Friday, 30 November 2007
Given that the differences in achievement in later years which it and other papers bemoaned are all too often evident by the age of five - by which time it can be too late to rectify them - what would really threaten toddlers would be for the government to agree with middle class parents and those who oppose education for the under-7s, most of whom happily introduce their three and four year-olds to the alphabet and numbers at home (apparently without 'untold damage') through costly educational games, and deny poorer children the same developmental and educational opportunities. There may well be a case for cutting the 72 goals; there may also be a case for enabling a more proportionate inspection system. What there is not a case for is stripping the educational element from early years education, and making the taxpayer-funded experience entirely a matter of childcare or play. Nursery education is about ensuring that all children are ready to learn; it must continue to be.
Wednesday, 28 November 2007
Much of the increase in the proportion of children achieving the expected standard – level 4 – in English from 49% in 1995 to 80% this year took place by 2000, when the figure was 75%. (The proportion doing so in reading is now 84%.) The same was true of the top pupils - the proportion reaching level 5 rose from 12 to 29% from 1996 to 2000, and is now 33%. This test improvement was also reflected in Ofsted inspections: the literacy and numeracy strategies nationally had a dramatic effect on the quality of primary school teaching between 1996 and 2000 – only 43% of lessons for 7-11 year-olds were deemed good or better in 1996. By 2000, this had risen to 72%. That figure fluctuated a little until 2005, when it stood at 74%. Under a tougher inspection system, it has again started to rise.
There is no doubt that we need to regain the momentum of the period before 2000. The government is now rightly promoting synthetic phonics – using letter sounds to build up words - reflecting the growing evidence that it is the most effective way to teach children to read. Jim Rose's review in 2005 set this in train, and phonics has been the expected method since September 2007, as a result. This will need the sort of intensive rollout that accompanied the literacy strategy, with Ofsted inspecting how effective schools are in teaching reading, and whether they are using phonics. And it must be pushed hard before falling back on Every Child A Reader, which should be used as a recovery programme for the few who don't learn through phonics, not to provide literacy help for the many.
Tuesday, 27 November 2007
And for the benefit of those who think the taxpayer shouldn't fund political parties, don't forget they already do, and on a much greater scale now than before 1997. In 2007/8, according to the Commons Research Library(pdf, see Table 1), the Conservatives are receiving £4.5 million and the Lib Dems £1.7m in so-called 'Short money'. It is now worth three times as much per seat as it was in 1997. Of course, the money is to 'assist in the carrying out of parliamentary business' - but it certainly buys plenty of researchers who assist in the development of Tory and Lib Dem policies.
Sunday, 25 November 2007
That said, there is no question that the government has got itself into a hole. The polls are not good (though they are not as good for the Tories as they should be either and voters blame civil servants not ministers for the loss of the disc). And the silly decision to keep public options open on an autumn election has been compounded by an appearance of incompetence since. That's why the government needs to do two things.
First, it needs to be bolder in its approach to reform. The idea that you can get a clear message across while trying to be all things to all men hasn't worked. We have, for example, just had a Tory schools policy that is largely a carbon copy - with one or two exceptions - of government policy that is already in place. Yet the Tories are being allowed to appear to be brilliant innovators. It is time to shout not shirk from what the government is doing successfully and to worry more about winning over parents that silencing the teaching unions. The same applies across the government's policy agenda. Second, I hope reports in today's Observer are right and the PM is widening his circle of advice. He has good people in no 10, but he would benefit from a more open approach to policy development. And third, the government needs to find a narrative that shows how it is successfully delivering on a lot of fronts. The Prime Minister's delivery unit needs the sort of empowerment it had when it was first set up to ensure that policy is delivered, not just announced. That may produce guffaws from the government's opponents this weekend. But there is plenty of evidence around of successful delivery on once difficult areas of policy. Delivery matters as much as policy development.
Saturday, 24 November 2007
Thursday, 22 November 2007
Conor Ryan, a former Labour education special adviser, points out in his excellent blog, which I recommend to Labour Members, that CTCs beat many fee-paying independent schools in their GCSE results.May I particularly recommend some recent posts - similar ones may in future be known as Gibbs. New readers might like to start here, here and here.
Tuesday, 20 November 2007
What is different is the suggestion that these proposals will emerge spontaneously from parents and others. There have been some such proposals - the law was changed to require local authorities (since earlier this year) to do a proper feasibility study to test their merit. Sure, this may sound a bit bureaucratic in this 'post-bureaucratic age'; but the point is that the numbers are not what the Conservatives imagine. Moreover, with 150 academies running in a couple of years' time, the dynamics of parental demand will have changed still further. So, by all means, give such proposals a push, but my guess is that a government agency - perhaps the Schools Commissioner - will need to simulate demand.
Incidentally, having reconciled myself to this new 'post-bureaucratic age', my jaw dropped when I read the following:
We will also extend the inspection powers of Ofsted further, so that inspections will be more detailed and last longer, and every teacher in every subject will be inspected during Ofsted’s visit.Now nobody is a greater fan of inspection than me - and there may be a case for more subject inspection than there is now - but this is a recipe for huge and disproportionate bureaucracy, especially in the best schools. Combined with near compulsory setting in every academic subject, also to be imposed by Ofsted, the concept of free schools is well and truly dead.
UPDATE: John Rentoul offers his take in the new Independent blog site, Open House here.
Monday, 19 November 2007
Sunday, 18 November 2007
In my list of television hates I include that survivor from Blackadder who endlessly digs up half of England and discovers nothing more than the broken rim of a Stone Age piss pot, repeats of repeats, celebrity chefs who make snail ice-cream or eat fat-saturated midnight snacks in satin pyjamas, those poor demented women who submit to complete face and body makeovers in a matter of hours and emerge looking like the bride of Dracula, the dandy decorator with the fluffy shirt cuffs who turns ordinary suburban rooms into Victorian brothels, the two fashion gurus who do a lot of rather disturbing breast-squeezing, fatuous TV shows about fatuous TV shows, plus any programme featuring couples with the tragic urge to buy and run a B&B in Transylvania.
UPDATE: There is a very peculiar thread about this post running over at the Reading Reform Foundation website - the home of the shock troops for synthetic phonics. Most readers of this post might (rightly) imagine that I am a rather strong supporter of synthetic phonics, which I have been since at least 2002. I had a good deal to do with the Rose Review being established when I worked for Tony Blair, and I welcome the fact that both main parties support it. But what I suspect upsets my should-be friends at the RRF is that I have dared to suggest that Every Child A Reader may help with catch-up - there is evidence (pdf) that it does; however, most youngsters could and should be taught more quickly through synthetic phonics, as Rose recommended. My second sin in RRF eyes is probably mentioning the literacy hour: yet before it, phonics had been allowed to die in many schools. Phonics would not be debated now without it. As a result of its introduction, many children were taught much better how to read, spell and write: the evidence is there in the improved test results (pdf - go to table 1). But there is now much clearer evidence from Rose and elsewhere that synthetic phonics is the way forward. And the government should ensure - with Ofsted's support - that it is taught first and fast.
Saturday, 17 November 2007
Thursday, 15 November 2007
Wednesday, 14 November 2007
Tuesday, 13 November 2007
Monday, 12 November 2007
Sunday, 11 November 2007
Saturday, 10 November 2007
Thursday, 8 November 2007
the Democratic debate would damage Hillary's standing haven't yet been borne out by the polls, where she retains a strong lead in the contest for the Democratic nomination. There's a great piece by the insightful Joe Klein (he of Primary Colours fame) in the current issue of Time magazine about what she stands for. And I think Andrew Stephen in the New Statesman may well be right about her opponent being Mike Huckabee or Mitt Romney, not Rudolph Guiliani. To understand why, read this illuminating piece in the latest New Republic.
Wednesday, 7 November 2007
Tuesday, 6 November 2007
Of course, as I said in my article, these would not be traditional vocational qualifications.
"Unlike apprenticeships, they would not be predominantly work-based, and would mix "theoretical and practical learning"; but unlike A-levels, students would also have to do English, mathematics and IT. This reflected the view of employers that such a mix is more suited to modern business."Graham then ignores my praise for his engineering Diplomas as a likely route to university to make a silly point about hair and beauty Diplomas: I didn't argue that no student would want to progress, but that most would do a level 2 Diploma - "in the hope of starting work or an apprenticeship thereafter". That is precisely what most people involved in developing the qualifications think too. What is most worrying about Graham's response is that he seems more concerned with defining Diplomas generally than selling the potentially excellent engineering Diploma to parents, teachers and pupils. Which was precisely my point.
Monday, 5 November 2007
Sunday, 4 November 2007
Saturday, 3 November 2007
Friday, 2 November 2007
* The Literacy Strategy was as much about writing as reading, and writing standards - with teachers encouraged to reintroduce good spelling and correct grammar as part of their mission - have increased by 14 percentage points since 1997.
* Maths is also tested, funny enough. And the NFER study accompanying today's report suggests there has been significant improvement there, which is borne out by international studies, and reflected in the national tests, showing an improvement from 64% in 1997 to 77% this year, a 13 percentage point increase.
* The Primary Review's own evidence suggests it is teachers and parents, not children, who are the most anxious about tests, which is not all that surprising when you think about it.
So, we are then left with an argument about reading, not testing, which is not, I know where those behind this morning's 'swap teaching for fun' report would like us to be. Now, as it happens, I have felt for some time that synthetic phonics should be a central part of the early teaching of children to read (and that means teaching them to read, not showing them books and expecting them to pick it up by osmosis) and there has been plenty of evidence on that. This is precisely the change the government has made over the last two years, thanks to the excellent Rose Review (pdf) and it is now coming into effect in primaries.
But this doesn't mean there have been no measurable improvements in reading since 1997. Here are four facts that suggest otherwise:
* Improvements measured through the national tests have been greatest in the most disadvantaged and underachieving schools, where floor targets have sought to lift minimum standards
* As well as there being a significant improvement in English at level 4, there has also been a substantial improvement at level 5 for 11 year-olds, putting them at the same standard as 14 year-olds. The numbers reaching this higher standard have doubled.
* Jim Rose headed an independent review in 1999 (pdf) of the testing process - with headteachers nominated by the opposition parties and the education editor of the Times as members. It showed that complaints about dumbing down were without foundation.
* Teacher assessments, the holy grail for those seeking to abolish national tests, recorded the same results as the tests in the disputed years.
Let's make sure we don't lose the gains made since the introduction of the national curriculum and testing by allowing ourselves to be seduced back to the bad old days when children were not taught to read properly and when we didn't know it because there were no national tests. And let nobody lose sight of the importance of teaching children to read.
Thursday, 1 November 2007
There are three main types of statistic collected by the government's fiercely independent statisticians (the idea that these people have any political axe to grind is laughable). The first - the one that caused all the problems this week - is that based on a sample. The Labour Force Survey, which estimates activities for the entire adult population based on 59,000 households, or in education, the Youth Cohort Study, which looked at the activities of 1.9 million 16-19 year-olds based on samples of around 9000 in each age group, are good examples. The second is a census - a collection of information on every pupil in every school or every member of the population. And the third is an estimate derived from that census based on certain assumptions, as in the revised population estimates used to determine local government funding allocations, the subject of today's LGA complaints.
Of course, the second should be the most accurate: we know how many pupils are in each school, and about their exam achievement, gender, ethnicity and so on. Indeed it is the richness of data now available in education - and in health - that makes reform easier there (contrary to the ideological opponents of targets in education, the sort of floor targets set out by Gordon Brown yesterday have already been remarkably successful, if grossly under-reported). But the Labour Force Survey is better - as with opinion polls - when it is dealing with larger numbers related to the population as a whole - numbers in jobs or unemployed - than when it tries to deal with a subset that might reflect 2 or 3% of the workforce as with some migrant communities.
Indeed, the only way to get a better sense of those labour force figures without a great extra burden on business would be through a national ID register (though the Tory critics who shout loudest about these figures want nothing to do with that). As for the estimates, the LGA are right to suggest that the richer education and NHS data should be pooled with other information to get a better sense of who is living where. But even then it will never be 100% accurate. That is because of the nature of the statistics, not because of ineptitude or distortion.