Stories + Views
Pugilistic Cameron talks tough in his attack on “coasting” schools
Mr Cameron is “revolutionising education”. His “shock troops” (free schools) will “smash through complacency”. He will “remain relentless about combating entrenched failure”. And he believes it is “vital to shine a spotlight on secret failure”. He’s going to “sort out league tables” and give people the data they need “to fight for change”. He’s “toughening up exams” and there’s been a “stunning 82% increase in the numbers of pupils studying triple sciences”.
Let’s take each point in turn:
1 The “revolution”. That means moving away from what high-performing countries are doing and returning English education to a supposed “golden age” situated somewhere in the 1950s.
2 The “shock troops”. Only 19 of the 24 free schools in operation are new schools. Five were private schools already in existence. I’m sure Mr Cameron didn’t mean to suggest that the much-praised 19 pioneers will make their pupils wear brown shirts and goose step round the playground, but it’s an unfortunate analogy, nevertheless.
3 “Entrenched” and “secret” failure. Mr Cameron says “secret” failure is what’s happening in the shires where the schools don’t do as well as Mossbourne Academy. What he doesn’t say is that Mossbourne is a fully-comprehensive school with a strict banding system which ensures it has a full range of ability including 25% high fliers. In some shires, particularly those like Kent and Lincolnshire which retain selection, the 25% high-ability pupils are creamed off into grammar schools. This leaves secondary-moderns to cope with the rest.
4 League tables. Mr Cameron didn’t mention that the new league tables will leave out the Contextual Value Added (CVA) score which the Organisation for Economic Co-operation and Development (OECD) said was a “step in the right direction”* in the development of more sophisticated ways of measuring school effectiveness. Instead he’s going to publish the “huge amounts of data” which he alleges the last government kept “under wraps”. He says the DfE has already made spending data public, but doesn’t say that this isn’t available for newly-formed academies. Publishing lots of statistics doesn’t necessarily lead to greater understanding even though he believes that publication will reveal “secret” failure and those schools which “muddle along”.
5 “Toughening up exams”. Mr Cameron didn’t mention the criticism of the Ebac by the Education Select Committee. However his boasting about the “stunning” increase in numbers of pupils taking Ebac subjects gives credence to the suspicion exposed by the Select Committee that the retrospective introduction of Ebac was a cynical attempt by the Government to find a low base from which to be able to claim success.
Cameron’s combative language may play well with his supporters but it is empty, self-congratulatory bombast.
*page 101 “Reforming Education in England” in OECD Economic Surveys: United Kingdom 2011 (not freely available on the internet but details of how to obtain the document are here)