Advanced education isn't for everyone

Why is this government obsessed with educating everyone to first class honours degree standard?  Apart from it being of little use to the nation as a whole if everyone was educated to nuclear physicist standard, have they actually sat back and thought that maybe some people aren't that interested in advance or further education and want to get out and do start earning some money?  The Rathbone and the Nuffield Foundation, an education charity, have issued a warning in response to the government plans to introduce compulsory education for all 16-18 year olds. 

Failure is not an option. Really - you can't fail.

The Qualifications and Curriculum Authority (QCA) - they really do have a quango for everything -  recommended this year in a letter to the former Education Secretary, Alan Johnson, that the A* grade should only go to students who get 90 per cent. An A grade is awarded for 80 per cent.  This is off the back of pass rates rising every year for the past 23 years.

S-t-op int-er-fe-ring

The Department for Education and Skills are interfering again.  This time they are handing out one size fits all advice on how to teach our young children.  They have produced a whopping 208 page document telling professional teachers how to teach.  Unsurprisingly the NUT has described it as insulting and criticised it as another attempt to micro-manage classroom practice.  The report, called the Rose Review (conducted by Sir Jim Rose, a former director of inspection at Ofsted) recommends that reading be taught through the use of synthetic phonics, which involves children learning individua

The education system is just a political football to promote political or social goals

Education. Education. Education. The opening lines of ten years of spin, let downs and failed policy from New Labour. A report published by Civitas today confirms that whilst this government has talked about education and pumped a load of extra money in to it, it doesn't follow that government interference is the best solution for getting the best out of our children.

Educational choices

The debate over David Willetts' accidentally controversial speech on education continues to rumble on. As Willetts and Cameron have themselves kept the debate alive, through Willetts' appearance on Sunday AM, and David Cameron's unconvincing protestations yesterday that the whole shadow cabinet is behind this policy, I will take the opportunity to return to the issue in more detail, with the benefit of a little more time for consideration.

Most of the commentary has consisted either of visceral, intuitive hostility from a loud and apparently-numerous internal opposition, or of repetition of Willetts' key point by Dave's Varangian Guard and a troupe of generally left-of-centre outriders from academia and the media. Let us try another approach. The merits or otherwise of grammar schools and City Academies can be debated ad nauseam, each side with its own statistics and anecdotes. There will be no resolution so long as everyone is busy deciding what sort of education is suitable for other people's children.

£50m on consultants and project mangers and not a legacy in sight

And so to another story of exceptional financial waste and total incompetence of management that only a government oversee.  Back in 2000 one of the many, many legacies that Blair wanted to set in place was the city academy programme.  So far only 46 of the 400 of these academies have actually opened yet the government has managed to spend £20m on consultants and £28m on project managers!

The good, the bad, and the not so ugly

JG has been highlighting the MTAS fiasco. Besides the fine illustration it provides of this Government's incompetence and refusal to take responsibility for their mistakes, it also sheds an interesting sidelight on another bad Labour policy. On Thursday's Question Time, Caroline Flint, the Public Health Minister, explained the necessity to scrap the old system in the following words:

"I have heard, for example, from clinicians about how applications used to turn up at hospitals, they'd put them in a pile and literally pull them out at random. So it was all agreed that that system wasn't right."

A bad system is no reason or excuse to introduce something worse. And one of the main criticisms of MTAS is that it made the selection process more, not less random. But equally importantly, does this not describe almost exactly the "lottery" approach to assigning places in schools to students, introduced by egalitarian Labour councils and approved by this Labour government? Why is a random approach wrong for selecting junior doctors but right for selecting students?

But let's be fair and give credit where credit is due if a Minister manages to be sensible (a task made all the more compelling by the fact that Ms Flint is by a long chalk the hottest minister and probably the hottest MP in parliament, and that is not intended to damn with faint praise). Yesterday's Telegraph reports that Ms Flint has taken a robust and rational stance against the call from Alcohol Concern to make it illegal for parents to give their children alcohol. If parents can't teach their children how to drink responsibly, it is hard to know who should have that responsibility. And how would such a law have been enforced? Ms Flint is to be congratulated on resisting blinkered pressure groups, giving short shrift to such a nannyish idea, and choosing masterly inaction over ill-considered action.

Now if she could only teach the rest of her colleagues to apply the same approach, we might have fewer MTAS-style fiascos.

Nanny knows best

What makes governments and local councils think they know best about just about everything?  If I have a leak in the bathroom, I'll call the plumber not Councillor Jones or my local MP.  If I want finacial advice I am highly unlikely to ask someone in the Treasury, I think I'll stick to the real professionals.  So why does this nannying government insist on telling the real professionals how to do their job all the time?  The latest piece of "we know best" guidance is to teachers.  New guidance published today gives nuggets of advice such as not over disciplining persisten

Whatever you do, don't get an education

Or your children will suffer. Headline in The Times today: University squeeze on children of graduates. Is there any need to say anything more? Can't get a much more obvious example of government picking losers. It's us. All of us (rich and poor alike).

Let's encourage the "right" people to go to university by telling them that they will then become the "wrong" people. Their children will have less chance of going to university than the children of people who were excluded in this generation. If you want the best for your child's education, make sure you marry someone with as little education as possible. Logic problem? Mixed message? Downright stupidity?

It takes more than sounding good to con us now, Tony.

Education. Education. Education. Remember that? What actually has Tony Blair done though to back up the sound bites? There was the city academies idea - 21 semi-independent schools that are largely funded by the tax payer and cost £25 million to build. And guess what, they are not working. They are actually reporting below average results in national tests for 14 year olds - and these are the government's own figures. 16 of the 21 schools have failed to reach the average for level five (the standard expected for their age).

Now we're all philanthropist, thanks to Tony

Tony Blair, when not trying to save the planet or fight the just wars of the Middle East, is making his stake to be Britain’s leading philanthropist. The government will give £1 for every £2 donated to English universities in an attempt to embed a "culture of charitable giving" across higher education. There is nothing wrong with former students and businesses donating money to the universities – from a business point of view it may well be a wise investment. However, the government claiming it will “embed a culture of charitable giving” by giving away money that was raised by the tax payers in the first place is absolute nonsense.

Standardised failure

Almost no one now pretends that Labour has achieved its ambitions for education. Government ministers continue to trot out their stale statistics about how much they have spent and how much the average grades have improved, but very few are fooled into thinking that this statistical trickery equates to a real improvement in educational standards. We are all aware that the huge increase in funding (52%) has largely been wasted, with grade improvements being achieved largely by submitting children into easier subjects, and coaching them to pass their tests rather than giving them a broad education. Fraser Nelson and James Forsyth have administered the last rites to any remaining delusions of political adequacy amongst education ministers, in an excellent article in this week's Spectator.

Their claimed success does not prevent ministers from searching for solutions to their failure. There is no shortage of voices offering to help. Today's Times gives prominence to two suggestions:

  1. Mick Waters, Director of the Qualifications and Curriculum Authority (QCA), wants a complete overhaul of how schools structure their lessons, with some being combined (e.g. science and PE, languages and music, or history and geography), some being narrowed to short, repetitive sessions (say ten minutes of a language three times a day, five days a week), and some being broadened into a fully immersive week of tuition (e.g. a week of ICT).
  2. Mark Walport, Director of the Wellcome Trust ("the country's largest independent funder of biomedical research"), advises that teaching techniques need to be tested by controlled experiment before being rolled out.

Though both are well-motivated suggestions, they conceal the assumption that is at the real heart of our problems - the idea that someone in a central position of authority has a solution that fits all. This was undoubtedly not the intention of Mr Waters, but the fact that the Director of the CQA saw fit to pronounce on scheduling in its generality revealed the subconscious reluctance to allow headteachers to determine the curriculum and schedule for their school. The implication of central control was less concealed in Mr Walport's suggestion - controlled experiments to establish best techniques imply standardisation once the results are known.

Fulfilling Gordon's dreams

Gordon Brown revealed in a speech at the Government Leaders' Forum yesterday (31 January) that "one of the priorities of his premiership would be legislation to compel all youngsters to remain in full-time education (The Times)."

This is one of the first clear indications what Brown would be like in No10 and it does not make one leap with joy. More and more rules and regulations will pour out of his office and all just to ensure that his abiding citizens will get the same "opportunities he had."

Schools falling apart because of red tape

Gordon Brown promised in successive budget speeches

  • to rebuild or refurbish all 3,500 secondary schools before 2020
  • to spend £3bn a year on rebuilding or refurbishing
  • to complete 100 schools by this year and 200 the next
  • to sign 100 building contracts in 2006

But according to the figures obtained by the Conservatives, the schools investment programme has become mired in red tape. Nothing really has happened since Gordon announced the plans in 2004:

  • not a single project has been completed
  • the Government expects to open only 1

How to improve standards - don't test them

The Institute for Public Policy Research, the Government's favourite think-tank of the "Third Way" (by their own lights, the "UK’s leading progressive think tank", using "progressive" in the sense that has been coopted by the soft-left to imply that solutions other than their own are regressive), has suggested in a report published today that the way to stem the rising tide of illiteracy is to stop testing for it. Instead, teachers would make their own assessments. Limited tests would still be run, but not in all areas of all subjects, and the results would be used only to moderate the teachers' assessments, not to assess individual students' performance.

Wise investment?

Tony Blair is planning to double the number of new city academies from 200 to 400 by 2010. The PM is pointing to the improved exam results to justify the move. But only a month a ago, an Ofsted report found that a few of the small number of exisitng academies have cost the taxpayer almost double the amount that was originally planned and some of them are still lagging behind with no real improvements.