Friday, 29 February 2008
- First, it is actually more important that children are taught to read, write and add up properly in primary school than that they learn to paint, sing or make costumes for a parade. This is not to say that they shouldn't do all of those things too, but unless children learn the basics they will become truants, criminals and welfare dependents. That was why the national curriculum emphasised English and Maths; it was why national tests were introduced; it was why the literacy and numeracy strategies were based on this fundamental truth; and it is why the government is rightly insisting that phonics are the basis of reading for young children. And measured in this way, primary schools are significantly better (though performance has slowed since 2000 and the further intervention now in place is needed to get them back on track).
- Second, many primary schools were simply not doing this job properly before government 'intervened'. It is no accident that the biggest improvements in results - and in the quality of teaching as measured by Ofsted inspections - occurred between 1995 and 2000 when such intervention was at its strongest.
- Third, before the late nineties, teachers were taught theory rather than how to teach, which meant that the basics were not being taught properly. Many of those at the heart of this 'primary review' failed a generation of schoolchildren who were not taught to read, not taught the rules of grammar, not taught to spell and rarely tested adequately because they didn't teach their teachers how to teach them.
- And finally, those who want to de-emphasise the 3Rs in primary schools will not be failing the middle class kids whose parents will ensure their mastery at least of English, but poorer and working class kids who rely on the school system to teach them the basics above all else. It is time we turned this discussion from whether to give the basics prominence in primary schools to how we can do so most effectively and soonest so that every child can be fluent in the 3Rs and know how to make a decent costume.
Thursday, 28 February 2008
Gordon Brown has shown some understanding of this, particularly since Christmas with his cabinet shake-up, but he and his ministers should not allow the notion to spread that the Tories are more radical than Labour on public services reform. Despite the impressionability of Fraser Nelson in the Spectator, the fact is that Labour has opened (not talked about opening) 83 academies already; has given parents a legal right to request feasibility work on schools that they would run themselves; has insisted on competitions for new schools open to the same providers of which Nelson and Shadow Schools Secretary Michael Gove clearly approve; and has delivered substantial improvements in school standards.
At the same time, the Tories have simply caved in to vested interests on the NHS - as Iain Dale concedes - when Andrew Lansley, Cameron's shadow health secretary for life, chooses the day that the NAO reveals how the BMA conned us all over GP contracts to announce his plans for another vast increase in NHS spending, presumably on terms entirely dictated by the BMA. Labour must reassert the radical credentials - that have not only won it three general elections, but have delivered real reform - if it is to retain the coalition of Southern voters so vital to a fourth victory.
Wednesday, 27 February 2008
As someone who is self-employed, I have rather less sympathy with MPs arguing against keeping receipts or recording their expenses (though the publicity of their expenses should be done in a way which explains how they spent their money and why, and not in some absurdly prurient shopping list for the tabloids which simply feeds the notion that politicians are all corrupt, a point Nick Robinson makes well).
Tuesday, 26 February 2008
For the first time, we know the reasons for absence. Half are off because they are ill. Many others are on family holidays (in most cases, approved by the school). And primary pupils are three times as likely to be on an unapproved family holiday than their secondary counterparts. But behind the 1% of unauthorised absence there is a hard core of persistent absentees, inevitably given a new acronym that will not be welcome to many super-secretaries - a shocking 11% of all pupils in Year 11 are 'PAs'. These are pupils who should be preparing for GCSEs. They are the ones for whom post-16 compulsion will be especially challenging.
And we now know what works thanks to one piece of remarkably good news: there are clear signs that a programme of targeted intervention first ordered by Tony Blair two years ago to tackle persistent truancy in the 400 schools with the worst problem is having a real effect, with cuts of 20% in persistent absenteeism in those schools over the course of last year. (Academies have seen significant cuts too) This is where most efforts should be targeted, both on tackling existing PAs - if we must call them that - and preventing new persistent absenteeism. Unfortunately, the DCSF departmental press release seems to have obscured this genuine piece of good news in a misbegotten bid to ward off hostile media attention by highlighting changes in the extent of absence overall.
Sunday, 24 February 2008
Saturday, 23 February 2008
Friday, 22 February 2008
Thursday, 21 February 2008
Wednesday, 20 February 2008
Tuesday, 19 February 2008
Richard Vautrey, of the GPs' committee of the British Medical Association, has been the chief voice raised at the weekend in opposition to Lord Darzi. He was principally worried about the loss of the role of medical generalist. The new specialists, he claimed, such as those looking at children's or women's problems, would “undermine” GPs and mean that doctors would no longer “provide a holistic, generalised service that patients really value”.....When I saw this claim, I thought long and hard about it. And decided that this “holistic” approach, is, in fact, code for “inexpert”.
Monday, 18 February 2008
Sunday, 17 February 2008
Friday, 15 February 2008
Thursday, 14 February 2008
- a majority of students (59%) who had decided not to pursue study in higher education reported that avoiding debt had affected their decision ‘much’ or ‘very much’.
- more than half (56%) of all the students surveyed who were thinking of going into higher education were considering a local university because of the financial implications.
- most students understood bursaries, but only 30% had actively searched for information on financial support. Almost half (45%) did not know whether they were eligible or not. Had they known that they were eligible for a bursary of £2,000 nearly 85% of those from low income homes said it would have encouraged them to apply.
The Staffordshire survey drew from 20 schools, and its main conclusions are more nuanced than the Guardian's interpretation suggests. First, a lot of students go to local universities instead of one far away from home. If students are deterred from going to a Russell Group university, such as Oxford or Cambridge, then this is a concern. But if a student is opting for a similar course at a local university to one they might otherwise have chosen 200 miles away, then this is simply following the pattern of most students in most countries of the world, and it is hard to see why this should be of concern (in case you ask, I cycled five miles to my local university as a student).
Second, it would seem that ignorance of bursaries rather than tuition fees is what deters potential students: the universities have simply not publicised their bursaries well enough, and the sector collectively has done far too little too. Recent reports from the Office for Fair Access showing that many bursaries went unclaimed even by those who were already at university confirm this.
The research deals with those who haven't applied to university for whatever reason. But, if the Guardian's thesis is correct, this would presumably be reflected in the application figures. As it happens, and the Guardian acknowledges this in its penultimate paragraph, the Universities and Colleges Admissions Service UCAS published its latest application figures today.
They showed a 7% increase in applications to university compared with this time last year (or a 10% increase in English students applying to English universities). And they found the increase to be higher among the poorest students: nationally, data on the socio-economic background of all UK applicants aged 18 years and under shows that 29.6% were from the lower groups (4 to 7) in 2008, compared to 28.9% in 2007. This is not surprising, as the evidence of the first introduction of tuition fees was that there was an increase, albeit small, in the proportion of students from lower socio-economic groups.
The issue is, then, not whether tuition fees 'deter' students who were not applying in greater numbers before they were introduced, but how to encourage more disadvantaged students (a) to gain the necessary qualifications and (b) to consider higher education. That is the Sutton Trust's main point - and there is a particular issue about students being sufficiently ambitious in the university to which they apply - and how we ensure that students access all the financial support and bursaries to which they are entitled. It is not about declaring class war on fees.
Wednesday, 13 February 2008
Given the growth of after-school clubs and other extended facilities, today's promise is far less ambitious than it sounds, and those teaching union leaders who use the announcement to whinge about SATs should stop talking rot. The real issue is not whether this can be delivered, but how it can be delivered in a meaningful way. It is right to allow local decisions, and the idea of an entitlement is a good one. The Times leader argues that the 'right' to five hours is too prescriptive, but then says it is too 'vague' about what should be involved. The writer has a better point with their concern about vagueness than in worries about prescription. A five hour entitlement in and out of school during term time is a reasonable expectation, including after-class activities. But the entitlement should be more precise: every child should expect to experience a live play or visit an art gallery during their secondary years, as well as the chance to take part in a live production and try their hand at a bit of painting or digital art. As the pilots develop, perhaps this could become clearer. However, none of this should detract from what is a good idea and a welcome announcement from the new culture secretary.
Monday, 11 February 2008
Friday, 8 February 2008
Thursday, 7 February 2008
Wednesday, 6 February 2008
Tuesday, 5 February 2008
Monday, 4 February 2008
UPDATE: Sam Coates has a reminder of just how arrogant the BMA can sound.
Sunday, 3 February 2008
However, there is always going to be a problem of oversubscription in a system of parental preference. Some popular academies have thousands of applicants for a few hundred places. And it is because Labour has retained (and, arguably, enhanced) the Tory system that it has had to consider what is fair for schools that are oversubscribed; the decisions remain for schools and local authorities. It cannot be a part of a school's responsibility to consider whether their policy pushes house prices up or down. Popular schools should consider what it the fairest way to allocate places once other criteria (perhaps sibling, children in care etc) are taken into account. Most still use distance. But most of those schools using random allocation or banding will hold some places for pupils living fairly close to the school. Beyond that, why should a pupil living two miles away be less able to attend the school than one living 1.5 miles away because one is within an arbitrary boundary, the other is not. Surely it is much better to keep a proportion of places aside which are open to all who apply, or to all who are able to get to the school. There is no more reason that this should discriminate against the middle classes than that it should advantage the poor - and Brighton saw one group of middle class parents happy, with another grumbling - unless we assume that only middle class people live near good schools. If so, if what we are then saying is that all families should at least a reasonable choice of schools, then what's wrong with that? Since when is school choice only for the middle classes?
Friday, 1 February 2008
The real debate is then about how best to admit pupils to the remaining 3000 secondary schools. David Cameron apparently supports lying and cheating in order to get into faith schools, or at least declines to disapprove of such actions. But most people want to see a system that it transparent and fair. The new admissions code is much better in this regard than earlier guidance or rules - and, incidentally, by refusing to allow schools to put first preference first, it offers a level playing field in areas with popular comprehensives and grammars. Essentially, once children in care are given places, schools can use distance or sibling to allocate places; faith schools can use adherence to religion; and schools can use banding or random allocation (aka lotteries). There should be no doubt that the fairest system, and that most likely to give all parents the best chance of getting a place in a good school, is either of the latter two methods.
The issue, then, is to what extent such methods are used: schools tend to apply some distance criteria, perhaps allocating places to those very near the school before introducing random methods; they may also keep places for siblings. Small towns are rural areas are likely to want to stick to distance and sibling, for practical reasons. But the idea that it is 'fairer' to allocate all places according to distance from school is absurd; how can selection by house price be a fair system? Of course, two other things are needed to ensure that all parents understand that they can apply for randomly allocated places: the government should do more to introduce independent choice advisers, as envisaged in the 2005 Schools White Paper (too many of them are council functionaries rather than community advocates) and to improve school buses (the 2006 Act gives poorer families the legal right to select any one of three schools within a two-six mile radius from this September, rather than settling as before for the one allocated to them by the council for transport purposes). Now, it is true that Brighton was not the best advertisement for random allocation, at least in its presentation if not its application; but a growing number of schools are showing not only that it can be done, but when they are hugely oversubscribed, it must be done.