Category Archives: politicians and education



Time to move away from the Factory model of schooling, says Professor Mehta


Jal Mehta, an assistant professor at the Harvard Graduate School of Education, is the author of the book “The Allure of Order: High Hopes, Dashed Expectations, and the Troubled Quest to Remake American Schooling.”

He makes the familiar claims  in his book that the way schools are organized, and what happens in classrooms, hasn’t changed much in the century since the ‘Progressive Era’. His proposition is that the US still has the same teachers, in the same roles, with the same level of knowledge, in the same schools, with the same materials, and much the same level of parental support.(Professor Ken Robinson has said much the same thing, as has Anthony Seldon here)

He writes in the New York Times ‘Call it the industrial-factory model: power resides at the top, with state and district officials setting goals, providing money and holding teachers accountable for realizing predetermined ends. While rational on its face, in practice this system does not work well because teaching is a complex activity that is hard to direct and improve from afar. The factory model is appropriate to simple work that is easy to standardize; it is ill suited to disciplines like teaching that require considerable skill and discretion.’

This echos concerns, shared by other educators, that the teaching profession, rather than improving its status, is being de-professionalised. Unions have little influence in shaping policy and have failed to raise the status of the profession.

Mehta  continues ‘Teaching requires a professional model, like we have in medicine, law, engineering, accounting, architecture and many other fields. In these professions, consistency of quality is created less by holding individual practitioners accountable and more by building a body of knowledge, carefully training people in that knowledge, requiring them to show expertise before they become licensed, and then using their professions’ standards to guide their work.’ Some of these arguments are being used by those in the UK who advocate a new professional body for teachers (Royal College of Teaching etc).

By these criteria, his conclusion is   that American education is a failed profession. There is no widely agreed-upon knowledge base, training is brief or non-existent, the criteria for passing licensing exams are much lower than in other fields, and there is little continuous professional guidance (and development). It is not surprising, then, that researchers find wide variation in teaching skills across classrooms; in the absence of a system devoted to developing consistent expertise, we have teachers essentially winging it as they go along, with predictably uneven results.

The top systems recruit the top graduates (Investing in Human capital -see Professor Hargreaves and Fullan on this)). Training in these countries is more rigorous, more tied to classroom practice and more often financed by the government than elsewhere.

In America, both major teachers’ unions and the organization representing state education officials have, in the past year, called for raising the bar for entering teachers; one of the unions, the American Federation of Teachers, advocates a “bar exam.” Ideally the exam should not be a one-time paper-and-pencil test, like legal bar exams, but a phased set of milestones to be attained over the first few years of teaching. Akin to medical boards, they would require prospective teachers to demonstrate subject and pedagogical knowledge — as well as actual teaching skill.

He continues ‘Tenure would require demonstrated knowledge and skill, as at a university or a law firm. A rigorous board exam for teachers could significantly elevate the quality of candidates, raise and make more consistent teacher skill level, improve student outcomes, and strengthen the public’s regard for teachers and teaching.

We let doctors operate, pilots fly, and engineers build because their fields have developed effective ways of certifying that they can do these things. Teaching, on the whole, lacks this specialized knowledge base; teachers teach based mostly on what they have picked up from experience and from their colleagues.’

The ‘Allure of Order’, explores the power of ideas  in shaping politics. When a new paradigm arises “Newspapers, legislative debates, and other forums where issues are debated and decided take up issues different from those they did before. Existing actors’ identities are reshaped as the new problem definition changes the way people think about an issue. … New actors and groups are also created.”

But, unlike a number of current narratives on the problems of education, Mehta goes further by offering guidance for the route to universal good schools. He discusses four elements needed for a successful school system:

 practice-relevant knowledge,

 strong human capital, (Hargreaves and Fullan etc )

 school-level processes of improvement, and

 external support and accountability.

He ends by looking for new institutions to try new approaches and old institutions to reform themselves: “We can only hope that they have learned from the lessons of the past and seek not to control but to empower, creating the infrastructure upon which talented practitioner can create the good schools of the future.”

The changes needed to professionalize American education won’t be easy, he admits. They will require money, political will and the audacity to imagine that teaching could be a profession on a par with fields like law and medicine. But failure to change will be more costly — we could look up in another 30 years and find ourselves, once again, no better off than we are today. Several of today’s top performers, like South Korea, Finland and Singapore, moved to the top of the charts in one generation. Real change in America is possible, but only, he says, if they stop tinkering at the margins.

Its interesting how many of the perceptions about what needs to change in the United States are shared by educators here in the UK when championing the need  for reform. There is a consensus building here that a new professional body is required to elevate the status of the profession, independent of  both unions and government.;jsessionid=985C8A681F1ABEA4DBBE353E3C9D56FB?cc=gb&lang=en&


Labour will support Free schools open or in the pipeline in 2015


For those  confused about Labours attitude to Free schools,  and there are a few,here is some recent clarification. In his speech to the RSA on 17 June the shadow education secretary Stephen Twigg said that Labour  “will not continue with Michael Gove’s Free Schools policy. Existing free schools and those in the pipeline will continue. But in future we need a better framework for creating new schools..”  He continued “There will be no bias for or against a school type- so new academies, new maintained schools, new trust schools- all options. A school system based on evidence not dogma.That is what a One Nation schools system is about.”

Andrew Adonis, the architect of the academies scheme, and still very much involved with Labour policymaking,  writes ‘ Free schools are academies without a predecessor school, like Mossbourne and School21 (Hyman, de Botton etc).  Stephen rightly pledged to support all such schools open or in the pipeline in 2015. Labour will enable more parent-led academies, like the West London Free School, to be established where there is a local demand for places.Where we differ fundamentally from the Conservatives is that they are allowing ‘free schools’ to be established anywhere, whether or not there is a need for additional places, whereas Labour will rightly locate new academies in areas – and there are plenty of them – where there is a shortage of good quality school places.  Pressure on public spending is intense; in 2010 Michael Gove cancelled 715 priority building projects for academies and community schools in desperate need of new or modernised facilities.  It cannot be a priority to establish new academies in areas where there are sufficient good quality places while existing academies and community schools lack the facilities they need to do a good job.’

Note: Goves reaction

Michael Gove, the education secretary, reacting to Twiggs speech   said: “Labour’s policy on free schools is so tortured they should send in the UN to end the suffering. On the one hand Stephen Twigg says he will end the free school programme, but on the other he says he would set up ‘parent-led’ and ‘teacher-led academies’ – free schools under a different name.”


James Caan gets off to a poor start as the  new social mobility Czar


Many of you are probably aware that in 2010 Alan Milburn was appointed the ‘social mobility czar’. Indeed,  he  produced a rather good , impressively comprehensive report on  social mobility, We also have Simon Hughes MP , who is the ‘access czar’ .Hughes  has  a  lower profile. The two roles, self-evidently,  overlap.  Confusingly now, James Caan, the entrepreneur, who used to be on TV in the  Dragons Den,  was ,this week, also   given the title ‘social mobility czar’ by Nick Clegg.  Quite why the term  ‘Czar ‘is routinely used without any sense of irony, and is common currency,  is lost on me. Were  the Czars known for their commitment to education and social mobility? One doesn’t need to be Simon Schama to know that the Czars  first priority was probably not an unwavering  commitment to increasing the life opportunities of the most disadvantaged .   Does  this  matter? Yes, it probably does. Words and language in politics not only provide  literal meaning ,they  convey a mind-set, an attitude, a  mood, a set of values and context.  So ,the  term Czar has no utility and  should  pass  into history.

James Caan, spent his first media interview arguing that parents shouldn’t give their offspring a helping hand in the workplace. The   highly successful Pakistan-born businessman warned of the dangers of helping out one’s children too readily. Speaking to the Daily Telegraph, Caan said it was important to “let the child stand on his own two feet” and not assist them finding a job until “the child has tried everything”. He explained: “You are trying to develop your child too; you don’t want them to feel as though they don’t have to make the effort.”

Some might agree. But, and its quite a big ‘ but’, Caan has apparently  helped at least one of his  own daughters to  find employment .Caan’s younger daughter, Hanah, has no fewer than three roles within his business and charitable empire. It also transpired that his elder daughter, Jemma, now works for a recruitment company in which Caan invests,( though that came after four years of post-university work elsewhere). So it looks very much as if Caan  might be  a do as  I say, not do as I do kind of guy, so maybe not the right person to lead on social mobility, fine businessman though he may be. Or am I missing something?  And what do Alan Milburn and Simon Hughes have to say about it all? And whats so  deeply depressing about all this  is  that politicians  still seem to  think this approach makes a difference. What  has  happened to evidence led policy? This is all presentation  and no substance and the presentation  isnt up to much!. Cue, Clegg and others distancing themselves from Caan.


In a statement on his website, Caan insisted he believed parents should “encourage their children to explore their own opportunities and define themselves in their own right”. He added: “The fact is that parents will always have the innate feeling to help their children into jobs. I’m no different.”


Not against academies but they are not a silver bullet for improvement

Current government  policy he claims  eschews vital ingredient ‘collaboration’


The Shadow Education Secretary Stephen Twigg, in  his speech to the ASCL, last weekend, claimed that this governments academies policy resulted in a two tier system and  was  not encouraging system wide reform. He said “I believe Michael Gove has learnt the wrong lesson from New Labour’s school reforms. He thinks that academies are about recreating the grammar school model. A group of high flying schools which are given additional funding and support, but no plan to raise the quality of education across the whole school system.  An increasingly fragmented schools landscape, while what we need is better collaboration between schools to raise standards.  Labour’s original academies programme was about how you realise the comprehensive ideal  – mixed ability education with rigorous standards.  We focussed on driving up standards in some of the most challenging schools in some of the least well off neighbourhoods.”

He talked of an Arc of Underachievement which holds back the life chances of too many children across the country with too much inconsistency. He said “ Michael Gove thinks that the answer to this underperformance is to create free schools and  academies.  But if this was the case – why is the worst performing school in England, an academy. Why  is that of the Free Schools who have had Ofsted inspections – all of the secondary schools – admittedly only three – have been inspected, have been giving a “requires improvement”  rating, despite having wealthy intakes and not one of the schools is rated as outstanding?”

Twigg reiterated that he was  not against academies, but nor does he think they are a ‘ silver bullet’ for  school improvement.

He is proud of Labours academy record. He said, referring to the recent report of the Academies Commission: “The Commission is absolutely clear about the impact of Labour’s academies programme.  While I know that some people would like Labour to condemn academies – I will not. They helped raise standards amongst some of the poorest children in Britain. We should be rightly proud, and celebrate the teachers and heads that delivered.  As the Commission notes, “these early academies revitalised the system, including initiating a shift in culture…[they] showed just how much could be achieved with high aspirations,  determination that young people would achieve well, and a rigorous and consistent approach  to school improvement.”

Crucially though , Twigg believes that the current system is atomised and missing a  vital ingredient for system improvement -collaboration. He said “The problem is at the heart of Michael Gove’s approach. A free market ideology fails to understand that collaboration is critical to school improvement.  Andreas Schleicher, who leads the OECD’s work on education has said that “professional autonomy needs to go hand in hand with a collaborative culture, with autonomous schools working in partnership to improve teaching and learning.” He points to schools in Scandinavia, Japan and Shanghai which have embedded a culture of teamwork and cooperation.  However, nearly two thirds of academies are ‘singletons’ – not part of a school improvement partnership. These represent the bulk of academies set up since 2010. An increasingly fragmented, atomised system where schools are not encouraged to  collaborate.”

Twigg concluded: “Michael Gove missed a golden opportunity with the converter academy programme. He promised to promote collaboration in the Schools White Paper in 2010. He could have made it a requirement of a school becoming an academy that they support a weaker school, but he failed.”

The Secretary of State, Michael Gove , says that  rigorous research from the OECD and others has shown that more autonomy for individual schools helps raise standards.  He points to the fact that two  of the most successful countries in PISA – Hong Kong and Singapore - are amongst those with the highest levels of school competition (Finland,  though, another high flier  eschews competition). He wants both competition and collaboration. In a speech to the the Schools Network in December 2011 he said “Overall, our vision for the future is of a self-improving network of schools, innovating and engaging, competing and collaborating, teaching and training, for the benefit of all our children.”



Gove attacked for not bothering to convince stakeholders that his policies are right


Laura McInerney, a teacher, Fulbright scholar and Policy Development Partner at consultants LMKCO is concerned , as she sees it,about the Secretary of States unwillingness, or inability, to sell his education reforms to key stakeholders. McInerney has had an almost continuous dialogue on Twitter with Goves  respected special adviser, Sam Freedman , due to move to Teach First as head of research, around this and related  themes.

She says Gove can and should implement the policies he has long championed – free schools, the Ebacc, terminal exams – but through the correct processes.

She blogs ‘ In recent weeks Gove has stomped heavily on the processes of an informed democracy that hold politicians accountable once in power. If a Secretary of State steadfastly refuses to answer questions in the Education Select Committee about their latest reform, this matters for accountability (see Q11-36) . If in that same meeting the Secretary of State says they will ignore the independent regulator’s serious concerns about a GCSE reform, it matters for accountability (see Q46). When the Department for Education has one of the worst response rates to requests for Freedom of Information, it matters for accountability. When the civil service – bound by a code of political impartiality – sends out tweets about teacher strike action which feel to teachers to be heavily politicised, it diminishes an impartially informed democracy. And when significant education policies are announced through the pages of a newspaper that citizens can only access by paying the corporation (the Times) at the centre of 2012’s biggest media scandal, then –surely! – democracy and accountability aren’t just suffering, by now they are on the floor and weeping.’

A little strong, perhaps, but she concludes that Gove does not  have to change his policies simply because people don’t like them, but as part of an informed democracy he does need to convince people he is right.

Certainly Goves performance before the Select Committee recently raised some eyebrows as he refused to discuss with the Committee  Ofquals (well known) concerns about the timetable  for the introduction of the new EBC for reasons, that were not very clear (concerns shared, incidentally, by the exam boards). He must be careful not to allow the perception to be created that he lacks transparency or is being obstructive or ignoring process, as this suggests a lack of confidence in his own policies. It is very easy to become prickly and over defensive if attacked and Gove is, by nature, a courteous and confident debater and advocate.  He is more than capable of making a strong case for his own policies without leaving the impression that he is careless about the need for full transparency and accountability. It would also help in this respect  if his department improved its poor  record(  yes it does have  one of the worst  departmental records )  in responding quickly to requests for information  under the Freedom of Information Act  and in answering parliamentary questions (PQs are supposed to be answered within three days but can take up to six weeks) which junior minister Elizabeth  Truss was  challenged on recently in a Select Committee hearing.


 Young people still  receiving inadequate advice on education choices


Mckinsey have just published an important report ‘Education to Employment’  that seeks to identify why there is such a gap between what businesses and employers  want, and need, and what education systems provide. Around the world, governments and businesses face a conundrum: high levels of youth unemployment and a shortage of job seekers with critical skills. How can a country successfully move its young people from education to employment? What are the challenges? Which interventions work? How can these be scaled up? Almost 40 percent of employers say a lack of skills is the main reason for entry-level vacancies. If employers are not confident that the system delivers what they want, young people  it appears  also lack confidence in the system.  Half of youth are not sure that their post -secondary education has improved their chances of finding a job. Youth unemployment rates are unacceptably high as is the number of young people   who are not in education, employment or training

It has become received wisdom that businessmen need students with more practical vocational skills. While vocational education appears to be a good solution for policymakers, it has, in fact, low or lesser perceived value among students.

This was an important finding. The research compared student “perceptions of value” between traditional education and vocational education and apprentice programmes. In the research every country values traditional education over vocational education except for Germany.. Germany, of course, is a country regarded as something of a model when it comes to practical skills and vocational programmes, with a myriad of apprentice-based programmes and it  has among the lowest  youth unemployment rates in Europe.

Unfortunately, even there vocational programmes are not always seen as the answer. 23% of students who attended vocational programmes there felt they attended the wrong institution, and 42% are unsure they took the right programme. This  is hardly encouraging.

The report also highlights, more generally, the fact that young people are not getting the advice they need at a crucial time of their lives. The report states ‘they face the daunting task of choosing what to study and where to study it. The evidence is distressing:  way too many young people take a wrong turn here.  Fewer than half of those surveyed are confident that if they had to do it again, they would study the same subject. That’s a lot of disappointment; it’s also a sign that students don’t have the information they need to make the right choices.’

In short ,Youth are not well informed when making   educational and career  choices .

The report continues ‘Some 40 percent of youth report that they were not familiar with the market conditions and requirements even for well-known professions such as teachers or doctors. Without this understanding, many students choose courses half blindly, without a vision of whether there will be a demand for their qualifications upon graduation.’ Sounds familiar?

Politicians wax eloquent about social mobility and the importance of making informed choices at critical points in life. Yet a majority of young people do not have access to high quality, independent advice. They might have an ambition, for example, to go to university but  then fail to take the qualifications that they need to achieve this, because they know no better aged 13 and there is nobody there to support them. Its not rocket science. Social mobility cant and wont improve if so many young people  don’t make the choices that maximise their potential. Until politicians grasp this nettle ,nothing will change.




We forget education is an ideological battleground

One reason why politicians get and stay involved


John Dewey the American educationalist said in 1897: ‘I believe that education is the fundamental method of social progress and reform. I believe it is the business of every one interested in education to insist upon the school as the primary and most effective instrument of social progress and reform in order that society may be awakened to realize what the school stands for, and aroused to the necessity of endowing the educator with sufficient equipment properly to perform his task….’

He also said: “As a society becomes more enlightened, it realizes that it is responsible not to transmit and conserve the whole of its existing achievements, but only such as make for a better future society. The school is the chief agency for the accomplishment of this end”

These are statements of political intent. Schools and education, the argument runs, can never be neutral.  Dewey is saying that educators have to be at the heart of and the drivers   of societal change. Dewey, and his apologists, were intent, through education, in building a better, fairer, more equitable, plural society through reforms in school organization, curriculum, instruction, and, indeed latterly technology. Dewey’s Pedagogical Creed was heavily influenced by the effects of  the Great Depression of the 1930s. Capitalism had failed, to his mind. A new post capitalist order was in the wings. George S Counts’ “Dare the School Build a New Social Order“ was another thinker with a   Deweyan  vision.  He talked about the ‘progressive’ movement in education promoting welfare and social change, through education in schools. Counts talked of the need to develop a compelling vision of ‘Americas destiny’ and teachers had a role in ‘ imposing’ this vision on students. Teachers are agents of change.

Critics say this amounts to indoctrination and brainwashing of pupils-which they say is absolutely not the role of teachers.

But there are some in the educational establishment who share Deweys vision . ED Hirsch the traditionalist, (who actually opposed Deweys approach,)  was  also criticised on ideological grounds . His Core Curriculum is popular in some American schools and is  informed by the proposition that young Americans must be in possession of certain core facts  and ideas (which he lists) in order to be culturally literate .  (former schools Minister Nick Gibb is a fan of Hirsch) .But  in prescribing what young americans need to know-he has been attacked as an Orwellian Minister of Truth, drilling Americanisms into tender young brains.

One is reminded, when reading the views of many of these reformers, of WB Yeats observation’: ‘The best lack all conviction, while the worst are full of passionate intensity’. Indeed, its true that the very brightest among us are wracked by self-doubt, the rest know the truth with absolute certainty.

Other reformers, just as determined and well-intentioned as Dewey, Counts and Hirsch , view schools as places where pressing national economic challenges, skills  gaps  and global competitiveness have to be addressed and solved.

Professor Larry Cuban believes that some policymakers see schools as serving the economy and protecting the nation, not as Deweyan agents of “social progress” ie in reducing social injustices.  Instead he claims, they seek to insure that poor and minority students trapped in failing schools will have access to  equal educational opportunity through expanded parental choice in schools and  with everyone going to college. They  aim to rescue individuals from poverty and prepare them for better jobs. But what they are not about is arming students   to fight for a more equitable society.(Dewey/ Counts). They want America to rise up the international league tables to ensure its global competitiveness. And that is pretty much it.

These ideological battles continue under the surface. But it is important to understand this ideological dimension because it goes some way to explaining why debates on education reform get so heated.  Listen to the speeches at the NUTs annual conference, if you doubt this.

In 2012, reformers remain split over the direction that schools should take just as they were over a century ago when John Dewey wrote his Pedagogical Creed. Much of the boiling rhetoric among school reformers in the US , Cuban  believes, is due to this conflict over the answer to the question of whether schools can (or ever do) reform society. Which is why in schooling, like religion, “aspirations [are] rarely met” and it generates “far more failure than fulfilment,” according to Cuban

Even if you set aside the ideological dimension, the debate over the purpose of education   rumbles on. Barely a week passes without someone asking for a debate to start on what we want from our education system and our schools, as nobody is entirely happy with the status quo. Some see education as being primarily about maximising exam results (ie  schools are exam factories).  Others that it is all about producing young men and young women able to benefit from higher education, to contribute positively in employment, and to lead meaningful and productive lives in society .Heads such as Anthony Seldon say schools should be about developing the whole human being, of realising individual’s potential, of building character and supporting distinct individual aptitudes.  In short, education is an end in itself, and we have lost our way.

Added to this is the confusion over training and education .Some Politicians manage to confuse education with training and simply want pupils to be taught skills that are relevant to the work place. Education is all about equipping you for the employment market. Everything else is a waste of time and resource. Small wonder, then, that education has become such a political battleground, and football, subject to constant change, interventions and churn.

Meanwhile most parents simply want their children to have a good rounded education that prepares them for adult life.  Heads and governors for their part pray for a period of calm and consolidation and for the goalposts to stop moving. Teachers want to be treated like professionals rather than to be micro-managed from the centre.

Its worth reflecting, in conclusion ,on  how  Alasdair McIntyre, the philosopher,  summarises the views of Cardinal Newman, who had  so much to say about education and the role, in particular, of universities:

‘ the aim of … education is not to fit students for this or that particular profession or career, nor to equip them with theory that will later on find useful applications to this or that form of practice…It is to transform their minds, so that the student becomes a different kind of individual, one able to engage fruitfully in conversation and debate, one who has a capacity for exercising judgement, for bringing insights and arguments from a variety of disciplines to bear on particular complex issues. Independence of mind, rather than compliance with socio-economic expectations, is the goal of education.’


The Rumour Mill starts


David Cameron must now be reflecting on his options for a reshuffle, probably in September.

Ed Miliband, after an initial rocky period, just after the leadership elections, has consolidated Labours lead in the opinion polls at 9-10%. The Coalition having peered over the abyss had been  trying to breathe new life into  the government in the wake of a  poorly received Budget , which managed to alienate most stakeholders ,while resulting in a number of U-turns which made the Coalition look weak and accident- prone. George Osborne’s  reputation has suffered  but he  will probably stay put.

The  Coalition re-launch has suffered a severe set -back. Tim Montgomerie, the influential Tory blogger,  reminds us (Daily Mail/ R4) that the decision to redraw constituency boundaries was part of the Coalition’s agreement to cut the number of MPs from 650 to 600. As the price for agreeing to this, the Lib Dems demanded a referendum on Clegg’s pet project of changing the electoral system from first-past-the-post to the so-called Alternative Vote (AV), which the public rejected. Montgomerie points out  that it is  Clegg who has broken the ‘rules’ of the Coalition Agreement. For it was the referendum on electoral reform — not a shake-up of the Lords — which was linked to the boundary changes in the Coalition Agreement. On Lords reform, it bound the Government only to set up a committee to suggest changes, which it did.What’s more, says Montgomerie,  Clegg said earlier this year that Lords and boundary reform were not connected. He was asked four times if there was a link and each time he said ‘no’. Is this important? Yes, very. On two counts. Tories from  the grassroots upwards feel that it is Clegg who has done the betraying and their anger is visceral. Secondly, from a practical point of view, the review of constituency boundaries is more important, and a failure to address this issue will make their task even harder at the next election.

There are rumours flying that  the education secretary Michael Gove will be moved,  in a re-shuffle -possibly to the Home Office- although that is unlikely to help his career over the longer term. Reputations are seldom made and often   lost in that most dysfunctional of departments of state. (so ,one has to ask, why would he  want to move there?) Elizabeth Truss, a bright new Tory rising star, and former think tanker (Reform)  is being touted  as a possible replacement to Gove.  State educated and an Oxford graduate, her profile fits and she has made big efforts to be noticed as a significant contributor to education debates (main strengths curriculum and exams). Recently Truss called for maths to made compulsory, post 16( we don’t have enough high quality maths teachers- to make this work, by the way).She also   launched the Free Enterprise Group of MPs — a pro-free market faction which wants deregulation and lower taxes.  But Truss has no Ministerial experience,so  it would be a high risk gambit, despite her obvious talent and Goveian zeal. Truss certainly knows her education policy and impressed while at Reform. She  has a flinty edge, is  intense and adversarial in her style, and her managerial skills are untested and so unknown.  (mind you the same could have been said of Gove before he became Secretary of State).  The curriculum and qualifications changes,  though, it could be said,  are  to her  familiar, well trodden  territory.  And the DFE has now almost  been knocked into shape (notwithstanding occasional damaging leaks) . My guess is that she might come in as a junior education Minister. Gove will probably be offered a move-but may want to stay due to unfinished business.  Few other Ministers stand out in this government, though the same might be said of the shadow spokesmen.

Stephen Twigg, the shadow education secretary, after various flip flops on Free schools which made him look opportunistic and a tad confused, (he tends to think out loud which gets him into trouble) showed a deft touch in backing military style schools, a policy championed by ResPublica (and to some extent the Centre for Policy Studies) which was close to Cameron, certainly on matters related to the Big Society.  Cameron’s problems with his own backbenchers are simmering as they want him to make a principled stand on something, though Cameron loyalists fume that the imperatives of coalition government tie his hands. Possibly true, but critics suggest that that Cameron was hard to fathom before the election in terms of his core beliefs and values. Defining Camerons political narrative has always been something of a challenge.  The issue of boundary changes affecting all MPs will not go away-and if this is not resolved it will probably, as things stand, seal the fate of the Tories and Liberal Democrats in the next election (ie they will  be pretty pushed to stay in office-its estimated that the Tories for example need a 10% lead in the polls to secure a sound majority).

At some point Tories realise that they will have to create distance, or clear blue water, between themselves and the Liberal Democrats in preparation for an election.

David Laws a talented politician, caught out by an error of judgement, might well re-join Ministerial ranks as part of any future reshuffle. Liberal Democrat ranks are, as it happens, not overburdened with potential ministers.

These are fascinating times and the Opposition, as things stand can simply observe from the  sidelines, as the Coalition suffers internecine strife ,and consolidate its lead in the polls. So much political capital and goodwill has been used up on Lords reform that one wonders whether the Coalition has actually lost touch with what  really matters to the electorate  and on what they will be judged at the next election-their stewardship of the economy.

Hot Tip-Baroness Warsi will be moved and there will be some pretty fundamental re jigging  at the top of the Tory party.



What are the facts?


There has been an inevitable debate during the Olympics over sport in schools and how we secure a lasting legacy.

Politicians never knowingly fail to jump on a passing bandwagon. It doesn’t seem to have occurred to them that this carping, sniping and whingeing detracts from the feel good factor being generated by these games, which we should  all  simply breathe in and  appreciate, while it lasts.

Ironically the unprecedented success of our Olympians has sparked much soul -searching about where the next generation of elite sportsman will come from. The Guardian aimed to portray the Government as hypocritical, praising the success of Britain’s Olympians, while undermining our future medal chances by selling off school playing fields. The newspaper reported:  “Ministers have approved proposals to sell off a London school’s playing fields, including six tennis courts and a football pitch, despite mounting criticism of the coalition’s planning for an Olympic legacy. The land at Elliott school in Putney, south London, is being sold off to pay for a major refurbishment. It brings the number of school playing field sell-offs approved by the coalition to 22. The Guardian revealed government figures on Monday which show that the sale of school sports fields continues even though ministers declared in the coalition agreement that they would seek to protect them.”  The DFE responded,  unsurprisingly, by disputing the figures. The Department says that of the 21 (not 22) playing fields the Government has approved for disposal, 14 belonged to schools that have closed, and four were part of sites that became surplus when existing schools amalgamated. Of the other three:

One was surplus marginal grassland on the school site, the sale of which allowed investment in the school library and sports changing facilities.

One was leased to a company to redevelop and improve a playing field for the school’s use that had poor drainage and was under-used. As a result of the development, the school’s playing fields now include four 5-a-side pitches, two 7-a-side pitches, a full sized football and hockey pitch and a six-court indoor tennis facility. The school also profited from private hire of facilities outside school hours.

One was due to be leased to an athletics club to improve sporting provision for both the club and the school, although the project did not go ahead in the end.

A spokesman from the Department commented:

“We will only agree to the sale of school playing fields if the sports and curriculum needs of schools and their neighbouring schools can continue to be met. Sale proceeds must be used to improve sports or education facilities and any new sports facilities must be sustainable for at least 10 years.”

So what happened under the  the last Labour government in terms of  yearly sell-offs  given the oppositions  attacks on the Coalition for recklessly selling off sports fields, so depriving our youth of sporting opportunities ? Well, here are the figures for sell-offs for each year since 1999.

1999: 42;

2000: 31;

2001: 21;

2002: 24;

2003: 16;

2004: 13;

2005: 11;

2006: 8;

2007: 19;

2008: 11;

2009: 16;

Jan 2010 to April 2010: 1;

So its pretty safe to conclude that  the last Government was not exactly blameless if you measure commitment to  school sport   by the number of   school sports fields being sold-off . They probably deserve a bronze medal, at least, in hypocrisy.(see Note)

The issue is a bit more complex and nuanced than the headlines suggest.  .

It would seem that, although school fields have  been sold, the impact on sport is probably  rather limited. It is arguable  that, in some cases, sporting opportunities have actually increased with money freed up from redundant land to be invested more productively  elsewhere.

Anyway, getting back to the Games,  we should all feel pretty proud of what has been achieved and the  credit  for it cuts across political barriers.


No politicians are blameless on this score .It is estimated   that around  10,000  sports playing fields  were lost between 1979 and 1997.

The proportion of pupils playing competitive sports increased from 58 per cent to 78 per cent between 2006-07 and 2009-10, according to the Department for Education.



Goes for the soft target-but what exactly is he doing to narrow the gap?


Michael Gove said in his speech at Brighton College that the dominance of the public schoolboy in every prominent role in British society is “morally indefensible”. “More than almost any developed nation, ours is a country in which your parentage dictates your progress,” he said. “Those who are born poor are more likely to stay poor and those who inherit privilege are more likely to pass on privilege in England than in any comparable country. For those of us who believe in social justice, this stratification and segregation are morally indefensible.” Gove was certainly not calling  though for the abolition of  private schools to remedy the problem.  What he meant was that state schools needed to improve to private school standards, and not that private schools should be abolished.

Clearly it is impossible to justify such inequity although when politicians start talking about morality they are, as a rule, on dangerous ground –so its worth taking a much closer look. We are certainly an unequal society in terms of outcomes. But it is too simplistic to blame the 7% of people who are educated here in private schools for such inequity and crucially  the lack of social mobility. Social mobility has stalled in our country, for sure. The problem is, though, deeply ingrained. Anthony Sampson in his  seminal book ‘Anatomy of Britain’ first published in 1962, with later revisions , highlighted that the establishment and business was dominated by the privately educated. The Sutton Trust has helpfully up-dated Sampson’s analysis and findings but  in truth  have told us not much that is new in this respect.   The reasons for the lack of social mobility are many and varied. What happens in the home up to the age of three  and parental support and education  are   regarded as very important  indeed,  in influencing  social mobility. The Jesuits maxim “Give me the child for seven years, and I will give you the man” is  probably only half correct in that a child’s trajectory  may be largely determined even earlier, at least according to some experts and recent research (although there is a danger of being too deterministic about this).

Politicians (educated in both state and private schools) in successive administrations   have largely failed to grasp the nettle to identify the nature of the problem ,let alone the policy levers that might help   alleviate it , and these levers  are not by any means all  related to education. Certainly its true that  if you fail to get good GCSEs at school your chances of doing well   in the world of work are severely circumscribed.  Bashing private schools though, even for a Tory Minister, it seems, pays political dividends.  They are the soft target.

Too many stubbornly underperforming state schools are at the heart of the problem, and it’s a difficult challenge to address. It is mainly about addressing  the long tail of our significant underachievers in school, perhaps as much as  20% of the school population. The next biggest  problem is  the way we treat  our  brightest and most able  pupils  , those who have the potential to succeed but who are not being given  either the personalised support  or  guidance in schools  to  enable them  to reach their  full potential. Depending on how you measure and define this group it could  range from 5%-20%. of pupils.This is bad for them, and us.

But lets be clear there is nothing immoral about choosing the type of education you want for your child, a right  that happens to be enshrined in the Universal Declaration of Human Rights (1948) and those with money have every right to choose how they spend it subject  only to the law. For those like George Monbiot (privately educated) who naively call for the abolition of private schools the message is clear -it wont happen.  The Government would rightly be held to account for such an illiberal act under Human Rights law. His other solution is to remove charity status for these schools-which will marginally decrease their numbers, mainly the smaller ones, on the tightest of margins, but also serve to   make the sector more elitist ,less inclusive  and less prone, probably, to helping  the state sector.  It would also mean that tens of thousands of pupils end up looking for places in an already hard pressed state system .And if they lose their charity status, there will follow a major cull of thousands of other charities  which provide less public benefit than many private schools.

Looking at the advantages provided by an independent school education, they are perceived to be many.  Which is why surveys suggest that most parents, if they had the  means, would choose a private education for their child. Of course, class sizes tend to be much smaller. Some say the teaching is better although this is difficult to prove . But many parents are drawn to these schools because of the pastoral support, extra-curricular activities (arts music, drama), sport and facilities.   Also importantly these schools tend to  support character development,  values, self-sufficiency, self-discipline, resilience, leadership skills, teamwork, sporting prowess and nurture , too, creative talent , and ultimately  more rounded and socially- confident individuals.

Rather than abolish these schools the state sector should be learning from them. Lord Adonis talked about transferring the independent sectors DNA into state schools. And it is in the area of supporting character development, positive thinking and resilience where the state system has much to learn and where there are huge possibilities.

It is not absolutely clear though how this governments reforms will help support the development of these characteristics and attributes among our state school pupils,  and so  help  close the gap between state and private schools and promote equity. Indeed, it could be argued, and has been by Professor Tony Watts, that Gove has been personally responsible for pulling out the state-school funding for sport, music and the other performing arts (where the disparities with public schools are now particularly significant). Also the programmes for raising aspirations and improving social mobility (career guidance, AimHigher) have been halted.  How exactly are state school pupils, particularly the most disadvantaged, going to be more socially mobile if they are not  given  access to high quality, professional,   face to face advice in school  about their options and  pathways into further, higher education, training  and employment?

The Government is, of course, introducing significant reforms. The structural reforms – making schools more autonomous and giving them more freedom may well  help, providing they use this to improve educational outcomes, (some seem to have converted simply for the extra funding) . But few believe that they are sufficient in themselves to deliver significantly improved outcomes. In short, the changes are necessary but insufficient.  But the other side of this coin is what happens in the classroom, at the chalk face. There need to be improvements there in the quality of teaching. Evidence shows that improving the quality of teaching is essential to driving up standards in schools. Pupils taught by good teachers score nearly half a GCSE point more per subject than pupils taught by poor teachers. But its also, crucially, about  what children are taught , so that teachers are supporting the provision of a rounded education, and not just teaching to the test.(critics believe that exams are now the master not servant of education) .The delayed curriculum reforms and introduction of the Ebacc, might have a positive  effect. But, overall are  these  ‘ game-changers’ likely to  measurably  close the  attainment gap, to tackle the long tail of underachievement  and the widening divide between the state and independent sectors? Even after the Blair governments reforms,  Professor Barbers ‘deliverology’ and  significant new investment, the attainment gap  between the sectors actually grew (and productivity in state  education fell).  So what else is on offer? The Pupil Premium targeted at the most disadvantaged? –a possibility but unions claim that this money is being used to fill gaps arising from other cuts in school funding. Even if not, the sums involved are relatively modest and there is no guarantee that schools will use the ‘extra’ money effectively. The government has not ring-fenced Pupil Premium cash, but it will – via Ofsted and league tables – hold schools accountable for how it is spent. Unless we learn from what schools do with the premium, the money may well be wasted, and hence do nothing to narrow the achievement gap. So, what else is going to narrow the gap and improve equity? Gove deserves credit for pushing through reforms, often overcoming resistance even from within his own Department, and one would be hard pressed to name a Minister who has achieved more or performed better, certainly in the eyes of his own leader Tory MPs and  electors.  But, in terms of transforming the system, to make it fit for the 21st Century, we are probably edging towards the end of the beginning, rather than the beginning of the end.  And attacks on private schools tend to deflect attention away from other areas that require urgent attention and the sustained  investment of   political capital.