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December 19, 2005

Comments

dsquared

You seem to be assuming that the problems you identify would go away if we brought back the 11 plus ("selection by ability" would be lovely if this miracle of measurement could be achieved but as far as I can see your actual proposal is "selection by exam"). I don't necessarily believe this is the case.

1) In most LEAs outside big cities, there is still going to be a postcode lottery and thus still an income-selection effect. Taking a rough comprehensive and calling it a grammar school will most likely have the same effect as taking a rough comprehensive and calling it a City Academy; not nothing, but most likely not enough to give the headmaster of Eton sleepless nights.

2) If you bring back the 11 plus, you give a boost to the private sector tuition industry (that's certainly what happens in Japan for example). You end up with more or less the same income selection effect. Add in an appeals process and potentially even judicial review and the income selection is right back in the system.

And finally, you're relying a lot on a magical effect that is going to improve the educational outcomes in selective schools simply by putting a lot of bright (or at least exam-selected, which is not quite the same thing) together. Otherwise you're basically going to take money away from financing the education of kids who don't pass an exam and award it to kids who did pass an exam. Which some might see as a fairly inegalitarian thing to do.

Despite the views of a certain kind of chippy Oxbridge modern-leftist, socialism isn't just there for the bright kids.

PS: The actual paper notes that the effect on house prices is actually generated almost entirely by the top 10% of state schools. (That is, the top 10% of schools in Reading; there is decent reason to believe that there will be a lot of local factors at work which might differ greatly in areas that aren't much like Reading).

Ken

Of course, The Rise of the Meritocracy also worried about how a "meritocracy" would form that created a separate class that pulled up the ladder and guaranteed special privileges for itself. The stratification of secondary schooling that you mention seems to be a classic idea of how the meritocracy is getting its hold.

http://www.guardian.co.uk/comment/story/0,3604,514207,00.html
http://www.slate.com/id/2060586/

Jonathan

'why should children be denied such benefits simply because of the accident of their birth?'- Walzer above

Step off your tower and tell us your recommendations for action? Presumably it would involve some more state fiddling to reach an unrealisable goal of identical education at all locations across the country. This is more readily achievable by reducing standards than raising them (ooh hang on, polys now universities, A levels for morons etc think Im not the first with this great new state plan) which only benefits 'stupid middle class' who apparently live on fancy management speak alone.

Rather than arguing over which statist policy is needed, shouldnt one ask do we need a state or their solutions in the first place bar the minimal provision of law and order?

chris

Jonathan - my recommendation for action would be to implement a version of the Texas 10% law:
http://stumblingandmumbling.typepad.com/stumbling_and_mumbling/2004/11/a_texan_offa.html
This would, in effect, equalize exam results across schools, thus reducing the handicap faced by bright students at bad schools.
It would be interesting to compare the relative merits of this with a school voucher scheme. Could the two work together, or are they mutually exclusive.
This, of course, assumes we need to act. As I said, I'm not sure that inequality of opportunity is such a bad thing.

John East

Dsquared,
What ideology enables you to hold counter intuitive notions such as,

"you're relying a lot on a magical effect that is going to improve the educational outcomes in selective schools simply by putting a lot of bright (or at least exam-selected, which is not quite the same thing) together."

So lets get this straight, people who pass exams are not bright, and it’s better to teach groups of students of different ability together so that the bright can be held back and the dim can fall behind. Hmm.

And then we get,

"...you're basically going to take money away from financing the education of kids who don't pass an exam and award it to kids who did pass an exam."

Who has ever suggested this? In fact, I would suggest that more resources could be allocated to the teaching of dim students because they are often more difficult to teach.

I think I can guess what the ideology is that enables you to hold your views, it’s socialist dogma. It must be acutely embarrassing holding such views, witnessing their adoption over the last 40 years, and seeing the resulting decreased social mobility, falling educational standards, and increased illiteracy. Even the watering down of standards is failing to conceal the disaster which has unfolded.

dsquared

[So lets get this straight, people who pass exams are not bright, and it’s better to teach groups of students of different ability together ]

This is a completely different argument. It is perfectly possible to teach students of the same ability together; it's called "streaming" and we had it in my comprehensive school. It doesn't need to be associated with either the assumption that someone who is good at maths must also be "bright" in languages, or the social segregation of the "bright" from the "dim". And it also has the advantage that you don't need to make a once-and-for-all decision on whether to label a child "bright" or "dim" at the age of 11.

If you really thought that educating bright children separately was going to deliver massive educational improvements then I don't see why you would think that the best way to deliver this goal was the 11-plus.

[It must be acutely embarrassing holding such views, witnessing their adoption over the last 40 years, and seeing the resulting decreased social mobility, falling educational standards, and increased illiteracy]

Social mobility is greater than it was in 1965 (it has actually only been falling for the last ten years), literacy has shown little or no trend and "educational standards" have improved, particularly for the large middle group of children who are neither "bright" nor "dim". The "disaster" of which you speak has not occurred, the "watering down of standards" is a creation of the Daily Mail, and the only thing I find "embarrassing" is that so many people like you would rather chuck around accusations of "socialist dogma" than have a look at the data.

By the way, I would still like to see it proved that "income selection" is worse under the comprehensive system than under the old "Secondary Modern System" (I think it was Matthew Turner that pointed out that calling it the "Grammar School System" is incredibly misleading)

Shuggy

"the "watering down of standards" is a creation of the Daily Mail"

If you ever had the misfortune to attend a markers' meeting, I think you'd change your mind about that. And if you looked at the style of examination papers in practically every subject today compared with even 10 years ago, I think you'll find that the trend towards fragmentation, skills-based questions and the elimination of extended writing is an almost universal phenomenon.

The question you raise about income selection and grammar schools is an interesting one - I'm wondering why comparisons with Northern Ireland aren't made more often because they still have the 11 plus, as I understand.

Mark T

This is all a huge red herring. The Education reforms would not so much generate selection of pupils in the first place as allow better education within schools, starting with the end to the nonesense of mixed ability classes whereby bright children are left to their own devices while the worst and most disruptive get all the attention. The failure of state education is as much to do with the internal restrictions as anything else. The Educationalists, Bureacrats and teachers unions are throwing down the 11 plus as a smokescreen to distract from the abject failure of current policies and protect their own monopoly on provision of education

Illyrian

City Academies will in many cases have to show a balance of student from each quintile of an 11 plus -- kids will have to sit them even where there aren't grammar schools -- but will be free to pick the top students from each quintile. The exam is not universal so the sample is already biased. The Academy is given every incentive to behave this way.

The more interesting criticism of the White paper from the Prescott/Morris camp is that it relies on having 40,000 excellent leaders. All "choice" based approaches suffer from problems of propagating success and offer little in the way of parental choice.

dsquared

The question you raise about income selection and grammar schools is an interesting one - I'm wondering why comparisons with Northern Ireland aren't made more often because they still have the 11 plus, as I understand.

Scotland would be the more obvious comparison since there isn't the church school issue there and the population looks more nearly like that of England & Wales in ethnic terms.

the trend towards fragmentation, skills-based questions and the elimination of extended writing

I'm seeing here changes in the style of questions to allow pupils to demonstrate what they know more easily. This isn't a reduction in educational standards; it's a removal of artificial obstacles to demonstrating knowledge.

Shuggy

"I'm seeing here changes in the style of questions to allow pupils to demonstrate what they know more easily."

I'm bearing in mind that the Scottish system, from which my experience is drawn, is different from that in England and Wales. I'm not completely opposed to the skills-based element in our equivalent of GCSEs but it doesn't demonstrate what the pupils know because it isn't designed to test knowledge, only skills.

In my own subject, the problem with this element is a) it's too large - it accounts for 60% of the course b) it is at a pointlessly high level of abstraction for the less able kids c) the course has only one question requiring a piece of extended writing - and I think most university lecturers would argue that this has had a detrimental effect on the quality of under-graduate essay presentation.

Shuggy

"Scotland would be the more obvious comparison since there isn't the church school issue there and the population looks more nearly like that of England & Wales in ethnic terms."

Forgot to add - we have no equivalent of C of E schools here but we have a sectarian divide. This part of Scotland looks more like Belfast, rather than England and Wales, in 'ethnic terms'.

Kevin

Our host's closing comments above remind me of Hoggart's "The Uses of Literacy", a wonderful book that shows that (1) other people have made that difficult journey and (2) it is a journey worth making: there are absolute standards, and they do enrich life (your guitar is either in tune or it isn't). Ironically, the after-effects of the experiments introduced by well-meaning politicians like the late Tony Crosland seem to be making it more difficult for some people to embark on that journey, and have obscured the destination.

John East

Dsquared, there you go again with your counter intuitive thinking,

"I'm seeing here changes in the style of questions to allow pupils to demonstrate what they know more easily. This isn't a reduction in educational standards; it's a removal of artificial obstacles to demonstrating knowledge."

So, skills needed for life such as numeracy, literacy, communication, presentation etc. are irrelevant. It's what you know that counts.

Welcome to the world of multiple choice. Grunt once for yes and grunt twice for no.

dsquared

[So, skills needed for life such as numeracy, literacy, communication, presentation etc. are irrelevant. It's what you know that counts.]

This is the exact opposite of what I said. I was defending "skills-based questions" against questions which rely on the regurgitation of facts. Shuggy was, quite coherently, making the case for extended writing as a necessary component of assessment; I don't think this is as important as he does, particularly at GCSE level but we were having a civilised argument about it. I don't know why you decided to have a mini-rant of your own about multiple choice questions.

Dander

This all sounds like it's getting very heated. I don't think any one posting on this blog differs in their goals - an education system that equips people to make a meaningful fist of their lives/talents.

What the posts show is that we are hopelessly lost about what policies might achieve these goals.

For all the talk about state provision, teacher interests, declining standards, etc, we should never overlook GIGO - GARBAGE IN, GARBAGE OUT.

Don't expect schools to perform miracles of redemption and reform. After all, prisons can't.

Illyrian

[Don't expect schools to perform miracles of redemption and reform. After all, prisons can't.]

But they can, have and in some places do achieve much more than is normal now. I don't think that is currently the binding constraint.

John East

Dsquared,
Twice I criticised exact quotes of yours and twice you’ve claimed that you didn’t mean what you said. Maybe if you had spent more time writing essays at your comprehensive rather than just ticking boxes you could express yourself more clearly.

Your educational theory won the arguments in the 1960’s, was tested, and has now been found wanting by an increasing number of observers able to judge by results and not by theory. Even Tony Blair and Ruth Kelly are sufficiently uncomfortable to admit the system needs changing and trendy teaching fashions are being reviewed or scrapped.

Your allies in government now only number some leftie back benchers, and John Prescott. Personally, I’d look long and hard at any policy that I had in common with a moronic, buffoon like him.

The times they are a changin’ and I don’t think you’re on the winning side.

Shuggy

"Even Tony Blair and Ruth Kelly are sufficiently uncomfortable to admit the system needs changing and trendy teaching fashions are being reviewed or scrapped."

I think putting the notion of 'trendy methods' and the structure of the school system together is conflating two different issues. One could, I presume, teach in a grammar school with classes all streamed according to ability and then go on to use a method of teaching and/or assessment that would be completely innapropriate.

My own experience is that the method one chooses has nothing to do with fashion but is rather the one most likely to facilitate order, without which no teaching or learning can take place.

It's a highly unsatisfactory state of affairs as far as I'm concerned but I fail to see how allowing this competition between schools helps to ameliorate this - from what I've seen of school closures and amalgamations with supposedly well-run schools would suggest it does the opposite.

dsquared

[Twice I criticised exact quotes of yours and twice you’ve claimed that you didn’t mean what you said.]

Well, it looks like one of us might be a moron then.

[ Maybe if you had spent more time writing essays at your comprehensive rather than just ticking boxes you could express yourself more clearly. ]

Maybe, but since my flaws were not picked up by Oxford University, the London Business School or a ten year career writing for a living, they're probably here to stay by now.

[Your educational theory]

Ah, we have an answer to our question. Recall that we were wondering whether the problem was my inability to express myself clearly, or your tendency to ignore what was in front of you and argue against straw men of your own creation. Since I have not expressed an education theory, the evidence is piling up for the second possibility. Shuggy understands this perfectly so I think the case is conclusive. The fact that you seem incapable of sustaining a dialogue about your own views but prefer to selectively excerpt things and have a mini-rant of your own is probably a separate problem.

Personally my actual view on education (as distinct from John's straw man view) is that the correct model is the French one; what is needed is vastly more Taylorisation so that the quality of teaching is less dependent on assuming the availability of genuinely talented teachers. In practical terms, that means much more mindless rote learning, although I do not at present have a theory of how we are going to keep the little dears in the schools to do it.

John East

Shuggy,
When you say,

“I think putting the notion of 'trendy methods' and the structure of the school system together is conflating two different issues.”

You are of course correct, these are two different things, but if we want to improve education then both must be tackled.

I think that the structures, be it grammar schools, city academies etc., whilst important, are less important than the whole ethos of the system and the teaching methods employed. The politicians have repeatedly tinkered and fiddled with structures over the last 50 years, but generally left the self appointed experts, the educational establishment and the town hall bureaucracies, to introduce their unproven methods, often with little or no field trials, and we are now seeing the consequences. Things got so bad that rather than face up to their mistakes, those responsible for degrading the system have been forced to attack examinations, trying to eliminate, change or dumb down testing to cover up their failure. Those who ignore the statements of many employers and universities confirming the increases in illiteracy and innumeracy of the output of the educational system are only deluding themselves.

Of course, so much else has to be looked at in society as a whole such as willingness to accept discipline, lack of ambition or self motivation, parental attitudes etc.

And what are our politicians doing? Currently they are locked in a pathetic little ideological squabble whether our bright children should or shouldn't be given access to a good education, with the current government arguing, "Oh no we can't do this because it will benefit the middle classes."

Paddy Carter

game set and match dquared!

(I still think your barking mad re. our spat over Pinter. Abstract assertion with no way of testing against empirical reality. Honestly. Barking.)

John East

Dsquared,
So, you would support the introduction of the French system in the UK? It is very easy to gaze admiringly at foreign institutions as a panacea, but whilst their highly centralised system, with its expectation that one will move from local primary to local secondary might work for the French, transfering it to the UK would leave us with something very similar to what we now have.

Except we might be even more at the mercy of the snake oil salesmen since the French don't publish league tables.

A bit pointless really.

krish

I think that the structures, be it grammar schools, city academies etc., whilst important, are less important than the whole ethos of the system and the teaching methods employed. The politicians have repeatedly tinkered and fiddled with structures over the last 50 years, but generally left the self appointed experts, the educational establishment and the town hall bureaucracies, to introduce their unproven methods, often with little or no field trials, and we are now seeing the consequences. Things got so bad that rather than face up to their mistakes, those responsible for degrading the system have been forced to attack examinations, trying to eliminate, change or dumb down testing to cover up their failure. Those who ignore the statements of many employers and universities confirming the increases in illiteracy and innumeracy of the output of the educational system are only deluding themselves.
A bit pointless really.

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