofsted to review the quality of school meals as part of regular school inspections from September, and to perform detailed inspections with nutritionists of the nutritional content of school food in a sample of schools in every local education authority.
From April, a new vocational qualification will be available for school caterers to help them promote healthy food, and ensure they are high status school cooks who are as integral to the whole-school team as teachers and classroom assistants. The Learning and Skills Council will also work with the School Food Trust to develop a ladder of qualifications to meet the skills needs of all kitchen staff, from the basics of hygiene and nutrition through to more specialist preparation and cooking.
New or upgraded school kitchen facilities where fresh produce can be prepared and served will be made a priority through the current school rebuilding and refurbishment programmes. The Government is investing £5.5bn in 2005-06 rising to £6.3bn in 2007-08 to improve secondary school buildings, and at least £1.8 billion to improve primary schools in 2007-08.
The facts on social mobility are depressing. As the middle classes expanded after the war, there was considerable movement. But since the early 60s academic surveys tell us that mobility has declined. Studies show that for people in their 30s, the social class of their parents matters more than it did in the past.
Who said that?
Ruth Kelly in an article in today's Guardian.
Does she therefore conclude that state education, far from having improved social mobility, has damaged it and should be abandoned. Of course not, she concludes that she is capable of making changes that will reverse the course of the past 50 years and make state education a success.
I find myself agreeing with the Independent:
Delegates at the NUT’s annual conference voted unanimously to send a team of union representatives into areas where new academies are planned to persuade parents and teachers to stop any new scheme from getting off the ground. The three main teachers unions are now opposed to the scheme. A leader in today’s Independent argues: “That the teachers’ unions have taken against city academies is not necessarily a bad sign. Indeed, it could be interpreted as a perverse kind of recommendation. At best, it is an indication that such schools are starting to offer parents a real alternative to failing establishments and that unionised teachers, notoriously averse to change, fear the competition for pupils from more innovative institutions”
From Reform's daily newspaper summary. The Reform website is here.
A teaching union is worried that "educare" - the extended care of young children by state schools/nurseries - might not be of high quality. The research which indicates that nursery care outside the home is beneficial to children, always quotes "high quality" care as conferring a benefit. If the care is not "high quality", it can be damaging, instead. As the union is worried that the care will not be high quality, all of us should be.
An increasing number of black families in America are turning to home education because they are so disappointed with public (what we would call state school) education. The story is here.
From John Clare's excellent Any Questions section in the Daily Telegraph today:
My 14-year-old complains that his "citizenship" lessons are banal, pointless and silly. Having leafed through a textbook, I have to say his description barely does justice to the subject's banality. We feel his time would be better spent reading a book or a newspaper. Can he be excused these lessons?
Alas, no. Thanks to David Blunkett, citizenship is a compulsory part of the national curriculum in state secondary schools. According to the Government, it is about "the kind of society we are striving to build and the role of the state in the process". It also has "an important role to play in the intellectual and social development of individuals". In other words, it is a non-subject which, according to Ofsted, is one of the worst taught and least-liked in the curriculum.
It is an inherently bad idea that the government should tell the people what to think and it is a particularly bad that it should tell people how to be citizens. (The very choice of the word indicates a political judgement since Britain is a monarchy and we are, in theory, 'subjects', not 'citizens' - a concept popularised in the French revolution.) The government is there to serve people, not to boss them about. In "citizenship" classes, the scope for pro-government and clearly political propaganda is obvious. Schools need little encouragement to push a political or otherwise prejudiced point of view. The propaganda content in the teaching of geography, history and science continues to increase. The idea that an education should equip people to understand at least two sides to an argument is fading.
The less pupils use computers at school and at home, the better they do in international tests of literacy and maths, the largest study of its kind says today.
For the full story in the Daily Telegraph, click here.
It is revealed in several newspapers today that the London School of Economics has been operating a secret quota system to favour the admission of state-educated students. It has been doing this, no doubt, because of the pressure from the government.
The news will increase the perception of those who pay a great deal to send their children to private schools that they are being discriminated against. This may add to the various factors tending towards a possible re-structuring of university education over the next ten or twenty years. Britain may develop some private, fee-paying universities. Other factors pushing in this direction are:
- The top universities including Oxford, Cambridge and the London School of Economics believe that the money they receive as part of state education is inadequate for them to cling onto their already doubtful ranking as world class. They are already flirting with the idea of 'going private'.
- Some universities, especially the London School of Economics, receive a substantial income already from foreign students. For them, it would not be such a major break to 'go private'.
- Students (or their parents) are now subject to top-up fees even when they stay in the state system. So the difference between the cost of going private and staying with the state is less than previously
- Gradually parents are learning from their children just how inferior state-funded university education in Britain is becoming. They hear how little contact the students have with teaching staff, how few essays they are set to write and, in effect, how much time is being wasted.
- Some parents also fear that universities, in one sense, actually damage the life chances of their children by instilling them with anti-business, neo-Socialist attitudes.
Already there is a trend for parents to send their children to American universities, at considerable expense. This trend is likely to continue unless some British universities go private.
I was being taken around a preparatory school in London and the head noted that a computer screen had been moved in one classroom. "Yes," explained the teacher. I put it in the front last week when we were being inspected. Now the inspectors have gone, I have returned it to the back."
It is a rather humiliating when independent schools feel they have to hide away the methods of teaching they really believe in because of government diktat. In this case, the teacher felt he had to pretend to believe in the "computers everywhere" idea that was, above all else, an attempt by Tony Blair - a politician, not an educator - to sound modern in 1997.
There are two (related) attitudes that are fairly prevalent in education which should be in question. One is that absence from school for, say, a week, is appalling. The second is that education necessarily takes place when a teacher is present and, conversely, cannot be taking place when a teacher is not present.
If a middle-class parent takes a child out of school to get two weeks skiing that are actually in the skiing season (and one of which is in term time), it is treated with the shock and horror, as if the child's life was being blighted.
Taking a child away from school is considered a kind of sacrilege. In theory this is because everyone (supposedly apart from the parents) are so concerned about education. But education now is rather like religion (or religious practice, as it has been at various times in history). Form has come to be considered more important than the content.
Just as people at certain times in the past have been considered virtuous just because they turn up at church, regardless of what they believe in their hearts or how they behave otherwise, so attendance at school is now regarded as crucially important, regardless of how much the child is (or is not) learning and regardly of what educational activity may be taking place outside school. The attending of school is itself regarded as the absolute good. Attending school has become like attending church.
This has, in turn, resulted in a new definition of education. Education is not learning any more. A teacher - one of the high priests of this new religion - has to be there, otherwise it is not education. And conversely, if a teacher is present, it must be education, regardless of what is happening.
Here are couple of stories to illustrate what I mean. In the last few years, I have visited numerous schools in order to select a short list for my elder daughter to go to at eleven. One of them did 'Food Technology'. This is a phrase which transforms what used to be called 'cooking' into education ( if a mother taught it, it would not be education). I asked on this visit why 'food technology' was taught. The teacher said it was on the national curriculum (as if that were complete justification in itself) and it also developed manual dexterity and organisational skills. It made me think how you could justify virtually any activity on similar grounds. You could say that learning torture or 'pain technology' (as it would be called) could be said to develop inter-personal skills and the ability to handle conflict. Come to that, it develops the skill of working out whether someone is telling the truth or just saying anything in order to avoid further excruciating pain. Very educational - but only if a teacher is present, of course.
On my own two week skiing holiday with my younger daughter, we came across an English school party which was, like us, skiing during term time. I must have raised an eyebrow because the teacher set about justify it as an educational experience. The children had been to the Folk Museum (that would be half a day, at most, out of the six or seven), the teacher had set the children to find out some Norwegian words. Meanwhile, using the equipment meant the children had to organise themselves (more 'organisational skill' which, again, only a teacher can transmit). All these things, of course, could easily take place when a child is with its parents. But without a teacher present, it would be not be education. It would be truanting.
(In the course of my younger daughter's truanting, incidentally, she, too, was taken to the Folk Museum, I read her A Christmas Carol from beginning to end, she spent two one hour sessions on the first two chapters of So You Really Want to Learn French - during which I realised how little French she had learnt at school - , she learnt the spelling of 20 English words, she practised her seven and eight times tables, she visited a house of Hanseatic League in Bergen, as well as an archeological museum there and an open fish market and we took a bus to visit Edvard Grieg's summer house and the nearby museum. She fell asleep that night listening to Grieg's Piano Concerto in A minor. But, as I say, it can't have been educational. No teacher was present.)
Here, in brief, are the arguments against brief, occasional, holiday absences used against parents who are highly motivated towards their child's academic success:
1. "It disrupts the pattern of learning. "
There may be some truth to this. But a school could respond by offering to let the parents know the work that will be missed so that the parents could keep up with it while on holiday. A more usual attitude of the school is to keep the work being done a state secret and to indicate to the child that his/her chances of becoming a prefect or having a decent role in the school play will be destroyed if he/she does not do what the school wants. The school uses blackmail to intimidate the child and cause confusion in his/her mind.
2. "It 'sends the wrong message' - presumably the message that school/education is not important. "
It could possibly send this message. More likely, it will send the message that school is not all-important, which is different and a sensible message. Natural intelligence, character, inter-personal relations, careers.. these all can be related to the impact of schools but they can also develop very significantly as a result of other influences.
3. "There are long holidays. You should be able to plan them without cutting into school time."
The skiing season (ie reliable, good snow) almost exactly co-incides with the school term. There is only a one week holiday in the spring term. So it is difficult to have a two-week skiing holiday without missing one week. The long summer holidays were created (in the 19th century?) to enable children to help parents with bringing in the harvest. Schools, then, were responsive to what parents wanted. If schools were responsive now, they would introduce a two week holiday in mid-skiing season, or, perhaps, a transferable week's holiday - transferable between the autumn and spring terms for the convenience of families. The other factor of course is that holidays become vastly more expensive and crowded when everyone takes them in the same week. The school's attitude to this is: 'your money is your problem, not ours'.
Discipline in schools has deteriorated. That is the message of the recent report commissioned by OFSTED.
- In 1996/97, 76 per cent of schools said they had good levels of discipline. The figure had fallen to 68 per cent by 2003/04.
- Gang culture is perceived as widespread in a fifth of secondary schools.
- Children are caught carrying knives and other weapons at least once a term in two out of five schools.
- 'Challenging behaviour' is shown by up to half of pupils in some schools. 'Challenging behaviour' includes biting, pinching, throwing furniture, assault, disobedience and temper tantrums.
Of course this is not very scientific. A lot of what is being analysed are perceptions - both by teachers and inspectors. Nevertheless, where it is difficult to get hard evidence, we sometimes have to make the best of something less satisfactory.
The Government response to the news was typical.
First it argued that it is not really so bad. Stephen Twigg said, "Permanent exclusions are 25% lower than 1997 and, as Ofsted acknowledges, pupil behaviour is good in most schools most of the time."
Then it put itself on the side of the angels and said it is not complacent: "We are supporting schools in showing zero tolerance to any bad behaviour"
Finally, through Ofsted, it blamed someone else: the teachers. Bell, the chief inspector of schools declared: "Today's report shows that strong leadership and effective teaching of an appropriate curriculum, supported by training and coupled with good links with parents and outside agencies, are key to managing challenging behaviour." In other words, it is not the Government's fault. It is the poor leadership in schools.
But of course the buck stops with the Government. The State has been running most education in Britin for more than half a century. Who employed the teachers? Who is in charge?
The reduction in exclusions, which Mr Twigg thinks is some sort of evidence of better behaviour should probably be regarded, instead, as one of the reasons why indiscipline has got worse. When Labour came to power in 1997, one of the first things it was proud of was reducing explusions. His logic is absurd. If we stopped putting murderers in jail, would that mean we had a less murderous society? Obviously not. The sheer self-serving nonsense which education ministers dish out is sometimes quite stunning.
It is also simply not true that the government has stood up to bullying. The idea that 'zero-tolerance' is being used is so absurd as to amount to a lie. (The education chapter in the book has a particularly dismaying example of a head teacher not be being supported.)
I interviewed two boys recently who had been at a comprehensive school in Westminster. They told me about criminal or delinquent things they did at that school which I am sure the school did not know about. The so-called 'perceived' gang culture and bullying is sure to be an underestimate of what is really going on, not an overestimate, as Ofsted seems to prefer to imagine.
One of the boys told me how he used to threaten the new boys, the eleven year olds, so they would give him their free lunch vouchers. Then he would sell the vouchers to other boys. His activity was never discovered by the school. The other boy was involved in organised credit card fraud. Again, it was not discovered. In the end, their mothers took them out of the state school and made heroic personal sacrifices to send their boys to a fee-paying evangelical school (the sort of schools that Bell has made some criticisms of). The lives of these boys were saved - by poor parents taking them out of the damaging hands of the welfare state and putting them in a safe, decent, caring, motivated environment.
Most papers carry the story. The Guardian version is here.
I went to the launch of the manifesto of the think-tank, Reform, today. Reform is an excellent organisation - very professional and with an effective approach. It closely analyses what is wrong with various parts of state provision, particularly healthcare and education so far. It offers key facts to opinion formers such as journalists. It offers a very useful daily email summary of the news. But the tough bit is when it comes to suggesting what should be done to make things better.
Reform proposes: "Patients would be funded - either through the tax system or by way of universal insurance - to purchase healthcare from providers of their choice"
I am sure that a system such as Reform proposes would be an improvement on the NHS. But I fear there would be problems:
1. NHS hospitals would remain dominant and they are chronically inefficient. I wonder about the accountability and incentives of those who would be working in an NHS hospital which - under the Reform proposals - would no longer run by the centre and would also have no shareholders and not be a charity. Reform suggests that staff and managers would have a 'right to buy' their hospital, thus giving them a commercial stake in its success. But that could be a slow process and might not happen at all. If the staff was allowed to buy, say, St Mary's Hospital in Paddington, they would either not be able to afford it (if they were allowed to sell off some of the property assets) or else they would be highly resticted as owners (if they were not allowed to sell off some of the property assets).
2. As long as the Government was providing the money, it would call the shots. It would regulate and tell people what to do and how to do it - causing damage to the provision. Even though this is not what Reform intends, it is what would happen in due course. When some hospitals failed, there would be irresistible demands for the government to step in and take control. We would be back to square one - state management.
3. If a social insurance model is chosen (which Reform offers as a possibility), there would be a cost problem. In France, for example, the freedom of choice of patients has resulted in huge and growing costs which which the French government has been battling.
4. Those of us who want medical care of a sort that the State is unwilling to approve and pay for, would have to pay for it. We would therefore, as now, have to pay twice for medical care. Once through taxes and once through direct payment.
5. Reform suggests 'co-payment' - in other words getting the patient to contribute to the cost of treatment. Co-payment can get very complicated. It tends to be means-tested, one way or another - otherwise the impoverished person may not be able to afford any treatment. Means-testing by hospitals and doctors would be a major bureaucratic problem. Previous Governments after the war repeatedly looked at charging people for visiting a General Practitioner. Each time it was decided that the costs of administering small co-payments would be so high as to make such a system absurd.
Reform proposes: "school funding would follow parental choice and allow children to be sent to state or independent school, topping up the fees if they so choose".
1. State schools would remain dominant and they have major failings.
2. Once Government money was going to private schools, the Government would, in the end, demand more control over what private schools teach, how they teach and what exams they take. This would damage education.
3. Those who gave their children education that was not officially approved would - as now - have to pay twice (once through taxes and once through direct payment). This would apply, for example, to those who chose to educate their own children at home.
The key point with both medical care and education is that the Reform proposals would still leave a major role for the state. In fact, in one respect the state's power would be increased: much of the money curently spent directly by customers on private provision would be replaced by state funding. The true freedom, power and independence this offers - which lead towards competition and high standards for the lowest cost - would be compromised.
The history of the welfare state tells us over and over again that one bit of state interference - however innocently intended - leads to another. It was intended in 1917 that the Government should fund universities but still leave them fully independent. But gradually the independence of universities has been thoroughly undermined. Once the Government provides money, it wants to control how that money is used. It faces criticism if any of the money - taxpayers' money - is used in a way that the public does not approve. So it feels it must control the use of the money. So we are back to state control and the damage that state control causes.
Subsidies by Government to schools in the 19th century led, inevitably, to the demand that the schools accepting Government money should be inspected. Inspection, in turn, led to demands for changes to the schools. Those schools that would not accept the changes demanded, were not approved and therefore did not get the subsidies. Thus Government control arrived though, originally, it was not intended. One piece of State involvement leads to another.
I applaud Reform's courage in making concrete proposals. I readily agree that there is no such thing as an ideal system and that Reform's ideas would be a considerable improvement on what we have now. It is true, too, that we should not get hung up on the idea of a perfect system. It was the idea of perfection that led to state control of both health and education. The result has been much suffering, tens of thousands of premature deaths and mass illiteracy. So we should never be led astray by the vain idea that perfection is possible.
But Reform's ideas in a very particular political context. It is more and more widely agreed and understood that the welfare state has failed. People are therefore casting around for ways in which to change it or roll it back. There may indeed be movement on this at some point in the next decade. It is important that the proposals that eventually carry the day, should have been carefully analysed to see how they might fail to achieve what is intended.
Reform's website, with links to its manifesto, is here.
For the record, what David Bell said about faith-based independent schools on 17th January:
Ofsted has identified a significant growth in the number of independent faith schools. There are now around 250 such schools, with around 100 Muslim schools educating around 14,000 pupils and more than 50 Jewish schools educating around 9,500 pupils. There are also more than 100 evangelical Christian schools.
Mr Bell said:
"Parents should be able to choose how their children are educated and should be able to pay to do so. That is the mark of a free and open society. But faith should not be blind. I worry that many young people are being educated in faith, with little appreciation of their wider responsibilities and obligations to British society.
"This growth needs to be carefully but sensitively monitored by government to ensure that pupils at all schools receive an understanding of not only their own faith but other faiths and the wider tenets of British society. We must not allow recognition of diversity to become apathy in the face of any challenge to our coherence as a nation. We must be intolerant of intolerance."
Full press release here.
(Originally published on predecessor website 18th January 2005. Re-posted for reference on this website on 3rd March 2006.)
There is something nasty about many members of Britain's elite. It is difficult to put one's finger on exactly what it is. But last night, the nastiness was on prominent display in Newsnight, on BBC2. I have come to think that perhaps the phrase for it is 'liberal fascism'.
Jeremy Paxman is liberal fascist. So is David Bell, the Chief Inspector of Schools. The two of them were talking to each other which is why - as they egged each other on - they made the bullying nastiness and arrogance of their attitudes so obvious.
David Bell had made a speech in which he said that Ofsted has identified a significant growth in the number of independent faith schools. There are now around 250 such schools, with around 100 Muslim schools educating around 14,000 pupils and more than 50 Jewish schools educating around 9,500 pupils. There are also more than 100 evangelical Christian schools.
Mr Bell said: "Parents should be able to choose how their children are educated and should be able to pay to do so. That is the mark of a free and open society. But faith should not be blind. I worry that many young people are being educated in faith, with little appreciation of their wider responsibilities and obligations to British society.
"This growth needs to be carefully but sensitively monitored by government to ensure that pupils at all schools receive an understanding of not only their own faith but other faiths and the wider tenets of British society. We must not allow recognition of diversity to become apathy in the face of any challenge to our coherence as a nation. We must be intolerant of intolerance."
That last last phrase could be considered the slogan of the Liberal Fascists. "We must be intolerant of intolerance." It sounds tough but decent. But what is the reality behind that soundbite?
It is Paxman saying to Bell that, at these faith schools, children are taught their religion and when they go home they have more of the same religion. He declared, outraged, "they are being brainwashed." In view of this "brainwashing", he wanted such schools to be closed down. Yes, that is the real agenda. Mr Bell, Mr Paxman and the government which created legislation of these new "citizenship" classes, want to close down schools which do not teach their own values and approach to life. They demand that children should be brainwashed, instead, with their own beliefs. This is liberal fascism.
There was a hint in his speech that Mr Bell thinks all pupils should be taught to think of themselves as 'European' and to think in terms of 'social inclusion' and multi-culturalism. In other words, they should be taught the beliefs - some of them clearly political - of himself and his companions in the ruling elite. This is liberal fascism.
I have visited one of the schools which Messer Bell and Paxman and the liberal elite at the top of the Labour Party would like to close. It was one where relatively poor people make really major sacrifices to enable their children to be brought up behaving decently instead of like some of the urban savages that are raised in state sink schools. That is, above all, what they are about. The school I visited is teaching what I would call 'good citizenship' in a way that most state schools totally fail to do. It is outrageous that Messrs Bell and Paxman should want to close down schools that are far better than the ones these liberal fascists espouse. How dare they flatter themselves that they are tolerant. They are bullies who want their own views to be taught, by force, to everyone else. They are enemies of what used to be good about British culture and civilisation.