Some bold ideas for Labour

Peter Newsam's picture
Yesterday Fiona Millar wrote an article in the Guardian calling on the Labour Party to come up with a bold, coherent education policy. I agree. We need someone tough and visionary to rescue the English school system and tackle this country's wider educational and training needs.
How difficult would it be for a Shadow Secretary of State to say the following for a start: first, that individual funding contracts with every school is an absurd and expensive way to run a school system and gives far too much power to an individual minister, Examples of the cost of Gove's absolutist and incompetent behaviour would follow. Whole new systems of administering education are not needed. A new Secretary of State would offer to pass funding contracts to any local authorities willing and capable of administering them. The clutter of agencies dealing with the academy programme would disappear, at a considerable saving of money. The Shadow Secretary of State could ask a small group of experts, including representatives of teachers and parents, to look at the possibility of binning the contracts and allowing all academies to convert to a version of VA status (ie with the local authority no longer having a majority on the governing body. I could elaborate on the details here, but they are fairly obvious.)
Second, set up an expert panel, which would include the so-called stakeholders in education, to look into and make recommendations on the future of a national inspection system. Such a system would stop being an enforcer of government policy like Ofsted and have two functions: to collect and where necessary evaluate, any measurable outcomes of the school system and second, to promote, encourage and suggest to individual institutions and to the Secretary of State and Parliament means for bringing about improvement. If someone wants to describe that as a return to HMI, so be it.
Finally, a hobby horse of mine. Stop tinkering with the National Curriculum. It is fairly obviously falling apart. Make it statutory guidance, like a Code, so that schools have to have regard to it but can vary it if they can show good reason for doing that. Altering statutory guidance (like the Handbook of Suggestions for Teachers that existed pre-war) is virtually cost-free. Altering the NC costs a bomb everytime anyone does that. Try any ideas such as these out on John Dunford and one or two leading teachers.
Finally - selection. In 1975 Mair Garside announced that the ILEA, from Sept 1977, would not continue to maintain any of the 45 selective schools in its area. And that is just what happened.
As Fiona Millar says, think tanks are not needed to suggest the obvious. A small measure of political courage is, but that is sadly lacking.
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Alison Livesey's picture
Wed, 12/09/2012 - 17:57

Hear hear! But I am sure this is far too sensible to be adopted by any politicians!

Ricky-Tarr's picture
Thu, 13/09/2012 - 10:27

A new Secretary of State would offer to pass funding contracts to any local authorities willing and capable of administering them.

Ah, the "any willing bureaucrat" approach.

Not a surefire winner, that. Making the NC into a code or set of guidelines is a good one though.

Janet Downs's picture
Thu, 13/09/2012 - 10:30

Thanks, Sir Peter, for your comments. I would add a further one: scrap the present exam system and replace it with a single graduation diploma in line with most of the rest of the world. The shelved Tomlinson report would be a useful starting point together with Tomlinson's recommendation that such an overhaul would need careful and methodical planning and implementation - possibly over ten years.

Compare that with Gove's approach - a quick announcement via a leak then all-systems-go - likely to throw the English exam system into chaos and disrepute thereby damaging the life chances of the millions of pupils in English schools.

Ricky-Tarr's picture
Thu, 13/09/2012 - 10:37

Martin Kettle has discovered a source of some very good policies for Labour:

Fiona Millar's picture
Thu, 13/09/2012 - 14:39

I couldn't actually see anything in the article that could be described as either bold, or new. The same tired old ideas keep getting trotted out even though it is clear from this the experience in this country and abroad that structural change is neither radical or particularly effective.

Janet Downs's picture
Thu, 13/09/2012 - 15:23

Fiona - the article said," Academies and free schools are boosting innovation, providing choice, giving parents a voice, empowering teachers and, crucially, tackling disadvantage."

None of this is true. Teachers don't have to be in academies or free schools to innovate if they are inspired to do so. And many free schools and academies sell themselves by appealing to tradition. The evidence linking user choice to educational outcomes is inconclusive (see FAQs above) and no-one has explained how choice would work in areas where there's only one school. That's why having a good, local school is so important.

Parents have a voice on the Governing Bodies of all state schools.

The only extra empowerment offered to academies is the freedom to opt-out of the National Curriculum but few will do so because Ofsted will judge schools on their curriculum and secondary schools will be judged by EBac results. And only 1.8% of heads in a recent survey chose opting out of the National Curriculum as the main motive for conversion.

And as for tackling disadvantage, the National Audit Office (see FAQs above) found on 2010 that "on average, the gap in attainment between more disadvantaged pupils and others has grown wider in academies than in comparable maintained schools" - something both Adonis and Kettle seemed to have missed. And the jury's still out on whether free schools help the disadvantaged as is discussed on another thread.

Janet Downs's picture
Thu, 13/09/2012 - 15:33

Fiona - a similar hymn of praise to academy "freedoms" in TES by Dale Bassett of Reform (link below) drew a short, but withering, response from the writer of this thread, Sir Peter Newsam (also linked below).

Bassett's hymn, Kettle's eulogy and Adonis's aria to academies and free schools are ripe for satire. A limerick, perhaps, similar to those in the Guardian which began, "The appointment of Jeremy Hunt", written to commemorate his becoming the Secretary of State for Health.

Janet Downs's picture
Thu, 13/09/2012 - 14:34

Another piece of advice for Labour - this time from the late Ted Wragg writing in TES eleven years ago. I can hear him screaming from the grave, "Don't give Tony Zoffis any ammo!"

Tony Zoffis (Tony's Office) was the name Wragg gave to Andrew (now Lord) Adonis.

Adonis was responsible for the spin surrounding academies from their beginning as shown here:

Adonis has just written a book reviewed in last week's TES. The reviewer says the book is "compellingly written" (Adonis was once a journalist as was Gove) and is a "manifesto for further radical education reform". "There is a lot to debate", the reviewer says before writing, "Adonis emphasises the undeniable successes of some city academies, but overlooks others that have struggled. He rightly celebrates outstanding success under dynamic leadership, but does not focus enough on the causes of school failure."

The reviewer concludes that Adonis's book is an important one and "a powerful reminder that between the forces of marketised deregulation and statist management there is indeed a third way of educational transformation and improvement."

But Adonis's way is not a third way. It is firmly in the camp of those who want to allow profit-making firms to run English schools. This was made absolutely clear in the Policy Exchange/New Schools Network report called, without a trace of irony, "Blocking the Best", which said: "When Tony Blair introduced academies, officials and the most radical ministers (including Lord Adonis and John Hutton) knew
that allowing profit would provide a significant boost to the market, but considered
the politics unworkable."

So, advice to Labour - put clear water between your party and Tony Zoffis.

Janet Downs's picture
Thu, 13/09/2012 - 14:35

The link to the TES review of Adonis's book is missing from the above post. It is here:

Rebecca Hanson's picture
Fri, 14/09/2012 - 15:25

I've got it but I'm struggling to cope with reading it. It's so shallow.

On the first stage we have his analysis of what was there before he arrived:
"the jungle which passed for an education system, from which few emerged with anything resembling an education."

Immediately I'm thinking - here's yet another self obsessed twit thinks he's Jesus and that everyone with experience who knows what they're talking about needs to be cleared out they way...... again........ yawn. I wish someone would make these kids study even an introductory module into what education in ordinary schools which have to deal with everyone in society is like from, say, the beginning of a PGCE so that they clearly had some insight into the common framework of the domain they're talking about.

Anyway - will plough on with it.

Roland Meredith's picture
Fri, 14/09/2012 - 10:26

Sorry Sir Peter but I don't see you ideas for Labour as being particularly bold. They seem to be suggestions for just tinkering further with an education structure designed for the minority of the learners in it and that clearly has failed a huge proportion of our adult population. (See Lord Leitch's report 2005 - 1 in 6 adults literacy skills below what we would expect of an 11 year old, 1 in 2 adults with numeracy skills below! Not evidence of an education system that has been comprehensively working for a very long time.)
Bold, for me, would be to explore what skills, knowledge package and personal qualities/strengths young people will need to be successful in the future they will face (not just measured by getting to university!) and designing a national curriculum that ensures the core elements are delivered - assessment, inspection, etc. - regardless of the massive changes this would require. The rest would be as relevant and in context.
Another bold move would be to ensure a genuine change to teacher training to create a cohort of future teachers who respond to scientific and case study evidence of pedagogy that maximises learning. Quite how much could be done in this respect with the current teacher cohort is less clear and much more difficult to bring about. The is much excellent changed practice, but whilst constructs and measures of school success remains predicated on university progression it is far too easy to just maintain the status quo - even when it clearly does not work for all. Eisenstein has something significant to say about doing the same thing over and over and expecting a different outcome. And yet we seem to have a education system that in too many quarters is committed to this approach - Mr Gove most dogmatically.

Ricky-Tarr's picture
Fri, 14/09/2012 - 14:21

I think Gove will pleasantly surprise you in the end, Roland.

And he should be given credit for giving people like you the chance to pioneeer something different under the free school system. Good luck with Discovery School - it looks really promising.

Janet Downs's picture
Fri, 14/09/2012 - 16:33

Roland - Literacy and numeracy levels are not as dire as you make out although they are still a cause for concern. The latest government figures (2011) into literacy/numeracy levels in the adults of working age (16-65) found that “Seven in ten respondents (72 per cent) achieved Level or above in literacy and Entry Level 3 or above in numeracy. One in ten (10 per cent) were below both of these levels.”

Level 1 literacy and Entry Level 3 numeracy are the threshold levels for functional literacy/numeracy (ie the basic level of competence needed to function). The one in ten figure sounds a lot but it needs to be remembered that these are adults aged up to 65. Some would have been born in 1946 and left school at 15 in 1961 with no qualifications. The school-leaving age wasn’t raised until 1973.

Using the figures for all adults of working age to damn today’s education system is rather unfair.

That said, I like your ideas for a core national curriculum. Also I totally agree with your idea that teacher training should include evidence of pedagogy (as in Finland, where teachers must have a Masters in the subject).

Rebecca Hanson's picture
Fri, 14/09/2012 - 15:26

"I think Gove will pleasantly surprise you in the end, Roland."


Ricky-Tarr's picture
Fri, 14/09/2012 - 17:51


I imagine you have already seen the study referred to in this Guardian article and can point to links to rubbish it. If so, could I trouble you to please post them again?

A fifth of teenagers leave school so illiterate and innumerate they are incapable of dealing with the challenges of everyday life, a study has found.

Some 22% of 16- to 19-year-olds in England are functionally innumerate – meaning their maths skills are limited to little more than basic arithmetic, researchers from Sheffield University discovered. This means their numeracy levels are at or below an 11-year-old's.

This is a higher rate of innumeracy than many other industrialised countries, the study of literacy and numeracy rates over the past 60 years found.

Meanwhile, 17% of 16- to 19-year-olds are functionallly illiterate – meaning they cannot handle much more than straightforward questions. It is unlikely, or even impossible, that they will understand allusion and irony, the researchers found. Their reading standard is at or below an 11-year-old's.

Ricky-Tarr's picture
Fri, 14/09/2012 - 15:56

Because the new examination regime will not turn out to be the 'return to the 1950s' caricature, as alleged.

Rebecca Hanson's picture
Fri, 14/09/2012 - 18:00

We've discussed this article before Ricky. The author does not seem to understand what functional numeracy is.

'Functional' is a term used for 'application' not for passing exams.

Rebecca Hanson's picture
Fri, 14/09/2012 - 16:08

Will it take full advantage of the emerging technologies for integrating formative and summative assessment?

Janet Downs's picture
Fri, 14/09/2012 - 18:13

Thanks, Rebecca for reminding RT that we've discussed this before. If he wants to find the relevant posts all he needs to do is type "literacy" or "illiterate" in the search box above - it's that simple. He will then find all the evidence (with links helpfully provided). Even more simple, he could click on FAQs above and find the answer to his question (again, with evidence, with links).

I'm really surprised we have to explain to someone who is constantly on this site how it actually works. In simple terms and in words of one syllable:

1 There is a search box. Click on it. Type in the word(s) you want.
2 There is also a tag marked faqs. Click on it. See if what you want is there.

This is a very good site for finding stuff about schools. It's got lots of facts with links to prove them.

(Sorry, two of the words have two syllables.)

Rebecca Hanson's picture
Fri, 14/09/2012 - 18:39

Hey - Janet - there are hints of grumpiness in this post. That's so rare for you! It makes me realise how totally calm you always stay. :-)

Wine o'clock.

Here's something for the weekend you might like. Towards the end it makes me realise how much it matters that there some of us who are relentlessly standing up for reality in the darkness.

Ricky-Tarr's picture
Sat, 15/09/2012 - 01:13

No..... not that I can see.

Having followed Janet's advice and used the search engine accordingly, I've found Janet critiquing guff in the Sun and promoting some Skills for Life blather, but I can't find anything seriously taking issue with the Sheffield study.

If there really is a counter, please do repeat.....

Rebecca Hanson's picture
Fri, 14/09/2012 - 11:30

The purpose of our inspectorate body for schools is to:
1. protect against dangerous practice
2. drive improvement
3. report to the government regarding the state of schools.
just like all other regulatory/inspectorate bodies.

Best practice in inspection and regulation was defined by Hampton in 2005 and is now the framework applied to most regulators in most circumstances.
Labour set up the law to enforce these standards in 2006 but did not at that time oblige regulators to it - instead they told them to get ready to be obligated to it. In 2009 it consulted on the private and charitable sectors and obligated all regulators to adhere to the law in their operations with private and charitable organisations. So Ofsted are already obliged to these standards for their work with private and public schools. In that consultation they also noted that Ofsted could run the same sytem for state schools.

And then they ran out of time - leaving state schools with no legal protection whatsoever from damaging and inappropriate behaviour by their regulator.

Labour simply need to pass and order to the Legislative and Regulatory Reform Act (2006) obliging Ofsted to it for all their behaviour. The Hampton standards are used to exemplify best practice which meets the criteria of this law.

Everything is already in place for proper reform of Ofsted Sir Peter, it would only take a few weeks to put the order to the act through. Stephen Twigg is already well aware of this. I've spoken to him about it personally twice and on the second occasion he had clearly read about and digested the information I'd sent him between the two occasions.

Janet Downs's picture
Sat, 15/09/2012 - 07:23

Rebecca - I'll take your advice and keep off the website after 6pm when my grumpiness quotient rises quickly. Your comment made me realise that what I thought was a withering comment came over as gripe by grumpy old woman (mea culpa).

However, the advice about how to find relevant information still stands. If the threads can't be found by typing in "literacy" then perhaps some intelligence needs to be applied (grumpy quotient still high). "Reading" brings up a thread about the Riots Panel Final Report which quoted the Sheffield study (linked in the thread). It's worth quoting my summary of the report's conclusion:

'The Sheffield report ends with a warning that literacy had been defined by “experts” based on what they think other people should be able to do rather than on surveys about what people actually need to be able to do for their own purposes. The report ends: “Meanwhile, all ascriptions of poor literacy and numeracy, whether to 13- to 19-year-olds or to adults, should be made with due humility – those who have the power to decide what other people should be able to do have imposed their views on those who do not..."'

Oh, and the "some Skills for Life blather" is a government report from the Department for Business, Innovation and Skills (BIS). I do wish people would follow the links before commenting.

Rebecca Hanson's picture
Sat, 15/09/2012 - 07:50

Oh no Janet - I approve of posting grumpy some of the time. I wasn't advising you not to. I was showing you a document which shows how I did post grumpy in a way which contradicted what everyone else was saying and I'm glad I did.

After I'd read the same to my husband he insisted we should watch 'How to lose friends' last night. Suffice to say I hadn't needed to watch it to size up the personality involved which appears to have taken the life journey from deeply ignorant without a soul to deeply ignorant without a soul. One day he might understand that to have value you have to become good at something worthwhile and that that takes years. It can't be bypassed by buying friends more ignorant than you are to help you feel more able and talking your way into positions of power without developing those essential skills.

Mona McNee's picture
Mon, 10/02/2014 - 08:18

A number of you are well aware of the terrible literacy level achieved here, now "Almost 1 in 3". Teachers are involved but they are doing their best according to their training, and the ghastly "Letters and Sounds" programme issued by DfE.
My LEA Knowsley is next to bottom but over the last 20 years, despite clear proof of the potential of children, refuses to work with me. I want teachers to enjoy seeing their pupils learn, dyslexic or not.
Will some of you please try, and report back to us? I will happily supply hard-copy so that you can photocopy the worksheets. Too many phonics programmes are based on ENcoding, 44 sounds with few or no rules. The best way is a programme based on DEcoding, 26 letters, and WRITING them, a writing road to reading with only two words to learn: "to, the". Once you OUNDERSTAND, you will be amazed how simple it is. I live at 2 Keats AVenue, Whiston L35 2XR, if you care to visit me.

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