Monday, 8 November 2010

People want minimum standards not just meaningless milestones

I'm not sure what planet the PM was one when he described the series of business plans published today on the Cabinet Office website as 'revolutionary'. They are anything but. Since 'targets' are a forbidden word in the coalition lexicon, we are treated to a series of 'milestones'. For the most part these appear to be events and announcements that ensure that the government introduces its policies, but very little to hold them to account on results. Of course, Labour had too many targets, but those that set minimum standards on waiting lists and exam results were very successful. Instead of such standards we now have 'people power'. We are now responsible for ensuring that our local A&E sees us within four hours or waiting times are kept short. If they aren't, it is apparently no longer the fault of ministers, however much they cut budgets or impose untried restructuring of GP services.

But that isn't the whole story. Andrew Lansley may have abandoned minimum standards in the NHS despite his relatively protected budget. But Michael Gove has not done so in education: he told local authority officers last week that he would shortly be announcing minimum GCSE standards.
It can’t be acceptable to have so many schools in which two-thirds of children fail to secure five good GCSEs. Minimum standards at GCSE have risen in recent years, in line with the increased aspirations of parents and communities. Those school leaders and local authorities who have driven the fastest improvements deserve special credit. But given the quickening pace of school improvement across the globe, I believe it’s now essential that we demonstrate that we are stepping up our reform programme. I will therefore be finalising details of new floor standards shortly, for inclusion in my forthcoming Schools White Paper. These will apply from January 2011, when we have the verified and final summer 2010 examination data.
These are likely to extend Labour's highly successful floor targets which have made schools with fewer than 30% of pupils achieving five good GCSEs including English and Maths a rarity (half of schools were in that category before 1997). At the same time, Gove is sharpening accountability in primary schools. But there seems to be little such understanding in other coalition departments. Today's rather pathetic business plans are remarkable similar to those we were expected to produce regularly in the early years of Labour government, and some look like they were written by the same civil servants, with the same managerial gobbledygook but with rather less on which to hold ministers to account. What David Cameron and Nick Clegg must recognise is that inputs without outcomes are pretty pointless.

And if they don't know it, the voters will explain it to them rather more cogently than today's business plans - in good time for the next election.

1 comment:

@creativeedu said...

I highlighted your post in my Daily Digest of Education related blogs today as I thought other teachers would find it of interest. You can see it here: http://bit.ly/99Iyy1