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August 04, 2008


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Bob B

C'mon. It was Kenneth Baker, Mrs Thatcher's education minister, who introduced the national curriculum into schools 20 years ago:

The national curriculum for schools - and the later schools league tables started in the 1990s - were introduced precisely because of mounting concerns about schooling standards in the maintained sector and about how poor schooling differentially impacted on pupils from low-income homes rather than the 6 or so per cent of pupils who attended schools in the non-maintained sector or the pupils in selective schools of the maintained sector

Sunny Jim Callagham as PM and Shirely Williams, his education minister, had raised the issue of schooling standards in 1975 but then did virtually nothing as the Labour government of the time succumbed to the developing crisis over public spending - Chart 2.1(b) in IFS Survey of Public Spending in the UK shows public spending as a percentage of GDP with a big hump in the mid 1970s as spending got out of control:

James Schneider

Educational inequalities are of course hugely important. Unfortunately, as you rightly state, targeted spending alone will not address this problem. Education inequalities exist because good schools are in good areas and bad schools are in bad areas (excuse the assault on the english language by these mass generalisations) and by the private sector. To genuinely tackle educational inequalities, rather than merely scratch the surface, then you would need to regulate where people live and shut down private schools. This is grossly illiberal. Here we have a trade off between liberty and economic efficiency on the one hand and equality on the other.

Furthermore, as you've written about so often on this blog and also in your book (which is excellent and I'm plugging it on my amazon carousel on my blog) equality of opportunity is less to do with education but more to do with typically middle class qualities (self confidence, good appearance, nice accent, aspirant parents etc). I'm afraid until we come to terms with the fact that class (in a non-conflict sense of the word) is prevalent, pervasive and important (whether we want or can do anything about it is another matter) then we will never get a sensible or useful debate about equality (of all three sorts).

P.S. Of course it's decontamination on the part of Gove. It follows on from that Observer piece yesterday (or was it the Guardian on saturday)


Why do people bang on about schools so much when discussing education?

James - "Good schools are in good areas and bad schools are in bad areas". But Chris presented evidence a while ago showing middle class kids going to inner-city schools still do well, and there are plenty of pupils in so-called good schools who leave with a poor education. The school is not a good predictor of outcome.

and Gove himself "Schools will seek to attract, and retain, parents and pupils by pro-actively selling themselves on their special qualities." This constant attempt to treat state institutions as proxy private companies is intellectual garbage. Who owns them? How does ownership change? If schools underperform how do they go bust? And how do those responsible suffer?

Surely the unit of education is the lesson, and that's about the teacher, the curriculum, the pupils. This fuzzy concept of the school is only a part of this.

Bob B

"Why do people bang on about schools so much when discussing education?"

Because, as this shows, in some local education authorities (LEAs) more than half the secondary schools are deemed failing by the standard set by the government - namely, less than 30% of pupils at 16 gain at least 5 GCSEs A*-C grades, including English and maths:

A glance at the map in that link shows that failing schools in England tend to be concentrated in relatively few LEAs.

There's much current talk in the media about the government levying another windfall tax. But shortly after coming into office in 1997, the New Labour government levied a windfall tax on the privatised utility companies to fund a New Deal for youth. Eleven years later:

"Nearly one in five UK 16 and 17-year-olds are Neets - those neither in employment, education or training - a study seen by the BBC suggests. Official figures say such youths make up 7% of their age group in England. . . "


Bob B - yes but yes but ...

I live in East Herts. Its a prosperous, pleasant, predominantly middle class area. We have 5 local Comprehensives.

Just down the road is Harlow. Its a post WWII New Town, predominantly working class, with lots of social problems. It also has 5 comprehensives.

One of these areas has no schools on the "failing" list, and one has three. Now, you don't need to know anything about the schools to know which area is the one with three failing schools.

Lets just conduct a thought experiment. If we swapped schools, so that the Harlow schools took the East Herts pupils and vice-versa, what would happen to the failing schools? Would Harlow still have three failing schools? Or would Harlow's pupils suddenly all pass their exams and East Herts' pupils fail theirs?

Its the pupils, their parents, and their home backgrounds and aspirations, not the schools.

Matt Cain

I think the only new thing is the rhetoric. He appears to be proposing school vouchers and GM schools, neither of which are 'new' Conservative thinking.

Bob B

"Its the pupils, their parents, and their home backgrounds and aspirations, not the schools."

I don't agree for reasons I've been through here before:

I live in the London Borough of Sutton, which has been consistently at or near the top of the LEA league table for England ever since league tables in their present form were launched in the early 1990s.

The borough has a cluster of outstanding maintained, selective schools some of which achieve better A-level results than Eton - two are within walking distance from where I sit writing this. But by the standards of the income distribution data for households posted for the London boroughs, Sutton's income distribution is virtually bang on the average for the London boroughs - in short, Sutton's affluence is only average for London.

Also, the percentage of the borough's population with graduate-level qualifications is above the national average but below the average for London. The borough is a relatively low spender on education by London standards. FWIW it happens that Chris Woodhead, who was famously chief inspector for schools in England when Blunkett was education secretary 1997-2001, attended one of the maintained schools within walking distance which produces better A-level results than Eton.

Try as I might, I can't from that profile of the borough conclude that the undoubted excellence of Sutton's schools is specifically due to the unusual affluence, elevated aspirations or better educational qualifications of its residents. Woodhead, from his experience in the schools inspectorate, often made the observation that: The difference between schools serving very similar catchment areas is extremely wide.

Links to the documentation supporting the statements made above have been posted here before and can be easily retrieved from archives.

Bob B

This recent BBC news report with a passing reference to schooling in the London Borough of Sutton may be of interest:

"Data from 134 of the 150 [local education] authorities was obtained by the Times Educational Supplement (TES).

"They have not been published prior to its Freedom of Information Act request.

"The figures show the biggest range of expectation [concerning educational achievement by ethnic minority pupils] relates to pupils from Pakistani families.

"In the London borough of Sutton - where expectations are generally very high - 88% of Pakistani pupils are expected to achieve at least five good GCSEs including English and maths.

"In Telford and Wrekin, in Shropshire, only 9% are expected to manage this.

"The targets for Bangladeshi pupils range from zero in Peterborough and 11% in Sunderland to 100% in Trafford. . . "

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