TORY EDUCATION POLICY
Key Priority to focus on the poorest
Independent state schools the answer
Michael Gove, the shadow Education Secretary, believes schools should be engines of social mobility. He is motivated by a social justice and equity agenda. In short, the Tories education mission is to improve standards – with a determined focus on the poorest.
In this the Tories share the views of the Blairite wing of the Labour party (though going one step further) and the former schools Minister Lord Adonis, who championed the Academies programme. Schools, Gove believes “should enable children to overcome disadvantage and deprivation, so they can fulfill their innate talents and take control of their own destiny. Instead of grimly accepting the fate which the lottery of birth allocates to each individual, schools affirm our belief in the power of human agency to give meaning, structure and hope to every life.” But his main charge against this Government is that, if anything, the gap in achievement between the rich and poor has increased under this Government. From the beginning to the end of primary school, the achievement gap between FSM and non-FSM children widens – and from 11 to 14 the gap widens further still.” In those schools where more than half the children are eligible for free school meals only 13% of children get five decent GCSE passes. Out of 75,000 children eligible for free school meals only 5,000 were even entered for A levels. Of these just 189 got 3As.Of that 189, only 75 were boys. The over-centralized, bureaucratic system is to blame, according to Gove.
But Gove hasn’t given up on state schools. Indeed, he strongly believes that the state system can deliver a better deal for those on FSM .He said in his most recent speech (6 November) “..Excellence in education is emphatically not restricted to the fee-paying independent sector. There are many state schools which are quite superb, easily better than many fee-paying establishments.”
But to do so the school supply side must to be radically reformed with new free schools established and a pupil premium to encourage good schools to take the most disadvantaged pupils . Also more rigour needs to introduced to the curriculum, with a market in qualifications, better discipline and importantly improvements to the quality of teachers and teaching in the classroom.
He cited examples of outstanding state schools such as Harris City Academy, Mossbourne City Academy, Emmanuel College , Gateshead, Thomas Telford school and Brooke Weston College, in Corby .And what do these successful schools have in common apart from being comprehensives and inclusive? They are all independent. Not fee-paying. Not private. But independent.
Gove said “ They are either academies or city technology colleges. They were established independent from local and central bureaucracy, free from central control over the curriculum, free to adopt the reading and maths policies which help the most disadvantaged, free to pay good staff more, free to have longer and more fulfilling school days, free to establish Saturday schools to help stretch and challenge pupils, free to shape and enforce more rigorous discipline policies, free to deploy resources more efficiently, free to develop excellent extra-curricular activities and free to spend the money on their own pupils which would otherwise be spent, beyond their control, by the local authority.”
So the independence of schools, liberating them from over-centralised controls, is seen as key to reform.
But the Tories will also focus too on the quality of teachers and teaching in the classroom. Research in the Boston school district of the US found that teachers placed with the weakest maths teachers actually fell back in absolute performance during the year – their test scores got worse. Research from Australia and the UK affirms the American findings with academics finding that 55% of the variation in performance in mathematics at primary school and 53% of the variation at secondary level was due entirely to the quality of teaching.
The Tories will raise the bar for entry into the teaching profession. It will no longer be acceptable, for example, to enter teacher training with just a ‘C’ grade in English or Maths GCSE. Candidates will need to have at least a ‘B’ in English and Maths. This means that primary teachers will come from the top third of students rather than the top two-thirds as now. And Heads will be allowed to pay the best performers more.
All teachers now have to sit compulsory literacy and numeracy tests with some re-taking the test until they pass. The Tories would allow just one retake. Children would also sit a literacy test after two years of primary school and the Tories would insist on concentrating on synthetic phonics to kick start reading.
They will also focus on qualifications and the curriculum and will facilitate a debate about how and whether our exams have been devalued by establishing a free online database of exam papers and marking schemes, from the past, and from other nations, so that parents, teachers, and academics can see for themselves how our current exams compare.
In parallel, the Tories would allow state schools the chance to offer their students more challenging exams ( ie IGCSEs) and crucially would give universities and employers powers over A Levels and vocational qualifications to reverse their devaluation.
The Times opined a in Leader (9 November) that If the Conservative Party achieves all this, their Education Act will rank alongside Forster and Butler in the historical reckoning. Probably true, but its some challenge particularly as our economy looks likely to remain weak for some time and new schools are costly.