“Yes, Minister 2011” Episode 2 – the global search for evidence

Janet Downs's picture
Scene: the Christmas recess. Sir Humphrey Appleby sits in an armchair next to a side table with decanter and glass. Background SFX: Carols from King’s. Sir Humphrey is reading an e-mail on his smartphone. It is from the Minister. It reads: “Have you seen TES articles re NC review? Not favourable. Concerned about possible teacher supply crisis. Primary heads fear endless assessments if KS2 split in half.” Sir Humphrey presses delete button.

Switch to constituency home of the Minister. Minister is in kitchen scrolling through contacts on his i-phone. He highlights “Humph”. Background SFX: Slade “Merry Christmas”.

Switch back to Sir Humphrey’s study. SFX: ringtone – theme to Monty Python’s Flying Circus.

Sir Humphrey: Minister! I was about to ring you. There’s no need to be concerned. Only teachers read the TES. The written Ministerial Statement will squash any disquiet. Among other things, It concentrated on the international evidence which underpins the review. For example, many high-performing jurisdictions…

Minister: Jurisdictions? Don’t you mean countries?

Sir Humphrey: Can I remind you, Minister, that if we use “jurisdictions” instead of “countries” it allows us to cast our net wider in order to find the evidence we seek. For example, many high-performing jurisdictions will not allow a class to progress until every pupil has mastered the subject.

Minister: But won’t that mean that children who have got it will be held back until the slower ones get it, if at all?

Sir Humphrey: That is neither here nor there. The important point is that it appears to have the necessary rigour. Remember, the Secretary of State likes rigour - and tradition. That’s why I highlighted grammar. I found two jurisdictions which include a separate section on grammar in their curricula.

Minister: Let me make a note (searches worktop for pen and paper). Where are they?

Sir Humphrey: Alberta and Massachusetts, Minister.

Minister: Anything about Science and Maths?

Sir Humphrey: Yes, the statement suggests that English pupils are behind their peers in Singapore where Year 4 pupils are expected to know their times tables.  In England this is not expected until the end of Year 6. That’s a difference of two years.

Minister: But I thought that Primary Year 4 pupils in Singapore are aged nine to ten. Our Year 6 pupils are aged ten to eleven. Their ages overlap, surely?

Sir Humphrey: I would beg to differ, Minister. In any case, Primary Year 6 pupils in Singapore are expected to learn about cells in Science while we leave that until secondary school.

Minister: But Primary 6 pupils in Singapore are aged 12, the same age as our first year secondary pupils. Doesn’t this mean that they are probably learning about cells at the same time?

Sir Humphrey: With respect, Minister, no-one is going to find out. It is sufficient that the media thinks that primary pupils in Singapore are doing more difficult work than English secondary pupils. And I’ve also pointed out that the reading list in Poland includes Homer and Chekhov. No-one need ever know that Polish teachers can choose from the canon – it is not compulsory. Now, if that is all…can I take this opportunity to wish you a very Merry Christmas…

Episode ends with Minister dropping two soluble aspirins into a glass of water. Sound FX: the Pogues: “And the bells are ringing out for Christmas Day!”

Share on Twitter Share on Facebook

Be notified by email of each new post.


Leonard James's picture
Thu, 29/12/2011 - 16:42

We know you hate the government - what is the point of this?

Allan Beavis's picture
Thu, 29/12/2011 - 17:09

Is that all you can say to something so witty and entertaining? How paltry is your imagination?

Leonard James's picture
Thu, 29/12/2011 - 18:57

I'm not trying to be imaginative. I am merely asking if there is any point to this aside from government bashing. How is the FOI request going btw?

Janet Lallysmith's picture
Fri, 30/12/2011 - 08:59

It's a bit narrow to be calling this 'government bashing'. It's highlighting the absurdities within education ie ignoring the stark, staringly obvious problems on your doorstep and using the odd random fact from here and there to justify what you've already planned to do.

This isn't confined to this government.

Leonard James's picture
Fri, 30/12/2011 - 09:20

Firstly my experience is that the LSN, by and large, choose to ignore the problems and critique solutions on the basis that said problems don't exist. Secondly Janet has a tendancy to complain about things like 'cherrypicking' yet cherrypicks herself - this website is full of spin.

Allan Beavis's picture
Fri, 30/12/2011 - 18:27

Wrong again Leonard. Your experience is crippingly narrow then.

If you were able to understand what is written, you might digest the fact that supporters of equal access to good schools - on this site and elsewhere - have for decades argued that the state education system is not perfect and, through successive left- and right-wing governments, failed to address the inequalities which have left the less advantaged poorer in so many ways. Imperfect as it is, the system was certainly not "broken". In need of resources and a radical overview, yes.

Do yourself a favour and read Melissa Benn's "School Wars" to educate yourself about how state education was conceived in 1944 and and how it evolved to the present day. And before you jump up in outrage, no - the book is not a propaganda manual for comprehensives. It's far more nuanced than you might ever realise but do give it a try.

Leonard James's picture
Fri, 30/12/2011 - 18:59

If you think that everyone who disagrees with you is basically too stupid to understand what you are saying why do you keep replying?

Allan Beavis's picture
Fri, 30/12/2011 - 19:05

But you aren't disagreeing. You are merely spewing forth nonsense about people on LSN pretending there are no problems. I have just told you the pro-equality brigade have spoken up about fixing flaws in the system. This is about correcting your prejudices and ignorance. If you find this site so vexing why do you keep coming back?

Leonard James's picture
Fri, 30/12/2011 - 20:25

Have you ever considered that people who disagree with you may not be predujiced, ignorant or unable to comprehend what you have said?

Why do I come here. You know Allan I actually agree with some of the LSN's message but find you insufferable that I tend to focus on the bits I disagree with.

Allan Beavis's picture
Fri, 30/12/2011 - 20:53

I'm sorry that's how you feel Leonard but I find equating minorities who don't confirm with "disadvantaged" not just insufferable but dangerous.

Janet Downs's picture
Sat, 31/12/2011 - 12:47

Leonard - it is heartening to read that you "actually agree with some of the LSN's message". It would be useful, therefore, if you could highlight areas of agreement as well as disagreement. It would also be helpful if you did not blog that LSN is one of the "worst sources" to discuss education. LSN is not a "source" - it is a forum which allows contributors to post opinions. However, no-one's opinions need be taken seriously unless they are backed up by evidence, preferably from a reputable and respected source and not someone else's personal blog.

Leonard James's picture
Fri, 30/12/2011 - 21:23

If you were sorry you'd make an effort to be more agreeable. I doubt we'll see an improvement.

Janet Downs's picture
Sat, 31/12/2011 - 12:39

Leonard – you asked what the point of my post was. I will summarise. The DfE published a Ministerial Written Statement about the National Curriculum Review. The statement contained misleading information about international evidence. I explained, with evidence, why this was so. I used the “Yes, Minister” format as a device – using humour to emphasize absurdity.

The evidence I used was not “cherry picked” because it came from two sources: summary of international evidence published and used by the Review panel, and information from the education departments of the jurisdictions highlighted by the DfE. It is difficult to see how data from a jurisdiction which gives facts about its own education system can be viewed as “cherry picked”.

The presentation of the international evidence in the DfE statement was intended, as always, to show that the UK (particularly English) education system is poor and is, therefore, ripe for reform. However, international evidence from reputable sources shows that the English system is not failing, and also that Mr Gove’s intended reforms are at odds with what many of the world’s educational systems are doing.

That is not to say, however, that the English education system could not be improved. For example, you describe on your blog the negative effects of targets. I share this concern as does the OECD* who warned about the excessive emphasis on raw exam grades in England. As you say, an obsession with targets is not “providing an education that actually makes them [pupils] smarter”. Yet this Government, and the one before it, are fixated with benchmarks, floor standards and league tables. This reduces education to “superficial learning”.

*Economic Survey of the UK 2011 (not available freely but can be obtained from http://www.oecd.org/document/38/0,3746,en_2649_34569_47283558_1_1_1_1,00...)

Leonard’s critique about targets can be found at: http://educationalopinion.blogspot.com/

Add new comment

Already a member? Click here to log in before you comment. Or register with us.