Worries over funding deprived pupils
And what about the so-called ‘soft’ skills?
Stephen Twigg , the shadow education secretary, says that we can all agree that raising standards during primary education increases the life chances for young people in later life. The disagreement comes in what we mean by ‘standards’ and how we achieve system wide improvements.
Responding to the 17 July announcement from the Deputy Prime Minister on primary school assessment and accountability, Stephen Twigg said in the Commons that he “ wanted assurances that the Government’s changes to the accountability system will promote breadth and depth of learning, as well as literacy and numeracy The new floor target of 85%, is for an assessment that the Government have yet to define.” Surely, Twigg argued, “that is putting the cart before the horse.” “Would it not make for better policy to define the learning outcomes first? My worry is that this is another classic case of policy making on the hoof.”
“Similarly,” he continued, “ the plan for ranking 11-year-olds has all the hallmarks of such an approach. To rank 11-year-olds runs the risk of removing year-on-year consistency, because children will be benchmarked against their peers in their current year, rather than against a common standard.”
The Government, according to Twigg, have sent out confused signals about attainment and progress. “On the one hand they are scrapping level descriptors, which heads and teachers tell me are crucial for monitoring progress between assessments, yet on the other hand, the Minister is rightly emphasising progress measures today. That is very confusing.”
“On the baseline measure for five-year-olds, there is sense in developing policy about how best to establish prior attainment to provide both teachers and parents with a clear indicator at the start of primary school. The devil will be in the detail, so it is vital that there is full consultation on that.”
Finally, on the pupil premium, he said that additional funding to support the progress of disadvantaged children is welcome. ” I have seen many schools that have made excellent use of the pupil premium. In his statement, though, the Minister said, “Early intervention is crucial”, and I agree with him. However, how does that sit with the fact that the biggest cuts in spending in his Department have been in early intervention funding? Can the Minister assure the House that additional funding really does mean additional funding?”
Twigg continued “I worry that the Minister may—to coin a phrase—be robbing Paul to pay Paul. The Chancellor announced in the spending review that the Government are moving to a national funding formula. The independent Institute for Fiscal Studies has warned that this move could hit schools with large deprived intakes. Can he reassure the House that this really is new money and not simply giving money to schools with a lot of disadvantaged kids today, which is welcome, but taking it away in a couple of years when the national funding formula comes in?”
In an article on the Spectators blog (18 July) Twigg, interestingly, sided with Anthony Seldons view that the curriculum proposals don’t offer much scope for a rounded education and what has been termed the ‘soft skills’ and too much by rote learning for tests. Twigg is concerned about what this government means by standards. He writes ’‘theirs is a backward looking vision, premised on rote-learning and a failure to value the importance of the skills and aptitudes that young people need to succeed. They portray these skills- such as speaking and listening skills, leadership, citizenship and resilience- as ‘soft’. Try telling that to Dr Anthony Seldon, Master of Wellington College where the curriculum is tailored to equip young people with a rounded, rigorous education. On standards, Labour’s approach is guided by what I call the ‘rigour of the future’. Rigour in core knowledge and subjects yes. But rigour and emphasis too on what Anthony Seldon calls ‘character education’ and a broad and balanced subject range and content.’Twigg doesn’t believe that this rounded education, offered by the likes of Wellington College, should be the preserve of private schools.
Twigg suggests muddled thinking at the heart of the reforms. He says ‘David Laws argued for schools to have progress measures between Key Stage assessments so teachers and parents can monitor progress and attainment. This only a week after Michael Gove told MPs that Key Stage level descriptors- used by teachers to monitor performance- will go’… ‘ There might be a case to look at reforming level descriptors to ensure sufficient challenge but scrapping them outright is completely misguided and will undermine standards in primary schools’.
Twigg also claims that ‘ranking pupils at 11 against others in their cohort will do nothing to raise standards, quite the opposite in fact. This is a classic policy red herring. By ranking pupils against others in their year- rather than against set, year-on-year standards- this will lead to distortions from one year to another. ‘
In short, Twigg believes that this is policy made on the hoof, is confused and lacking in rigour.