Monday, January 18, 2010

Conservatives to restore education by academic ability

It has been the ideological battle in education for the past 30 years: whether to acknowledge that some are naturally more intellectually gifted than others, or to insist that all possess equal cerebral potential and so merit the same treatment. The former philosophy yielded grammar schools; the latter bequeathed to us the comprehensive system.

And the comprehensive ideology has predominated for a generation no matter which political party has been in power. The axing of grammar schools which Margaret Thatcher implemented in the 70s has been rigorously pursued by every education secretary since: the principle of selection by academic ability is ‘unfair’, and equality of outcome has swallowed equality of opportunity. It has produced a generation of mediocre teachers teaching a mediocre national curriculum to mediocre students who go on to excel in their mediocrity.

It has taken a long time to appreciate the nonsense of this (despite the quite obvious decline in standards and 'dumbing down' year on year), but David Cameron and Michael Gove have, at last, bit the bullet. Whilst insisting that all are equal, they have pledged to restore the principle of élitism to the nation’s manifestly deficient education system (or, actually, to that of England, for education in Scotland and Wales is a devolved competence), and acknowledge that some are more equal than others.

Not, alas, the children. But the teachers.

Yet if the principle may be applied to teachers, why not to students?

David Cameron is promising a ‘brazenly élitist’ approach to teaching standards in order to ‘raise the quality of graduates entering the profession’ and ‘elevate the status of teaching in our country’.

A Conservative government would therefore reward the best candidates and block the weakest.

If this ‘sheep and goats’ division may be made at 21, why not 18? And if at 18, why not 11 or 12?

The important thing to observe is the shift from the insistence that a university is a university and a degree is a degree: the obsession with bland uniformity is over; the charade that all may enter because all are chosen has evaporated.

The Conservative Party is to insist on a degree ‘pass mark’ before candidates are permitted to train as teachers, and, for some subjects, that pass must be in a degree from one of the top universities.

Why is a 21+ exam morally justifiable but the 11+ exam not? Why are élite universities a justifiable pathway to academic success, but not grammar schools?

Mr Cameron says that no one with less than a 2:2 degree would be granted taxpayer’s money for postgraduate teacher training.

So why should students with less than 111 in their 11+ exam be granted taxpayer’s money for an educational curriculum which may not suit their training needs? Who says that only those with Firsts or Upper Seconds make the best teachers?

Mr Cameron says that no one who has not been to one of the ‘top 25’ universities will be able to have their student loans paid off.

If ‘grammar’ universities are to be recognised and rewarded in the system, by what logic are grammar schools merely tolerated? Why may they not multiply and expand in every town and city in the country?

If the education of the educators may be ‘brazenly élitist’ in order to ensure that only the ‘brightest people’ can apply, what is the educational rationale for eradicating the élitism by which the brightest schoolchildren may be stretched by the most exacting academic curriculum?


Blogger gyg3s said...

"Mr Cameron says that no one with less than a 2:2 degree would be granted taxpayer’s money for postgraduate teacher training."

Which will fall foul of age discrimination. Is a 1st today, the same as a 1st twenty years ago? Or is it the same as a 2:2 from twenty years ago?

Also, is a 1st from Oxbridge the same as a 1st from some other institution? If not, why not?

This is simply more 'degree apartheid' where degree results are not used to discriminate between people but against people.

18 January 2010 at 10:39  
Anonymous philip walling said...

The Council for Legal Education tried, about twenty years ago, to restrict the Bar exams to only those people with a first class degree, but it didn't work because some of the best forensic barristers have poor degrees, and grade of degree means very little in the cut and thrust of the Bar.
But that was when you could be fairly sure that anyone who got to university was reasonably clever and well enough educated. It is not the case now, and so more hangs on the class of degree (but even that's not a sure-fire way of knowing).
There is no getting away from the fact that poor schooling has to be eradicated because if a child misses out on the necessary stages in the process of getting an education it is nearly impossible to make it up later.
And what's the point of somebody who isn't up to it going to university when they would be better suited to some other course in life. Academic education is pointless for many of the pupils who are encouraged to think they've failed if they don't have it, but it just directs them down the wrong path, wastes money and makes them miserable.
Better a happy carpenter or motor mechanic than a miserable assistant solicitor with unpayable off student debt and a huge mortgage.

18 January 2010 at 10:52  
Anonymous Michael said...

I must admit, I do have a problem with the 'top 25 universities' thing. The active promotion of elitism in education should be guided by academic standards and ability, not the institution where you gained your degree. It's a generally recognised phenomenon that many in the lower socio-economic classes won't go to the top universities because a) they don't have the self-confidence to even apply, and/or; b) the truly terrifying prospect of the debt accrued puts them off (have you seen accomodation charges for some of these places?!).

Of course, saying 'oh, but if you do we'll pay off your debt', doesn't quite cut it, because that only applies if you go on to become a teacher, and if you knew at 18 that you definitely wanted to be teacher then you'd just go to one of the provincial universities near your home instead, where problems a) and b) are already solved.

The impulse is a positive one, and re-inserting pride in excellence into the education system is sorely needed. I just wouldn't want this to become an incredibly blunt stick, where the middle-classes have things made easier, and the not-so-middle-classes are left unvalued.

18 January 2010 at 10:57  
Blogger Terry Hamblin said...

Why do I support grammar schools? I went to University at a time when only 3% of the population did so. My father was a bar steward and my mother a housewife. I come from a long line of builders' labourers. I retired as a Russell Group university professor. I owe my social mobility to a grammar school. My four children hold down important posts in business, health service regulation, Formula 1 engineering and medicine. All attended the local grammar school; indeed I eschewed promotion so as to continue living in one of the few towns that that retains them. Grammar Schools ought to be re-established by the incoming Tory government.

18 January 2010 at 11:04  
Anonymous Michael said...

@Terry - I'm not sure that grammar schools are the magic wand that many of the keener adherents tend to think. After all, schools are only ever as good as the teachers, and if the problem being recognised is also one of the quality of teachers passing through the system...

The battle is as much an ideological one as a political one. I hope those in a position to change things have the bottle to face up to this fact.

I blogged on this here -

18 January 2010 at 11:15  
Anonymous Red Admiral said...

Not sure how my dad would have managed now:

Farm labourer's son
1920s A-levels ("matriculation")
Student teacher
"Uncertificated" teacher
Teacher training college
Qualified teacher
Short break due to misunderstanding with Germany
Headmaster of inner city secondary mod.

And no degree of any kind.

18 January 2010 at 11:24  
Anonymous graham wood said...

Michael said:
"The battle is as much an ideological one as a political one. I hope those in a position to change things have the bottle to face up to this fact."

Indeed so. Nothing more ideological than the teaching of homosexuality to a captive audience such as schoolchildren in a class.
Why has Gove failed to outline a policy in this area.
I'm sure that education, not indoctrination is the wish of most normal parents, yet in spite of numerous requests for clarity from Mr Gove, he still cannot say whether he rejects the current practice of the adoption of the "gay" agenda in schools.
Anybody else care to ask him?

18 January 2010 at 11:32  
Blogger DDIM 'n HOFFI said...

Viva La Tory!

18 January 2010 at 11:36  
Anonymous Zach Johnstone said...

The first step is often the hardest. I think this is more than at first it may seem; ideas such as these fit a wider mode of thinking. It is a projection of a government which will move us away from the culture of blanket equality. If I'm right in thinking this, then let us see the same logic applied to other departments...

18 January 2010 at 11:57  
Blogger John R said...

The idea of applying the same selection logic at age 11 as at 22 is very obvious. It's just finding a logical politician to impelment it I think you'll have trouble with.

18 January 2010 at 12:03  
Blogger Kenpachi said...

The liberals will howl with protest to be sure.

18 January 2010 at 12:08  
OpenID Gareth Davies said...

@michael I agree, who will decide the top 25 universities for producing teachers? And what about the BEd vs PGCE debate? This could be a very blunt instrument for finding the best teachers and may entrench elitism in a way not intended by Messrs Cameron and Gove

18 January 2010 at 12:20  
Blogger Gnostic said...

Selection by ability (grammar school system) is suddenly a good idea now is it? So what changed Dave's mind then? And will we get to witness a further outbreak in common sense with similar Damascene conversions over AGW the EU?

Blowing hot and cold in this manner is doing nothing for my confidence (or rather lack thereof) in this wanna be (but shouldn't be) PM. Cameron will probably win because he isn't Brown, not because people will vote for his (what?) policies. Doesn't say much for him does it?

Oh my, my word verification is pidleuro. Excellent!

18 January 2010 at 13:05  
Blogger Archbishop Cranmer said...

Mrs Gnostic,

Have you read the article?

Mr Gareth Davies,

Your questions are moot.

Mr Kenpachi,

The ensuing strikes will make those of the miners look like a walk in the park.

Mr Zach Johnstone,

Policy indeed can only be implemented one step at a time. But the philosophy has to be coherent and consistent.

18 January 2010 at 13:11  
Blogger Gnostic said...

I have now, Your Grace. That'll teach me for commenting on a cursory glance and letting my thoughts get diverted by wishful thinking.

An outbreak of Cameroonian common sense was too much to hope for I suppose. To break the circle of virulent mediocrity and social engineering he should be tackling both ends of the problem. However, before he starts meddling with the education system he needs to get a reality check himself otherwise all we'll get is more state (greenie) propaganda along with the blind leading the blind. Again.

18 January 2010 at 13:37  
Blogger ultramontane grumpy old catholic said...

The comprehensive school idea was sold in the 60's on the idea that every schoolchild would have the chance to develop his or her potential. At the time Eton was posited as the archetype of a comprehensive school.

What a fraud! and the Tories fell for it hook, line and sinker. What nobody realised was that attitudes of parents were important and these attitudes manifested themselves into the school itself.

Like many of your communicants, I owe everything to a grammar school education. Not all my teachers were first class - my school had a penchant for classics rather than science, and I (and probably others) had to do a lot of background study to make up for the paucity of the maths and physics lessons in the lower forms (Chemistry was excellent). It was only in the VIth form that we had a proper Maths and Physics Masters.

But the ethos of learning was there, and grammar school gave me the priceless opportunity of mixing with boys from all backgrounds and getting on with them. It wasn't until very late on in my career did I realise who came from wealthy families and who didn't.

So bring back the grammar schools. Although the 11+ was criticised as 'determining a child's future by a single exam' there was also a 13+ for late developers. Today, those who get the required GCSE grades at 15+ would go into a VIth form college anyway.

18 January 2010 at 14:02  
Blogger Wyrdtimes said...

Are the Tories actually mentioning England yet? Or are they still banging on about "Britain" or "our country" or "the country"?

Education is a devolved issue.

Labour have to lie about this as they're run by Scottish MPs. But the Tories are mainly in England. Is it too much to ask for them to be honest enough to call England - England?

Insincere apologies if I sound like one of Dave "proud of my Scottish blood" Cameron's "sour little Englanders".

18 January 2010 at 14:21  
Blogger Gnostic said...

Wyrd, not sour, just grossly disenfranchised and angry with it.

18 January 2010 at 14:38  
Anonymous Anonymous said...

This is what we all have to look forward to anyway.....

24-year-old British girl weds her laptop "Alex"

18 January 2010 at 14:58  
Anonymous Anonymous said...

The obvious reason for not dividing at 11 years of age is that people develop at different rates. By 21 you can legitimately divide. At 11 you may well be doing many a grave disservice.

Incidentally, while we're talking about 'dumbing down' and declining standards, it's worth noting that IQ levels are rising generation by generation. It is almost certainly the case therefore that young people today have more raw intelligence than their parents and considerably more than their grandparents...

18 January 2010 at 15:53  
Anonymous Zach Johnstone said...

Your Grace,

Indeed. I just hope that subsequent steps reflect such a coherence in thinking.

With regards to your Twitter post, I think you have hit the nail on the head. A focus upon academic ability is but one side of the coin; a simultaneous regard for the PGCE itself is needed.

Knowledge is useless if one is unable to effectively impart it. Teachers often spend too much time seeking the favour of their pupils when really this matters little. As you say, respect is the paramount issue.

18 January 2010 at 16:10  
Blogger Archbishop Cranmer said...

"The obvious reason for not dividing at 11 years of age is that people develop at different rates. By 21 you can legitimately divide."

Readers and Communicants,

The statement was made by Anon@15.53.

It is this sort of absurd contribution which persuades His Grace that Anonymice almost invariably ceased their development at the age of 21, and why they are not worth bothering with.

18 January 2010 at 16:26  
Anonymous martin sewell said...

Knowing that Education was going to be a theme for the day I went looking for work by the excellent US black Conservative Educationalist Thomas Sowell. His record parallels Obama - both went to Harvard and Yale then became professors at Chicago but Sowell has also taught at Cornell Amhurst, UCLA and Stamford - quite a brain.

Can I invite you to look at the following

It shows that Cameron is on the right lines with support from someone who has really researched the subject and the outcomes

18 January 2010 at 17:22  
Anonymous Pat said...

Firstly may I say that our education system favours those who blindly accept what their teachers/professors/lecturers tell them. It may well be that those with third class degrees were downgraded for their independent thinking. Of course this system is useful to thosse who wish to maintain unquestioned obedience- including the present government.
Secondly, and assuming that a good degree does indicate a high degree of talent (albeit of a particular bent) I would question whether such people are best deployed teaching in primary schools- teaching ability is what is required here, not subject knowledge. Indeed if a teacher is to take lessons outside their first degree subject (which is pretty near universal) then that shows that subject knowledge is not a major consideration- so why specify that at all?
Finally, the conservatives have, at least in essence, an excellent plan for improving education throughout, getting rid of micro management, and by-passing the class issue that the grammar school system agrevated- its called the voucher scheme. Let the head and governors of each school decide which teachers to employ, and i they get it right they get a thriving school and lots of income- if they get it wrong they get a declining school and a declining income and ultimately close if they don't make corrections. Its worked in Holland and Sweden, and outside of education it works in every other industry.

18 January 2010 at 18:00  
Anonymous Anonymous said...

Thank Goodness we all get to vote. I hope you keep banging on about this please.

18 January 2010 at 18:02  
Blogger DDIM 'n HOFFI said...

Really clever people get to become bankers and trash the economy and then blame everyone else and then get huge bonuses and blame everyone else's standard of education, and then blame evryone else and then get huge bonuses.......

18 January 2010 at 18:05  
Blogger DDIM 'n HOFFI said...

But really gifted and intellectual people go to Cambridge and graduate so they can become extra skint and scrounge on the web. Some are more successful than others at becoming totally useless. Elitist bums!?

18 January 2010 at 18:11  
Anonymous clay barham said...

Skill training is an individual interest thing, something the public school system, since Dewey, has condemned. They believe, as Obama and the modern Democrat, that community interests are more important than are individual interests. Dewey has pushed the idea that children must be taught to adjust to community and never rise above it.

18 January 2010 at 20:38  
Blogger Young Mr. Brown said...

Well said, Your Grace.

I'm clearly a little slow on the uptake, because I've never understood why people dislike grammar schools so much.

"Who says that only those with Firsts or Upper Seconds make the best teachers? "

Indeed. There are excellent teachers who didn't manage to get an upper second, and some very average teachers who did.

18 January 2010 at 21:32  
Blogger Theresa said...

Your Grace,

Cameron is going to have an uphill struggle. The quality of teachers and teaching has fallen for quite a simple reason - there is no job security anymore. Your average teacher graduate will spend four years without a permanent post, doing a week's teaching here and a week's teaching there. Should they finally get the elusive permanent post, they will then find that their wage means that they cannot live close to their work because it is too expensive; they will have to commute instead. Your average 2:1/ first class student is not going to put up with this; they will go into industry or another profession that values their skill. Cameron should concentrate on making more permanent posts; if he did that, then the quality would go up. It would also mean that pupils weren't getting their teachers changed every couple of months.

19 January 2010 at 01:34  
Anonymous Anonymous said...

Selection at 11+: Have you never heard of SATs? They are there to select the streaming within the Comprehensive. Do badly, and you are put into the F stream with the chavs.
If that isn;t unfair (the tests are marked ridiculously unfairly) then I do not know what is.

19 January 2010 at 07:07  
Anonymous Jewish Bag Lady said...

Your Grace,

Ironic thing is that the investment banks do recruitment fairs at Oxford and Cambridge- a lot of their employees get firsts.

Problem is :

1. How is the education department going to match the large payouts of banks compared to large employers like investment banks ? (£600,000 a year even after 50% tax is clearly more than a teacher's salary)

2. Wasn't it the bankers who nearly brought down this country with the behaviour- triple first from oxford or not?

19 January 2010 at 07:48  
Blogger Miss Snuffleupagus said...

Somehow I missed this post...

Spot on.

20 January 2010 at 19:58  
Anonymous Adrian P said...

Isn't excluding someone with less than a 2:1 Degree Discrimination of some sort.
I'm not a Brain surgeon, I'd like a Brain Surgeons salary, I'm being discriminated against just because I don't have a degree in Brain surgery, this is elitism and discrimination.
I need a Lawyer.

These Marxists are all off their collective trollies.

26 January 2010 at 16:11  

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