If the English education system is to blame for the poor showing in the Skills Survey, then it’s the whole system that’s at fault and Tories must share the blame.

Janet Downs's picture
"We shouldn't forget that OECD report showed we were only country where literacy and numeracy had not improved over 40 yrs. #reformimperitive"

Elizabeth Truss@trussliz20 Oct

As I suspected, the insights in the first Adult Skills Report are ignored in the desire to show “reform [is] imperitive (sic)”. But schools minister Elizabeth Truss, apart from not noticing the typo, has missed two important facts which OECD made clear:

1 The results for England/Northern Ireland should be treated with caution because the response rate was low and the Non-Response Bias Analyses hadn’t been done.

2 OECD said the lack of “improvement” between younger and older adults was not “necessarily because performance has declined in England/Northern Ireland (UK) … but because it has risen so much faster in so many other countries across successive generations”.

As I pointed out before, the improvement gap between the generations is likely to be larger, much larger, in countries where the older generation received little education.

That’s not to say we shouldn’t be concerned about the poor showing of English 16-24 year-olds but if the English educational system is at fault then these points should be kept in mind:

First, the Adult Skills Survey took place between August 2011 and March 2012. The 16-24 year-olds would have been born between 1987 and 1995. They would have started compulsory schooling between 1992 and 1980. Labour didn’t come into power until May 1997 so some of this group would have spent some or most of their primary education when the Conservatives were in office. Labour’s “reforms” didn’t come into effect immediately and one of the first, the controversial literacy hour, was in fact inspired by the National Literacy Project started in 1996. This had been prompted by poor results in Key Stage Tests which took place after about 15 years of Tory rule.

Second, many Labour “reforms” were the kind of things the Conservatives have endorsed: academy status, league tables and an increasing focus on exam results. Labour peer Lord Adonis, supported selection, eulogised private schools and encouraged privately-funded state schools in the form of University Technical Colleges. Effectively speared by the late Ted Wragg, who called Adonis Tony Zoffis, Adonis has been praised by Education Secretary, Michael Gove. But if Labour is to blame for the poor results, then the Conservatives should be turning away from such initiatives. Instead, they are enthusiastically embracing them.

Third, the Adult Skills Survey wouldn’t have confined itself to people educated by the state. The respondents would have included those educated privately. So, if the English education system is to blame for these poor results, then it’s the system as a whole – the entire segregated, socially-divided, hierarchical English system – which is at fault.

The truth is that the English educational system has been subject to increasing central interference since the late 1980s. The state system’s been bombarded with constant “reforms” while simultaneously denigrated, attacked and undermined. And even independent schools aren’t immune to league table pressure.

So, if the education system’s failing, then successive governments should take the blame.

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