Wednesday 31 October 2007
Tuesday 30 October 2007
Monday 29 October 2007
Mike Tomlinson understandably hopes that Diplomas will recreate his original vision for change, and has more thoughtful reflections in the Sunday Times, whereas Chris Woodhead seems to believe that A levels are on the way out and doesn't like it, describing Diplomas uncharitably as 'ridiculous'. Mike Baker sets things in good context, but probably shares Tomlinson's ambition. But a note of caution - the first of many, I suspect - is struck in today's Times with Richard Levin, President of Yale University urging us to keep A-levels.
If Diplomas do - through the market - come out on top, well and good. But as I argued in the Guardian last week, there is room for both - and for apprenticeships and the IB - and it is likely that the market (through students exercising choice) will be much better able to recognise the differences between these qualifications and their respective merits than some commentators. Which is what Tony Blair always expected, as it happens. Given that as few as 10,000 students have signed up for Diplomas to date, fans of the new qualification need to get on with selling its merits, rather than worrying about what might happen in 2013.
16.30 UPDATE: And to be fair to Ed Balls, that is exactly what he has been doing today.
Sunday 28 October 2007
Friday 26 October 2007
However, it is a bit rich to hear a Tory spokesman upbraiding the government for dropping a national target - given how his colleagues constantly bemoan targets that have successfully cut waiting lists and times for patients. Yet Michael Gove, the shadow schools secretary, is quoted thus on the BBC website.
The government have failed to get to grips with rising truancy. But instead of working harder to meet their target they have simply scrapped it.Since scrapping targets is the centrepiece of Tory public services policy - and it is hard to find where else they differ from the government - surely he should be celebrating not carping?
Thursday 25 October 2007
Wednesday 24 October 2007
Tuesday 23 October 2007
Here is Margaret Thatcher in her famous Bruges speech, the address that heightened the Euro-sceptic fervour in her party. It was the shrill tone that roused the passions of her ardent followers, rather than much of the substance. Her section on the wider Europe was modest and beyond dispute. "We must never forget that, east of the Iron Curtain, peoples who once enjoyed a full share of European culture, freedom and identity have been cut off from their roots," she said. Now the peoples have got their freedom and identity as members of the EU..... The Tory Euro-sceptics should be raising a glass over this latest treaty, rather than spitting blood once more.And Richards is right too to believe that when this fuss has died down, it will be David Cameron - forced onto territory far removed from his modernisation agenda - who is likely to be the real loser from this whole debate, not Gordon Brown.
“If Diplomas are successfully introduced and are delivering the mix that employers and universities value, they could become the qualification of choice for young people. But, because GCSEs and A-Levels are long-established and valued qualifications, that should not be decided by any pre-emptive Government decision, but by the demands of young people, schools and colleges.”But the Government needs to be much clearer in selling the different Diplomas about what each is for. That means an end to the paranoia about adjectives like 'vocational' or 'specialised' to describe them. It means openly saying that a level 3 engineering diploma is good enough for university, but that most taking a hair and beauty level 2 will want to go on to work. In other words, it's time to ditch the jargon, and be clear about the product. Otherwise, the danger is that the problems inherent in the 'unified 14-19 learning framework' will become the problem with Diplomas.
Monday 22 October 2007
Friday 19 October 2007
So, let's be clear about this. Achieving five good GCSEs - at grade C or above - in English and Maths is not something everyone will achieve (though over time a clear majority could). Indeed, many students get a C in English, but not in Maths, (go to second Excel file, table 8) or vice versa: 60% get a C in English, and 55% do so in Maths. With O levels, fewer than a quarter of all students got a C in these subjects. In 1997, just a third did so. Today it is nearly half. More to the point, as a far more intelligent piece in the Guardian shows, what matters most is whether and where improvements are taking place. And the evidence is that improvements are fastest in the poorest schools in the poorest areas, and in academies serving those communities.
Thursday 18 October 2007
For example, we have been led to believe that it is state schools that are somehow letting down their students by not getting them 'proper' GCSEs - that is GCSEs including English and Maths. These figures suggest that it is independent schools that have inflated their advantage more than any category of state schools. And non-fee paying city technology colleges - the government model for academies - do better than any other category of school including fee-paying independents.
The figures show the proportion of students gaining five GCSEs or equivalent at grade C or above including English and Maths, with those for any GCSEs in brackets.
Community Schools 42.0 (56.7)
Voluntary Aided schools 55.2 (68.5)
Vol Controlled schools 53.6 (65.4)
Foundation schools 52.6 (65.6)
Specialist schools 48.3 (62.3)
CTCs 67.1 (91.0)
Academies 30.1 (47.6)
- includes 4 CTC conversions 75.5 (90.3)
Independent schools 61.8 (91.6)
All schools 46.5 (61.5)
You may wonder why these figures are not reflected in those highly publicised censuses and press releases published by the Independent Schools Council: it is because the ISC does not represent the entire independent sector (just the better schools). These figures do. And because they do, they are more accurate. But don't expect to read too much of this in the newspapers.
“But academies are intended to raise educational achievement in deprived areas; lower results compared with secondary schools overall do reflect the circumstances and prior attainment of the pupils. If academies’ performance is adjusted for these factors, then on average it is substantially better than that of secondary schools overall" - Edward Leigh, Tory Chair of the Public Accounts Committee. Press release accompanying PAC report.Also, Ofsted, which rightly toughened its inspection criteria a couple of years ago, has found 13% of primary and secondary schools to be outstanding, merely a 'slight' increase from 10% last year sniffed the Guardian. Actually, translated across all schools, it means the number of outstanding state secondary schools is up from 320 to 416, the number of outstanding primaries has risen from 1800 to 2340, while the number of inadequate schools has fallen by a quarter.
"Ofsted’s increased monitoring of schools about which we have concerns, including a number of schools we judged to be satisfactory, is paying off: we are finding that progress in around nine out of 10 of these schools is at least satisfactory. The Annual Report offers some encouragement. Inspections of academies are beginning to confirm a rising trend in effectiveness; there are examples of strong and effective leadership having a positive, and sometimes transformational, impact on pupils’ progress and achievement, often from a low base. Improvements in London schools, especially those in the most challenging circumstances, are outpacing those found nationally; clearly the investment provided by London Challenge is strongly associated with these improvements." - Christine Gilbert, Chief Inspector of Education; annual report p6
The percentage of pupils achieving 5+ A*-C in the 36 Academies has almost doubled since 2001 (the last year of checked data for predecessor schools) from 22.0% in 2001 to 42.2% in 2007. If we include English and mathematics the increase is 10.2 percentage points from 14.0% to 4.2%. Nationally the increase is 11.5 percentage points for 5+ A*-C and 7.4 points for 5+ A*-C including English and mathematics - DCSF Statistical press release SFR 34/2007
Tuesday 16 October 2007
Monday 15 October 2007
Sunday 14 October 2007
But that isn't the main message of the last week. Polls are very volatile at the moment, and it is possible for Brown to recover. But as John Hutton told Andrew Marr this morning, this will require him to set out a very clear vision of where he wants to take Britain and his government in the months ahead. And it needs to be about more than neutralising his perceived weaknesses of the Blair years or his opponents' tax plans, though the latter was probably good politics and in a better week would have been seen as such. Brown showed he could deal with crises during the summer, and he probably owes his continued strong personal ratings to that; he must now show how is proactively going to lead the country as a reformer at home - focusing not just on those areas he championed as Chancellor, but on wider public service reform - and as a force for change in the wider world, championing environment and global poverty issues. As Andrew Rawnsley puts it in today's Observer
He needs to prove that he can be a good governor. That means spending less time obsessing over how he can wrong-foot his opponents and much more time thinkingHis ability to meet that challenge will decide whether the last fortnight was a blip or the beginning of something more serious.
about how he can put the country right. That demands more statesmanship and less gamesmanship. It's a strange thing to say about a man who waited for the job for so long, but the thing that Gordon Brown most needs to do is act like a leader. If he wants to be a long-term Prime Minister, then he needs to start behaving like one.
Friday 12 October 2007
The children were more ambivalent about SATs than any other constituency that we met during the community soundings. SATs were ‘scary’, made them nervous and anxious, and put them under pressure. But equally:
• ‘tests tell teachers, and us, how we are doing’
• ‘parents want them’
• ‘children should be tested to show that they have done well and have been listening’
• ‘tests help children know what they have learned’
• ‘we need SATs to find our potential, and gaps in our understanding.’
• ‘high grades give you confidence.’
Ambivalent is code here for: they didn't conform to our prejudices. As the Times notes in its leader this morning, this is a report based on the instincts of the 'educational world' rather than any objective evidence of what testing, inspection and the national curriculum has achieved and can do. For schools that use tests and assessment regularly and confidently find that they help children improve, and contrary to what the author of Toxic Childhood Sue Palmer proclaimed also on Today, tests and targets have helped disadvantaged pupils and their schools to improve faster than middle class schools and pupils.
This report comes on the same day as the far more troubling results of the Foundation Profiles of around 600,000 youngsters are published, showing that 40% of children are educationally underdeveloped at the age of five. The idea that not testing them at 11 will somehow compensate for this is bizarre. But I was encouraged by the reported comments of Mick Brookes, the general secretary of the National Association of Head Teachers when asked whether we should pay much heed to these findings. The Times reports:
But the assessments, which are known as the Foundation Stage Profile, were criticised by teaching unions last night. Mick Brookes, the general secretary of the National Association of Head Teachers, called them “unreliable and unhelpful” because they are based on subjective teacher observations, not tests.
Now there's a challenge for ministers. When the assessments first started, there were attempts to create a single national system of baseline assessment. Thanks to the sort of people who would prefer other people's children not to learn to read until the age of eight the profiles have become unwieldy and less useful than they might be. So, let's cut the areas of assessment and have a single short national set of criteria to make them into the reliable and helpful data that Mr Brookes is presumably calling for. Meanwhile, ministers must go further than just saying that 'tests are here to stay'; they need to explain why and how. And they need to get on the case quickly.
"I doubt that making the exam regulator more independent will stifle the sneerers so long as we still have competitive eam boards with little incentive to make exams tougher. Or a sytem of marking where an A or a B, a Level 4 or 5 varies in value from year to year, and paper to paper. Nor will it alter the mindset of commentators who long for the days when few went into higher education rather than the 42% of young adults who go to university now.
"But there’s a more fundamental problem here: independence reinforces the notion that politicians can’t be trusted. Yet because they are elected, politicians are more likely to act as guardians of standards than independent agencies, especially where those agencies become creatures of a prevailing professional orthodoxy....Schools and education policy should not be the preserve of the professional elite. If society – through the ballot box – wants standards maintained or improved, then their elected politicians should be held accountable for providing that reassurance.
"But they can’t do it by handing all their power to unelected quangos, whose instincts may be towards introducing measures that militate against what the public wants.... Of course ministers should have no power over grading decisions. That would be wholly improper. But they should be able to make strategic policy decisions in the public interest, including whether to allow coursework, permit resits or have national tests for 11 and 14 year-olds. And teaching unions or teachers who don’t like such policies should be able to influence, criticise and quiz ministers, in the same way that parents, students and employers can. However, without responsibility, politicians have no power."
Thursday 11 October 2007
As it happened, the then shadow education secretary David Blunkett, battling Roy Hattersley over grant-maintained schools, used the 'read my lips: no selection either by examination or interview, under a Labour government' phrase in his speech which helped secure the passage of the new policy on grammar schools. Blunkett made clear - as did I - to any interviewers and journalists that he was referring to new selection. And crucially - although this is never reported - he made it clear in his 1996 conference speech a year before the general election.
The policy was firmed up ahead of the 1997 Wirral South by-election, where the issue threatened to prevent Labour's candidate Ben Chapman from winning a victory. Newspapers were briefed that ballots would only happen when a fifth of parents petitioned for one (see, for example, The Times 7 Feb 1997). Further details, including that the parents would be those from feeder schools, were also provided. In government, those rules were enshrined in law, and only one ballot - at Ripon - has ever taken place, where parents opted to keep the existing selective system. (This, incidentally, was a position backed by the main local modern school which has since improved significantly in partnership with the grammar). There were occasional flurries in the media on the issue and fanciful suggestions that the government was trying to destroy good grammar schools. But ministers knew that there was no point opening up such a divisive issue unless there was a real groundswell of opinion in favour. As ministers look at the rules for ballots again, I hope they remember the history of all this. This is not a vote-winner: it could be a real vote-loser. Far better to build on the idea of grammar school partnerships and leave the existing ballot procedures to be used when there is a genuine groundswell of opinion for change.
- More than three quarters of teachers interviewed believed they have greater control over their work and more time to plan lessons, mark books and collaborate with colleagues thanks to a "revolutionary shift'' in school working practices.
- Teachers felt they had greater control over their work, had time to plan collaboratively, develop resources, keep up with assessment and liaise with colleagues, improving their lessons as a result.
- Most schools believed strongly that standards were rising as a result of the reforms.
- Pupils are benefiting from increased support from this wider workforce. Deploying adults with different skills is allowing schools to improve the care and guidance for vulnerable pupils and those at risk of exclusion.
- The reforms were helping to extend and enhance the curriculum in nearly three quarters of the 99 schools visited.
Wednesday 10 October 2007
From now on, the Brown administration needs to do less politics and more governing....One minister tells friends that the trouble with the Brown team is that they are obsessed with politics, never able to resist a neat manoeuvre here, a little jab there. The PM needs to prove them wrong, getting on with the quiet, steady business of running the country well.....A year from now and we shall be in the run-up to the 2009 election. He has 12 months in which to think and act big, not play catch-up with the Conservative party. This was the Gordon Brown we waited for. Now we want to see him.And, although it may be a little tongue in cheek given its source, Danny Finkelstein makes a good point about the Year Zero tendencies of some Brownites. The public think of 1997 as when the new Labour government was elected, not 2007. Ministers need to remind people of what has been achieved and learned, and build on those achievements and lessons, as well as promoting new ideas and borrowing from the Tories.
Tuesday 9 October 2007
Employers should more readily be able to help design programmes that meet their needs, and this won't always be done through sector skills councils. Many providers, including learndirect and some colleges, run centres in larger company premises. And they need to have greater flexibility both in funding and qualification recognition to design the courses that will benefit local employers and employees most, even if that doesn't immediately fit into the level 2 - or level 3 - straitjacket. Bite-size qualifications should not just be encouraged; they should be better supported financially.
That's where the new skills accounts are so important. The first individual learning accounts suffered from fraud, a problem of lax regulation, rather than the concept of an account that people can use to help support their own training. Well-regulated accounts work successfully in Scotland and Sweden, with trials under way in other European countries. Hopefully, we can move quickly from pilots to a universal system.
Politically, the level 2 pledge cannot be watered down. But there is no reason why the individual employer should not have a proper skills account for training that is not free as well as the employee. Their Train to Gain account, if you like. They could then see a full menu of available training - with government subsidising 50% of its cost - and use that account to buy what they really need from local providers. It would be more appealing and potentially more effective than any levy, and could also be linked to university courses.
The far greater problem is a gradual and long-term erosion of journalistic standards and seriousness in favour of the sensational and the meretricious, and the incredible self-deceptions that executives have to go to in order to justify this trend.
Monday 8 October 2007
Sunday 7 October 2007
Saturday 6 October 2007
Thursday 4 October 2007
His speech....did not change the calculations about when that election will be. It did not bomb and thus tempt Brown to press the button. It was not a belter that forced the Prime Minister to hold off. Next week's decision is still finely poised....The problems for Brown are those of substance. If he does call an election next week, what is it about? What are the pressing challenges requiring difficult decisions that were not in the 2005 manifesto? In the longer run, an early election, even assuming Labour wins by a reasonable margin – and a majority of 66 is harder to obtain because of boundary changes – could hasten the decay of Brown's authority. The moment the election is over, the question moves on to: "Are you going to fight the next one? Who will be the next leader, Ed Balls or David Miliband?" David Cameron's so-so speech leaves Gordon Brown just where the Conservative Party wants him: between a rock and hard place.
Wednesday 3 October 2007
Second, on discipline, there are twice as many pupils excluded and in pupil referral units now as there were in 1997, and only 120 excluded pupils are returned to schools each year. I have great respect for heads (and some sympathy with the idea of requiring parents to sign home-school contracts) but the idea that these cases would not end up in the courts is fanciful nonsense.
Third, on diversity, Gordon Brown has actually accelerated academies - contrary to expectations, maybe - but he has done so. And the legislation already requires new schools to be open to competition from new providers - again a Labour innovation. There are a small but growing number of bodies getting involved, but there is unlikely to be an explosion of such schools. And finally, doesn't David Cameron know that far more special schools closed under the Tories than under Labour, and despite the best efforts of Tory councils - yes, those bodies who we should leave alone to spend 'their money' (not ours, I note) - Andrew Adonis has imposed an effective moratorium on their closure? Perhaps if Cameron understood these facts, he might then stop talking down our increasingly successful schools.
The UK will be judged both by how we treat our own people, and also by the standards that prevail in our external behaviour. Inconsistency will be spotted.Quite. Hague cheekily ended his Today interview by pointing out how interventionism had worked well (with Blair's support) for the people of Sierra Leone and Kosovo (where Milosevic was defeated). Ouch!