Election profile of education

Trevor Fisher's picture
 32
Where is Education in the Election?

As the election enters its final stages, it is worrying that education has played a minor part in the campaign. While all parties have sometimes extensive educational statements, but the state of schooling has not been controversial. Few debates have even touched on education to any great extent.

The Independent editorial before Easter commented on this, and there has been little change since then. We do not have to agree with all the paper is saying to feel concerned that it is making this case. The main points are set out below, and the full statement can be found here.

If the editorial is wrong and there is a live debate, where can it be found? If the editorial is correct, how in the last few days of the campaign can we boost education up the political agenda?

(the editorial is used with permission of the Independent)

The Independent Editorial 2nd April 2015

TEACH FIRST

For our education system to flourish, school staff need a huge increase in support.

“In all the sound and fury that this election campaign has produced so far, it is astonishing and rather sinister how little has been said about our creaking state education system. Labour will have something to say today about pre-school education, and there is a lively argument under way about tuition fees for university students, but the political leaders have so far avoided wading into questions affecting the future of more than eight million children now in state primary or seondary schools.

“This is a political choice. The Conservatives prefer to fight a campaign on the economy. Labour's strongest card in the NHS. Nobody would deny the importance of the health of the population and the health of the economy, but it could be said that education trumps them both. There is ample evidence that people who have been let down by the school system are more likely to suffer ill health later in life than those who have enjoyed a good education. And... it is blindingly obvious that the nation's long term economic health depends on our schools turning out a generation that is literate, numerate, and able to think creatively.

“In the past fifteen years, successive governments have done a decent job.... of investing in new buildings, thus ensuring that the physical environment in which children were expected to learn has markedly improved. But raising the standards of the teaching that takes place in these new buildings is a more complicated problem.

“It is, for instance, immensly important that the morale of state school teachers is protected, but there are disturbing signs that the profession is not as rewarding as it should be; the worst problems, unsuprisingly, are concentrated in the failing schools, which are almost invariably in the areas of greatest social need.... Another problem, which is undoubtedly one of the causes of high turnover, is that teachers are not the respected figures in the community that they once were. The spread of social media has dramatised this problem, as is demonstrated by our report today about online abuse directed at teachers.

“One school of thought implies that state school teachers have brought these problems on themselves through industrial militancy and the adoption of strange and ineffectual theories about how to teach, and that they would inspire more respect if they adopted the disciplined competitive ethos of the private schools. But this overlooks the inbuilt advantages that private schools enjoy.

“These issues are not easily resolved There are not many ways to improve teaching without... higher annual costs in salaries and equipment. That is not an easy subject for politicians to argue over when there is so much emphasis on getting public spending under control, but on it hinges the future well being of the nation.”

Food for thought.

Trevor Fisher
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Comments

Janet Downs's picture
Fri, 24/04/2015 - 10:36

'Don't mention education'. That was top of the flip chart in the Tory battle bus satirised in Channel 4's 'Ballot Monkeys'. I asked at the bottom of Melissa Benn's thread about Radio 4's 'Two Rooms' if the authors had noticed the silence on education which was, after all, a much-publicised Tory policy.

It seems the authors weren't alone in spotting the void. The Leaders' (minus 2) debate mentioned tuition fees but nothing much else about education. And the Tories' silence about Gove's legacy is telling. Could it be they've realised (but not admitting):

1 Academies, touted as a magic bullet, and free schools are no better as a group than non-academies. Yet billions have been spent which could have gone on improving crumbling school buildings and professional development of teachers.
2 While some free schools have been successful, there have been spectacular failures.
3 Some free schools are in areas already with a surplus while other areas desperately need primary school places.
4 The academies and free school programmes have hobbled local authorities who are now effectively banned from opening their own schools and who can't instruct academies or free schools to expand.
5 Much of what Gove said misled the public (eg plummeting down league tables, surveys showing teenagers were ignorant of history, academies are better than 'council-run' schools...).
6 Exam reforms are chaotic, rushed and ill-thought out.
7 Many of the experts brought in to advise on the national curriculum did not agree with the outcome.
8 Millions have been diverted from education into companies connected to academy chain trustees.
9 It's becoming ever clearer that running schools for profit was the intention of the academies programme all along.
10 Funding for 16-19 education has been cut at the same time the participation age has risen.

No wonder the Tories don't want to talk about education.




Andy V's picture
Sat, 25/04/2015 - 16:49

Janet - are you saying that there was camera footage from inside the actual battle bus that 'Ballot Monkeys' went on to satirise or that the whole thing is a satirical characterisation of Conservative election strategy?


Michele -Lowe's picture
Fri, 24/04/2015 - 12:01

Trevor, thanks for raising this subject. I have been very struck by the same question during all the campaigning. And it was reading your article that provided me with part of the answer. Education is one of those long-term policy commitments which doesn't bear fruit for quite a while. Really and truly, 5 years of improvement and investment wouldn't give any party a huge success to shout about on pamphlets and leaflets. It'd take a good ten or twenty years to really see results. Franky, no one seems to have the patience for that kind of endeavour.

And then you have the blind spot of so many of the opinion formers - the editors and lead columnists, the programme commissioners etc - who don't send their kids to state schools and who possibly weren't educated by them either. It's not on their personal radar, a lot of them, and they simply wouldn't think of it as a subject to raise. You honestly wouldn't think 93% of us spent our formative years in state education the way it's treated as a subject.

Janet, you have very sharp eyesight. I missed the Tory bus flip chart in 'Ballot Monkeys', but will be looking for it next week. Andy Hamilton and Guy Jenkin know their stuff. And yes, if the Conservative candidate was concerned about my vote here in Wales (he's not. Ne'er so much as a pamphlet) I'd be asking what the Welsh Tories could add to the debate given the shocking waste of money free schools have proved to be and how academies have not made a jot of difference to educational attainment in England.

What did catch my ear was participants in R4's 'Two Rooms' on Wed night, concluding that part of the solution to our current problems would be "valuing education" and "investing in education". No one prompted them to say this. But you're right, Trevor. The first thing needed is to put the question on the agenda. I shall go away and think about ways I might do this.

Janet Downs's picture
Fri, 24/04/2015 - 13:01

Michele - if you want to check out 'Don't mention education' on the Tories' flip chart, click on the last clip ('Female Issues') from 'Ballot Monkeys' in the link I provide. You'll need to freeze and expand the page. Then you'll be able to see all of the advice including:

1 Mention: Ed Miliband, Ed Miliband, Ed Miliband, SNP (I think) nutters. (That's it)

2 Don't mention: Education, Challengers' Debate, Eton, Eric Pickles, Immigration, Foreign Aid, Eric Pickles (and something else I can't make out).

John Bajina's picture
Fri, 24/04/2015 - 12:55

Dear Trevor,
Thank you for highlighting this very curious vacuum in education debate. Tories must indeed be most grateful for this, they have a discredited overly opinionated ex-education Secretary and a newbie present Education Sec. I am surprised Tristram is not more active - he is going to be a better and braver socialist if he wants to land the Education portfolio..

Let me know please what my group in Bucks and I may do to encourage a more robust debate on Education during this election.

I will now do the following. Call for questions from my group and set about emailing all our candidates and encourage our group to do the same.

Martin Francis (@WembleyMatters)'s picture
Fri, 24/04/2015 - 14:54

Inside Politics had an education debate yesterday http://www.bbc.co.uk/news/election-2015-32435195

However, I wanted to point out that it has certainly come up in hustings here in Brent and perhaps there is more happening at a local level where issues such as shortage of school places, forced academisation, free schools,(including the failure of some to open or to attract sufficient pupils) 'Titan' primary schools (expanded primaries because LAs are not allowed to build new ones, the declining role of local authorties in school improvment due to local government cuts, have all been mentioned.

In addition the NUT have continued to hold their Education Question Time meetings.

John Mountford's picture
Fri, 24/04/2015 - 15:26

Thank's, Trevor, but what a 'light-weight' editorial. Nothing it highlighted would get me interested in the fate of education if I wasn't already hooked on the subject and desperate to see this vital service changed for the better, preferably in my lifetime!!

Did I fall asleep through a round of strikes and working to rule by my former colleagues? If not, where does this comment come from?

“One school of thought implies that state school teachers have brought these problems on themselves through industrial militancy and the adoption of strange and ineffectual theories about how to teach, and that they would inspire more respect if they adopted the disciplined competitive ethos of the private schools. But this overlooks the inbuilt advantages that private schools enjoy."

I suggest this is not actually the conclusion of a 'school of thought', but rather just a personal opinion expressed in a rather tired editorial. That said, I'd love to know which specific "strange and ineffectual theories about how to teach" are being referred to.

But, I should face the facts, if all we need to do, "is (so) blindingly obvious", adopt the 'disciplined competitive ethos of the private schools', that's it - job done.

And don't get me started on the idea "that the nation’s long term economic health depends on our schools turning out a generation that is literate, numerate, and able to think creatively.", as if this is a solution sent from on high and this isn't already one of the major points of focus for us all.

Janet Downs's picture
Fri, 24/04/2015 - 15:59

John - 'strange and ineffectual theories about how to teach' = lazy, journalistic description of anything vaguely 'progressive' or 'not as I was taught when I were a young 'un' or even some method the journalist can't get the hang of (eg 'chunking') so it must be rubbish.


Janet Downs's picture
Sat, 25/04/2015 - 07:54

The Independent has published a 'Letter from the Editor' entitled 'Why Are So Many Teachers Saying Enough is Enough?' He wrote:

'It all adds up to a grim picture. Was it ever thus? When, yesterday morning, I said that I considered this one of the biggest issues of our time in Britain, wiser hands than I made the point that teachers have long since complained. The power of their unions, the genuine mismanagement of many schools, and the appalling mishandling of education policy by successive, interfering governments have given them much to moan about.'

Why did he describe those who say teachers have always complained say they were 'wiser hands'? And though he was right about the crass education policies of successive governments, why did he include the unions among those teachers 'moan about'. Doesn't the author realise unions are fighting on behalf of teachers - drawing attention to excessive workload for example.

He goes on to say there's a 'consensus' among all main parties about education and that's why they're not talking it up. Perhaps he's right - and that's the real tragedy.



Adrian Elliott's picture
Sat, 25/04/2015 - 09:23

I think the Independent is often out of touch with schools and the views of teachers.I've read, in my view, some really crass articles in it.


Michele -Lowe's picture
Sat, 25/04/2015 - 12:28

Janet, I seriously believe the lack of personal engagement on the part of newspaper leader writers and other opinion formers clouds their judgement on education. They are happy to repeat old platitudes about schools - "lack of discipline, falling standards"- all the old chestnuts. It's partly being uninformed and partly not caring about being uninformed. I do hope you set them right, because you have your head round the facts of the matter.
What interests me is how unwilling other professionals, some of whom surely to goodness know better, are to challenge them.
Because I know quite a few people who privately educate their kids, I encounter the usual platitudes about comps and the 'vast superiority' of private schools. The belief is that their views are so clearly well founded that any argument to the contrary (mine) are greeted with sheer amazement at my apparent 'madness'. But these views, entrenched by silo thinking and only moving in social and professional circles where the same behaviour is reinforced, have somehow come to be the received wisdom. What is more, to dissent is to be seen as a bit of a nutter. Perhaps that's what in part stifles debate. So my conclusion is : challenge, challenge, challenge.

Trevor Fisher's picture
Sat, 25/04/2015 - 20:30

there is a big issue here about why education has dropped off the agenda, but please don't knock the independent. It is the only media outlet that is dealing with this, and their weaknesses are the outcome of being within the Westminster bubble. The editor knows something is wrong, but accepts the overall direction of travel. In the letter, he states explicitly that key policies cannot be reversed.

Which means that disaster is inevitable, as these are the problems which have to be tackled. The technical term of the confusions which occur when clever brains try to come to terms with believeing with a theory which the facts don't support is 'cognitive dissonance'. I would also argue for Kuhn's Paradigm theory but last time I mentioned that the discussion ended up in the C17th so I will leave that for a while.

The editor and his staff know something is profoundly wrong, but they cannot yet see that the theories in side the bubble are ones that have to be rejected.

We can't do anything before the election to raise the profile, Tristram Hunt cannot even grasp that he faces major crises in staffing and supply which at least the independent understands. So the immediate task, after the election, is to find ways to build on the independents' confusion over what the facts tell them, and the dissonance with the policies they embrace.

Sensible dialogue with people who are starting to realize they are travelling on the Titanic, not criticism please. We have very few people who realize there are fundamental problems, and they need to be brought into dialogue. And as for the issues about strange misunderstandings of what is happening in schools, colleagues need to remember, as Richard Pring has reminded me, that the Black Papers set the agenda 40 years ago.

Most of the perceptions of state education were shaped in the 1970s, and have survived unchecked despite our best efforts. The BBC in particular has a rooted Black Paper ideology. Yet as I know from talking to young journalists, they have no idea the Black Papers ever existed.

That is real success on a scale C B Cox and the others now dead could hardly have imagined achieving. Its a deeply rooted systemic belief system we even now have hardly begun to tackle. And we have to tackle the paradigm to begin to eradicate it... sorry, mentioned the p word again.

At least we know the media have lost any grasp of education in this election. Lets establish what the few people in that part of the bubble are now starting to say, and work to expand their understanding.

Trevor Fisher.

Janet Downs's picture
Sun, 26/04/2015 - 06:53

Andy - I have no idea whether there's a similar flip chart inside the actual Tory battle bus. 'Ballot Monkeys' is a satire. But sometimes satire makes incisive points - and often makes them more effectively than sober analysis.

The fact remains that education hasn't featured much in the election campaign. This speaks volumes because education was a flagship Coalition policy. It might be expected the Tories would be trumpeting its success but that hasn't happened. It's legitimate to ask (seriously or via satire) why this might be so.

Andy V's picture
Sun, 26/04/2015 - 10:45

Janet - while I agree and lament the near total dearth of comment about education during the election campaign thus far, this pertains to all the parties and not, as your comments strongly imply, simply the Conservatives. When I read you comment, the majority of which I agreed with, you couched it in terms of it being a Conservative strategy not to mention education and that this had been satirised in the Ballot Monkeys programme. For me it is inappropriate bordering on flagrant bias to do this. It is this type of commentary that gives birth urban myth and legend that the Conservatives alone don't want to discuss education, whereas the reality is that no party wants to give it air time and priority.


Janet Downs's picture
Mon, 27/04/2015 - 10:04

Andy - I take your point. But I did say somewhere (I forget where) that education hadn't featured in the campaign as a whole. Even the Leaders' Debate (-2) barely mentioned it - just tuition fees.

But it's particularly noticeable that the Tories, shored up by the LibDems, who, remember, pushed through the Academies Bill early in the Coalition with the speed usually reserved for terrorist legislation. It was the Tories who said free schools were shock troops etc. It was the Tories who presented academy conversion as a magic bullet. You'd think, therefore, they'd be boasting about their achievements.

UKIP bang on about grammar schools but not much else about education. Labour has said a bit more (but not a lot) and the Tories have misrepresented Hunt's stance on expecting unqualified teachers now in schools to train as being one that would result in 17,000 teachers being sacked.

Funny, though, that Ballot Monkeys made such a point of the Tories not wanting to mention education (or immigration, or the challengers' debates...) but did want just to talk about Ed Miliband or SNP 'nutters' (which they've done quite a lot).

Andy V's picture
Sun, 26/04/2015 - 11:31

Is this the best that to two main parties can offer? If it is then the immediate, let alone medium to long term future for education is graver than I thought:

TH: "If over the course of the parliament you're not either qualified or working towards qualified teacher status we don't think you should be in the classroom," he said.
Asked if that meant such teachers would be fired, Mr Hunt replied: "Yes." He added: "We don't think, unlike the Conservatives and Liberal Democrats, that anyone can just turn up and be a teacher - actually you need training, you need qualifications, you need to get the best out of young people."


So he wants the electorate to believe that 0.99% of all primary school teachers are to blame for all KS2 results and approx 2% (including overseas teachers who hold their national qualifications to teach e.g. Canada, Australia, New Zealand) are to blame for the missed GCSE floor targets. Rank nonsense and pure party political ideologue rhetoric! His last statement is simply risible and worthy of contempt.

NM: "Ms Morgan said: "We absolutely respect professional, hard-working, dedicated teachers." She said one million more children were being taught in good or outstanding schools since 2010, and, referring to Mr Hunt, added: "Is the first thing he would do as education secretary tell 17,000 people they cannot teach in this country?"

For the opening statement that line simply doesn't wash after the Govean period of belittling and attacking the profession. The second part of her statement ignores that TH said that the unqualified teachers not working toward QTS would be sacked by 2020 and not as she implies immediately after getting into office.

DL: "Lib Dem ... said he believed all teachers should be qualified but that former Education Secretary Michael Gove had changed the rules "without agreement" from his party."

Wonderful. He effectively said, it isn't our fault that man Gove did it when we weren't looking or that man Gove did it and we didn't agree and didn't stop him

UKIP spokesman Jonathan Arnott: "said his party would equip children with the skills to "make Britain a modern world leader"

Gosh, wonderful empty soundbite with no substance.

James Humphreys of the Green Party: "said his party would withdraw charitable status from private schools."

Will be applauded by some but utterly fails to address the issues that beset education now. Indeed, this action would put such pressure of state schools from parents unable to afford private schools any more that in some areas state education simply wouldn't cope and would break down. Not much fore thought and considered planning there then.

http://www.bbc.co.uk/news/election-2015-32437242

I absolutely shudder at the thought of what these thoughtless career politicians have done and will doubtless continue to do to our education system. Shame on them and may there be a plague on all their political houses!

Andy V's picture
Sun, 26/04/2015 - 11:59

Does the media deliberately ignore the potential hypocrisy lying just the below the surface of Mrs Morgan's decision to instruct the exam boards to reinstate examinations for minority languages and Tristram Hunt's appalling response, or do they lack the journalistic skills to recognise a story when they see one?

"Education Secretary Nicky Morgan says a future Conservative government would "guarantee the future" of GCSEs and A-levels in minority languages such as Polish, Gujarati, Bengali and Turkish. There has been a campaign against exam board plans to withdraw these languages as exam subjects in England. Mrs Morgan has written to exam boards telling them to reverse their decision."

Scratch the surface and rather than seeing a champion of the minorities you may well find a case simple electioneering to win votes ... Also compare and contrast her silence on the withdrawal of Citizenship, which impacts all students not just small numbers. The latter would appear to be much needed in preparing our young people for life in a multicultural Britain, deemed so important that Ofsted has a focus on it.

Labour's Tristram Hunt says it is a "desperate attempt" to "undo the damage of chaotic exam changes".

It is that all Mr H? Have you considered the commercial impact on the boards in providing exams and support for minority languages? Have you considered the impact on schools in staffing and supporting the latter? Alternatively, you consider a blustering blunderbuss approach to credible and effective? Oh, yes, and who was in power when compulsory MFL was withdrawn from KS4 in 2003?

http://www.bbc.co.uk/news/education-32412746

http://dera.ioe.ac.uk/11170/1/DCSF-RR091.pdf

Barry Wise's picture
Mon, 27/04/2015 - 11:24

Andy

Thanks for this. How do you interpret Tristram Hunt's “If over the course of the parliament you’re not either qualified or working towards qualified teacher status.....{you get sacked as a last resort}?

Does it mean unqualified teachers get 5 years to get on a QTS track if they are in place now, but only four years if appointed next year, three years the year after and only a week's grace if appointed in the dying days of the Parliament? Or has no-one really thought it through and TH is just making stuff up on the fly?

Andy V's picture
Mon, 27/04/2015 - 17:01

Barry - I suspect that he showed his naivety in being pushed into giving a direct closed response to the pressure from the commentator, and hence showed the abject flimsiness of his sound bite electioneering rhetoric. On that basis, yes, on the fly.


Trevor Fisher's picture
Tue, 28/04/2015 - 08:18

the lib dem leader clegg yesterday made a commitment that unless several billions were pledged immediately for education his party would not join a coalition. It is the Red Line for the Lib Dems.

A figure was given in the report, which seemed to be plucked out of thin air. While any recognition of education is welcome, this was particularly strange and insubstantial. WHat do the Lib Dems want to spend the money on? More failing academies and free schools? Why has this come out only two weeks before the election and how could a commitment of this kind play in any post election negotiations?

Have we now come to the point where forming a government would depend on spending (which would be taken from other parts of the budget) and if so, does this actually help UKIP to form a government since the Tories would find it easier to work with them if they did not have to cash up to buy a place in Number 10?

Or to put it bluntly, is education now a public service or a counter to be traded for power? Schools need more money. But at what price in terms of political horse trading for failing politicians?

If anyone has the Lib Dem spending figures, that would be a start to get to grips with this

Trevor FIsher.

Andy V's picture
Tue, 28/04/2015 - 21:34

Remind me, is this the same Nick Clegg:

1. Whose party gave a red line pre-election promise on University tuition fees?
2. Whose party has been in coalition since 2010 and failed to stop the worst excesses of the SoS (Ed)?
3. Whose party forced through a free school meals policy in Primary Schools that effectively created a new universal benefit at a cost of around £1 Billion set-up and approx £800m pa thereafter?
4. That has left such - panic ridden rank electioneering - promises until the last minute to scrabble in the gutter to try and prostitute himself and his party for votes?

The electorate trusted Clegg and LibDems last time round with the red line rhetoric but I simply do not see them being conned/fooled/duped this time.

Michele -Lowe's picture
Tue, 28/04/2015 - 08:52

Trevor, I have just googled the subject 'Black Papers'. I too had little concept that they existed, but having just read up on them, big bells started ringing. I went to secondary school in the 70's (74-81) and though blissfully unaware of these arguments taking place above my head, I can recall the general sense that comprehensive education was second rate. By extension, attending a comprehensive made you second rate. I recall pitching up at university in London and being the object of some amused curiosity from fellow students - me and a couple of others like me who'd slipped in. It might sound naive, but I wasn't prepared for the dominance of privately-educated and grammar school students. Their views were pure 'Black Paper' and any departure from this thinking made you a raving radical. This was the early 80's. It wasn't until I left to spend a year in France as a language assistant, teaching in a lycee, that I stopped thinking my dissenting ideas were mad. Working in a system which was and I would argue still is committed to the education of all up to 18 by furnishing it with properly-trained and some highly-educated teachers was an eye-opener. France has its headaches with kids in the banlieux, but there is a united belief that a high quality education is a right for all. 'La carriere ouverts aux talents'.

Watching my own kids going through education is interesting. The major concern driving the Assembly Govt here is Wales' (slipping) ranking in the PISA tests. My youngest calls them 'the pizza test' and rejoices in the fact of being a summer baby and so ineligible to sit them. When it comes to international comparisons, I'd like to see more thoughtful examination of other education systems and more mention of the fact that most major European countries don't go in for high-stakes testing at 16. We have a very insular view of education, I would argue.

My sense in this election is that social media are coming to influence thinking more and more. The papers, though still important, seem to have less of a grip on the electorate. The radio and tv are still dominated by correspondents who don't seem to have their hearts in the job. I'm not - unlike my kids - a digital native, but I think I need to get tweeting. It's a fast and direct means of stating one's point of view.

Trevor Fisher's picture
Tue, 28/04/2015 - 13:06

there is a constant flux of smash and grab inside the Westminster bubble, but its only designed to capture votes at this stage in the operation. Its really only variations on a theme, which I suggested was a paradigm. I will leave that for the moment.

The current paradigm is indeed based on the Black Papers, though I know Cox and Kingsley Amis and Rhodes Boyson (who ended up a Thatcher minister) would be shocked what developed out of their work. However it is true that the paradigm dominates in the media bubble, though I know from the journalists I talk to that they too do not know about the Black Papers.

in fact the only person I know who I can talk about them is RIchard Pring, and we have to get beyond talking to Oxford Professors, though we have to be able to operate at that level to have credibility. Every single minister I come in touch with and their shadows was Oxbridge educated.

Michelle, I Understand the seductiveness of social media, but it is chewing gum for the mind. Nothing ever changes, and no depth thinking takes place. May I gently suggest that if we are to make progress after an election where we only now have a few bits of attention to education in the media, we need some way to have in depth conversations?

Blogging is necessary but not sufficient. We need to have contact at a deeper and more interactive level, within limits. We don't want to spend our lives on the internet.

I would love to know more about Wales, as would others. You are the only correspondent I know in Wales, which says something about the culture we are in. Very anglocentric.

So could you get in touch please? Its a general point which LSN should consider, that we should move beyond blogging to networking. If we want to move to a level where we have the influence of the Black Papers.

They were simply incredible in the 1970s. Like the perfect murder (one that is never detected) they became the unquestioned common sense.

that's the challenge for us, and we can't do it by blogging. Necessary........ but not sufficient.

Trevor Fisher

Michele -Lowe's picture
Fri, 01/05/2015 - 10:04

Hi Trevor. I don't know how informative I can be re Wales, given that I don't operate at anything like an official level. However, I did work in nursery education for 7 years, in early years for 3 as a classroom assistant and am currently volunteering as reading help in two schools in my town, one English medium, the other Welsh medium. I went to an English medium school in Newport, but my kids attend Welsh medium. It's not as outlandish as I know it sounds initially to English ears. It's essentially the same curriculum and exams, only in Welsh. This does, however, give me a foot in both camps. I have also served as a governor in my kids' primary school. So an on-the-ground view.

I know what you mean re feeling out of touch with what's going on in the rest of the country. I know a lot about the English system, but little or nothing about what happens in Scotland or N Ireland. In fact, if polls are to be believed, Scotland will vote overwhelmingly Scottish Nationalist on Thursday. I don't feel I've been kept informed as a listener and viewer of quite what's been happening there to explain this. Media blind spot?

Speaking of blind spots, your comments re the Black Papers do still feel very apposite. The gong was struck in the 70's, but the reverberations still resonate through the media. It begs the question: why did they take such deep root so as to become, even now, orthodoxy? If nonsense like the recent pronouncements by Nicky Morgan on literacy levels at KS2 - she claimed that a third of children were not properly literate - can pass unquestioned by commentators who ought to know better, then Black Paper thinking is alive and well. Janet describes wanting to shout at Michael Hesseltine repeating this arrant nonsense on 'Question Time'. It seems to me that David Dimbleby ought to have known this was incorrect and picked him up on it, and if not, his producer ought to have been whispering in his earpiece. I get the impression that programme makers are not informed about the subject.

This is where social media come into play. Email, Twitter et al have their uses, because they are so quick. Janet and Melissa have written a great source book with the facts and figures at hand for quick rebuttal (Crikey! I sound like a character out of 'Ballot Monkeys'). I do agree about the Twittersphere, though. It can be just that: vapid twitter. But if my kids are anything to judge by, it's where their generation increasingly get their information from, so some decent sites are sorely needed.

You ask about Wales and one development, which is a feature here and not in England, is the Bagloriaeth Cymru/Welsh Bac. My 17 year-old is doing it. It's compulsory and functions like an extra A level, though it's not examined. Her cohort all moan copiously about it, but it recently came alive when they started their unit on politics. Added to that, the section entitled 'individual research topic' (I'm translating roughly here out of Welsh) has really fired her up. She has managed to combine interests from two of her other A level subjects - French and Welsh - to explore further the relationship between Breton and Welsh. The point here is that it's not something she would be able to go into depth on in French or Welsh, but given the opportunity under the Welsh Bac she can. I gather her friends have been able to draw on and deepen their knowledge of their A level subjects to do the same. The salient feature of the Bac is that is is not examined and asks of the student to put in the time and effort to hand in work throughout the two years. I gather that talks between UCAS and the Welsh Assembly Govt have borne some fruit and universities are increasingly recognising it as a valid qualification. I do worry about the different home regions diverging in their approach to education and claims and counterclaims re the quality of them coming to dominate political discourse. We've faced a constant barrage about the Welsh NHS. I could well imagine a similar fate for Welsh education.

I'd personally love to see the whole UK moving towards a baccalaureate-style exam at 18. I've seen the French system - donkeys' years ago, it has to be said - and I do think it's saner. In Wales my youngest who is still 14 and in Yr 10, is up to her knees in coursework and exams scattered throughout Yr 10 and 11 and my eldest is currently sitting AS exams. We're still in the world of 4 years of examination. The kids going into Yr 10 in Sept will be in a slightly different system again, the detail of which seems hard to obtain. We watch and wait. I'd love to see more evolution rather than revolution. Supporting your kids through this obstacle course is fraught with pressure and seemingly unending.

Correction: la carrière ouverte aux talents.

Trevor Fisher's picture
Fri, 01/05/2015 - 10:23

michelle makes some informative points, but the issues of local provision can't be dealt with by blogging. Its a useful activity, but too much of the discussion is only really between one or two people - and it gets to be focused on personal issues in many cases.

I would be happier to network, and hope you can contact me direct. THE issue of non examined work is a hot potato, in my college when I worked the non examined work (and it did exist) was nightmare. It was called 'enrichment' and it led to massive problems with attendance. But this is something best discussed off the blog site

It is interesting that despite the Welsh Bac, entry to Oxbridge from wales is dreadfully low and performance in the international league tables likewise, so the Welsh government is very worried.

But this is a topic we should discuss in a networking situation. I don't think we should raise issues on a blog site that are local in nature. This site has little welsh involvement. We could discuss how to change this, but only in a separate discussion - I think you have my email address, if not others in LSN have it.

Trevor Fisher

agov's picture
Fri, 01/05/2015 - 10:38

" if polls are to be believed, Scotland will vote overwhelmingly Scottish Nationalist on Thursday. I don’t feel I’ve been kept informed as a listener and viewer of quite what’s been happening there to explain this."

It's simple enough Michele. The NuLab government elected in 1997 was supposed to get rid of Thatcher's policies not make them worse. This came after years of Thatcher using Scotland as a test ground to judge whether the Tory government could get away with imposing them on England. The current Opposition may pretend to have changed but they are largely not believed, especially in Scotland - mostly they don't even bother to make any serious pretence they would do anything much different from the ConDems.

Scotland appears not to be as supine as the English and is reluctant to keep voting for something they don't want. Upsetting for NuLab careerists as that may be.

Trevor Fisher's picture
Fri, 01/05/2015 - 12:24

Michelle is like many people unaware of the disaster that is happening north of the border and the request to be informed is entirely justified. You can't understand it from the Westminster media.

Agov is right in his analysis, New Labour has collapsed in Scotland as it has embraced Thatcherism. With some marginal concessions, but the vote with the condems to embrace austerity was a disaster north of the border.

However the SNP should be congratulated, in the very short term, in maximizing their opportunities. They offer social democracy in one country, Alex Salmond has told the scots that they can get Labour policies by voting SNP (Labour policies by voting Labour? No one believes it. Social Democracy and Socialism are dead ducks for the Labour front bench) and putting Nicola Sturgeon into his place as leader was a stroke of genius. The Scottish Eva Peron is now regarded as the most popular leader in British politics, though it will be Alex Salmonds who actually runs the negotiations at Westminster.

Medium term the collapse of Westminster politics in Scotland will be the biggest challenge for a fragmenting and deeply alienated politics. All we can hope for with a week to go is that UKIP and the DUP are not left holding up Cameron. But if Miliband does get into Number 10 as we hope, he cannot be left relying on SNP support. They will demand what they want - independence by salami tactics, following what is called in Scotland the Neverendum.

Too few people south of the border are in any way au fait with what is happening.

Trevor Fisher.

Andy V's picture
Sat, 02/05/2015 - 09:19

As far as I am aware LSN is an open education matters forum with a focus on compulsory schooling. It is not therefore a Labour voters forum. Although I'm sure there are others who would agree your sentiment the fact of the matter is that contributors have ownership of their own views and naturally refrain from putting these personal views forward as being representative of all other LSN contributor. Of the latter some do not share Labour's views and position of education and still others - I am one of these - who are desirous of ridding education of party political ideologies and the highly damaging seesaw impact on education cause by changes of government between parties.

On that basis I would entreat you to refrain from the royal "we" in your comments about who you prefer to win the GE. That is to say your blanket statement " if Miliband does get into Number 10 as we hope". Put simply "we" don't all hope for that.

Michele -Lowe's picture
Fri, 01/05/2015 - 16:02

Actually, Trevor, I don't have your email address.
I would argue, however, that what happens in Wales is germane to LSN. The education systems around the UK are not really that different and the trialling of the Welsh Bac may well feed into the discussions Tristram Hunt has floated about moving towards a baccalaureate system. As for Oxbridge success (or lack of) amongst Welsh candidates, I think you have to look at the economic background to the picture. Wales is the poorest, economically, of the home countries. Follow the money.
Re Scotland, something I'd like a Scottish contributor to tell me - if there is one on LSN - is how is the fact of free tuition at university level affecting uptake of places and commitment to higher education?

Michael Pyke's picture
Fri, 01/05/2015 - 16:13

On April 22nd, YouGov conducted a poll in which respondents were asked which topics they thought had not been adequately covered during the current election campaign. Top of the list was education.


Trevor Fisher's picture
Sat, 02/05/2015 - 08:24

thanks for this Michael, I had missed it. The results are fascinating and worth looking at in full. Yougov rated issues on a scale which - minus meant not discussed enough (I would imagine the %age of the voters thinking this) and education was indeed joint top with 4o% along with environment - a blow to the Green Party I think. The next was pensions 37%, then Foreign Policy at 31%, Europe 24% (UKIP not making headway???), NHS 22%, economy 17%. Suprising some of these figures and they need interrogating. NHS has been done to death in my neck of the woods, but I live in Stafford, which has the most notorious in the UK. Most loathed issue - 28% for Scotland. Too remote?

THis confirms education is not a high profile issue and we should be worried why after all our efforts this massive issue affecting 8m children has effectively dropped off the radar

Trevor Fisher

Trevor Fisher's picture
Sat, 02/05/2015 - 08:25

sorry in a rush... most notorious hospital in the UK.


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