Mind your grammar


Many of us dislike the apartheid in UK education. If you are blessed with parents on good incomes, or with parents willing to make a large financial sacrifice, you have access to some of the best schools in the world, the top public schools. If you do not, you face a postcode lottery for how good your local state school will be. You may end up at a poor performing school, where ambition for pupils is low, and where there is no tradition of pupils successfully striving for excellence.

Of course there are weak or poor fee paying schools, and there are some excellent state comprehensive schools. It is not as simple a division as some class warriors would have us believe. Nor is it fair to suggest that all rich parents are great parents. They may not spare the time or offer the love and suppport children need, in addition to the money for the fees. Meanwhile socialists wrongly assume that all poor backgrounds mean disadvantage, when low income parents often do provide time, support, a framework of encouragement for their children which is so important. Allied to a good local state school, this can work well.

As we saw yesterday, the politicians have lighted on a definite social problem. Pupils from the great public schools do get a very  high a proportion of the places available at top universities, implying there is some problem with the state schools on average  in helping pupils pursue such ambitions.

The grammar schools fare better than the comprehensives. In one sense that is only to be expected, as they choose pupils most likely to qualify for elite universities. Grammars should produce a higher proportion of suitable candidates for top colleges. In another sense it is worrying. Comprehensives do not fare as well as grammars, when adjusted for the impact of selection. The Comprehensives in most parts of the country include the group who would otherwise have gone to grammars. Many comprehensives do not seem to provide the same back up to these able pupils as the grammars once did.

The left say that selection is wrong in principle. I find this difficult to understand. They seem to welcome academic selection at 18, accepting that only some should go on to university. They welcome selection based on ability and tests  for sports academies, for music schools, for elite dance and arts establishments. They do not want to have quotas of disadvantaged footballers placed in every elite Premier league team, nor do they complain if young people have to jump through hoops of fire to compete in the Olympics. Their approach to selection is highly selective. More importantly they lived through 13 years of government with school selection at 11 or 13 based on parental income, as if this were in some way more just or acceptable than selection based on ability and work rate.

The Coalition government rightly says one of its prime tasks is to raise school standards. The Secretary of State is pulling various levers in his part of the government machine to try to get standards higher. Allowing selection by ability and work rate at 11 or 13 in the state sector would create many more opportunities for children without rich parents to get to a top university at 18. The UK’s best policy for social mobility, the grammar school, was largely ripped out.

           The advocates of comprehensive education for all but the rich promised us more social mobility and better results. The truth is it has not happened. Could advocates of comprehensives explain why not? And could they refrain from just saying comprehensives do not get enough money per pupil, when they often get more per pupil than grammars. We have just lived through a generous era for public spending. Labour voted as much as it dared. Why did it not work?



    February 28, 2012

    ‘Why did it not work?’

    The trouble is the education system, like the NHS, the welfare system and the economy; it has been completely ruined over the years by incompetent politicians.

    1. Rebecca Hanson
      February 28, 2012

      You have fallen into the classic trap so exploited by vote hungry politicians of stepping from the truth that there are many people who are dissatisfied with aspects of our education system to the conclusion that it is completely ruined.

      One of the first and most important things anyone involved in the generation of policy for systems with complete national coverage (state education and the NHS being prime examples) needs to understand is the nature of natural and endemic public dissatisfaction with such systems.

      At the macro (policy and local planning) level of education tough decisions have to be made which select one possible future over another. The proposers of both futures are always well intentioned and have genuine and reasonable justifications for their preferences. But while the proposers of one possible solutions will be selected to get on and build their future, others will be left out in the cold to criticise.

      At the micro (child) level it is absolutely human and natural for all to criticise their and their children’s education and to be dissatisfied with it some or most of the time. This is natural because our education is so important to us. It is essential to who we and our children become. It is natural and desirable that we constantly challenge things which do not seem right. Every day copious challenges arising from this kind of dissatisfaction are rapidly addressed and effectively dealt with by teachers and pastoral teams at schools, but some are not. Not all problems can be addressed in the short term – not only due to the limitations of systems and funding but also due to the journeys individual children take through puberty, hormones and their personal circumstances.

      That these dissatisfactions exist does not mean that state education is ruined. If claims are made about the holistic failure of state education the nature of the failures need to be clearly specified and the solution proposed must be demonstrably fit for purpose in addressing those failings.

      Michael Gove completely failed to understand any of these dynamics before he forced through massive policy changes which were generated by disaffected commentators and had no awareness of the reasons for the status quo.

      1. Eleanor McHugh
        February 28, 2012

        The trouble with national systems is that they’re too big to be allowed to fail, and too unwieldy to easily change. Further there is a tendency for the decisions about how best to construct them to be made for political (often ideological) reasons without any recourse to empirical study or engineering discipline.

        In the case of education it’s very clear what constitutes an effective educational model: just look at independent and grammar schools and you’ll find many common attitudes to how to teach, what should be taught, and the environment in which children should be immersed whilst being taught. These aspects have all been exhaustively tested in a competitive environment for centuries now and proven to be effective.

        A first step in improving comprehensive education would be the widespread introduction of House systems and inter-House competition in sports and other non-curriculum activities within all schools. There should also be Prefects and Librarians, giving pupils a real stake in the running of their school community, and much more intra-school competition.

        But this kind of cultural shift runs counter to what most teachers in the state sector seem to believe is effective, despite the clear evidence that it works.

      2. Mark
        February 28, 2012

        A lot of fine words that don’t address the general reduction in educational standards over the past 30 years under governments of different stripes.

        With apologies to JMK:

        By a continuing process of grade inflation, governments can confiscate, secretly and unobserved, an important part of the educational wealth of their citizens. By this method they not only confiscate, but they confiscate arbitrarily; and, while the process impoverishes many, it actually enriches some. The sight of this arbitrary rearrangement of educational riches strikes not only at security, but at confidence in the equity of the existing distribution of wealth. Those to whom the system brings windfalls, beyond their deserts and even beyond their expectations or desires, become ‘profiteers,’ who are the object of the hatred of the bourgeoisie, whom the inflationism has impoverished, not less than of the proletariat. As the inflation proceeds and the real value of the currency fluctuates exams deflates wildly from month to month, all permanent relations between debtors and creditors, which form the ultimate foundation of capitalism, become so utterly disordered as to be almost meaningless; and the process of wealth-getting degenerates into a gamble and a lottery.
        Lenin was certainly right. There is no subtler, no surer means of overturning the existing basis of society than to debauch the currency
        education system. The process engages all the hidden forces of economic law on the side of destruction, and does it in a manner which not one man in a million is able to diagnose.

      3. Winston Smith
        February 28, 2012

        A lesson in how to waffle without making a single pertinent point.

        1. Rebecca Hanson
          February 28, 2012

          The point is people complain about education.

          It doesn’t mean the system is abysmal.

          The system might be abysmal but you need other evidence to justify that rather than just people complaining in they way they will inevitably do.

      4. PaulDirac
        February 28, 2012

        I had to smile when reading this erudite, logical contribution as it fails to address any of the problems in our education system raised by John (and others which he did not raise).
        The schools are over burdened with rigid curriculum, teachers are paid badly and are mediocre (at best) and the results are terrifying for the next generations.
        The dumbing down we witnessed in the exam system during the last 15 years allowed us to be complacent and the education hierarchy to claim advances when in most of the comprehensives children were badly let down (when compared to their potential).

        1. Rebecca Hanson
          February 29, 2012

          Here is one of my many contributions regarding reform to Ofsted:

          and having visited many experts in ICT in education I’m in the process of writing up how new Ofqual accredited practices and the latest integrated ICT systems can bring a professional, empowering, robustly trackable and appropriate end SATS.

          1. Rebecca Hanson
            February 29, 2012


            end TO SATS.

      5. James Sutherland
        March 2, 2012

        “One of the first and most important things anyone involved in the generation of policy for systems with complete national coverage (state education and the NHS being prime examples) needs to understand is the nature of natural and endemic public dissatisfaction with such systems.”

        Or to understand that such a monolithic approach is not the right one to have, however you try to implement it? Rather like the Eurozone, as we are now seeing, if the problem is that the structure or concept itself is wrong, whatever implementation you try, however you patch it, you’re still doing the wrong thing.

        Private schools do much better in this respect, of course; my hope is that the new “free schools” will achieve something similar and prove successful, perhaps ultimately replacing the existing approach entirely.

    2. Rebecca Hanson
      February 28, 2012

      Not all are sure that Gove’s deeply damaging policies are driven entirely by incompetency. This article in yesterday’s Guardian makes points to other possible generators:

    3. Disaffected
      February 28, 2012

      Socialist politicians and socialist civil service. Envy. Most of Labour claim to be socialist and when the opportunity arises lead capitalist life styles worse than any every day conservative person.

      All inclusive does not work. 13 years and billions of pounds spent and politicians will still not change course. Mr Gove’s aim of changing school names will not work as it did not under Labour.

      The system needs to change, the culture needs to change, the teachers need to change. All children deserve life opportunity through education. Some fail to take it, this does not mean that every pupil has to suffer from a poor education as consequence of the few.

      Cut welfare so that people know there is an incentive to work hard to get reward. At the moment people know they will have a good life style being kept by the state without doing anything from the moment they leave school. There has to be consequences for being lazy or badly behaved and there has to be consequences for working hard and being well behaved.

      Look at the poor people from poor countries, they know their chance of bettering themselves come from a good education to improve their living standards. They pay relatively more than they can afford to send children to school. Why? To better their life opportunities. Pupils from ordinary backgrounds at private school want to take the opportunity given them and accept quite early on the sacrifices their parents make for their education.

      Socialist politicians will dumb down university education as they have state school education under clap trap lefty nonsense. How many more years will it take and how much more taxpayers’ money will it take to make them accept the current system has failed??

  2. lifelogic
    February 28, 2012

    It is clearly absurd not to stream or select for ability as you hold back the best and confuse and demotivate the worst. This is just the same for sport or music as it is for academic subjects only socialists could think otherwise.

    It is however not just the schools, it is the general lack of aspiration, the feather bedding of the feckless, the socialism and “all will be equal” agenda of the left and the BBC, the over taxation of the successful, family breakup encouraged by the state benefit and tax system. Above all the suffocating size of the state sector with its agenda of always enlarging itself to feed off the productive.

    It is also the subjects and school syllabus which is often irrelevant & politically driven (especially in the green “science” and political areas). It has little relevance to many student’s real lives. Teach them how to fix a car, drive, run a business & make money, understand figures, build a house, cook dinner, repair things or write a computer game program and the poor might listen rather more than teaching them about Tudor History, the Greek Myths, Latin & Greek (or even French and German).

    Indeed a bit more reality, engineering, science and proper economics at Eton and Oxford might have helped produce a rather more sensible productive and real Cameron too.

    Allow children work part time as is now largely banned – it is very good for them. There must also be local jobs for them to aspire to. For this we need less regulation, a halving of the state, easy hire and fire and lower taxes.

    Alas we are not getting this, as Cameron did not have a good realistic education or perhaps he just has socialist genes, honed by evolution for a different era, but no longer relevant?

    1. alexmews
      February 28, 2012

      lifelogic – i like especially your last point. somewhat off topic – i am not sure if ‘part time work is banned’ in UK but i certainly worked part time through most of High School and all of University when i grew up. This was pretty normal in north Amercia – especially in the summer – and I feel this experience was fundamental to me in developing a perspective towards work, a sense of acheivement, and valuing an education. I did not ‘need’ to work particularly – it just gave me a sense of independence and freedom I valued. this does not seem a common path for folks in UK today.

      1. lifelogic
        February 28, 2012

        It is virtually banned and restricted, especially on Sundays thanks to the religious groups. It is usually not economic to take them on any more due to the legal/time restrictions and the consents needed.

      2. George
        February 28, 2012

        I completely disagree with lifelogic in terms of the sorts of subjects which I prioritise but that is OK, parents are entitled to have different views on their child’s upbringing and a state school system which simply provided a one size fits all, blended average, of parental preferences would not be doing a very good job at all.

        We need a system where people like him can choose to send his children to the sort of school which puts more weight on cooking and brick laying and people like me can choose to send our children to a school which, as far as possible, emulates the best independent schools in the country. Don’t get me wrong, cooking and brick laying are both important skills, skills which I would quite like my child to learn at some point, probably from his mother and father, grandmothers, grandfathers, and in the haphazzard way that people do pick up skills from those around them, but they are not skills which I would place a priority on my child learning in school.

        Of course this is the vision of free schools and academies, as long as the school is doing as well as the average of the department run schools an academy should be free to compete for the preferences of parents surviving, growing, being emulated or closing down in response to parental demand?

        But yes, some level of academic selection too please, if my child is clever I’d like him to have colleges who are clever too, as that way the teaching is likely to be focussed on teaching students like him.

        If my child is very bright I don’t want the teacher to spend an hour long lesson drumming things into the heads of really rather thick pupils which my child could understand in five minutes flat* and if my child is of below average intelligence I would not think that he had the absolute right to have much clever pupils in the class forced to learn at his pace (whether or not their being there holds any benefit for him).

        *Actually this is an understatement. At grammar schools and good independent schools the brighter pupils in the class spend five mins learning what others learn in an hour. At schools which draw in a genuinely “comprehensive” manner it is more like five mins learning what others learn during a whole week of lessons in a particular subject and in some schools in bad areas there is virtually no learning done at all for the brightest pupils.

        1. lifelogic
          February 29, 2012

          My suggestions were to help get “some” pupils interested, You have to do things with relevance to them and that they see will give them an ability to earn some money and get on in life. Not that this is they solution for all pupils.

          Personally I did Maths, Physics and later Engineering. The things that I have found most useful in running my businesses for many years are a little maths and compound interest, the psychology of finding and getting the best out of staff, an understanding of risk/reward and a knowledge of the UK’s absurd tax system – not much else is needed.

          In my personal like I get pleasure from music, walking, eating well, reading and my family what else does one need? It might be nice if my French, German, Italian and languages were better, I suppose, but they nearly all speak better English anyway.

          1. George
            February 29, 2012

            I quite understand your point and I can see there would be demand for exactly the sorts of schools you ask for. Indeed Lord Baker is intent on founding a number of such schools which he thinks of as an example for others to follow, quite right too.

            He envisages a number of technical colleges which teach a roughly 50-50 mix of “academic” and “technical” subjects taking schools from 14 to 19 and where school is a full day 8:30 till 5:30 day. These schools could be great because, as well as giving the pupils there a trade for life, they also are less likely to become disengaged from school, seeing school as an irrelevance. This is turn actually means they learn more academic stuff than they would otherwise have learned.

            Ultimately the type of school a person goes to should depend upon a few things but one of those things has to be the view that parents take of what would benefit their particular child.

    2. a-tracy
      February 28, 2012

      Children can be engaged in light work from the age of 13 on a very restricted basis e.g. no delivering milk, no street trading, or working in a commercial kitchen. (12 hours maximum per week during a school week), (in the school holidays age 13 & 14 Max 25 hours, 15 & 16 year olds Max 35 hours per week) which are fair. You have to get a child employment licence from your local council to grant permission.

      I encouraged my children to work to earn their own pocket money, light cleaning and basic office work they weren’t entitled to education maintenance allowance and we didn’t want to cough up £30 per week to give them the spending power of their friends, over 16 years of age, when going to 6th form.

      I worked from a young age street trading on a market stall and dusting in a china shop which eventually led to sales, and learnt not to expect something for nothing and never got the opportunity to doss in bed until lunch time. The work ethic this builds is sadly missing now and the 9 to 3pm school day has made it difficult for many teenagers to adjust to longer work days and made work unsatisfactory.

    3. Timaction
      February 28, 2012

      I agree entirely on the socialist “green agenda” being pushed in our schools. I saw a post being advertised by my Council to employ a Climate Change person to teach in local schools!! When was this science settled other than by the lefts climate changers?
      The whole education system needs reform. We do not have adequate candidates for our teachers, they do not receive the best training and there is far to much lefty socialist mumbo jumbo on equalities dating back to the 70’s. We should have a meritocracy where people achieve on merit regardless of race, gender, sexuality or religion. Pupils should have discipline and of course there should be selection. I went to a Comprehensive where many of us had to sit and wait for weeks at a time whilst some of the other pupils caught up with the rest of the class. So demotivating!!

    4. uanime5
      February 28, 2012

      “Teach them how to fix a car, drive, run a business & make money, understand figures, build a house, cook dinner, repair things or write a computer game program”

      Learning how to fix a car requires a car, specialised machines, and a lot of training; it’s not something you can just to teach in every school.

      If pupils want to learn how to drive they should hire a qualified driving instructor.

      Running a business varies greatly from business to business so it cannot easily be taught. Don’t expect it to interest many children either.

      We already teach children to understand figures, it’s called maths.

      There are already enough NVQs teaching construction so perhaps the Job Centre should be funding training. Also it’s unsuitable for young children and won’t interest those who don’t want to be builders.

      Writing computer programs is a long and complex process that involves learning a lot of computer languages. It will takes years of work before even basic games can be created. Unlikely to appeal to most children.

      Apart from cooking and maths these things are not suitable to teach children due to their costs or the fact that children would find them too boring.

      “For this we need less regulation, a halving of the state, easy hire and fire and lower taxes.”

      Reducing employments rights is completely unnecessary. According the OECD’s employment protection index, which measures the procedures and costs involved in dismissing individuals or groups of workers and the procedures involved in hiring workers on fixed-term or temporary work agency contracts, the UK ranks third, behind only Canada (second) and the US (first). So we already have some of the laxest employment regulations in the world.

      Also on the World Bank’s Doing Business rankings, the UK ranks seventh in the world for ease of operating out of 183 countries. So in addition to employees having very few rights the UK is one of the best places to have a business. Further reducing these regulations are unlikely to increase growth.

      1. lifelogic
        February 28, 2012

        I disagree with every point you make. Of course you can teach these things and of course halving the state sector lowering taxes and reducing regulation will create jobs and growth. How could it not do?

      2. Andy
        March 1, 2012

        “Learning how to fix a car requires a car, specialised machines, and a lot of training; it’s not something you can just to teach in every school.”

        No, teaching them how to change a tire, change oil, change spark plugs (Basically service a car) would not require a lot of specialised machines.

        “Running a business varies greatly from business to business so it cannot easily be taught. Don’t expect it to interest many children either.”

        The basics can be taught – Accounting, tax, types of business, the purpose of business, HR etc. is very common across all small business. I disagree on your judgement of what will interest children.

        “We already teach children to understand figures, it’s called maths.”

        But clearly not how to apply the maths, else the lottery, payday loans and bookmakers would not rake in so much cash each month.

        “There are already enough NVQs teaching construction so perhaps the Job Centre should be funding training. Also it’s unsuitable for young children and won’t interest those who don’t want to be builders.”

        Construction is about far more than putting bricks on top of each other. Teaching basic project management, supply chain and purchasing would be generally useful. For a child learning anything is interesting and fun when presented in the right way. My 2.5 year loves learning the names of the various quarks, which she found in a program I had downloaded for myself on my phone.

        “Writing computer programs is a long and complex process that involves learning a lot of computer languages. It will takes years of work before even basic games can be created. Unlikely to appeal to most children.”

        I could teach most kids to write a computer game in a week. It’s not done with punched cards anymore you know. The event of smart phones with built in stores means there is a market for even the most basic games. It would be an ideal goal for a class project to publish a game in these app stores.

        “Apart from cooking and maths these things are not suitable to teach children due to their costs or the fact that children would find them too boring.”

        You have really low expectations of children, do you have any?

    5. Bazman
      February 28, 2012

      Basically leave everything to it’s own devices and the middle class social security system. Fatalistic nonsense that puts forward the idea that any child from a deprived background should just be encouraged to not bother with education aided by parents and just slip into work assuming this ‘work’ will be created by a lack of regulations and minimum wage. A further continuation of lifelogics race to the bottom, which he is not even sure what this is. If you are rich and privileged however you can have some ‘education’ about Tudor History, the Greek Myths, Latin & Greek (or even French and German) as he understands education to be. Ram it.

  3. Julian
    February 28, 2012

    An excellent summary. You, Mr Redwood, presumably know many MPs who would disagree with you and who “advocate comprehensives”. Can you not persuade one of them to debate this with you on your blog?

    These arguments go on and on and the proponents on each side never seem to engage with each other point by point. Ask one of your fellow MPs, for example, why they support academic selection at 18 and not at 11.

    1. Neil Craig
      February 28, 2012

      I think Julian’s is a very good idea.

      Formal debate – 2 or more parties getting 5 minutes (or say 1,000 words online put up at hourly intervals to allow everybody to answer fully) to make and answer points over, usually 3 rounds is such a well developed formal system because it works. Indeed most of the most successful and innovative societies in history (ancient Greece, much of Renaisance Italy and Victorian Britain) had governments based on it. The BBC have specifically decided to prohibit the broadcasting of such debate. What the BBC call “debate” is 3 speakers and a Beeboid interviewer versus 1 speaker with another view, look at any episode of Question Time or Newsnight. More often they just have the 3 speakers all on the same side, as per any discussion on global warming or more regulation.

      If you publicly invited any Labour or LibDim who supports comprehensives, or anything else on which you disagree, they would either refuse, showing themselves incapable, or accept and either prove themselves wrong or produce constructive dialogue.

      I have elsewhere written on such debates http://www.thinkscotland.org/change-scotland/articles.html?read_full=10967&article=www.thinkscotland.org and know the BBC do not dispute that the reason they oppose true debate is because they know it is effective. I suspect Lab/Libs are more likely to run away, as warming alarmists do,

    2. uanime5
      February 28, 2012

      Maybe it’s because there are qualifications for 18 year olds that are useful in the workplace but none for 11 year olds.

      Perhaps it’s because education for over 18s isn’t mandatory.

      Could it be because 11 year olds who go through puberty early will have an advantage over their peers, while 18 year olds do not?

    3. lifelogic
      February 28, 2012

      They should stream or select academically at all ages as needed – just as they do for musical ability or sport it is the only way to teach efficiently and at the right level for each pupil.

  4. Mike Stallard
    February 28, 2012

    Most Grammar Schools are excellent. But not everyone wants to be a swat, a boff or to spend their adolescent years behind a computer/set of boring books/being mummy’s little pet. Those who do deserve being treated like boffs ought to be separated off so they can get on with it. At the moment, they cannot do this and they are frustrated and wasted in many, many cases.

    A tiny proportion of pupils have genuine problems – blindness, crippling and painful diseases, deformities and so on. These needy people deserve loving understanding and treatment from experts. They are, remember, a tiny minority. At the moment lots of children are wrongly classified into this category. They are tainted for life. It is called being “statemented”.

    By far the majority of pupils (and their parents (voters) are in full support here) want a trade for life and perhaps some guidance and love and understanding in what, in most cases, is the hardest part of their lives. They need some training in how to get up in the morning, in what to wear to work, in how to manage a household, and some guidance in how to handle other people. Most important of all, they expect to be given the opportunity to make some lifelong friends and have a bit of harmless fun. They are the backbone of our country and they are the people who stay behind in the towns and suburbs when the boffs have gone off to make their fortune in other places.

    So this is a plea for the Secondary Modern School. Small, well run, manageable. Everyone knows your name. Everyone knows you and probably your parents too. It is nestled in an area where most pupils know each other and have done since birth. It produces all those people who run the shops, the services and the families which are the basis of our country. And, because everyone knows you, people who do not fit (because they are boffs) are triumphantly filtered out into the Grammar School system by the teachers (who have been the boffs of an earlier generation).

    Because of their huge size, their total lack of humanity and understanding, the political micromanagement and the lawlessness, many Comprehensives are a very pale impersonation of Secondary Moderns. At the end of the day, many, many pupils feel that they are just numbers being run through an uncaring and rather unpleasant machine. Teachers leave and there is a lot of shouting, stress and very little achievement. That is certainly what has happened in our two local Comprehensives. It has not happened in our local Secondary Moderns (Lincolnshire).

    So let us make a little vow, shall we? Every time we speak of Grammar Schools, let us also mention the shocking lack of good Secondary Moderns too: small, local, based on the real needs of the families who live there. The only thing we really need to do is to change the name. How about Technical Academies?

    1. backofanenvelope
      February 28, 2012

      I rather object to your first paragraph. Two of my grand daughters attend a grammar school. And they don’t fit your description at all. Nor do any of their friends as far as I can see.

      1. Mike Stallard
        February 28, 2012

        Of course they don’t!
        I am trying to see it through the eyes of the people who were branded as “Failures” at the age of 11, not through our own, presumably very successful eyes.
        Having worked as a Supply Teacher in both London and Leeds, “boffs” is how decent, well behaved and nice children are seen by the huge majority.
        Just assuming that everyone wants to go to Grammar School and University is a terrible a mistake. Just assuming (look at the other posts) that you can ignore the huge majority of the population, too, is simply ridiculous.

      2. George
        February 28, 2012

        Yes. I’m afraid that large numbers of grammar schools provide a sub par education. In reality we need schools to be able to set their own admissions tests rather than a blanket 11+, pass fail, something more akin to common entrance is required.

    2. lifelogic
      February 28, 2012

      Sound pretty sensible perhaps go back to more Polytechnics and fewer Universities too with job related education/training.

      1. Bazman
        February 28, 2012

        More apprenticeships would be good, but work largely depends where you live and your background. Living in a rough area in the north means no job. You have to leave to find work. Ask anyone from Teesside.

      2. Caterpillar
        February 28, 2012

        I am not against the pr0-polytechnic argument, but was it more the focus on teaching & learning rather than on research that made polytechnics successful, rather than a vocational element?

        I suspect it is now challenging for HEIs to be teaching & learning led, rather than research led. Those HEIs which follow the teaching&learning path seem to end-up chanelled down research of teaching&learning, rather than excellence in it (thinking beyond a performance frontier before actually reaching it!)

        HEIs often also seem to view each ‘academic’ as a professional that has to achieve in all areas of teaching, research, administration, industry interaction. Without some of the last three the merely scholarly HE teacher will not progress. I suspect the path for the scholarly teacher has been lost with the end of polytechnics.

  5. Rebecca Hanson
    February 28, 2012

    I have written a blog which explains why very academically able students from disadvantaged backgrounds are not getting into top universities and that is here:

    There many very vocal opponents of the attempts to recognise and address the issues described in my blog – none of whom to understand the issues at all or to be offering any coherent solutions to them.

    My own position is that I support freedom of choice in education but believe that all new moves towards freedom of choice much be carefully analysed and cautiously enacted to ensure that they do not drive the creation of sink schools as can so easily happen.

    Sink schools occur when community schools can no longer sustain decent top sets. There is a sudden flight of all the students and families with bright students and when those families leave community school can become hell on earth very fast. Most areas used to have one or more sink schools and it was assumed by many that they were a necessary evil in state education. The reality of sink schools was a key driver of the 80s Conservative policies which offered students assisted places in private education. Sink schools are hell for all the students who attend them. I personally went to one and it was horrific.

    However with a combination of more investment and specific policies designed to prevent sink schools existing (such as the excellence cluster funding which ring fenced money for good top sets in vulnerable schools) the reality is that very few sink schools now exist and most of our state schools are places where most students will get a good education provided the ravages of teenage hormones and the personal issues they are struggling with are not too unkind. Yes we could do better but current policy is not addressing the ways in which we could do better at present.

    What’s of most concern to me about current Tory policies is that the people proposing them do not understand the subtle complexities of state education. They do not see the difference between a decent community school and a sink school and not taking the time to consult on or understand what they consequences of their policies will be for existing schools.

    Those of us who properly understand state education and who can see the obvious consequences of Gove’s policies are rightly deeply concerned. We are not socialists or ideologues. We are those who have substantial experience in understanding the planning and infrastructure of state education.

    1. Barry Sheridan
      February 28, 2012

      Rebecca, you are far too optimistic in your assessment. First and foremost the overriding sentiments of the British are not supportive of what it takes to provide the educational policies that would allow those with the talent to shine. You highlight just one of the reasons for this, money. Opinion making in this country always orbits around funding. Especially the idea that directed financial help, usually from public funds, is the first and in most cases the only essential. The second problem is that for all but a few, making the most of your ability means hard work. Consistent application of time and concentration that will given adequate instruction allow for the development of knowledge and understanding. This of last point of course illustrates the third issue, too many teachers are not up to the task of conveying what is necessary to reach the ideal goals. There is a fourth factor of course, that national decline in discipline, both that with acts on the self and that which operates within wider society. There is plenty more that influences, not least the idea of keeping young adults, 17-18 is a young adult, locked up in a school when they are bored stiff with it. Where are the vocational avenues for the non academic. I could go on to mention the deep seated jealousies that lurks in the British soul that makes many a talented individual give up, but you get the point I am sure.

      1. Rebecca Hanson
        February 28, 2012

        Let us get to the heart of the issue here Barry,

        The energy for Gove’s policy have come not from anyone with any experience in education or from the academic analysis of the economics of education, both of which deem the shutting down of coherent local planning as being ludicrous.

        The energy behind Gove’s policies comes from an ideological group on the Tory right wing who absolutely believe that the less you plan systems the more efficient they will be. This hubric energy combined with another ‘London bubble’ of bright young things who’d been in think tanks coming up with big ideas without every testing them in reality and lo, we had the ultimate solution to everything, pushed through into policy in the first few weeks of this government without consultation during the school summer holidays.

        You say:
        “the overriding sentiments of the British are not supportive of what it takes to provide the educational policies that would allow those with the talent to shine.”
        With this statement you are saying that the overriding sentiments of the British do not support coherent planning in education policy. Where is your evidence for this Barry?

        Reply: Mr Gove thinks there should be more diversity in school provision, so parents and pupils can make betetr choices about where to go and what to learn.

        1. Rebecca Hanson
          February 28, 2012

          unfortunately he’s pursuing strategies which will not properly achieve his objectives.

          To create diversity he needs to properly modernise Ofsted according to the laws to which it is now obliged so it stops preventing appropriate professional diversity through discredited practice.

          He also needs to work toward adopting new systems which integrate formative and summative assessment and which will replace narrow very high stakes assessment (SATS) for students under the age of 14 with far more sophisticated, efficient and effective systems.

    2. lifelogic
      February 28, 2012

      I agree with much of what you say and top universities should look for future potential and make some allowance for the different back grounds of applicants when making their judgements – as I am sure many do.

      Nevertheless if bright people do not go to Oxbridge to study PPE, Law or History and work on say an oil rig or for an engineering company direct from school it is not such a bad thing. It might actually be a good think I am not sure that more of the former is what is needed.

      People who are bright tend to be bright, education helps and opens doors, adds knowledge and polish but does not make the dim much brighter in my experience even if they do become a lawyer or similar.

      Having them on the dole, due to a suffocating over large state however is certainly a bad thing.

      1. Bazman
        February 28, 2012

        Never happens. Their social security system assures their future.

        1. Bazman
          February 29, 2012

          Notice the lack of denial from all contributors? We are all in it together? I suppose we are.

    3. Brian A
      February 28, 2012

      An interesting take on the concept of ‘properly understanding state education’, which appears to define such ‘proper understanding’ as agreeing with the writer. Well, I find such comments patronising, and having spent a career in state education, albeit at university level, I feel entitled to disagree and find that the comments reflect the views of entrenched producer interests, of a type that I encountered regularly in HE, and show a belief that poor academic performance is somehow inevitable for many students. There are schools in highly disadvantaged areas, for example Mossbourne Academy, that perform extremely well and the common feature in their success is effective leadership and staff who inspire their their students to achieve their potential. Surely, a way forward is to create more Mossbournes and employ more of the sort of teaching staff who have made these schools such a success.

      1. Rebecca Hanson
        February 28, 2012

        Your opinion is very welcome Brian. You say:

        “the common feature in their success is effective leadership and staff who inspire their their students to achieve their potential.”

        I absolutely agree.

        One of the most important factors which prevents such leadership thriving is conter-productive behaviour by Ofsted.

        In 2009 Ofsted became subject to the standards and laws which apply to other UK regulators which demand they use the best regulatory practices which enable appropriate professional freedom and diversity. Unfortunately Michael Gove has failed to require Ofsted to implement the appropriate reforms and has instead give it more of the very strong, powers these reforms were designed to mollify.

        This Radio 4 program explores how his policies are seriously undermining charismatics and able heads who are respected by their community:

        and it is well know that his personal decisions about opening new schools are undermining local democracy and the powers of existing heads to be involved in coherent local planning of education services.

      2. Rebecca Hanson
        February 28, 2012

        Hi Brian,

        I wonder if you might like to get involved in the very active discussions which are going on in many areas of cyberspace about what’s going on in education so that you can explore a variety of opinions?

        If so I would strongly recommend some of the discussion groups on linkedin.com such as UK Education and Education UK . Alternatively there is the views section of the local school network which has some contributors with a left wing bias but allows free speech.

        Some of the commercial news based forums are pretty useless as they delete posts to an agenda but linkedin is great as everyone is open about who they are and what their background is so you can judge their comments accordingly.

        You may also be interested in attending one of the excellent ‘Westminster Education Forums’ which are easy to find on the web and are pretty easy for teachers to get invited to. Here’s a discussion about one I went to last week so you can get an idea of what they’re like:

        The more people involved in these discussions with real experience in education the better.

    4. wab
      February 28, 2012

      Rebecca, your blog post makes some serious unsubstantiated allegations about Oxbridge maths interviews, and you should probably arrange to take part in some interviews (external people are allowed to be involved, at least in some colleges) before making these wild statements. Well, perhaps you have done so and you happened to hit the one fossil still doing maths interviews. Maths interviewers generally bend over backwards to make sure that students from worse backgrounds get a fair deal. Extra-curricular activities (or lack thereof) are not important at all in the decision making process.

      You claim you want to a sink school and yet it looks like you yourself managed to get into Clare College to study maths (before changing subjects, from the look of it).

      1. wab
        February 28, 2012

        Apologies for the typo: “You claim you went…”, of course.

      2. Rebecca Hanson
        February 28, 2012

        My comments are based on my substantial real experiences and of course I’m still in touch with people operating in all parts of the system.

        I do not doubt that there are people interviewing who do justice by these students. I’d be delighted to hear more of your perspective – there is a discussion going on on my blog here which gives more detail if you’d like to join in or you’re welcome to chat through linkedin.

        Indeed once I’d decided to finalise in Management I took the opportunity to change subject not once but twice. The temptation to study the construction of scientific knowledge (through HPS) while juxtaposing that with studying an embryonic science (Experimental psychology) was just too strong.

        And yes I was lucky enough to escape my sink school.

    5. a-tracy
      February 28, 2012

      I agree with you on this topic Rebecca, I too narrowly failed my 11+ and ended up in the top set of a local secondary modern school, I achieved in spite of my education.

      My son achieved four A grades at AS when he attended his Oxford interview: F.Maths, Maths, Chemistry, Physics and a B in Dance. He had been identified as a Gifted and Talented student in his mid-league comprehensive school, he had four Oxford interviews and blew his final none-academic interview, if only I knew what I know now when he was 13 years of age, but you know he had four other good Russell Group offers and is in his final year MMaths. Parental and child individual ambition and parental guidance is so key to a child’s social mobility it is scary and often too late if you only realise this towards the end of their educational period.

      My daughter wasn’t identified as gifted and talented by her school, even though she achieved 9 A*’s and 2 As in her GCSEs, we used her external clubs to write an application to NAGTY and she was accredited by them and accepted into the academy just before it was abolished. So schools aren’t always the identifier of talent, hard work and endeavour they think they are and in many cases they miss the really gifted students.

      I never liked the none streaming of many subjects like history, German, and the new mixed ability task curriculum held down the keen, engaged, disciplined children to benefit the underachievers. However mistakes happen, science was streamed in Year 8 and my daughter’s mark rather than % was used and she worked at a slower speed in a lower set for a year before they could move her back up, having to do extra work we set her at home (bought the books from a High Street retailer) to keep up with the faster moving top stream and still got A*’s in science. My son could have done his GCSE Maths a year early and moved on to the A level syllabus at the same time as another child in his class did (who went on to Cambridge), thus matching him at AS and A level instead of having to do the A level further maths syllabus first and then the AS second once the other boy had finished.

      1. a-tracy
        February 28, 2012

        Actually, I can’t remember doing my 11+ (I would have only been 10 with an August birthday), I think my parents just selected the secondary modern school at the end of our road because they couldn’t afford the bus and uniform to the grammar school. All of my best friends from the primary school went to the grammar school.

    6. A. Stonish
      February 28, 2012

      It appears that Ms. Hanson has put her finger on the key difficulty: the unintended creation of “sink schools”. She is evidently not opposed to sets based on ability and work rate, in any school.

      There is an analogy with the health service. We do not consider it acceptable to have “sink hospitals”, where people risk their lives by entering. The worst performing hospitals receive the most corrective effort. It is no use complaining that such effort costs more than running a problem-free hospital. We invest resources and effort until even the most trouble-prone hospital reaches an acceptable standard.

      If more attention were directed to averting or remedying “sink schools”, then advocates for the “top sets” of students would enjoy much more room for manouevre. Besides, a whole economy – including the former “top sets” – can be slowed by the bill for welfare required to cope with the products of “sink schools”.

      Ms. Hanson appears to have thought about such matters a bit more than most. Her experience in what she calls a “sink school” does not damage her case.

    7. Mark
      February 28, 2012

      The idea that “top sets” prevent sink schools is nonsense. Sink estates produce empty sets simply because being clever is derided. Local politicians and people who might influence such attitudes for the better reinforce them instead, because such client populations give them a power base. The deltas are kept in their place.

      1. Rebecca Hanson
        February 28, 2012

        The are not the only thing needed to prevent the creation of sink schools but they help a great deal.

        I should point out that I’m not actually fighting for setting against mixed ability teaching. I’ve taught both and value the benefits of each and personally, in secondary maths, I would prefer to see students having the benefit of a couple of couple of blocks of mixed ability (a term or so in year 7 and year 9) provided the staff are capable of it (you need highly skilled teacher to teach mixed ability well).

        But most able children need to be part of a cohort of able and ambitious students to thrive. Having just one set of such children is actually enough.

    8. Winston Smith
      February 28, 2012

      By your own definition, “sink schools” definitely exist. No amount of ‘value added’ contrived achievement can hide the fact that some schools are avoided by parents.

      1. Rebecca Hanson
        February 28, 2012

        Then let my clarify my definition Winston. My son goes to a schools which some parents avoid because it in the middle of a council estate. They send their children elsewhere because they don’t want their kids mixing with the kids from the estate.

        Under your definition it is a sink school. Under my definition it is not because most parents, including those with high levels of education, do not remove their children.

        I’m well aware there are still some sink schools even under my definition.

    9. Caterpillar
      February 28, 2012

      “There is a sudden flight of all the students and families with bright students and when those families leave community school can become hell on earth very fast.”

      Apologies for slowness,

      What is “hell” here?
      Is there a reason why when bright pupils and families leave that hell is created?
      Do teachers who go to sink schools have to follow a different PGCE to those who go to non-sink (float?) schools?
      Are there strategies that puplis follow in sink schools?

      1. Rebecca Hanson
        February 28, 2012

        Some parents and families know how to complain about schools and to demand things be fixed. Some do not. The ‘hell’ can rapidly occur all or nearly all of the first type of family have gone.

        When ‘hell’ is going on little or no teaching is going on. As a child at such a school you spend your breaks hiding trying to avoid the kids who are marauding around high on whatever they can get their hands on.

        1. Caterpillar
          February 29, 2012

          Hell is behaviour then, I genuinely didn’t know what you meant. From school teachers I know, behavioural issues – not to the extent you mention, but nevertheless quite serious – also occur in schools in some middle class environments and it is the children of these should know better parents who disrupt and prevent learning. I suspect some of them learn at home with supportive parents, but socially disrupt at school. Though the levels of hazard might be higher in sink schools, I am not convinced that the families who know how to complain always complain at the right place, sometimes it is there kids.

          Anyway thanks for response. I am going off the idea of schools altogether, for many it seems that the school space will be less developmental than they could have outside.

  6. Antisthenes
    February 28, 2012

    Private schools have always done their bit to help the less well off by offering bursaries and scholarships. In fact some private schools came into being by being set up precisely to give a good education to children from poor backgrounds. The last Conservative government set up a scheme to aid poorer children receive a private school education. When Labour came back into government they spitefully immediately stopped it even for those still in the scheme. Charities and schools rallied round and helped some of those children to continue. Some were less fortunate and were sent back to state schools to be at the mercy of a system that has difficulty teaching such a wide range of diverse abilities and needs. If our children are to receive the best possible education then the system has to be selective by ability and needs. They must be directed to schooling that allows children to develop to their strengths. The French system goes along way in that direction with their lycée colleges and baccalaureates that streams children into academic or professional or vocational courses. The Dutch are reputed to have one of the best educational system of which I know very little but may well be worth researching for possible emulation in the UK.

    1. Rebecca Hanson
      February 28, 2012

      “When Labour came back into government they spitefully immediately stopped it”

      I was not able to afford to go to private school even with the bursaries. I went to one of the extreme sink schools created as a consequence of them. I suspect you did not.

      1. Stephen O
        February 28, 2012

        How do you conclude bad state schools are a consequence of private schools? Every child at a private school is one less the state needs to pay for and means more money left for those going to state schools.

        1. Rebecca Hanson
          February 28, 2012

          If most of the bright kids go to private schools the ones who are left in state schools do not thrive because they don’t have the cohorts within which they can thrive.

      2. A Different Simon
        February 28, 2012

        They’ve changed the name of the comprehensive I went to twice since I left in order to give it a fresh start .

        If you were being kind you might say that it (has poor results-ed) .

        Even this was better than the truly appauling sixth form I went to in Old Woking .

      3. Electro-Kevin
        February 28, 2012

        I went to a sink school too, though I never blamed private schools for this happening. There were none in my area.

        As it happens one of my class mates made it to Imperial College London to read mathematics and is now a professor. He was a natural.

        I feel that my school let me down. Not in killing my aspirations but in making them unrealistic. I see now that they did this to fill their A level courses and that I was one of their rare hopes in that year.

        I would have been far better off taking an apprenticeship rather than struggling and failing my science and maths A levels for which I was quite unsuited.

        In this respect the grammar school system was far kinder in its realism. I also understand that children had a second chance to go to grammar at 14 (if anyone can confirm) There has always been the OU and mature studenships for late developers who may have dipped out.

      4. Winston Smith
        February 28, 2012

        Well, it cannot have been that bad, given your excellent grammar. You have a professional career and you write a blog. A remarkable turnaround!

        1. Rebecca Hanson
          February 28, 2012

          I escaped.

          1. Winston Smith
            February 29, 2012

            Sounds like a brief middle-class experiment to me. Some of us on here are from real working-class backgrounds not the wanabe down with the peasants brigade.

          2. Rebecca Hanson
            March 1, 2012

            We just were as we were Winston. I wasn’t genuinely working class nor claiming to be – both my parents had PhDs. We were poor but never starving. My dad was on a low academic wage and my mum had MS and 4 kids and we had no extended family support.

            We couldn’t afford to move into the catchment area of a good school or for me to go to private school. In the end my mum phoned and visited decent state schools until one head teacher finally said – yes we’re full but I’m going to get an extra chair – put it in an already full classroom and accept your daughter. He knew how bad things were at the school I was at.

            If my parents could have sorted things out so that I had a chance of a reasonable education at our local school they would have done because it wasn’t ideal for me to be travelling a long way to school on my own as I was only just 10 but they couldn’t – all they could do was fight to get me out. That’s when you get a sink school – when the well behaved and dedicated kids cannot get a reasonable education and the only option for parents who care is to get their kids out.

            It happens really easily – really fast when there’s a failure in leadership at a school if parents can easily move their kids to other schools. There were lots of small policies under Labour to prevent it happening + all school planning decisions were carefully analysed to consider their knock on effects to other schools by the LAs who would have to take responsibility if sink schools arose.

  7. Alan Radfield
    February 28, 2012

    “Their approach to selection is highly selective. ”
    Ha! Spot on. A classic example of muddled, contradictory, lefty-agenda-politics socialist dogma at it’s very best.

    1. Rebecca Hanson
      February 28, 2012

      Either that or it is well grounded in the established methods of generating policy in education which require substantial attention to be paid to the reasons for the status quo and the consequences of change and there for tend not to advocate very simple solutions.

      This is an easy to read introduction to the subject if you are actually interested in it Alan:

  8. Steve Cox
    February 28, 2012

    Just for fun, how about proposing a new law prohibiting Labour and Lib Dem politicians from sending their children to fee paying schools? I don’t see why these hypocrites should not have to live by the dubious morals and standards that they seek to impose upon others.

    1. Bob
      February 28, 2012

      That’s a very good idea, and the same applies to public transport and the NHS. We would soon see some improvements to public services if government and mandarins alike were required to use them.

      1. Bazman
        February 28, 2012

        Quite right. If public schools were banned and the children of the wealthy were forced abroad. The standards of the state schools would be very high. I do not agree with this as a policy, but as a truth.

        1. Mark
          February 28, 2012

          There are quite a few countries that do this. The children from their wealthy elites can be found at the very best private schools in the UK. I doubt that is because they would get a top education in their home countries.

          1. Bazman
            February 29, 2012

            Probably would get shot.

    2. John Fitzgerald
      February 28, 2012

      To use the well worn cliché that would be like Turkeys voting for Christmas. Do you seriously think our all knowing law makers would tolerate that? I do not!

    3. lifelogic
      February 28, 2012

      This should only apply to people who advocate one thing and do another. Diane Abbott types – in fact most socialists in general.

      1. George
        February 29, 2012

        I don’t think Diane Abbot actually advocates banning independent schools, if she does then you are right but I don’t think she does. Actually I’m much more annoyed by lefties who send their children to grammar schools. It is their fault that there are so few Grammar’s remaining, the least they could do is leave the scraps for those of us who weren’t involved in trampling the cake into the floor.

        I used to be a fan of Diane Abbot, mainly because of her bravery in sending her child to a fee paying school even though it would annoy her left wing colleges (etc).

    4. Rebecca Hanson
      February 28, 2012

      Could you be clear about the dubious moral and standards Libdems are seeking to impose on others are Steve?

      I’m curious.

      1. Mike Stallard
        February 28, 2012

        Allow me:
        Diane Abbott, and many, many other Labour politicians talk the talk of morally supporting Comprehensive Ideals: Community Schools for everyone, independent schools cherry picking the best teachers, ending elitism etc etc.
        Then, low and behold! Their own children somehow escape the Comprehensive system!
        And, between 1997 and 2005 we were simply not allowed to talk about it.

    5. BobE
      February 28, 2012

      And prevent them travelling first class, unless they pay for an upgrade. Things would soon change.

  9. John Page
    February 28, 2012

    One could ask how many comps have enough able students who (crucially) want to learn. If there aren’t enough to form separate sets, the right ethos can’t be engendered, leaving the able to struggle to learn against the background of continual low level disorder.

    That’s one argument. Here’s a different angle. If Sir Michael Wilshaw could do it in Hackney, why can’t it happen across the land?

    Has he shown that excellence can be achieved within the comprehensive structure? If so, what percentage of head teachers are failing, and what should be done about them?

    1. Rebecca Hanson
      February 28, 2012

      Sir Michael Wilshaw achieved excellent results with what was effectively a ‘boot camp’ school – all teachers and students following precisely the same rules and the consequences for students who fall short of the required standards being severe.

      I am a strong advocate of the benefits of such schools existing as part of the mix of what is available – particularly in areas with very serious social issues and social challenges such as gang violence to address.

      However it is not best or desirable practice to force all schools to operate in this way. Most in education belief that provided a school thrives and is successful, it is actually better that students have the opportunity to be involved in negotiating the rules and boundaries which exist around them so that they come to understand why these rules exist and to naturally analyse the costs and benefits of different methods of social organisation.

      Many of our best teachers can command the respect of students without such ‘boot camp’ structures of discipline and can actually inspire and engage students much more when liberated from them and provided only with a school discipline structure which provides them with appropriate support as and when it is needed.

      One of the biggest problem for society in trying to ‘roll out’ boot camp style schools is the question of what you do with the excluded children.

      Traditionally (pre-Ofsted) it was perfectly normal to see the natural evolution of a ‘boot camp’ style school next to a more child centred school. Most children thrived in either but it was noticeable that it was often the case that if a students was failing in one structure, a move to the other would provide a solution.

      Extreme discipline is only the best solution where extreme discipline is needed.

      1. alan jutson
        February 28, 2012


        You make some interesting points, some of which I sort of agree, some of which I do not.

        Can I ask a very simple question given your passion and interest for education.

        What exactly do you feel should be the end goal for an education policy ?.

        Should it be for the sake and the passing of examinations.

        Should it be for educating people to make their own way in the world, be ready and fit for a start to work, and thus be able to support themselves and their future families.

        I will nail my colours to the mast.

        I of course believe that examination passes are important, as it serves to show some sort of competence, but I firmly believe that it is the duty of an education system to provide its students with as wide an education as possible, in order to give them the ability and knowledge to be able to find meaningful work.
        Thus Mathematics and English Language ability are absolutely vital.

        If then students want to study in depth a subject of interest of their own choosing, after their basic education has finished, then why not do it by taking on either additional study years, or complete it in their own time whilst working.

        At the moment we seem to have a policy of education for education sake, which does not provide enough people fit for work, in the commercial environment where we all have to live our lives and survive.

        1. Rebecca Hanson
          February 28, 2012

          “What exactly do you feel should be the end goal for an education policy ?”

          Whatever the end goal I am concerned that the policy developed to deliver it should be fit for purpose. It needs to be either substantially trialed or it needs to be properly consulted with all the parties who will implement it until it can be robustly argued that it will deliver its intended aims. Ideally it should be both (verified and validated).

          Gove’s policies are neither. They are based on hubris, arrogance and ignorance.

          I actually agree with many of his stated aims and only wish he was coherently working towards delivering them.

      2. Mark
        February 28, 2012

        Summerhill is an alternative for dealing with some of the most disturbed children – not a way of life for everyone.

  10. Alan
    February 28, 2012

    If you advocate grammar schools you are also advocating secondary modern schools. Almost everyone thought that the grammar schools were good and the secondary modern schools were bad. Comprehensive schools may not be as good as the grammar schools (although from my own observation I would say some are a good deal better than the one I attended) but I think they are much better than the secondary modern schools, so our young people as a whole are getting a better education than they would with a selective system.

    I think our problem lies with the general level of education rather than with the most intelligent (although I take the point that Rebecca Hanson makes in her blog). That’s a matter of teaching the right things in the right ways. Don’t change the current system, which is good enough, but try to help it work as well as it can. Even in our present financial difficulties education should be a priority.

    1. Mike Stallard
      February 28, 2012

      Apart from any other argument let me present you with two local figures:
      Comprehensive (Thomas Clarkson Community College, Wisbech, Cambs) pass rate at GCSE: 27%.
      Secondary Modern (Peele School Long Sutton, Lincs) Pass Rate at GCSE: 45%

      I could go on……..
      (And have see above).

      1. lifelogic
        February 28, 2012

        It is rather difficult to fail GCSE’s now too.

  11. James Reade
    February 28, 2012

    More mere assertion, light on facts. The grammars were our best tool for social mobility? I assume you have a few studies to back that assertion up? I ask that genuinely. I would like to see what evidence has been produced to support (or veto) this long held belief of many, usually on the right. Just as those on the left, righties are also prone to holding on to cherished ideas, no matter how little evidence is there to support them.

    That said, I am inclined to agree on selection being allowed. I think a much less rigid bureaucratic system could work much better, without catchment areas etc. But of course, catchment areas do serve one additional purpose, that is to keep the school run traffic down to some extent. Perhaps John’s privatised roads alongside a more flexible school system would work (in principle – would never ever happen in practice alas!).

    The other thing to bear in mind is that so long as there are catchment areas and geographic restrictions, then giving schools more autonomy will only increase the postcode lottery – the best will get better while the lesser will remain mediocre or worse. Simply bringing in things like free schools alone isn’t necessarily going to improve things, good idea as they may be…

    1. oldtimer
      February 28, 2012

      It worked for me – and for the majority of my college contemporaries at Oxford in the 1950s. Many came from direct grant grammar schools. Relatively few came from wealthy or well-off families; they got there via a selection process from the the 11+ exam and onwards.

      1. Rebecca Hanson
        February 28, 2012

        I think there is a very compelling case to justify the assertion that grammers were an excellent tool for social mobility prior to the creation of the welfare state. My mother suffered from extreme poverty as a child and made it to university in 1955. A grammar system which took her out of her local context and place her among considerably more advantaged children was a necessary component of her achieving what she achieved.

        1. Winston Smith
          February 29, 2012

          In my experience the older generation do not speak of “living in extreme poverty”, even if it is retrospectively and relatively judged to be so by modern academics. Unfortunately, history is judged and recorded by the middle-class, and represents their values and prejudices. Someone at the bottom of the social scale 60+ years ago would not be regularly attending school.

          1. Rebecca Hanson
            March 1, 2012

            When my mum’s dad was in prison she had to beg for food and search for coal on the railway lines. I think that’s pretty extreme poverty by our post-welfare state standards.

            She later got to grammar school and from there she won a scholarship to go to university, after which got her PhD.

    2. Mike Stallard
      February 28, 2012

      The DfE and County Authorities are fighting over total control of the Comprehensives as we speak. More bureaucracy, not less, is the order of the day.

      Free Schools accept the “post code lottery” but they also respect the parents’ rights and common sense and love of their own children too. Parents (as at independent schools) have the right to choose – and to reject. As has the Head too!

      Which is why independent schools have to be better than state schools to survive at £10,000 – £20,000 per annum per pupil.

    3. Winston Smith
      February 28, 2012

      Why don’t you ask all your ex-Grammar School mates in the Labour Party? Why not ask why virtually the whole socialist political elite send their children to either private or selective schools?

      Even left-wing academics do not deny the collapse in social mobility:


      The catchphrase of the modern flat-earther: “where’s yer stats?”

  12. Leslie Singleton
    February 28, 2012

    A lot of the blame lies in a simple point that I have seldom seen mentioned, viz the use of the word “Comprehensive”. I went to a Grammar School (since razed to the ground by the left wing loonies) and was very proud to do so; I have yet to meet anybody proud to have gone to a Comprehensive; proud maybe to have succeeded despite being at a Comprehensive, but very much not by reason of simply going to one.

    How could anybody possibly not have seen at the outset that the word would be seen as negative and demoralisng to the majority of both parents and schoolchildren? Inserting “Comprehensive” in to a school’s name adds nothing. The word should have been outlawed from the beginning. If another word was needed to fill the hole left by deleting the word “Grammar” so hated by the Left (said replacement no doubt deemed necessary by them to broadcast their successful destruction) what was wrong with the word “High” as in High School? That would at least have been neutral. Even now it would help all round to purge the word from anything to do with school.

    1. Rebecca Hanson
      February 28, 2012

      “Inserting “Comprehensive” in to a school’s name adds nothing. ”

      What does inserting “Academy” add?

    2. forthurst
      February 28, 2012

      The grammar schools ‘creamed off’ approximately 20% of children. Let’s say a grammar needed to have 600 pupils to offer a comprehensive range of scholastic courses, cost effectively.i.e. that the top sets in any subject were of sensible size. Assuming, that a catchment is ‘average’ it would need a comprehensive of 3000 pupils to catch those same 600 pupils. In some local authorites this would be optimistic. These schools are far too large to have an ethos of any sort; at best they are exam factories.

    3. Mark
      February 28, 2012

      What is in a name? A rose by any other name would smell as sweet.

    4. uanime5
      February 28, 2012

      The problem isn’t with the word but what it represented. Comprehensive were always considered inferior to grammar schools because only the brightest went to grammar schools. Renaming comprehensives to ‘high schools’, ‘technical schools’, or even ‘duck factories’ won’t change this.

      No one can be proud of failing to get into the best schools, so no one can ever be proud of going to a comprehensive.

      1. Bob
        February 28, 2012

        I think “day care centre” would be a more appropriate description in many cases!

  13. Ferdinand
    February 28, 2012

    Like most long term problems the causes and the solutions are never simple. The range of academic ability is just as wide as the range of sporting ability. As you say some shine in their field but others, the majority, do not. If we are unable to have a total fee paying education system – e.g. FEVER started by Marjorie Seldon, then grammar schools are the next best thing. All physical activities are rewarded through selection, and so likewise should be education. It is the politicisation of the system by socialists that has destroyed selection on ability and led to the strengthening of fee-paying establishments.

    1. Rebecca Hanson
      February 28, 2012

      “It is the politicisation of the system by socialists that has destroyed selection on ability and led to the strengthening of fee-paying establishments.”

      I would like to give due credit to the brilliance and dedication of those who lead and teach in Britain’s private schools for the absolutely outstanding education some of them deliver.

  14. Roger Farmer
    February 28, 2012

    I know what worked for my generation. Public schools for those who could afford it, Public Direct Grant schools for academic talent who could not afford the former, and Grammar Schools to fulfil a very similar function. Further down the academic scale there were secondary schools and primary schools. There were built in systems for movement from one to the other at the ages of eleven and thirteen. For higher education we had the universities techhnical and training colleges. It all led to social mobility and a thriving manufacturing based economy. It was not perfect but then nothing ever is but it worked for most.
    The socialst chattering classes began it’s destruction in the sixties at the hands of people like Anthony Crossland. Their pernicious experiment has failed generations in the UK and now we have a totally disfunctional society, ill educated and not fit for purpose. It can be altered but it will take a much more determined set of politicians than we are currently served with. Our government ,with rare exception, look to be the same collection of never done a proper job social experimenters we have suffered for the past fifty years. Until they get a grip I would recommend any graduate in a useful discipline to look way beyond UK shores for their career fulfillment. I say this because our leadership prefers to perform on the international stage, enabling Iraq and Libya to become (difficult -ed)states while stewing our hard earned money to ungrateful recipients around the globe. Meanwhile elements of our own population suffer grinding hardship in their old age.

    1. Rebecca Hanson
      February 28, 2012

      “we have a totally disfunctional society, ill educated and not fit for purpose”

      Where were you in the 1980s Roger?

  15. backofanenvelope
    February 28, 2012

    When I left full time education in 1954, there were Secondary Modern, Grammar and Technical schools. After attending one of those, I went to a tertiary college. After I started work I attended evening school and after I joined the RAF I took correspondence courses. The main problem with this system was far too few Grammar and Tech schools and not enough money in the Secondary Modern system. So the powers-that-be decided to absorb all three types of school into the Comprehensive scheme. This hasn’t quite worked out and politicians have wriggled and jiggled for the last 50 years trying to correct their mistake whilst avoiding admitting they made one.

  16. alan jutson
    February 28, 2012

    John your post has a lot of sensible comment, as did the last one 26th February.

    I can only speak as now a Gradfather who went to a bog standard Secondary modern school, then onto a series of Polytechnical colleges for 8 years, whose Daughters went to a Comprehensive School (in Wokingham) and who gained enough qualifications to go to University (offered places) but chose to go directly into the workplace instead.
    I now have a Grandaughter who goes to a private school.

    They all (schools) present different problems, and positive traits.

    My bog Standard Secondary modern had large classes (40 people) that were streamed, with the top stream I believe, giving a good, wide, but basic education standard, discipline was strong, order was maintained, and truancy unheard of.
    The teachers had real character and some enthusiasm.
    The head was in charge, absolutely no doubt.
    The spirit in my school was strong, and our football, cricket and athletics teams were very, very competitive. I have not a clue how we stacked up against our local Grammer schools, as there were no league tables, but suffice to say that when we left school, everyone was capable of working, and no one was without a job of some sort.

    The Comprehensives which my Daughters attended were deemed good for the area, but something was missing, it all seemed a little confused and over complicated, with a lack of a certain direction, discipline existed, but you felt somehow it didn’t, no daily school assembly, no real competition between schools in sports, no real sense of direction to an end goal, other than results, results results.
    Some of the teachers seemed very young, and a bit wimpish.

    The Private School my Grandaughter attends was simply chosen by my daughter and her husband because of the perceived lack of deemed quality State schools in the area. Her school has enthusiastic caring teachers, small classes, a varied wide and interesting curriculum, and all Parents are very keen and take an interest in the school, in fact other than a sort of unofficial PTA (which my secondary modern school had never ever heard of) and rather wealthier parents, it is more like the spirit of my old secondary modern school, than the Comprehensives of today.


    Politicians have messed about with the system for the last 50 years, and we have gone backwards.
    Many teachers have no real world experience which they can pass on and use. Many teachers are not much older than the pupils they are supposed to enthuse. Examinations appear to be the be all and end all , but with no real aim of giving a wide education to make people fit for work.
    Discipline seems to have been lost with political correctness.

    Result: Education is simply drifting with no real percieved direction.

    If you want and answer, then I suggest you read my blog (held in moderation for most of the day) 26th february 9.14am. 9.36, am, and 5.53pm for some possible solutions.

  17. norman
    February 28, 2012

    I’ll get back to my favourite subject (fortunately for me, if not for anyone who reads this, it’s a well that never runs dry) – the performance of our ruling class. Thank goodness that the top universities aren’t picking the worker bees of the UK, we’re in enough trouble.

    Look at George Osborne (and I could have chosen anyone and any subject), the best education money can buy, the best contacts, best ‘breeding’, Oxbridge PPE – and the man hasn’t a clue, not an iota of common sense. North Sea oil production now at a low ebb (this will have happened anyway the Panglossians will tell us) and who here expects production to recover any time soon with an 80%+ tax rate? So here we have yet another example of tax receipts that are going to be lower than forecast. Who’d have thunk it?

    No, let’s keep Oxbridge exclusive, we need the vast majority of Briton’s to remain competent to try and get us out of this mess, if the ruling class is any indicator the best way to achieve this is to avoid Oxbridge (and especially PPE) like the plague.

    Give me graft and an ability to get things done any day.

    As an aside, as someone educated at a failing comprehensive and with working class I got on my bike and improved my position. I know it’s not fashionable to say that nowadays but it’s still, just about, possible to make a go of things in the UK regardless of how much the state tries to impede you so it’s not all doom and gloom.

    1. Mark
      February 28, 2012

      Osborne read History, not PPE – arguably a more useful degree at Oxford for those who need some real understanding of economics, which most PPE students drop after Honour Mods.

    2. A Different Simon
      February 28, 2012

      None of them would have become Govt ministers without their Eton and Westminster education and predisposition of Oxbridge Colleges to admit them .

      One wonders what businesses the achievers from those schools went into .

  18. Iain Gill
    February 28, 2012

    A few points
    The education offered to those that fail an 11 plus needs to be a whole lot better than the old secondary moderns offered. This needs a lot more attention before your policies will win mass appeal. The weakness of Comprehensives generally is that they fail the strong and the weak and are mainly catering for the middle ground, both the strong and the weak need better teaching.
    Comprehensives vary wildly, some large ones stream the classes so much that they are effectively multiple schools within a school – some of which do better than others, really the teachers doing a grammar school/secondary modern split within the same school because they are not allowed to do it as separate schools. I don’t think your analysis takes this into account, and those that really do try and mix all abilities all the time I would guess do worst of all.
    There is also the size thing, if like me you went to a school of multiple thousands of pupils it’s always going to be hard. On the other hand tiny schools will always struggle to offer a broad set of subjects.
    Other stuff seems to be going on, some of the switched on schools have changed to “Arts academies” no doubt to trigger extra funds and independence which historically these have always been strong science schools – what’s going on here? Probably easier to qualify as an arts academy than a science academy?
    I actually think it’s good that folk of varying backgrounds mix at school, be the mixed sexes, mixed religions, mixed parental income, the way selection by the price of house your parents can afford works now is bad for social cohesion and needs sorting

    1. backofanenvelope
      February 28, 2012

      Amongst my Facebook friends are 3 of my grand children. I would say that they are mixing (electronically) with a very wide range of other children.

  19. Magnolia
    February 28, 2012

    I think this all ties in with the left’s ideas about equality.
    Socialists want to make everyone the same rather than to give each person an equal opportunity to full fill their potential.
    I think we need continuous streaming at all state schools and in all subject areas but that would take a complete change of attitude from teachers and the ‘educationalists’ who are used to defined year group lessons.
    The secondary schools test their children ( in an informal setting) frequently to check that their attainment matches their ability for the purposes of value added measurements.
    This should be extended to primary schools.
    One of my kids is very bright and learnt to read at two years of age and his state primary school education was largely a waste of time because he was so bored.
    I have my doubts about a grammar school in every town again. There is now extensive private tutoring for the 11-plus and the FT once published a piece which said that the grammar schools were more likely to exclude summer born children which doesn’t give me confidence that the selection test is able to detect ‘intelligence’ and potential rather than attainment and natural development. NFER never put any research based evidence in to the public domaine to say what the 11-plus actually detects.
    I think it might be better to allow free schools to become selective for all sorts of abilities in due course and hopefully the ‘right’ kids can be matched up with the ‘right’ schools.

    1. Electro-Kevin
      February 28, 2012

      This should be easy enough to test by looking at the birth dates of children in grammars today.

  20. Bob
    February 28, 2012

    So, in a nutshell, socialism has politicised education to a point which threatens to take our system from the top of the international league tables to nearer the bottom?

    1. Rebecca Hanson
      February 28, 2012

      That didn’t happen under the labour governent Bob. However it is very likely to happen as a consquence of the ignorance of this government’s policy.

      1. Mark
        February 29, 2012

        Academic standards in schools have been falling for 30 years under all governments. Gove is the first education minister to call for a halt to further decline probably since the 1944 Education Act. You may not approve of all his policies for doing so, but he has chosen them to be politically achievable, rather than to be the optimal solution (which the educational establishment would rebel against just as we are seeing in the NHS).

        I would rather he managed to transition to more adventurous policies, including much more use of selective education that offers scope to increase teacher productivity in teaching children at all levels of ability, but I understand the constraints he lives under.

        The ignorance in government education policy lies at the tertiary level, where the allocation of resources is extremely inefficient. It is failing to help those cheated by dumbed down schooling, while wasting resource on “degrees” for those whose aptitude for true degree level study is limited, and whose prospects of enhanced career earnings being sufficient to pay off their fees are nil – a fact actually recognised but ignored for policy by the minister and Parliament – while failing to offer them courses they could master and benefit from. It is even cheating the brightest students, who have to do something else on top to prove they really are of degree standard.

      2. Bob
        February 29, 2012

        I see little difference between Labour, Tory or Lib Dems except the colour of their rosettes. They’re all pushing the socialist agenda. UKIP are the Real Conservatives, but there is a concerted effort by the left wing establishment to keep them out.

        The abolition of grammars and replacement with comprehensives has not resulted in improvement in educational standards, but rather an increased demand for private school places, which tells you what you need to know. Why would parents pay tens of thousands a year in school fees if there were decent state provision?

        Now the socialists are trying to do to Oxbridge what they did to secondary education – ruin it. Politically driven admission quotas for Oxbridge are not the answer.

        If the state schools are failing their students, then that is the problem that needs to be addressed. Abandoning the eleven plus didn’t solve anything, they should have redoubled efforts to get the kid who narrowly failed up to speed for a second or third chance – which is effectively what the comprehensives were supposed to do but failed miserably.

        Applying the same logic to Oxbridge will also fail. What do they say about people doing the same thing over and over and expecting different results?

        1. Rebecca Hanson
          March 1, 2012

          I’ve added an alternative suggestion to quotas in the comments to my blog on that topic Bob:

  21. Single Acts
    February 28, 2012

    “The left say that selection is wrong in principle”

    Yet some of ’em send their kids to selective schools?

    1. Rebecca Hanson
      February 28, 2012

      I think most of them have practical rather than ideological concerns about selection Single Acts. There are some prominent characters on the left wing in education who engage in open discussion in the views section of the ‘local schools network’ which is easy to find on the internet.

      If you’re interested in what they really think and do you could go and ask them.

    2. Bob
      February 28, 2012

      Parliament is infested with self serving faux socialists.
      I blame FPTP party politics.

      Once a politician is elected he can do as he pleases, even if it completely contradicts everything he professes to believe.

      Didn’t Cameron promise us the power to recall MPs, or was I dreaming?

    3. Roger Farmer
      February 28, 2012

      The “Left” equals hypocracy at all levels in politics, witness Harman, Blair, Mandleson, and Brown. They will spend your wealth until it runs out. An impoverished, ill educated populous means they have control. What satisfaction there is in the control of a void I know not, but it adds up to an irrelevant Britain.

      1. uanime5
        February 29, 2012

        Does this Cameron and Osborne are left wing as they’re borrowing even more money than Brown?

        1. Bob
          February 29, 2012

          I can’t argue with that.

  22. Kyt Thompson
    February 28, 2012

    I seldom find myself disagreeing with John Redwood about anything at all, but on the question of grammar schools he hopelessly misguided. Grammar schools are socially divisive in the same way that independent schools are socially divisive. The state should not sponsor social division.
    The comprehensive concept is an excellent socially inclusive one. A comprehensive school brings together pupils across the whole range of social background and ability.
    In so doing it provides a microcosm of society as a whole where all may learn to live together in harmony and mutual respect and understanding and, and this is
    absolutely crucial, where the natural pacesetters are able to lead by example – demonstrate to others on a day to day basis what can be achieved. Grammar schools remove these pupils to another place so depriving a comprehensive school of what should be its natural leaders. Grammar schools also attract to themselves many of the most able teachers so denuding the comprehensive school of much of the best of the teaching force. Result: failing comprehensive schools overburdened with poorer
    teachers teaching largely less well motivated pupils. The less well motivated need the best teachers not the weakest. Grammar schools have the effect of putting the most able pupils with the most able teachers to the detriment of the vast majority who are then simply left to cope as best they can. It is this which has led to the social engineering we are now witnessing as a substitute for getting at the real problem, that is to say, ‘bog standard comprehensive schools.
    The point is comprehensive schools do not have to be ‘bog standard’.There is nothing wrong with the concept of comprehensive schools. They simply need to be run properly: uncompromising disciplinary standards, strictly applied school uniform, setting by ability by subject across all academic subjects, an insistance on all pupils taking English, Maths , at least one foreign language and one science and either History or Geography at GCSE, twice termly pupil assessments based on clearly understood criteria, carefully monitored homework diaries, carefully monitored lesson preparation and teaching delivery, a vertical pastoral system based on Houses instead of the stratification that results from a horizontal year structure, the encouragement of healthy competition, particular attention to maintaining an attractive and interesting physical environment, and so on.
    All this can and is being done by a currently all too small number of very good comprehensive schools and they are the example that needs to be followed – first and foremost by making sure that all schools have a balanced intake of social background and ability. Just as in the case of faith schools, which should also not exist, Grammar schools are part of the problem, not a solution to it.
    To those who think all this is fine in theory but cannot be done, let me assure you that with determination and clarity of vision it certainly can be achieved; I know because I have done it.

    1. Bob
      March 1, 2012

      Sounds great Kyt, but alas, this is utopian fantasy.
      Back in the real world “… encouragement of healthy competition…” is often frowned upon in state schools (non pc) and under achievers tend to be the natural leaders and the brighter kids will dumb themselves down. It’s not cool to be too bright, or as the Chinese say “the nail that stands out will be hammered down”.

      That is why grammars are oversubscribed and parents pay tens of thousands from taxed income to go private.

  23. frank salmon
    February 28, 2012

    Education in the UK is provided under socialist principles. Until a market is established, it will continue to fall down international league tables. A voucher for every child to pay for their education and which they can take to competing educational establishments will be a step in the right direction.

    1. Rebecca Hanson
      February 29, 2012

      Education in the UK is provided under pragmatic rather than idealistic principles if we assume that we can take it for granted that it is wise to educate all our children to given them fair opportunities to participate in society.

      At least it was…..

    2. uanime5
      February 29, 2012

      Care to explain why most countries with better education systems don’t need a market?

      Also the voucher system won’t work if a school wants to maintain it’s small class sizes by only letting a small number of pupils in. It also doesn’t work if all the available schools are equally bad.

  24. sm
    February 28, 2012

    Why cant the funds per pupil follow the pupil into non-academic trades, leading to effectively part state funded apprentice-ships with trade qualifications. Those that prefer a more academic route should be streamed to allow it. I would try and keep schools small and local with discipline. Meanwhile we should be paying attention to reforming our economic system to create work. Students do look over the horizon as to when they finish. It cant be encouraging.

    I think its about time we started to offer people guaranteed paid work or shortage skills training as we are told exist. Rather than inhumanely leaving them to suffer the associated problems of exclusion. Needless to say it should be voluntary in the sense a non politician would use.

    Why is it right to subsidize banking millionaires and above average salaries yet not offer a guaranteed minimum wage job or training? The at the same time load the future with tax,inflation and debt at a personal and country level.

  25. Tedgo
    February 28, 2012

    I went to a secondary modern school in the late fifty’s. There were 5 streams based on ability, the top stream studied for GCE’s while the bottom stream, many of whom could still hardly read and write, studied more practical subjects like gardening and metal working.

    The reason I failed my 11 plus was that I was in a B stream at junior school and was not therefore tutored to pass the exam. Doing the 11 plus I distinctly remember being asked questions of a form and type I had never seen before. This is why I am against selection to grammar schools, it can be manipulated.

    One thing my secondary modern school did have was a sixth form leading to A levels. To me this is very significant, I think having teachers who could teach at A level was very beneficial to us doing O level. They had the ability to hold the attention of 40 pupils in a quiet disciplined environment without the need for class room assistants.

    In the area where I live now comprehensive schools do not have sixth forms, A level teaching only takes place at the central college in town. As such the teachers in comprehensives do not seem to have the depth of knowledge of their subjects. This was certainly obvious when one visited the school on parents night and looking at coursework and homework.

    Comprehensive schools need to stream by ability, route out indifferent teachers and have sixth forms so more able teachers can be recruited.

  26. Martyn
    February 28, 2012

    The reason that some schools fail their pupils is first and foremost failure in leadership and management. I speak as one who was for 10.5 years chairman of governors of a state primary school, the like of which there is perhaps 1 or 2 others in the UK, positioned within the guarded wire perimeter of a Service base. Its pupils are between 98% and 100% children of Service parents.

    I have seen 5 head teachers come and go over the years through sickness and having to patch in temporary heads and although during that time the school scored as OfSTED satisfactory it was impossible to really take it forward because of interrupted leadership and management. Pupil mobility factors of 28% at best and 47% at worst through parents being posted has never helped.

    That all changed with the appointment of an inspirational head teacher in September 2010, who has literally transformed the school, raised standards and we are on the way to being an outstanding state primary school. Pupil and governor mobility remains high 47% in 2010, but the lesson is, improve the leadership and management and the school will improve.

  27. Chris McShane
    February 28, 2012

    Having only recently returned from a week studying the Finnish Education System, currently top of the rankings in PISA tests, let me outline a counter argument. Finland have small local schools, none bigger than 700 students. Every student attends their local comprehensive school, starting at the age of 7 and completing the first phase at 16 when a choice is made to progress down a vocational route or to progress into the senior secondary school. These decisions are not made based on academic tests but on the ambitions of the students. Both routes incidentally lead to a university education of equal merit. The only public tests taken in Finland are at 18 prior to university entry, although testing is a regular part of the school system. These tests are designed to assess pupil progress against a core set of competencies inherent in a school designed curriculum.
    John Redwood’s assertion is yet again based on the notion that one route is superior and that being able to achieve a superior outcome is the preserve of a few who at 11 years old should be given the same advantages afforded to those who can pay. That is what we are talking about, advantage, consider if Grammar Schools were so successful last time around and people from these schools along with Privte schools secured our top positions in Industry, Commerce and Politics how come we have failed so utterly. In the 70s products of these schools took us through the biggest recession to hit this country and they were so trusted that Mrs Thatcher looked to Americans to sort it out! Low and behold we are here again and I wonder how many OxBridge graduates were involved in the decision making processes that led to the banking collapse?
    As a Headteacher of a school in a poorer area of Britain I take huge insult from the comment that I have no ambition for our students. We strive to change lives and very often do. These successes may not result in an Oxbridge Education seemingly this is what is valued. This article only serves to support what we working in the area we do feel very strongly this government is prepared to write off an underclass. How long before we hear the announcement of a new prison building programme I wonder?
    Finally can we please stop looking through Rose tinted classes at yesteryear and base our policies on a well thought out strategic view. Go to Finland the cooperation between the protea on and the government is something to take pride in. They are struggling to understand how they make their system more creative but they know it will take time. Let’s end ‘policy on the hoof.’

  28. John B
    February 28, 2012

    The area in which I was born and grew up, was a mix of mining, heavy and light industry and agriculture. The population was predominantly working class… or “poor” and “underprivileged” and “disadvantaged” as they would be called today.

    I wonder who went to all the Grammar Schools in the area – they were full?

    What are we to make of those children who passed the 11+ but elected to go to Secondary Modern School because it taught things like metalwork, woodwork and technical drawing which is the sort of things they wanted to do?

    Then there were those who irrespective of their 11+ results already knew what they wanted to do and where they would work come age 15 years: down the pit, at the steel works, etc with their father/brothers/mates.

  29. Neil Craig
    February 28, 2012

    “advocates of comprehensive education for all but the rich promised us more social mobility and better results. The truth is it has not happened. Could advocates of comprehensives explain why not?”

    So far not. That social mobility has declined is undisputable.

    I would like to agree with Julian 7:09am’s suggestion that you invite a Labout advocate to debate with you here. The worst that could happen is that none of them accept.

  30. forthurst
    February 28, 2012

    Education is a happy hunting ground for social engineers, which in these ‘enlightened’ times is almost synonymous with Cultural Marxists. For such people, the Bell Curve does nor exist, racially based intellectual or behavioural norms do not exist, or even race itself. In order for their ‘beliefs’ to be fulfilled in practice, it is important that little children can be detained by police at the first intimation of thoughtcrime and disgustingly white schools can be ‘normalised’ with a bused in contingent of claw hammer wealding thugs. Above all, those possessed of high inate ability should be subsumed into the bowels of a bog standard comprehensive or elsewhere as long as there is no selection on academic ability (which does not exist), in order that, “Full many a flower is born to blush unseen and waste its sweetness on the desert air”. None of this, needless to say, applies to the Nomenklatura or their offspring for which entirely different rules apply.

    Private schools generally have a board of governors which appoints the headmaster who sellects the staff which, together with tradition, creates the school ethos. As little interference as possible is tolerated from the DfE and none from the LEAs, nor are parents formed into consortia of service purchasers in order facilate ‘delivery’. These schools are generally (a lot) better than those in the public sector.

    The Bell Curve exists. However, most children are in the middle range who previously would have gone to secondary moderns. It is important for the future of this country, not that 50% should attend tertiary education, but that the brightest are allowed to fly and that the middle range of ability are not distracted by children, either a lot brighter or less bright than themselves. For the brightest to fly, they need to have better examinations, better educated teachers in all departments and schools with a strong ethos which will help to smooth out differences in background. The middle range need to be offered an education which also recognises their worth and potential since they will in future life be doing most of the skilled jobs on which the rest depend. The private schools offer a tenplate on which public education could be based: different schools, horses for courses.

    Our success as a country in the past was based upon technological superiority as pathfinders of the industrial revolution. We no longer are pre-eminent on those activities which made us great. If we are to even hold our own in an increasingly competitive world, we need to nurture our brightest, acknowledge that Science creates added value where the Humanities cannot, and that the current educational dispensation is bad by design, hypocritical and destructive of our country’s future. The DfE should be shut down. LEAs should be shut down. They exist purely for social engineering.

  31. Robert Christopher
    February 28, 2012

    “Companies hiring graduates with top degrees could be discriminating against students with average grades, according to a Government-commissioned review.”


    John, which Government is this?

    Surely not one with a Tory PM?

    Oh, you mean Our Government; the one being led by a LibDem, and then Nick Clegg and Cable have to have their say it as well!

    Rather makes this thread either a waste of time or a means to escape this country.

    When you think things cannot get any worse, it does!

    1. Robert Christopher
      February 28, 2012

      I am still speechless, but here are three comments below the article that I would have made myself in their situations, (so they can take any credit, and I will take any blame):

      “I am encouraging my three children to work hard at school so that they can get decent qualifications and hopefully go and study a worthwhile degree. Am I wasting my time? Should my children just give up? Is there any point?”

      “Should a business secretary not be concerned with making business efficient rather than playing some bizarre game of seeing just how many different types of people can be shoehorned into companies?”

      “I worked hard to gain my 1st class honours degree from a top university. So why should someone who clearly did not work as hard as me get a job because they are from a worse university and did not get a 2.1? Employers should have the right to hire the best person for the job. Why is the government telling a private company who pays large taxes who to hire?” (I didn’t get a 1st, but I can see his point!)

      Three questions; no acceptable answers. It needs a change in government.

      1. Robert Christopher
        February 28, 2012

        “The economics are terrible but the politics are great,” George Osborne likes to tell friends.

        John, you will really have to break the news to GO gently!

      2. uanime5
        February 29, 2012

        Surely someone with a relevant 2:1 degree shouldn’t be excluded just because someone got a 1st in an unrelated subject.

        It’s about time companies stopped refusing to interview anyone who didn’t get a 2:1 or better.

    2. Mark
      February 29, 2012

      Of course they are discriminating – just as they SHOULD be, to get the best employees for their businesses. The most astute recruiters will also be interviewing and assessing applicants for other qualities that matter to their particular business.

  32. Stephen O
    February 28, 2012

    Both from my own memories of school and talking to my own children, it is clear that children learn best when they are in a class with other children of a similar ability. Otherwise they will get bored and waste time while the teacher spends time with the kids who do not ‘get it’. Or alternatively get demoralised as they first struggle to keep up and then get left so far behind they can not follow what is being taught.

    Selection by ability makes sense and we should have more grammar schools. We also need streaming within schools as some children’s abilities are more focussed in some subjects than others.

    On the other end of the scale we need a focus on how to deal with the kids who get excluded. Leaving them in mainstream schools can have a very damaging effect on the other kids, but they need to go into an environment where they can learn enough to manage life after they leave school. I do wonder if some of these same kids end up learning in the army, what they could never be taught in the school system.

    I would be interested to know if selection based on learning style, has ever been tried?

    1. Mark
      February 29, 2012

      Good points.

    2. uanime5
      February 29, 2012

      “I do wonder if some of these same kids end up learning in the army, what they could never be taught in the school system.”

      Why would the army want people who can’t read, write, count, or follow orders? They’re not a day-care centre.

  33. Edward.
    February 28, 2012

    That these dissatisfactions exist does not mean that state education is ruined. If claims are made about the holistic failure of state education the nature of the failures need to be clearly specified and the solution proposed must be demonstrably fit for purpose in addressing those failings.

    Lord, haven’t we swallowed the ‘newspeak’ handbook.

    There is another agenda at work here but leave that to one side, below are some of the results of a policy of ill intent.

    Grammar schools were by no means perfect, trashing them though, was a catastrophe for the British Education system, lets face it Anthony Crosland was a societal re-engineer of the first order. That the Labour government was responsible for the original canker and that the Tories [Heath’s lot] continued in the same vein – that is so and cannot be refuted.
    A social experiment in homogeneity of education [which is still diminishing already low standards] and resulted in a clear deterioration in education of British children. In fact, comprehensives brought pupils down to a lower level, whereas in a more academic atmosphere grammar schools produced the opposite effect.

    In Britain, now, education is not seen as an escape by some [or the many?], encouraging youngsters to think they have alternative talents in, for example singing, or in sport – seems to thrill and enliven more in a certain stratum of society.
    And if not the celebrity of fame, then, the infamous variety will do just as well it seems. Thus, a great many young children have no parental impetus to do well at school and that is the start of a downward spiral into a hopeless existence.

    If a child is lost in primary education, most will never recover those ‘lost’ years.

    When the child attends a ‘sink school’, the prospects are usually hopeless, yes there are some wonderful teachers with true vocations – teaching is an art not just a job but then – most teachers see the ‘paypacket’ as the main spur.
    The academic standard of far too many teachers is abysmal, some unable to read or understand complex subjects they’re not qualified to teach. Some teachers, are unable to add up effectively and that is not good enough but has been in many instances overlooked by too many headmasters – lets be honest here; in the staffroom – you know who isn’t pulling his or her weight – it sticks out and a walk past a classroom with a failing teacher installed – it becomes obvious to all.

    Unionisation of teachers, low standards become the norm and means bad teachers cannot be sacked.
    Council education authorities, the bane of academic rigour and educational standards. By teaching hackneyed and downright immoral current social mores and ideology, which is now considered to transcend giving children a good grounding in the basics, councils are the executives of the policy of post normal dumbing down in primary, secondary and some tertiary education.
    Councils run hand in hand with unions.

    Exam qualifications, are not worth the paper they are written on, teaching to test and to a tick box set questions, enabling children to retake and retake modules – all of this is a disaster – what happened to teaching people to think, reason and weigh, to rationalise concepts?

    So, improve teachers, improve children’s education. Cut out the unions, improve children’s education. Remove the council and quangos hold on local education authorities = better education. Allow Universities to set exam questions – tell edexcel, AQA to get lost.

    Get good teachers online, to teach to classrooms all over the country – virtual teaching could be a great boon, even coax academics out – to occasionally lecture children in the same format – I’d be willing to bet – Albert Einstein would have loved to been able to do just that, alas it’s not possible for Albert Einstein but there are other true scientists and Mathematicians…………… .
    Plus, an attempt MUST be made to encourage children into science and engineering if Britain isn’t to completely slide off the industrial world map – after all, banking is going out of fashion.

    Take politics out of education, let Gove get on with it but give him a freer rein and allow him to re-introduce grammars in some appropriate areas, if parents so desire it and let us [the people] take back our education system.

  34. Electro-Kevin
    February 28, 2012

    Comprehensive schools fail because of lack of parental support.

    Grammar schools succeed because the selection criteria does not so much test the pupil as the support network behind them. It requires an organised parent to help the child prepare the selection test. It has nothing to do with wealth. In fact there are many whose parents are on low to average earnings.

    You will rarely see an angry parent charging through the grammar school gates to have a pop at the teachers for daring to apply discipline.

    Grammar schools are over subscribed so it would seem that very many good parents wish for their offspring segregated from those of bad parents.

    Why can’t we have more grammar schools ?

    The idea that destroying grammar schools and mixing children of different parentage raises standards is clearly false. It always results in dumbing down.

    As the whole point was to make everyone equal it’s hardly surprising is it ?

  35. George Formby
    February 28, 2012

    I come from a family of four brothers and we all passed through the same comprehensive school and into university. There is a four year gap between each brother. The last brother left the sixth-form in 2002.

    When the eldest completed his A Levels, the school as a whole was approx 900 pupils and only the top pupils advanced from GCSEs to A Level, A Level classes consisted of the GCSE elite. The school was in the top 100 nationwide. When the second brother undertook his A Levels, the school size had not changed but the number being admitted to do A Levels had increased and class sizes were larger and less able. I am the third brother and endured class sizes of up to 25, that for my English A Level!! Suffice it to say, my school was no longer in the top 100 nationwide and results were appalling. This was about the time that sixth form colleges started receiving increased sums of cash per pupil in an effort to get more people into higher education. The number of unsuitable people being admitted to the sixth form increased and the results diminished further. It was also at this time that school sports days stopped rewarding winners.

    When my younger brother did his A Levels, the school had expanded to around 1300 pupils, the sixth-form was much expanded from my time and class sizes for almost all A Level subjects were routinely around 20/25.

    I can only say how utterly demoralising it was to look around my A Level history class and observe people who had never ever attained an A or a B grade in their last seven years of school History. The consequences of this were huge; only one person in that class of 22 got an A and only one a B, I think that there were only five Cs.

    “People exercise an unconscious selection in being influenced.”

  36. forthurst
    February 28, 2012

    I now read that yet another V-C of yet another ‘university’ of which I had never heard, has delivered a report to Vince Cable recomending that corporate employers are failing in their ‘duty’ to achieve ‘diversity’ by exclusively recruiting students from the Russell group with at least 2:1 degrees. So graduate recruitment needs re-engineering as does Oxbridge entry. Why does Cameron’s government contain so many English haters (Cultural Marxists)?

  37. Alan Wheatley
    February 28, 2012

    I agree with all that you say, JR.

    My concern is with what is not said.

    We must start with the fact that all children are not alike. To my mind a state system should have as a primary objective to provide the best education for all children, irrespective of ability and aptitude. Thus the system should be judged successful not just by the number of children who obtain a degree (if that is the level of which they are capable), but equally by the number of children who achieve A-levels (if that is the level of which they are capable) and the number of children who achieve GCSEs (if that is the level of which they are capable).

    In other words, the system should be judged by how well it does for all children, not just those at the higher academic end of the spectrum.

    I think selection is a necessary part of an education system. But it serves us poorly if it chooses children who are matched to a restrictive form of education and chooses not to care much about the children who do not fit into that form. Emphasis on grammar schools and universities typifies a restrictive form of education.

    I applaud the success of grammar schools and universities. I despair at the notion that they are the only elements worth considering as regards a value judgement of a state education system.

    1. Mark
      February 29, 2012

      The sad truth is that the current system of prizes for all in fact harms those at the bottom and middle much more than the supposedly elitist system did. They are left with worthless qualifications, tossed onto the welfare scrapheap , while the jobs they might have done are often taken by immigrants. Only those who emerge from the quagmire to distinguish themselves are advantaged. Some of those at the bottom of the pile might have done better with a Victorian education that ended at age 11, but at least ensured they could read, write and perform arithmetic, and concentrate on a task and behave politely.

  38. Alan Wheatley
    February 28, 2012

    Let me offer a constructive suggestion to improve secondary education.

    We have the Open University, so why not the Open Secondary?

    In these times of internet access and children who are computer literate at a young age, I suggest this is exploited and make available education at secondary level through the computer in the home. This is not homework by another name, but courses independent of school.

    I think the Open Secondary would be of most benefit to children who are not achieving of their best at school. Computer based learning has several advantages, such as follows. Learning can be at the rate that suites the pupil, not the teacher. It is possible to go back and repeat something not quite grasped first time round. “Lessons” can stop and start as convenient. There is no problem of a pupil not getting on with a teacher, and visa-versa.

    There can be a range of lessons on the same subject so that those who quickly grasp the subject can progress without getting bored and those that are struggling can use material that explains things in smaller steps.

    There is also the ability to incorporate the very best background material, such as video and audio explanations of things from the lab or in the field.

    I think this is worth investigating. After all, we regularly hear of the many who the current system is failing, and this may give them, in particular, the chance to do better.

  39. David Langley
    February 28, 2012

    I failed my 11 plus and wound up eventually leaving school at 15. However I joined Vickers Armstrong as a full time engineering apprentice and worked in the tool room. My apprenticeship would have finished when I was 21. Children today do not have chances to get into apprenticeships in engineering like I did, and most of my schoolmates. I then went back to school one day a week and two nights at Technical college where my enthusiasm for further education was fostered. We had manufacturing then and I made ships that I was proud of. That is until we lost our shipbuilding and most of our manufacturing.
    My point is that we need to regenerate our manufacturing base with money from other daft causes like the EU project and Dfid. We can then get our kids into proper jobs with a full proper apprenticeship that means something, not an acquaint course.

    1. uanime5
      February 29, 2012

      We also need to change apprenticeships so they’re considered training programmes, rather than cheap labour. Making all apprenticeships pay minimum wage would be a good start.

  40. Winston Smith
    February 28, 2012

    Our education problems can be easily solved. Make politicians send their children to the local school in their constituency/ward. You will soon see standards improve. No more hypocritical lefties sending their kids to selective and private schools away from their poor voters.

    Additionally, there must be a wholesale clearance of Marxists from the educational establishment. The failure to address the infiltration of the hard-left into our teacher training, our schools and the Education Dept during ‘79-97 was the greatest failure of the Conservatives administration.

    1. Bob
      February 28, 2012

      @Winston Smith
      “Additionally, there must be a wholesale clearance of Marxists from the educational establishment. “

      Quite so, the Fabians took the long view while the Tories were sleeping, which is why the conservatives are constantly on the back foot.

    2. Mark
      February 29, 2012

      While some politicians will suppress their egalitarian “beliefs” when it comes to their own children (e.g. left out-ed)), others seem quite prepared to sacrifice their children for their career.

  41. George
    February 28, 2012

    John. The way to really break down the apartheid between maintained and independent schools would be to allow hybrid schools to emerge from the ranks of current independent and foundation schools.

    I (reluctantly) agree that the state should not implement a full voucher system. This would subsidise the education of those who are choose to pay a bit more on top of the money from the state, and so I would not be in favour of a pure voucher scheme in education. It should be all or nothing, either nothing paid by the parents or all paid by the parents.

    However, if an independent school wants to admit some pupils from the maintained sector (which they might do out of charitable feeling, just like they currently offer scholarships) they should be paid the same five thousand odd pounds per year for doing that.

    Similarly if a good foundation school* wants to admit some fee paying pupils, charging them more than the £5,300 per year which the state gives them per pupil (in order to raise money to cross subsidise the rest of their pupils) then that should be allowed too.

    *I’m not sure if I have got the terminology right here, what I mean to talk about is a maintained school that is not actually owned by the state but rather is owned by a charitable foundation, one which does not charge fees and is, instead, funded through general taxation.

  42. REPay
    February 28, 2012

    The grammar schools are gone (nearly). The challenge, as you and I see it, is to recreate the excellence to which they aspired in the comprehensive system. The problem is that the comprehensive school ethos aspires to equality/mediocrity. They have succeeded admirably.

  43. Atlas
    February 28, 2012

    Dear John,

    Unlike the Welfare “reforms” ( as we now know with its built in slave aspects), and the NHS “reforms” (which allow a few firms access to easy money) – I am in near complete agreement with Gove’s changes – with the exception of his removing the authority of Headmasters on the matter of pupil absence form school.

    Just get a referendum on the EU, scrap Lord’s reform and then I would consider voting for the Conservatives again.

  44. John Clements
    February 28, 2012

    I went to a state secondary school in the 1930s. It produced a Nobel prizewinner, a high commissioner and a Battle of Britain Squadron Commander.

    Now it is a comprehensive specialising in the performing arts. Not what I call progress.

    Today there is a near obsession with university education. It can be an expensive lesson to learn that university degree does not bestow a unique quality on its holder.

  45. Tom William
    February 28, 2012

    Why has the UK slipped far down world education rankings? Why are GCSE papers so easy? Why are old “O level” papers often too difficult for some A level students? Why is the average level of education in Singapore or South Korea higher than the comparable UK average?

    What has gone wrong?

    1. Robert Christopher
      February 28, 2012

      What has gone wrong?

      Here are the reasons:

      The average level of education in Singapore and South Korea is higher than the
      comparable UK average.

      GCSE papers are so easy.

      In fact, some old “O level” papers are often too difficult for A level students.

      The UK has slipped far down world education rankings.

      But it hasn’t really gone wrong; it has been on the cards for over forty years.

    2. George
      February 29, 2012

      When it comes to exams the system of private sector provision + regulation has been a failure, because exams from all exam boards are considered equal we are left with exam boards that try to make the easiest, most predictable questions, always pushing at the envelope of easiness to try and get schools to pick them over the others.

      A bit of pragmatism is required here, taking an idea parts of which will not appeal to left or to right. If the exam system cannot be fixed (i.e. much harder, more imaginative questions on the papers) soon then the government should simply provide a state backed alternative and stop regulating the current boards (they should also discontinue the terminology, GCSE, and A-Level). Then one of two things will happen:

      1) The exam boards will step up their game and make papers significantly harder than the state backed alternative, which people will choose over the state alternative (which should not be compulsory).

      2) The exam boards will set easier and easier papers, sink into the mire, ministers will make speeches ridiculing their efforts and people will choose the state version or exam boards which act like 1.

      Either way Employers will have to ask about what exam boards people choose and a so called “gold standard” may or may not emerge.

      In the meantime if government can threaten to do the above then maybe the exam boards can be cajoled into actually producing harder papers?

  46. uanime5
    February 28, 2012

    John comparing selection at 18 to selection at 11-13 is farcical. At 18 a person is an adult; enabling them to choose where they wish to go for their education or even not to continue their education. Almost all 13 year olds are not capable of making such decisions.

    Grammar schools are not a viable solution. Given how much people object to having to pay for the university education of others, which resulted in university students having to pay higher levels of tuition fees, I doubt that people will be willing to have their taxes going towards giving other people’s children a better education.

    The lack of social mobility is more to do with the old boy’s network originating in public schools than any problems with comprehensives. Bringing back grammar schools will not fix this, it will just create more networks that won’t benefit most people and turn comprehensives back into sink schools.

    “More importantly they lived through 13 years of government with school selection at 11 or 13 based on parental income”

    Perhaps the best solution is to limit how much public schools can charge, so that parental income is no longer such a major factor.

    1. George
      February 29, 2012

      “old boy’s network originating in public schools” rubbish. 95% of the benefit that I got from my public school was educational + I got into a good university.

    2. rose
      February 29, 2012

      13 used to be considered the age of adulthood in the distant past. One of the things that has not served our children in modern times is retarding them morally as well as educationally, holding them back and insisting they are irresponsible children who should just have a good time, when they are capable of so much more. More than they will be as grownups when it comes to learning.

      This may have come about partly because the age of consent had to be raised in the 19th century when the prevalence of syphilis had led to younger and younger girls being procured for men by older women.

      1. Bazman
        March 3, 2012

        I have lived more than forty years and have seen life as it is. I’ve heard the singing in the taverns and the moans from the bundles of filth on the street…

  47. Sarah
    February 28, 2012

    We pay for our two boys to attend the local private school. It cost some £30,000 per annum for the two. Obviously we would rather keep this money and take holidays or drive a better car or whatever. Why then do we pay this amount to educate our children?

    Well the answer is that we want them to do well in life and have no confidence that the state school system locally will deliver. Our local primary has twenty one different first languages in its class intake of 31 students. Its SATS results are poor. There is no sport or at least not anything that most of us would recognise as sport. There is a discernible poverty of aspiration. In fact there are so many barriers erected to getting a good education that you wonder why they bother.

    The state education from which I benefitted not longer exists and yet it was my route out of my impoverished background. From there I went to a good university, read a vocational degree and entered the professions. My children are not an experiment in social engineering to lift the standards of others. They have their own way to make in a globalised world. I would rather stack shelves in a well known supermarket at night than withdraw them from their extremely good schools. I am not alone in this view.

    The reason that the top public schools send so many children to oxbridge is not because of some cosy deal with the colleges, nor because of spoonfeeding. It is because they operate an extremely selective policy of entry and take only the most academically able students they can find- usually these days from both the state and the independent sector. The more enlightened are aiming to introduce “needs blind” policies in this regard.

    1. George
      February 29, 2012

      The reason that the top public schools send so many children to oxbridge is mainly due to the better education, selection is secondary, my school was no more selective than my girlfriend’s grammar school, it did however get 10 people rather than just one person (9 and 0 if you discount observational bias) into Oxbridge that year.

      This was because, by the time the children reached 18 the general intellectual standard, and top end standard, of my school was far better, because the teaching was better and the ethos was more conducive to educational achievement.

  48. Bazman
    February 28, 2012

    What is needed is some serious social engineering. The children of middle classes often go to grammar schools as failure is not seen as normal. In working class or sub working class families. It is seen as acceptable and even encouraged. Many of these people have little respect for each other at any age standing out and social climbing is seen as sinful and treacherous. Working class unity is a myth and nothing sucks like success, except personal success, in anything. “Anyone but you”. The only thing that sucks more than personal success is luck. That is the ultimate sin. Many would kill themselves if their friends won the lottery. You only have to look at the dripping faces if a small win of luck occurs in any form. Ram it.

  49. Caterpillar
    February 28, 2012

    I don’t have evidence demanded by JReade nor deep large system understanding of RHanson, so fear permits only a two penneth mini brain storm;

    (i) Define the math/English/science part to national curriculum (probably to be called the trivium by Mr Gove) develop Khan-esque resources and make available. Surely a state wide system can achieve an economy of scale in resource development and accessability.

    {Those with own technology can access, charities can offer support, schools can use in house hopefully freeing up time for the monumental teachers who nearly kill themselves on 70 hour weeks with prep’ and marking to then be based in a badly behaved institution}.

    (ii) Explain to schools that timetabling foundational/tougher subjects next to RE dressing-up or geography colouring-in can destroy the value add opportunity of the contact time in the foundational subjects. {Its the efficeincy of the whole process that matters not that a widgets are being processed at all times, and all workstations are busy}.

    (iii) Introduce a school voucher system and free up the market (apart from zer0 support for religous/revealed knowedge schools).

    (iv) Split university attendance fee and university assessment fees. Force HEIs accepting students with tax payer underwritten loans to offer assessments to students not registered with them (e.g. study with ABC Ltd or LadyBird New but take the Cambridge Maths tripos – which is still assessment by examination not video blog).

    (v) Reduce school leaving age to an optional 14 if four GCSEs passed including maths and English (but need to allow something else instead), then allow unused school vouchers (above) to be utilised for later life learning.

    (vi) Reclaim some language. Rather than allowing schools to “select”, allow them to decide whether pupils are “ready to progress” into/with them.

    1. Rebecca Hanson
      February 29, 2012

      After long debate the school voucher system was considered to be the wrong way forward for fully established systems of education such as ours by its original proponents. This was because the cost of changeover was far too high to be viable.

      But it has been used very successfully in the way it was originally intended in developing countries. You can read about this in a book called ‘The Beautiful Tree’ by James Tooley if you’re interested.

  50. DiscoveredJoys
    February 28, 2012

    I’m talking of 50 years ago now…

    My parents moved rented accommodation to ensure that me and my brother went to a good junior school and onward to a good grammar school.

    The difference then was that the grammar school, although providing a rounded education, heavily emphasised academic achievement and the expectation of moving on to university. The nearby secondary moderns did not have the same focus – they weren’t bad schools but they had to educate children of varying abilities until they could be ‘released’ into the real world.

    If you can get comprehensives to split their attention successfully over children of varying abilities (and desires to be taught) then there is no reason why they shouldn’t feed the universities just as well. They just have a more difficult task because they are not so single minded. I suspect splitting comprehensives into academic and vocational streams might be a step in the right direction.

  51. Monty
    February 28, 2012


    ” Given how much people object to having to pay for the university education of others, which resulted in university students having to pay higher levels of tuition fees, I doubt that people will be willing to have their taxes going towards giving other people’s children a better education.”

    That is why all the parents should be issued with education vouchers, and schools should be freed from the dead hand of the state and allowed, if they wish, to select on the basis of ability. They will effectively become grammar schools. They will need no extra funding, beyond that which is given to the comprehensives. But they would be free to choose their admissions policy, and the children would know that unacceptable behaviour will get them expelled. Having something to lose, focusses the mind. One of the biggest problems in our state comprehensives, is the influence of pupils who are utterly disruptive, and the burdens imposed on schools which try to suspend or exclude them. Thus one headbanger gets to ruin the education of 29 class mates, and usually costs the school a fortune. The secondary moderns would enjoy the same right to expel.

    Which would leave a small core of chronic hell-raisers who, for whatever reason, can not be fitted into a mainstream school. Local authorities could be given a budget for special arrangements for these pupils. But most kids would rather buckle down to their school work and stay in the mainstream schools, than end up in the unit.

    About ten years ago, I spent about a year working in the secondary education system. I was appalled. And the disgusting behaviour of some of the pupils causes very real disadvantages for the rest. The activities that are now off-limits are legion. No needlework lessons because “some of these kids would cause mayhem if they had access to knitting needles, or a sewing machine, or scissors”. Same for the chemistry lab, and the biology lab, “they would throw acid at eachother and burn the school down”. No javelin, no discus, no shot putt.
    Do you want your child’s education blighted because of that constant toxic influence, day in, day out? My guess is, you don’t. Those kids with “issues” should be dealt with effectively, somewhere else. And let our schools return to the mission they were set up for in the first place.

  52. AJAX
    February 29, 2012

    Q: Why are people uncomfortable with the selection of school children, & why is the grammar school system unpopular dispite its high standards of delivery of education for those it admits?

    A: Most people are uncomfortable with the idea that a child’s formal educational fate should be decided in a arbitrary fashion by a crude hoop jumping test at an immature age, & they are also unhappy with a system that proposes to take its funding money from 100% of the population’s taxation returns but will reject 75% of that same population’s children

    The whole grammar school argument is a red herring & social relic of the past anyway,
    look to Germany’s educational system, which appears to produce much better results right the way thru the social strata

    1. AJAX
      February 29, 2012

      Quick typing errors such as ‘dispite’, etc. I trust will be viewed charitably, spellcheck is a great invention but it does encourage idleness in such things

    2. George
      February 29, 2012

      Presumably therefore you are against schools which are funded through anything other than the most local of local taxation, since a school in Leads will reject students applying from the other 99% of the country.

      Your logic might be fine for the south east when I live, great, our schools will be well funded, but I dispare for the North east which already have some of the worst which would only get worse if your logic were taken to it’s logical conclusion (Or is this a principle which you only hold to when attacking bright children, and which doesn’t apply when it might disadvantage areas which the left considers to be “their own”)

      1. George
        February 29, 2012

        Ditto quick typic errors above, I can already spot three.

    3. George
      February 29, 2012

      PS Germany’s gymnasium schools are paid for through general taxation but are not universal in their intake. You are pulling principles out of (charitably) “the air” and they are not even consistent with they other things you say.

  53. Derek Emery
    February 29, 2012

    Outside education forget equality as its not just in the Arts and sports where performance counts but everywhere in the private sector. Companies recruit the most able determined by performance at interview. Qualifications can only lead to interviews, the equivalent of becoming one runner in a line up
    “Comprehensives do not fare as well as grammars, when adjusted for the impact of selection”
    Top schools have an ethos based on effort and application. They will cover far more ground in depth determined by the dual efforts of teachers and students.
    Equally intelligent students at comprehensives will not have been stretched as much and their classes will have many who are not interested which brings down standards.
    Selection at 12 will identify the already self disciplined who work hard. These will often be students from a middle class background who have started school a year plus ahead of others in terms of interest in learning and self discipline. Studies show even in poor schools these pull even more years ahead by age 12.
    The Russell Group have the hardest courses requiring both ability and an excellent understanding in the subjects to have a chance of passing. They have not dumbed down to match ever-sinking standards at A level to maintain themselves as world recognised top research based universities.
    The drive for equality means standards have to remorselessly decline.
    An A* A level GCSE is equivalent to a fail by more than one grade at the earlier GCE standard which is why the Russell group do not see A*s as any indication of ability or preparedness.
    At Coventry University
    The scores of those who got N (a fail) in A level maths in 1991 were virtually identical to those who got a grade C in 1997. The same study revealed that 1991’s N-graders were equivalent to 1999’s B-graders
    Diagnostic testing at York
    A student with an A grade at A level in 2001 had a score on the test would have put him or her near the bottom of the cohort in 1986, and an average grade B student at A level was able to score only marginally better on the York test than could have been done by random guessing.
    A level standards in maths are dropping about one grade every two years.
    An A at GCSE years ago was equivalent to a C in GCE. You would never have been up to the work at top universities with C’s and therefore accepted for interview.

    An A* is one grade up on A but 4-5 grades downgrading over the years makes this equivalent to a fail by far more than one grade at GCE level.

    Government is requires the Russell group to dumb down courses by 3-5 grades to allow students will failure grades (A*) to enter and pass. They cannot then be considered top world research based universities and must lose their place in world tables.

  54. Monty
    February 29, 2012

    AJAX: “they are also unhappy with a system that proposes to take its funding money from 100% of the population’s taxation returns but will reject 75% of that same population’s children”

    They won’t be getting any more than the budgetary share raised from the 25% they enrol. Their children don’t need any more spent, pro rata, than the secondary modern intake, and the parents have contributed, pro rata, through their taxes.

    The parents of the remaining 75% will benefit from vouchers too. They will be in a position to shop around for the best school to meet the needs and aspirations of their child. The good schools will be able to expand, and extend their prospectus, new schools will be able to start up, and the inadequate schools will go to the wall, along with the inadequate teachers.

    Most importantly, school management will know that they have to compete, and that means re-focussing their priorities to meet the requirements of their customers, instead of their own socio-political dogmas.
    And I suspect that that is exactly what a lot of critics do not want.

  55. Andrew Johnson
    February 29, 2012

    Interesting comments with some making practical points and others concentrating on the theoretical.
    Here are some stats just from London about what is really happening in our schools.
    In some other parts of England and Wales the figures are worse.
    Let’s take some stats just from London.
    * 1 in 4 children in London leaves primary school at 11 unable to read or write properly
    * 1 in 5 leaves secondary school without being able to read or write with confidence
    * One million (or one in six) working adults in the capital cannot read with confidence.
    * Nationally, five per cent of adults in England have literacy skills either at or below the level of a seven-year-old
    * 16 per cent is the estimated proportion of 16- to 65-year-olds with the reading age of an 11-year-old. Of these, about five per cent are believed to have skills at the same level or below that of a seven-year-old
    * 40 per cent of 11-year-olds from inner-city primary schools have a reading age of between six and nine when they start secondary school
    * 40 per cent of London firms say their employees have poor literacy skills – and report that it has a negative impact on their business.
    The total spend for education in 2011 was £90.5 billion

    Now, I don’t know about you, but I wouldn’t call that success or good value for money.
    The current education system is delivering poor results at great expense, failing children every day, and limiting their life chances way before University – hence Mr Gove’s desire to introduce some change.
    I have nothing but respect and admiration for the many good teachers who work so hard within a failing educational system, but whether they like it or not they are still part of a heavily influenced Marxist statist educational monolith that has not produced the results which were promised and is fighting tooth and nail against any change, except more of the same.

  56. Lindsay McDougall
    March 2, 2012

    About 20% of people are bright enough to have some hope of getting into a managerial or high tech role; the other 80% are not. Unfortunately, there is a tendency for majorities to intimidate minorities and children can be the worst offenders. So comprehensives are unlikely to be a good breeding ground for academic excellence. The intimidation is most likely to be felt by academically gifted children of poor parents; such children are considered by their peers as having ideas above their station.

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