WHO IS NICK GIBB?

WHO IS NICK GIBB?

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Nick Gibb is Minister of State for Schools.

He is probably most well known for his calls for a more rigorous knowledge- based curriculum, better discipline in classrooms and his championing of synthetic phonics. He has criticised the National Strategies for not using sufficient phonics teaching. He has also criticised private consultants for delivering poor support materials for the strategies and feels that too many consultants rely on  and recycle former local authority officials,  who are often closely  associated with previous  failures  and producer interests.

He, like Michael Gove, was educated in both the state and independent sectors. His   state education, encompassed Maidstone grammar, Roundhay high school in Leeds, which had just gone comprehensive, and a comprehensive sixth form, Thornes House, in Wakefield. He also spent a brief period in Canada

He read law at Durham then worked as a chartered accountant specialising in corporate taxation, latterly with KPMG entering Parliament in 1997. He became an opposition frontbench spokesman on trade and industry matters in 1999, later speaking on Treasury issues. He has served as a shadow minister for education since May 2005.

Gibb, on the BSF building programme, has said   that decisions on whether schools will be rebuilt or refurbished under BSF will be made on a “case by case” basis, according to Education Investor magazine. He said: “What we’re saying is that if financial close has been reached, it will go ahead… (If not) then it won’t be guaranteed.”

However, he stressed that building projects would not be cancelled across the board. “Shadow ministers are told on pain of death not to make spending promises”.

Gibb said: “We think (BSF) is a hugely wasteful approach to procuring new buildings. It’s very top down, very bureaucratic and costs a huge amount of money.”

On the curriculum, Gibb believes that it is seriously flawed and doesn’t give children the necessary factual grounding and building blocs  to progress and that the national curriculum had “serious flaws”. Academies for example will be allowed immediate exemption from the national curriculum. Following this, the Conservatives will allow all state schools to offer the international GCSE in core subjects from September 2010, if they wish. “The curriculum will then be reformed over our first year.” he said. The idea is that once a new curriculum is in place interference from the centre will be considerably diminished.

He believes that there are grounds for concern that qualifications have been dumbed down  over time due to external interference . There is too little focus, he believes , on the importance of knowledge and building this up at GCSE so that A levels are not glorified GCSEs but actually encourage deeper thinking and the type of lateral thinking and analytical skills required at university. Too often in tests and exams markers are given too much of a straitjacket in terms of guidance, so not allowing them to reward pupils creative and original responses to questions. Gibb believes that standards have dropped due to constant political interference and dumbing down of the curriculum in favour of attempts to redirect education to training pupils with softer skills thought to be needed in life. Universities he believes should  be more involved in designing and safeguarding the quality of exams and qualifications. University professors will be given a role in setting A-level and GSCE exam papers under Conservative plans to improve standards. They want to turn back the clock to before the 1990s, when exam boards were dominated by academics from top universities.(a recommendation included in a recent Reform think tank report on A levels)

On Diplomas he has  said it would be for schools to decide which vocational Diplomas they want to offer. “Academic Diplomas replicate what GCSEs and A-levels provide, so they will not continue under us,” he said. “As for the vocational Diplomas, we want them to succeed but we are concerned that they are neither one thing nor the other, neither academic nor vocational. We will not require all schools to offer all 51 strands. The logistics of that in schools is becoming a nightmare.”

He is in favour of setting by ability.  But critics ask- what does school autonomy actually mean if a Minister seeks to prescribe such things?

He sees three main pillars for reform- Structures, Standards and Discipline.

He believes that far too much time has been spent debating structures and too little on standards, though the Tories still believe in  implementing fundamental reforms to the supply side as a priority. They will introduce new academies loosely based on the Swedish model, which will allow a range of different organisations and parents  to respond to local demand by setting up schools which are more autonomous than the current academies. In this respect   one of his first priorities   will be to remove the political and administrative obstacles to setting up new  local schools. Specifically he has mentioned the surplus places rule which has acted as a major obstacle to setting up new schools. This will go under the Tories. They have evidence that in those authorities with the most surplus places parents are most dissatisfied with education. Top performing schools wherever possible should be allowed to expand. (Easier said, than done).

The next pillar of Tory policy ,he says, is to raise academic standards in schools. Gibb has described Tories as the anti-ideology party-and wants a much more pragmatic approach that focuses on what works, led by evidence rather than dogma. But what is clear, to the Tories at least ,is that Academic rigour is missing in the classroom. There is much too much focus on the softer skills (teamwork, initiative etc) and how to include these in education . His view is that if the curriculum was more demanding, less wishy- washy , and trendy and  better focused and better delivered many of these skills would be developed in schools, anyway he believes.  Gibb has also pointed out that if you drill down into education statistics the figures for the amount of pupils actually getting good GCSEs are a lot worse than they  at first seem. If you include, for instance, science and a language in the tables, figures go down to less than a third of pupils getting good GCSEs. In two local authorities in England (an example that Gibb has given) not a single pupil last year took an individual science. The figures also show that fewer than half of comprehensive schools in England entered at least one pupil for physics, chemistry or biology exams in 2008 – despite evidence showing they are the most valued by universities at A-level. ‘Specialist’ science schools have a poor record here too.

The final pillar is discipline. Gibb is strong on improving discipline in the classroom giving teachers and Heads more powers to deal with disruptive pupils.  He will alter the law so that teachers have unequivocal powers to maintain discipline, including the ability to confiscate items such as mobile phones.  He will seek to abolish the independent appeals panels and replace them with a right of appeal to the governing body. The aim of this policy he says is not to increase or decrease the number of exclusions but to ensure head teachers are able to take these decisions without any artificial barriers curtailing their options. He wants schools to have the final say on the exclusion of disruptive pupils.

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