Monday, 16 June 2008

Lessons in Liberalism?

There are some good things in today's speech by Lib Dem leader Nick Clegg on education. In particular, his idea of free schools is fleshed out in a bit more detail, and represents a break with the traditionalists in his party on academies and trust schools. It is also an advance that the party now accepts testing at eleven. But Clegg has got itself caught up in the foolishness of fashionable thinking in his attack on 'too much testing', his suggestion that there should be no consistent measures at 7 and 14 and his moans about central diktats. What he ignores - along with the bien pensant commentariat - is that testing serves two main purposes. The first, a measure of accountability, is arguably preserved with the retention of tests at 11 and GCSEs (although many infant schools are not the same as their junior partners); but the more important value of contemporary testing is its contribution to lifting individual ambition. And that requires a little more than the tests at 11. Any party that is serious about raising standards for those who currently don't attain their best would see testing as part of the solution, not part of the problem. For the Lib Dems, Clegg's speech is certainly an advance, in that it is no longer a simple recitation of teaching union shibboleths; but that is not really saying an awful lot when it is set alongside the distance travelled by the two main parties these last fifteen years - and, more significantly, by the vast majority of schools.

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