Tuesday, October 04, 2011

The Tory Education Revolution

As Richard Littlejohn at RightMinds asks 'So what have Dave's Tories done for you?', His Grace was reminded of a scene from The Life of Brian:
Reg: They've bled us white, the bastards. They've taken everything we had, not just from us, from our fathers and from our fathers' fathers.

Stan: And from our fathers' fathers' fathers.

Reg: Yes.

Stan: And from our fathers' fathers' fathers' fathers.

Reg: All right, Stan. Don't labour the point. And what have they ever given us in return? (he pauses smugly)

Xerxes: The aqueduct?

Reg: What?

Xerxes: The aqueduct.

Reg: Oh yeah, yeah they gave us that. Yeah. That's true.

Masked Commando: And the sanitation!

Stan: Oh yes ... sanitation, Reg, you remember what the city used to be like.

Reg: All right, I'll grant you that the aqueduct and the sanitation are two things that the Romans have done ...

Matthias: And the roads ...

Reg: (sharply) Well yes obviously the roads ... the roads go without saying. But apart from the aqueduct, the sanitation and the roads ...

Another Masked Commando: Irrigation ...

Other Masked Voices: Medicine ... Education ... Health

Reg: Yes ... all right, fair enough ...

Commando Nearer The Front: And the wine ...

General Audience: Oh yes! True!

Francis: Yeah. That's something we'd really miss if the Romans left, Reg.

Masked Commando At Back: Public baths!

Stan: And it's safe to walk in the streets at night now.

Francis: Yes, they certainly know how to keep order ... (general nodding) ... let's face it, they're the only ones who could in a place like this. (more general murmurs of agreement)

Reg: All right ... all right ... but apart from better sanitation and medicine and education and irrigation and public health and roads and a freshwater system and baths and public order ... what have the Romans done for us?

Xerxes: Brought peace!

Reg: (very angry, he's not having a good meeting at all) What!? Oh ... (scornfully) Peace, yes ... shut up!
Dave's Tories have not bequeathed to us anywhere near as much as the Romans, but the revolution in education ranks almost as highly. Today, nearly 1.2 million children are now taught in academies: yesterday, the 1000th school converted to academy status - schools with the freedom to meet the needs of their pupils, rather than answering to local or national politicians and bureaucrats. This means one in three secondary pupils are taught in academies.

The Academies programme has expanded rapidly in the last twelve months. In July 2010 the Academies Act made it possible for any good school to apply to become an academy. Since then more than 1500 have applied with 1031 set to be open by the end of this week. In addition, there are 319 sponsored academies, turning around schools that were previously underperforming. The Government is increasing the number of sponsored academies with 116 opening since the election and will open more this year than ever before. More than 40 per cent of all secondary schools are now open or in the process of opening as academies.

As he addresses the Conservative Party Conference in Manchester today, Michael Gove will be able to remind us that under Labour there were just 200 academies across the country, despite them being a Blair-Adonis initiative:

3 opened in 2002
9 opened in 2003
5 opened in 2004
10 opened in 2005
19 opened in 2006
37 opened in 2007
47 opened in 2008
70 opened in 2009
3 opened in January 2010

= 203

Since June 2010 a further 1147 have opened.

Academies have the freedom to innovate and raise standards, including freedom from local and central government control; the ability to set their own pay and conditions for staff; freedoms around the delivery of the curriculum; and the freedom to change the lengths of terms and school days. As of today, 1,350 schools are now academies across England. By the end of this week 1,031 schools will have converted from local authority control since Dave's Tories came to power. 319 are sponsored Academies – of which 116 have opened since May 2010 and 45 more are expected to open later this academic year. There are 101 chains of converter academies with a total of 289 schools. On average there are around three schools working together to improve education for their pupils making up these chains. Nearly 1.2 million pupils are now attending academies – this means around one in seven pupils in state maintained schools are now attending Academies and one in three pupils in secondary schools.

Strong schools that convert to academy status are expected to support other local schools that could benefit from improvement and the Government is targeting the 200 worst primary schools in the country and turning them into academies next year. The government is also seeing a range of other academy models coming through – including schools that converted at the start of the programme who are now becoming academy sponsors and running a chain of schools. These schools recognise that, by working in partnership with good or outstanding schools, they will be able to gain the knowledge, teaching and leadership expertise they need to raise standards faster.

Under Labour, schools in England plummeted down the international league tables. The OECD found that between 2000 and 2009, England fell from 7th to 25th in reading, 8th to 28th in maths, and 4th to 16th in science. We have been overtaken by countries such as Poland, Iceland and Norway. This is despite England spending far more on education than comparable nations such as Germany. They say greater autonomy is a common feature of the world’s best schools systems: ‘in countries where schools have greater autonomy over what is taught and how students are assessed, students tend to perform better ...schools that enjoy greater autonomy in resource allocation tend to do better than those with less autonomy’. (OECD, Programme for International Student Assessment (PISA) 2009, 7 December 2010).

Just 40 pupils out of 80,000 on free school meals made it to Oxbridge in one year under Labour. In the last year for which figures are available, only 40 pupils made it to Oxbridge out of the 80,000 pupils eligible for free school meals when they were 16 years old. Six independent schools each have higher numbers of pupils admitted to Oxbridge than the 80,000 pupils on free school meals: Westminster, St Paul’s Girls School, Winchester College, St Paul’s School, Eton College and Manchester Grammar.

All of this is a cause of much rejoicing, for this revolution is irreversible: it would be a bold Labour Party (and one doomed to perpetual opposition) which ever sought to wrest this new-found liberty from millions of parents.

The problem for His Grace is that it is all missing a dimension...

Grammar schools have been the most dynamic and successful motor of social mobility ever conceived. Yet every major political party is dedicated either to their constriction or eradication: they are all intent on abolishing the meritocratic principle by which they were defined.

The rich have always sent their children to private schools, and the not-so-rich have scrimped and saved in traumatic attempts to spare their own children from the inadequacies and deficiencies of a system they half endured. When there was a grammar school in every town, entry was on merit, irrespective of parental income or social class. And the poorest could rise to attain the highest: the sons of miners could become a Nobel prize-winner and the daughters of grocers could become prime minister. Now, of course, entry to the grammars is as restricted as it is for private education: while the latter is dependent on the ability to pay the fees, the former is dependent on the ability to afford a house in the catchment area.

Social mobility has nothing to do with the fascist egalitarianism of Socialism – economic equality or equality of outcome. Sadly, there will always be those for whom aspiration causes social division and so must be abolished. But social mobility is inherent to meritocracy because it is dependent on equality of opportunity. And that opportunity must be available to all. In order for there to be ‘grammar school boys’ to compete fairly with the privileged Old Etonians, there simply needs to be more grammar schools to provide the bright working and lower middle class child with opportunities equal to those of private schools.

This is what Dave's Tories must now turn to. If Michael Gove wishes a true revolution, he must study the provisions of the 1944 Education Act. Two cohorts on from the passing of that act, the ‘best jobs’ were no longer the preserve of the privileged élite: they were open to everyone with the ability, irrespective of social class or economic circumstances.

Academic aspiration has historically been the preserve of the wealthier parents, but those from deprived backgrounds have rarely spurred their children to achieve beyond the confines of their context, principally for fear of them ‘getting above themselves’. Low aspiration begets low expectation; low expectation begets low achievement; low achievement begets low income; low income begets poverty; poverty begets crime...

The Conservative Party is on the right course in all but two respects:

1) There must be selection by ability and an end to mixed-ability teaching, which is ineffective and demoralising. Under existing plans, the red tape which hindered the creation of new schools has been eradicated: free schools are free indeed from local authority control, with central government paying an allowance of about £6,000 per pupil. But they are unable to select by ability: all academies are comprehensive schools.

Inequality is the natural order of things. Just as ugly people are barred by nature from beauty competitions, and the tone deaf from joining the choir, so those who are not academic must be separated from those who are and provided with an education tailored to their needs. Let us call it ‘personalised learning’. It is not possible to teach excellent bricklayers and outstanding poets at the same pace in the same group of 30, for the lowest common denominator will prevail, and this negates potential and undermines the country’s social and economic future.

2) Schools run by private companies must be able to make a profit. Under existing rules, only charities and non-profit-making bodies are allowed to create new free schools supported by the taxpayer. Even James Purnell, the former work and pensions secretary, has said: “If allowing state schools to be run by profit-making companies encourages equality of capability, we will have to allow it.”

His Grace is not sure what Mr Purnell meant by ‘equality of capability’, but it sounds as though he is on the right lines.

Even as Dave's Tories may yet consider permitting companies to profit in the provision of education, they are adamant that there is to be ‘no return to selection’. With 167 grammar schools still functioning, it is unclear why they talk about ‘return’. Selection has never entirely left us because the ‘pushy’ parents in some staunchly Conservative English counties (and Northern Ireland) demand it. And these schools lead the league tables: Northern Ireland leads the United Kingdom. And those counties where grammar schools exist will be given the right to create more grammar schools as populations expand, thereby perpetuating the school / house-price injustice.

The problem with the grammar / secondary-modern division is that it is too crude and simplistic for the postmodern area: it is just wrong to divide children into sheep and goats at the age of 11. The perception of success for the élite and failure for the rest is too unjust for this mollycoddled generation for whom appearance is all. And perhaps, like democracy, it always was imperfect. But with the return of access determined by wealth, it has become unjust.

And so His Grace has a solution. There needs to be a tripartite system of secondary education quite independent of the state. Those gifted with academic ability should be educated in accordance with the grammar philosophy; those gifted with practical ability should be educated in accordance with the needs of their vocation; and those gifted with the ability for either must be educated such that their learning permits them the liberty to choose. For ability is as diverse as nature, and there is more in the ‘centre’ than exists at the extremities. Parents should indeed be given vouchers to spend in the school of their choice, but the school must be able to assert its choice provided the selection criterion is academic ability alone. And, curricula permitting, children would be free to move between schools, ending the primacy and finality of the 11+. Free of state interference, these schools would be free to pay teachers as they wish (and therefore more in a challenging environment), specialise, innovate, personalise and develop a unique ethos. And they must also be free to expand, for why limit the model of success? Indeed, if they are not to expand, oversubscription makes unjust selection a necessity.

It beggars belief that the same questions once posed by the great Dr Thomas Arnold are still being asked two centuries on. Real progress can only come from irrevocable reform. The only solution to the present delinquent educational tyranny is the total removal of state control and the infuriating interference of the politicians, and the introduction of competition, selection and vouchers. And once parents get a taste of that, no democratic government would dare contemplate removing it.


Blogger Belsay Bugle said...

Your Grace,

Destroying grammar schools has not only reduced the quality of bricklayers and poets, but every other occupation whose excellence we need.

I find it hard to understand why anyone would want to remove the ladder by which the children of poor people can rise in the world, but for a "socialist" to do it says all you need to know about socialism.

Never underestimate the wickedness of lefty 'intellectuals', like Crossman, Shirley Williams and Tony Benn et al. It's not what they say, but by their fruits ye shall know them.

The grammar schools took the money out of education - you didn't need it to get one. If these lefties were so clever they must have been able to foresee that destroying the grammar schools was bound to put the money back in.

It can only have been wickedness in their hearts that drove these progressives to destroy the life-chances of three or four generations of our children.

Three hundred cheers for Michael Gove who knows what it's like to rise from humble beginnings. He's one of the few reasons left to vote Conservative.

4 October 2011 at 08:34  
Blogger martin sewell said...

Can anyone imagine the furore that would arise if the Government legislated that Sunday League Football teams had to play accept register and play the children who signed on first come first served? Nobody has a problem with selection by suitability/merit in this context and there are, in all parts of the country, elite
youth Teams like Walls End in Newcastle and Senrab in London that have produced disproportionately more successful sides, many of of whose members have moved on to untold wealth in the Premier League.

We ought to ask Labour Politicians whether they regards this as "fair and equal". Many children would regard exclusion from a football side as more rejecting than going to a school that best meets the balance of their academic/practical ability.

4 October 2011 at 08:57  
Blogger bluedog said...

'..there simply needs to be more grammar schools to provide the bright working and lower middle class child with opportunities equal to those of private schools.'

So true, Your Grace, and so uplifting for the morale of parents if that were the case. There is indeed nothing wrong with selective schools and opportunities must be provided for bright working class and lower middle class children to excel. Thanks to years of mediocrity in public education, generations have been unable to reach their potential. The UK does not have vast natural resources to rely upon, its capital lies in its people and in their ambition and their ability. Failure to develop every talent is not something the country can afford. If Michael Gove can create a sense of enthusiasm, excitement and a culture of success in education, he will be one of the most important people in the Government.

The life message is very simple; the more you learn, the better you earn.

4 October 2011 at 09:31  
Blogger Jon said...

Just how would a child go about moving from a school where they had spent four years being taught hairdressing or bricklaying, to a curriculum where their peers are mid-way through a GCSE Latin or Ancient Greek course?

Your ideas are fine, and your aspirations admirably lofty, but I don't see how your version of mobility works in practice without a standardised curriculum.

4 October 2011 at 10:43  
Blogger Sam Vega said...

I liked your point about the "primacy and finality of the 11+". It is surely right to allow switching between schools at a later date, and under the Tripartite System this was allowed up until age 13. A further safeguard would be for the "one shot" 11+ exam to be replaced by a system of exams and continuous assessment of primary pupils, with the primary teachers having a big say in the process. Exams are never exactly reflective of ability or potential, especially at such an early age.

4 October 2011 at 11:03  
Blogger Cam Ma said...

All they had to do was to restore the Grammar Schools.

But Cameroon's "Conservatives" are indistinguishable from Blair and his Matrix Chambers ideology. We no longer have a government, we no longer have a democracy, we have a wealthy oligarchy spread across all the main political parties, comprised of like-minded laissez-faire liberals whose only objective is self-aggrandisement and self-enrichment.

Things will only improve when we have a new political system which is genuinely answerable to electors.

4 October 2011 at 11:04  
Blogger Owl said...

Cam Ma,


4 October 2011 at 11:29  
Blogger Belsay Bugle said...

Mr bluedog,

Not only is it untrue that you earn more if you are learned, but the true purpose of education is not to become wealthy.

One of the (justified) egalitarian objections to an elite education is the way its beneficiaries use it to enrich themselves at the expense of those who haven't the money to obtain one and feel no obligation to give something back to the society that nurtured them.

If we are to reintroduce elite state education it can only be justified if it inculcates in the clever people who receive it a sense of obligation.

4 October 2011 at 11:42  
Blogger Mr Natural said...

When we had grammar schools, eighty percent of eleven-year-olds were judged to have failed and were condemned to what was, generally speaking, an inferior secondary education. Selection based on informed choice, however, would enable those with academic aptitude to develop their talents while those of a more practical bent developed theirs.

The only problem is that we are not starting with a clean slate. Most current secondary schools are designed to house thirteen-hundred-or-more pupils, and it is not feasible to tear down these buildings to create new academic, vocational and technical schools.

Let us remember, therefore, that some early, purpose-built comprehensives (known as multilateral schools) were able to offer a choice of academic or practical education under the same roof. I am thinking in particular of three multilateral schools on Anglesey, which were very successful at doing this during the 1950s and 60s, though I know nothing of their more recent achievements.

A tighter regime of inspection (which seems to be on its way) coupled with a total overhaul and simplification of the examination system might enable us to use the existing facilities to bring about the desired ends.

4 October 2011 at 11:46  
Blogger Botzarelli said...

"Westminster, St Paul’s Girls School, Winchester College, St Paul’s School, Eton College and Manchester Grammar"

It is worth pointing out that one state school could be added to this list - Hills Road Sixth Form College in Cambridge (where I was privileged to have taken my A levels).

I'm surprised at the fact that no-one has looked at how Cambridgeshire has managed the transition from selective to comprehensive education, at least outside the realms of educational academia. HRSFC used to be a grammar school (famously the inspiration for Pink Floyd's The Wall) but managed to maintain and build its academic success after becoming a minimally selective and very large Sixth Form College (and without harming the neighbouring schools- the other sixth forms in the City are all decent). This can be dismissed these days in the light of Cambridge's own success and wealth as a city but was not always the case. It was still something of a backwater once you stepped outside the university right into the 90s and most of the feeder schools to the sixth form colleges are former secondary moderns (or more accurately, the Village Colleges established to provide vocational education and community facilities for agricultural workers).

4 October 2011 at 12:54  
Blogger Harry-ca-Nab said...

You forget, my Lord, that the Labour Party depends upon the white working/under class to stay where they are in order that it, and the sullen collection of Marxists, perverts, colonists and social misfits that comprise Labour Party members can stay in positions of authority over the people of these islands - if not now in government then in the public sector, education and the health service.

The thought of white working class boys and girls becoming educated, thoughtful, openminded, aspiring and achieving - and then voting for someone like Thatcher - drives them insane.

4 October 2011 at 13:58  
Blogger Mark In Mayenne said...

Why would anyone want to reduce social mobility? For members of the (elite) governing classes, the only new roads opened by improved social mobility lead downwards.

Who runs education?

4 October 2011 at 14:11  
Blogger Oswin said...

Had the old Secondary Modern schools been better funded/staffed/organised in the first place, then there would have been little need to change the tripartite system; thus the country would not have pointlessly wasted many billions.

For a a'porth of tar, a few wicked decisions, and the stupidity of many, this country was sold down the drain.

So-called 'Comprehensive Education' was NOT the result of well-meaning reformers, but of a massively cynical calculation of a very few, who decided to end a system that, in their eyes at least, manufactured little 'Tories' as a matter of course.

The evil machinations of those soviet-styled 'few' engendered a result beyond their wildest imaginings, and to the ultimate detriment of all.

4 October 2011 at 15:35  
Blogger Office of Inspector General said...

His Grace should be congratulated in his projection for the future education establishment by managing not to indicate there are ‘winners or losers’. This supposed injustice played an important part in sweeping away grammar schools in the first place.

Any improvement in our young people’s attitude to life is welcome. Appearance is such a big issue too. The Inspector (himself a thankful grammar school boy) would never have dreamed of dressing like today’s youth, looking as they do as if they’ve been kitted out on a meagre social security handout.

Standards, ladies and gentlemen, for standards, start them off young. The Inspector appreciated the standards in place at his school. Wouldn’t have known them if he’d been sent to the same place as the local riff raff...

4 October 2011 at 17:22  
Blogger Edward Spalton said...

The previous Tory government introduced City Technology Colleges outside the control of the local authorities. Labour "renationalised" them.

One was built in our town in spite of the determined opposition of the Local Authority and teaching unions.

The head teacher told me that he had come from a bog standard comprehensive in another area which he had built up to a high performing school. Initially the Local Authority had been helpful but, as he started to overtake other schools and became over-subscribed, they urged him to "slow down to let the others catch up".

He would not. He said that he would be pleased to show his methods to other schools. What he was doing was hard work but straightforward. Nobody was interested.After that, his professional life became difficult.

Anything which lifts the dead hand of the stitch up between teaching unions and local authorities must be to the good.

4 October 2011 at 19:41  
Blogger bluedog said...

Mr Belsay Bugle @ 11.42 said, 'Not only is it untrue that you earn more if you are learned, but the true purpose of education is not to become wealthy.'

We will have to disagree on your first point.

As to the second, an education within an Anglican environment certainly helps inculcate the right values, but there is nothing wrong with becoming aspirational, entrepreneurial and ultimately, self-supporting. The education system needs to produce tax-payers, not mendicants. If there are more mendicants than tax-payers, living standards can only be maintained by increasing the national debt, and that is a self-defeating proposition. Sound familiar?

If you don't understand that, or are afraid of the consequences of striving for wealth, you are implicitly one of those responsible for Britain's decline.

The economically successful countries of Asia do not share your fear of success.

4 October 2011 at 23:47  
Blogger Avi Barzel said...

Jon said, "Just how would a child go about moving from a school where they had spent four years being taught hairdressing or bricklaying, to a curriculum where their peers are mid-way through a GCSE Latin or Ancient Greek course?"

Easier than the other way around, Jon. Bricklaying and Latin, whether you prefer the classic or vernacular versions of each, are both difficult. In fact, I found brick masonry, especially with the mind-boggling calculations for the cutting and spacing of units for Gothic arches, or the intricacies of dichromatic double-wythe basketweave bonds more challenging than Latin.

5 October 2011 at 01:39  
Blogger C.Law said...

One of the main problems with the old system was the inequitable provision of grammar schools. For example, in the early 1960's, before comprehensivisation, the provision of grammar school places in Liverpool was about 30%, ten miles down the road in Lancashire the provision was about 10%.

The other being the feeling engendered in the majority of 11 year olds who did not go to grammar schools that they had failed.

Comprehensives have the potential to be just as good as grammar schools if they are organised and run well. A major cause of the current malaise was that the well meaning idealists running many of the comprehensives experimented with too many things at the same time, with the not surprising result that the different experiments interfered with each other and ruined the whole. The main experiment, which was adopted on ideological rather than educational grounds, was mixed ability teaching. Remove this and there is no reason why any school cannot produce the goods. Proper streaming, or even better, streaming (or 'setting') by subject allows for each child to be taught in a group of nearly the same ability and thus allows the teacher to aim his lessons more precisely, to the benefit of all. A commitment to flexibilty in the setting allows for the children developing at different rates to move between ability groups as they improve.

There is no need to bring back the old system: a proper reorganisation of the current schools will do the job.

5 October 2011 at 05:27  
Blogger Jon said...

Avi - either way, then, how would this system work?

It sounds good in principle, but in practice would appear unworkable.

5 October 2011 at 14:47  
Blogger News from Monday Books said...

As a parent currently wrestling with the question of where my children will go to school post-primary, I agree (as I always have) with Your Grace about the importance of grammar schools.
However, on a small technical point, the grammars in Gloucestershire and Devon (to name but two) have no catchment areas, and in many cases house prices in these areas are not at all expensive. In Warwickshire, the Rugby grammars do have a catchment area, but house prices are next to irrelevant: you can buy a decent three bed house in Rugby for £150,000.
I advise people to investigate the options open to them and not simply assume blindly that they will be out of catchment or unable to afford to move. (This is not to go against the broader point, of course.)

5 October 2011 at 17:43  
Blogger Avi Barzel said...


I don't pretend to know enough about your education system in the UK to offer solutions. My comment was limited to a critique of the perception that technical programs must be inferior in content, quality and expectations because they are commonly perceived as low brow. Yet, Latin can be just another language course and the overblown Greek classics are largely a mishmash of 19th century romanticised visions of a culture not all that different from other cultures in similar states of development. Neither would be an impossible challenge to kids who are accustomed to read exacting technical specifications, to memorize large quantity of information and to analyse and solve problems. Again, it's a cuotural perception issue.

6 October 2011 at 13:25  

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