Schools Minister gives masterclass in how to use research selectively

Janet Downs's picture
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“International comparisons can be instructive if used properly - but, on this too, England is lagging behind,” reported the TES . “The greatest danger is when international evidence is used to fit ideological positions”.

This site is full of examples of the Government distorting data and cherry-picking quotes from research, especially when it comes from the Organisation of Economic Co-operation and Development (OECD), to match its ideological position and push forward its educational policies. At the same time the Government ignores most of the useful conclusions that the OECD makes. Nick Gibb gave a masterclass in the uses and abuses of OECD data in a speech to the Reform-AQA conference .

Once again Mr Gibb used the discounted OECD 2000 UK figures to say that the UK had dropped down PISA international rankings. He knows the OECD has said these figures should not be used for comparison. Of course, he didn’t mention the year 2000 but these were the figures he used.

He boasted about how floor standards had been raised as if the lifting the bar is enough to increase exam grades. But Mr Gibb has ignored OECD comments about the undue emphasis on test scores in England and how this could lead to teaching to the test and a downgrading in skills that can’t be easily measured (OECD Economic Survey UK 2011).

Mr Gibb rightly deplored the poor performance of UK disadvantaged pupils but didn’t mention that these pupils could best be helped by following OECD suggestions: spending more time teaching a subject and using appropriate teaching methods. Instead, Mr Gibb cited the poor performance of disadvantaged pupils as being the driver of the Government’s “radical reforms”. These include free schools and academy conversions but the OECD, while agreeing that this policy could increase user choice, said the strategy should be closely monitored in case it further disadvantages the already disadvantaged. Again, the Government ignores this caveat.

Mr Gibb talked about the importance of high-quality teachers and teacher training. But he didn’t say that the Government allows free schools to employ unqualified teachers (so it can’t be that important, can it?). And Mr Gibb’s assertion that “research overwhelmingly shows that the most effective method of teaching children to read is systematic synthetic phonics” draw this response from Professor Colin Richards

“Following their specialist training ("Inspectors will be trained to spot classroom extremists", 10 June), will inspectors be able to distinguish between would-be jihadi teachers promoting terrorism and wide-eyed extremist teachers promoting synthetic phonics? Once spotted by a vigilant Ofsted team, will both Ayman al-Zawahiri and Nick Gibb be banned from English classrooms?”

I’ll second that and add Mr Gove to the list.
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Comments

Andrew Old's picture
Tue, 19/07/2011 - 17:59

Your link to Professor Colin Richards doesn't seem to be working. It's a shame really as I don't see how anyone could deny that “research overwhelmingly shows that the most effective method of teaching children to read is systematic synthetic phonics".

Andrew Old's picture
Tue, 19/07/2011 - 18:09

Oh hang on, that abuse at the end of your post *is* his comment.

Don't know who that shows in the worse light, him for being abusive, or you for repeating his abuse after giving a lecture about paying attention to evidence.

Janet Downs's picture
Tue, 19/07/2011 - 18:45

Andrew - below are links to a selection of articles re synthetic phonics, some for, some against (including two contradictory opinions from Ofsted). If these are insufficient to show the controversy over synthetic phonics then just search the TES website for "synthetic phonics" for more.

http://www.tes.co.uk/article.aspx?storycode=6086551

http://www.tes.co.uk/article.aspx?storycode=6076745

http://www.tes.co.uk/article.aspx?storycode=6075467

http://www.tes.co.uk/article.aspx?storycode=6076745

http://www.tes.co.uk/article.aspx?storycode=6069289

http://www.tes.co.uk/article.aspx?storycode=6087653

http://www.tes.co.uk/article.aspx?storycode=6063585

And here is the link to Professor Richards' response which, as you astutely noticed, I had given in full (I think the quotation marks gave it away).

http://www.tes.co.uk/article.aspx?storycode=6088624

Allan Beavis's picture
Tue, 19/07/2011 - 19:02

You protest too much - I don't think anyone is being abusive here. Robust yes, perhaps. Attempting to cast an unflattering light on people who actually don't deserve it in the first place actually reflects rather badly on you.

Keith Turvey's picture
Tue, 19/07/2011 - 20:21

UKLA contest that “research overwhelmingly shows that the most effective method of teaching children to read is systematic synthetic phonics”.

Keith Turvey's picture
Tue, 19/07/2011 - 20:26

There's also a useful article here that looks at the history of this debate regarding synthetic phonics:

http://www.brighton.ac.uk/education/research/red/REd_Vol_2_No_1_online.pdf

See the article by Dombey.

Janet Downs's picture
Wed, 20/07/2011 - 07:30

Thanks, Keith, Professor Dombey's article is an important and informed contribution to the synthetic phonics debate and it should be required reading for education ministers. However, my mention of synthetic phonics in the list of examples of Nick Gibb's selective use of research was not to stimulate debate about this system but to show that Mr Gibb and the DfE have chosen to ignore all the arguments surrounding this system. Instead, they cite only that research which confirms the Government's blind allegiance to one system of teaching reading over others. Even an independent cross-party group of MPs has expressed concern about the Government's promotion of this system, especially as it will become mandatory.

http://www.localschoolsnetwork.org.uk/2011/07/%e2%80%9cschools-should-be...

And it should be remembered that the only primary literacy adviser on the national curriculum review committee is one who has a business interest in selling phonics materials to schools and the only two primary heads have proclaimed support for this system.

http://www.tes.co.uk/article.aspx?storycode=6086551

Andrew Old's picture
Wed, 20/07/2011 - 16:10

Somewhat amusing to see how people go from talking about "evidence" to posting links to opinion pieces and theories.

Allan Beavis's picture
Wed, 20/07/2011 - 16:38

Well at least Janet, who actually can be relied upon to show evidence for much of what she says, has taken the time to offer a series of articles which would help build up a more complete picture of the issue of synthetic phonics. All you have done is sneer unhelpfully from the sidelines

Janet Downs's picture
Wed, 20/07/2011 - 16:55

Andrew - the links to the copious amount of "opinion pieces and theories" was to show evidence that the use of synthetic phonics was contested. Nick Gibb speaks as if the argument is over and has been proved conclusively by overwhelming research. It hasn't been and the numerous links demonstrated that. These links were not provided to "prove" the efficacy of synthetic phonics one way or the other, but to show that the area is full of contention. In fact, the all-party committee reporting on the Inquiry into Overcoming the Barriers to Literacy reminded Mr Gibb that there as "no one way to teach reading and so a single focus on systematic synthetic phonics is a false one." That was the MPs conclusion based on evidence, but Mr Gibb is ignoring it and the rest of the good advice that the MPs put in their report.

http://www.educationappg.org.uk/wp-content/uploads/2011/07/APPG-for-Educ...

If, however, you want evidence about the efficacy or otherwise of phonics teaching as the sole method of teaching reading, then I would recommend the link to Professor Dombey's article cited in Keith's post.

Andrew Old's picture
Wed, 20/07/2011 - 17:18

The point is that when commenting on the opinions of ministers, you challenge whether they are supported by the evidence. On the issue of phonics, however, you seem quite happy to act as if it doesn't matter what the evidence shows, and are condemning ministers for listening to the evidence rather than to all opinions no matter how unsupported by evidence they are.

Do you understand the contradiction here?

Keith Turvey's picture
Wed, 20/07/2011 - 17:29

Have you read the Dombey article? It contains plenty of references to peer-reviewed evidence in the reference list at the end. I posted it only in response to your assertion that:

'I don’t see how anyone could deny that “research overwhelmingly shows that the most effective method of teaching children to read is systematic synthetic phonics”'

Your assertion shows two things:

1. You don't appear to know very much at all about the subject as there are plenty of people who contest approaches based solely on emphasising synthetic phonics as some kind of complete solution to learning to read. Your assertion belies your ignorance;

2. All you seem to be able to offer is forcefully stated opinion, which you assert on numerous forums in the belief that somehow repeating it makes it true.

Andrew Old's picture
Wed, 20/07/2011 - 17:36

Have you read the Dombey article? The only mention I found of the empirical evidence for or against phonics (rather than theoretical perspectives) is the following brief comment:

"A vast amount of research in the first seventy years of the last
century was devoted to proving the superiority of each of these two
approaches, with Chall’s survey and others coming down in favour of
phonics over the whole word approach (1967)."

This is then rejected on the basis of a *theoretical* argument.

Keith Turvey's picture
Wed, 20/07/2011 - 17:50

Yes I have read the Dombey article so many times I forget as I edited it. What about this evidence:

Of course, this uni-directional conception of reading conflicts with the work on visual perception cited above. It has also recently been called into question by studies of ‘brain traffic’ (Destexhe, 2000; Sherman and Guillery, 2006). Studies of the traffic between the cortex and the thalamus have revealed that messages proceeding from the thalamus (which, in the classical view acts as a transit station for sensory data from visual, aural and touch receptors) upwards to the cortex (where higher mental activity takes place) are outnumbered ten to one by messages in the opposite direction (Destexhe, 2000; Sherman and Guillery, 2006). So the higher mental processes appear to be informing those lower in the hierarchy. Destexhe claims that the cortical connections may predict the sensory information, so that expectations complement limited incoming sense-data.

Those intimately involved in research understand that the term 'evidence' is also problemmatic as the link between cause and effect in the social sciences is even more difficult to prove 100% than it is in the pure sciences. However, the above paragraph gets pretty damn close to cause an effect in terms of the way in which higher mental functions appear to inform lower.

There is appropriately and informatively weighed evidence throughout this article. I suggest you read it all several times before you start selecting bits from it.

Keith Turvey's picture
Wed, 20/07/2011 - 18:09

Interesting stuff Janet. Wouldn't surprise me if synthetic phonics is advertised in The Sun:)

Andrew Old's picture
Wed, 20/07/2011 - 18:19

You now appear to be arguing for teaching in line with theories of the brain rather than in line with empirical evidence (which you characterise as "problematic). Do you understand why, whatever the benefits of that approach, it's hardly consistent with the point at issue, which is whether the evidence supports phonics?

Keith Turvey's picture
Wed, 20/07/2011 - 18:45

This is the evidence:

Studies of the traffic between the cortex and the thalamus have revealed that messages proceeding from the thalamus (which, in the classical view acts as a transit station for sensory data from visual, aural and touch receptors) upwards to the cortex (where higher mental activity takes place) are outnumbered ten to one by messages in the opposite direction (Destexhe, 2000; Sherman and Guillery, 2006).

Of course extrapolating from this that 'higher mental processes appear to be informing those lower in the hierarchy' involves an element of theoretical reasoning based upon the evidence of traffic flow; this is why Dombey uses the word 'appear'.

Yes I'll accept evidence of 'brain traffic' if it informs our understanding of phenomena and is scientifically valid as one would assume this is, due to it being peer-reviewed. The point at issue is not whether the evidence supports phonics? You have offered no evidence whatsoever to support this argument, only opinion and rhetoric. The Dombey article also states clearly that both whole word, and synthetic phonics approaches are problemmatic so you clearly haven't fully understood the arguments being made.

The point at issue is the selective use of research by schools ministers. This is why I posted the link to the Dombey article as it is a lesson in balanced, evidence-informed debate on the issue of learning to read.

Andrew Old's picture
Wed, 20/07/2011 - 19:11

This is getting ridiculous now. The "theoretical reasoning" is not some slight side issue here, it is a massive leap into very speculative theory to draw any conclusions at all about the most effective method to learn reading from what are very general statements about the brain. This is a purely theoretical argument and not evidence-based at all.

You also appear to be engaged in the shifting of the burden of evidence. In calling for me to show the evidence that Janet is wrong, are you admitting that the lack of evidence showing she is right is not an issue? Because that would simply confirm my point: the standards she applies to ministers do not apply to her.

Keith Turvey's picture
Wed, 20/07/2011 - 19:42

No you're absolutely right, the 'theoretical reasoning' is central and has been for thousands of years as the big ontological debates in philosophy atest. Ontologically many supposedly absolute truths can be theoretically contested and others have been empirically contested over time. All evidence should and can be contested. You contested that:

" I don’t see how anyone could deny that “research overwhelmingly shows that the most effective method of teaching children to read is systematic synthetic phonics”.

However, you have offered no evidence to support your assertion whereas others here have offered various degrees of evidence that there are plenty of informed people who have very good reason to contest this assertion regarding the presumed superiority of synthetic phonics as the only and most effective method to teach children to read. I don't presume to offer the teaching profession the answer or the best way to teach children to read. I've used a range of approaches throughout my career and varied the approach according to the children I've taught and my professional judgement based upon my knowledge of the advantages and disadvantages of different approaches as informed by theory and research. Some children clearly needed strategies for tackling unfamiliar vocabulary whereas others would have been patronised and bored by such an approach like the six-year-old who once said 'Mr Turvey I've got a dilemma. I don't know which colour card to use.'

The problem as Janet has pointed out (though she doesn't need me to defend her) is that politicians should not be advocating one method over another. It is a question of profession, informed judgement and not political ideology.

Keith Turvey's picture
Wed, 20/07/2011 - 19:48

BTW it's kind of you to try and offer some kind of analysis of my debating strategies but about the main issues regarding the assertion you made?

Andrew Old's picture
Wed, 20/07/2011 - 20:02

Again, you seem to be confusing opinions, theories and evidence.

I understand that you may not believe in the importance of evidence, but can you at least acknowledge that the point at issue was about evidence? I find your demands that I prove my point very confusing when they are embedded in a comment that suggests you have no understanding as to what my point is.

Keith Dunlop's picture
Wed, 20/07/2011 - 20:17

Andrew Old

My God man! You are one tiresome asshole. Get a life and let people who have a brain question what needs to be challenged

Keith Turvey's picture
Wed, 20/07/2011 - 20:20

Oh but I do. Evidence is vital. But it's often not absolute. Therefore it's important to understand the validity and limitations of the evidence provided in one's arguments and understand where evidence, theory and opinion intersect. Janet's article clearly exposes the contradictions and flaws in government and more specifically Nick Gibb's arguments which are unreliable and show a poor understanding of where evidence, theory and, in his case, ideology intersect. Contrast Gibb's speech to Reform-AQA conference http://www.education.gov.uk/inthenews/speeches/a00191704/nick-gibbs-spee... with Dombey's article which clearly demonstrates someone who knows the evidence base and understands where this overlaps with theory and opinion.

Andrew Old's picture
Wed, 20/07/2011 - 20:33

The point about Janet's article is that it then goes on to attack the same minister for *following* the evidence. Do you understand how this is inconsistent?

As for Dombey's article, I quoted the only acknowledgment I could find of any evidence base earlier and it was one reference to a book from 44 years ago and immediately dismissed for little reason. John Hattie's 2009 book "Visible Learning" refers to the existence of 14 meta-analyses, covering 452 studies, and measuring 5968 effect sizes for phonics instruction. I don't think Dombey can fairly be described as in any way whatsoever acknowledging the extent of this research base.

Keith Dunlop's picture
Wed, 20/07/2011 - 20:49

Andrew Old

You mention on your sad little blog that you get off on arguing with stupid people on the internet, so I am guessing you like arguing with yourself, which is kind of what you are doing here. Its like you are so angry and scared that people are seeing through the way governments distort the truth to spin their dubious ideologies that you have to throw up a whole crateful of diversionary arguments and petty mockery in an attempt to drown out intelligent dissent and challenges to the party line. If anyone is stupid here, it is you for being so blinkered that you lack the intelligence and curiosity to understand the deeper motives of why politicians say what they do. You are the worst kind of denialist and one that presumes his own intellectual superiority. it would be ridiculous if it weren"t so pathetic.

Keith Turvey's picture
Wed, 20/07/2011 - 21:15

Yes it does appear to be an extensive study but not just of phonics. It looks at achievement across a number of domains and not just reading. Within reading it doesn't just look at phonics. It provides some evidence that phonics is more effective than some other approaches but according to the review I accessed it claimed that 'there is much support for the five pillars of good reading instruction: phonemic awareness, phonics, fluency, vocabulary and comprehension – and attending to all is far more important than whether the program teaches one of the five as opposed to another.' This of course is just a selection of 'evidence' I have found for the source you gave me (I can't access the whole book) so I'm not going to make any theoretical leaps of faith based on this. If this review were to be accurate and bearing in mind the caveats Hattie enters in the introduction to his book I'd still adopt a mixed methods approach to the teaching of reading based upon my professional judgement and the needs of the children.

Andrew Old's picture
Wed, 20/07/2011 - 21:37

You appear to have misunderstood. I am not going to play the game of selectively quoting sources. If you are unaware of the evidence on phonics that is your problem not mine, I only ask that people who form opinions in the absence of evidence refrain from criticising others for doing the same. I quoted Hattie merely to indicate the scale of the research so as to demonstrate that Dowbey clearly did not adequately acknowledge the evidence base.

Mark Evans's picture
Wed, 20/07/2011 - 22:01

Hattie's effect size of cohens d=0.6 for "phonic instruction" looks pretty emphatic to me. Based on 425 studies involving 12,124 people, the reported effect size puts it above direct instruction and socioeconomic status in terms of it's impact on achievement.
I would like to see a sizeable research base quoted that dismissed it based on alleged lack of effectiveness.

Keith Turvey's picture
Wed, 20/07/2011 - 21:55

I don't profess to know the whole evidence base on phonics and doubt very much whether you do. Dombey also didn't attempt to cover the whole base in her short article and acknowledges this. You say:

"I quoted Hattie merely to indicate the scale of the research so as to demonstrate..."

So you 'selected' a quote or referred indirectly to a source - Hattie - to 'demonstrate.' So are you demonstrating with 'evidence,' opinion...theory or what?

You are now arguing with yourself and contradicting yourself within the same short post. You referred us to Hattie to make a point. Either stick to theory and opinion and know the limits or draw on research but don't then try and deny you're selectively using sources.

Andrew Old's picture
Wed, 20/07/2011 - 21:55

Oooh, your "all party committee" is not so much a committee as aspecial interest group:

http://adamcollyer.wordpress.com/2011/07/07/special-pleading-appears-in-...

Interesting background (not that I'm endorsing any of the views in that blog more generally).

Andrew Old's picture
Wed, 20/07/2011 - 22:02

Keith T.

Sorry, I thought I was perfectly clear.

I did not "refer you to Hattie" I just gave it as a source for the numbers I quoted. I quoted the numbers in order to show that the actual size of the evidence base was so far beyond what Dombrey describes as to disprove the claim that Dombrey's article "clearly demonstrates someone who knows the evidence base".

Keith Turvey's picture
Wed, 20/07/2011 - 22:27

I don't disagree Mark but I'd still want to know how they controlled for different variables and any inter-rater reliability measures as I'm presuming such a large sample employed a team of researchers.

This thread hasn't been about denying the importance of phonics in the teaching of reading. I'd happily contrast the snippets of Hattie's book that I've been able to access - thanks to Andrew Old's 'reference' - with Gibb's speech to highlight the poor quality of debate and 'evidence' in the latter.

Keith Turvey's picture
Thu, 21/07/2011 - 07:43

Mark also, although meta-analysis is not a method I have experience of, according to the literature there are a number of pitfalls such as amplifying the inadequacies in the original data sets used or lack of precision or reliability in the coding of categories. Where did you get the data from of the ES cohens d=0.6? Is it freely available as I'd like to follow this up?

Janet Downs's picture
Thu, 21/07/2011 - 07:52

The thread has become a discussion about synthetic phonics rather than dealing with the main issue: the use and abuse of data by ministers, and the refusal to consider any research (even from the OECD) which does not tally with the party line. I will spell out again my reason for mentioning synthetic phonics:

1 Nick Gibb said that there was overwhelming research supporting synthetic phonics as the best way to teach reading.
2 However, this is an area of controversy - the research is not overwhelmingly supportive of just one side. There is a forest fire burning around this issue (as this thread has shown) but Mr Gibb acts as if his fingers are in his ears and he's singing "La, la, la, can't hear you if you don't agree with me."
3 I have provided evidence that this issue is controversial by giving links to some of the many articles giving both sides in the Times Ed Supplement.

It was the controversy I was highlighting - a controversy that Nick Gibb denies. But controversy there is, and I have shown this with evidence. There is no contradiction here in my stance - I was demonstrating with evidence that a contentious topic exists around which a furious argument is raging, yet Mr Gibb was speaking as if a conclusion had been reached. It hasn't.

Andrew Old's picture
Thu, 21/07/2011 - 08:40

Sorry, but the contradiction is still there. You are simultaneously claiming that Nick Gibb is wrong in one case because he has an opinion which is not properly supported by evidence, but in another case you claim Nick Gibb is wrong because he has acknowledged only the evidence and ignored the unsuppported opinions. Damned if you do; damned if you don't.

You can't have it both ways. Can you not see the contradiction? He may be cherry-picking research, but you appear to be cherry-picking your principles. What do you think he should actually go with, opinions or evidence?

Janet Downs's picture
Thu, 21/07/2011 - 09:41

Nick Gibb hasn't fully looked at the evidence - that is my point. And you're right - he has cherry-picked his research. I'm glad we agree on that.

Andrew Old's picture
Thu, 21/07/2011 - 09:50

Now I don't even know which issue you are talking about. Presumably it isn't phonics because you have already attacked him for looking at the evidence rather than the controversy. Or are you just trying to be so ambiguous that it is hard to tell whether you are still contradicting yourself or not?

Janet Downs's picture
Thu, 21/07/2011 - 09:43

It seems that my concerns about the Government’s use of statistics is shared by Lord Low of Dalston “they [Government ministers] make great play of the fact that the UK is declining by reference to international comparisons of performance, but the Government's use of the OECD's so-called PISA rankings has been criticised. The number of countries included in that survey doubled between 2000 and 2009, with an obvious impact on rankings. You can get the UK up as high as 8th or as low as 36th if you try, depending on how you manipulate the statistics. While the emphasis on outcomes and international comparisons in relation to schools' participation in surveys and Ofqual's objectives is welcome, we will need to watch the Government's presentation of them like a hawk if we are to have a true accounting of the success of their education policies.”

http://www.publications.parliament.uk/pa/ld201011/ldhansrd/text/110614-0...

Janet Downs's picture
Thu, 21/07/2011 - 10:17

Baroness Jones of Whitchurch also shares my concerns about the ambiguity of the government’s stance on trained teachers: “What message does it send to parents and teachers about the importance of professional standards when the Government make it clear that free schools will not be required to employ qualified teachers? Surely, parents should be able to choose the best school for their child, safe in the knowledge that all publicly funded schools will employ teachers with relevant training and qualifications?”

http://www.publications.parliament.uk/pa/ld201011/ldhansrd/text/110614-0...

O. Spencer's picture
Thu, 21/07/2011 - 10:34

Out of interest has there been any noise from the proposed free schools about who exactly they are seeking to employ if not qualified teachers? I haven't heard much from the horses mouth, only from critics. Will they just be any old graduate, school leaver, career-changer? Would a free school manage to attract as many applications if parents knew a lot of the teaching wasn't done by qualified teachers (this has parallels to many university courses where 'teaching' is undertaken by PhD students and this really riles students)

Are Teach First graduates counted as qualified teachers as I believe they do not complete the PGCE but instead have an intensive 'crash' course over the summer?

Allan Beavis's picture
Thu, 21/07/2011 - 11:28

Difficult for stand-alone free school proposers to say who exactly they have on their teaching staff - qualified or otherwise - when they have no business plan, no premises, no governance, no curriculum, no funding agreement.

The danger is that they will place the responsibility into the hands of the expanding McEducation Chains, each of them offering an "in-house" style of education and curriculum based on equipment, books and technology brought in by associated publishers and software companies and apparently applicable to any community. If people like Michael Gove's mate, Joel Klein, get their way, much technology may replace actual teachers and kids will be plonked in front of screens responding to teaching technology programmed for their individual needs. The debate for qualified or unqualified teachers may become redundant, as will the pesky need to pay teachers, invest their pensions or listen to the unions that ensure they are not further degraded.

Allan Beavis's picture
Thu, 21/07/2011 - 11:11

I suspect Nick Gibb has looked over the evidence but I wonder if he has been prey to "wilfull blindness" here in the same way that led the Prime Minister to hire Andy Coulson despite the warnings given to him that, despite the lack of hard "evidence" directly linking him to phone hacking, Coulson was tarnished by wrongdoing at News International.

It takes a spectacular arrogance to present outdated and discounted data to bolster up the myth propagated by his boss - and this increasingly fragile looking government - that schools are broken and it takes a sneaky kind of cynicism to withhold positive or other findings in the OECD reports which the government don’t want the public to know about.

Andrew Old here appears desperate for the government’s inconsistencies and misleading comments not to come out and his weapon of deflection seems to be to try and portray both Janet Downs and Keith Turvey as guilty of being misleading and drawing the thread into a debate on sythnetic phonetics. This is simply not true – both have quite rightly pointed out that the issue here is the government’s habit of spinning the selective use of research.

The government’s education “reforms” – Academies, Free Schools, Ebacc, raising the bar, centralisation of authority, flirtations with the private sector, endless testing – are dependent on dismantling the non-selective comprehensive system and the way they can justify this has been to portray them as institutionally failing and broken and pandering to fears and prejudices.

What Andrew Old doesn’t seem to understand is that this site is not full of left wing nutters hellbent on wilfully and blindly maintaining a failing education system but rather open to comments from contributors who question the need for reform when it is unsustainably expensive, disruptive, chaotic and not guaranteed to work. Only a fool would claim the system we had was perfect and only a fool would be unable to see that, with the right resources, infrastructures and honest commitment from a government more concerned with genuine social cohesion than with protecting their own and their friends’ interests, existing schools can all be improved in the long term.

Sometimes, by the time “evidence” comes to light, it’s all too late. I think it’s rather a good idea that we look at evidence when it is presented but equally important is the open and public scrutiny of a government and its policies, particularly when there is enough suspicion that a secondary and perhaps more important agenda, is being followed but not admitted. Transparency has not been the hall mark of this government. Given the way that, daily, we are questioning the error of judgments the Prime Minister and members of his government may have committed in their dealings with the tawdry News Corp, we should examine and question even more what ministers and the DfE are telling us. We were told the police had enough evidence on isolated phone hacking and should be reassured that it wasn’t widespread. Thanks to relentless questioning and investigating by the Guardian, it seems the police, News Corp and the government have a lot more to disclose.

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