Cameron’s campaigning education speech full of holes

Janet Downs's picture
The Prime Minister’s speech at Kingsmead School was widely reported. But the transcript was difficult to find. It wasn’t in Department for Education press releases; it wasn’t on the Government’s GovUK website.

Regular contributor agov found Cameron's speech – it was a press release on (thanks, agov).

It appears, then, this wasn’t a regular puff speech of the sort made by ex-Education Secretary, Michael Gove, when he outlined Government policy. It was a campaigning speech with Cameron standing in front of a huge poster pushing Tory ‘commitments’.

Schools have a statutory duty not to be partisan when discussing such things as politics. Canvassing before pupils in a school hall during school time would seem to flout this duty.

That said, Cameron’s speech was full of holes.

1When Tories came to power ‘some’ school leavers could ‘barely read or write’. In 2009, 94.5% of state school leavers gained a Level One English and Maths qualification – this shows someone can function in literacy and numeracy.

2‘We’ve got schools that didn’t exist three years ago getting as many pupils into Oxbridge as private schools’. Cameron’s referring to the London Academy of Excellence (plugged later in the speech). But the LAE is highly selective and has been accused of removing pupils deemed not to be ‘Russell Group ready’ at the end of their first year.

3‘…we have academies which had no pupils getting the five good GCSEs [in 2009] now seeing eight in ten reach that mark.’ This doesn’t refer to ‘academies’ (plural) but one (singular) – St Luke’s CofE, the predecessor school to Ark’s Charter Academy (named and praised later). But it’s untrue to say no pupil gained five GCSEs C or above in 2009 –22% did so. That's poor. But it’s not 0%. And Schools Week found the GCSE results for Charter Academy weren’t as good as it appeared. 83% reached the benchmark but the average grade over 8 subjects was just C-.

4‘…we can protect the schools budget…’. The ‘flat cash per pupil’ will not be cut. But this means a reduction in spending.

5‘We inherited a situation where one in three children left primary school unable to read, write and add up properly’. The word ‘properly’ is too vague to be meaningful. And as Education Secretary Nicky Morgan has been told twice – children who reach a Level 3 can read and write.

6The Government will expect ‘85% of a school’s pupils [to] reach a good level of attainment, or are on their way to getting there’. What’s a ‘good level of attainment’ in literacy and numeracy? Is it Level 4? If it is, then isn’t Level 3 ‘on their way to getting there’?

7‘We will turn every failing and coasting secondary school into an Academy’. But the Education Select Committee found ‘Academisation is not always successful nor is it the only proven alternative for a struggling school.’ The National Audit Office found informal interventions such as arranging support were more effective than formal interventions such as sponsoring academies. And Ofsted said improvement in the heavily-academized secondary sector had stalled while the proportion of schools judged good or better was rising in the primary sector where academies are a small minority.

8 ‘Free schools…are more likely to be good or outstanding than other schools’. Ofsted Annual Report 2013/14 said it’s too early to judge the overall performance of free schools as a group – their ‘profile of inspection judgements’ was ‘similar’ to other schools.

9 ‘British schools fell down the league tables for maths and science’ before the Coalition came to power. This is not true. UK pupils did not 'plummet' down league tables. And English pupils were the top of the European league in the Trends in Maths and Science Survey.

Cameron’s speech to school children, presumably corralled to make a submissive audience, was full of misrepresentation and dubious statements. Let’s hope his young listeners saw through the electioneering.

CORRECTION 3 March 2015 10.03. The above has been changed. I said results at Charter Academy's predecessor school in 2009 were 8%. That was incorrect. The proportion reaching the benchmark 5 GCSEs A*-C including Maths and English was 22%. The 8% figure was for 1999 when the benchmark didn't have to include Maths and English. Apologies for giving the impression that results at St Luke's were worse than they were.
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Trevor Fisher's picture
Fri, 20/02/2015 - 20:19

Its very sad that this analysis has to be made. Essentially the PM was being economical with the truth. But even sadder that the audience is seen as the kids.

it wasn't janet. It was the media. And they bought it.

What are we doing about that media acceptance and the millions who believe what he said? Not only is this one speech, it is the same as was said at Tory conference. Which Andrew Dilnot the government statistician asked them to retract.

We need to be informed. But if that is all we can do then we will see them win the next election. It can happen

How about going public?

Trevor Fisher.

John Mountford's picture
Fri, 20/02/2015 - 22:14

Janet, earlier I read what agov had unearthed of the PM's speech, and after viewing 'Question Time' (QT) last evening, two quick points occur:

1 There is no doubt whatsoever, this was a campaigning speech at Kingsmead School, raw in tooth and claw. I, too am concerned at this, considering the venue, the fact that it took place during a normal school day in front of an audience that included many young people.

2 Whether or not the speech was full of holes, it was confidently sweeping in its scope and clearly intended to impress upon the audience that the PM knows his stuff where education is concerned.

That said, the 'facts' were at best highly questionable and in some cases grossly untrue, as you point out. However, when someone as articulate and committed to a set of ideals as Mr Cameron is stands in front of an audience purporting to 'tell it as it really is', talking as a committed father of three, it would take a very knowledgeable listener not to accept what is said on face value (the hallmark of a true politician, if NOT a statesman). This is where the reference to QT comes in.

Last night's broadcast came from Stockton-on-Tees. The town comes under the constituency of Stockton North, represented by Alex Cunningham for Labour. On the panel were Lord Heseltine, Nicola Sturgeon MSP, Caroline Flint MP, Norman Lamb MP and star of Dragons' Den Duncan Bannatyne.

I note your concern about the youngsters listening to the PM, Janet - "Let’s hope his young listeners saw through the electioneering." However, after sitting through QT with ever rising levels of concern about the views expressed by the panel and roundly endorsed by the audience, I have to say I am not hopeful that people are seeing things as they are. It strikes me that no one, apart from commentators here and on sister sites trying to hold back a tide of miss-information about the true state of the education system, is in any doubt that schools and teachers are failing successive generations of children. With some doubt about the views held by Nicola Sturgeon, the panel was unanimous about the shocking levels of illiteracy and innumeracy in our schools, certain of our depressed position in international rankings and adamant that the only chance our young people have is assured by the ongoing academisation of the system.

I got to thinking when reading Cameron's speech and later during the broadcast. If I was a Conservative voter, I would be confident of one thing, success in May. My reasoning being that the Party knows where it is going with education and the public is largely in agreement. If I were undecided, the groundswell of opinion and the conviction with which the 'facts' are being put forward would be strong inducements to look very seriously at voting Tory, especially if I was a parent and education was one of my main concerns.

Actually, as I have said before on this site, my interest in the election is a passing one only. My abiding concern, and it will not go away, is that in May we may possibly have another new Secretary of State for Education kicking off yet another protracted period of 'political fixing' of our education system when it would appear we don't have any consensus about what education is for, nor what distinguishes a curriculum for the future from what we have now, nor why it is not good form to employ unqualified teachers, and a myriad other reasons.

YES Mr C., the system is broken, but not in the way you describe. Despite the seeming impossibility that it will happen before we have a national crisis in education (teacher training issues, exam reform, spring to mind, among others) time is running out for the present system of governance of education. It is only the lies of the political classes, aided and abetted by a cynical, unquestioning and lazy media that is preventing us from debating what is the only practical solution to the problem - getting politics out of education.

Janet Downs's picture
Tue, 03/03/2015 - 10:18

CORRECTION I have updated the thread to give the accurate result for Charter Academy's predecessor school, St Luke's, in 2009. It should have been 22% of pupils reaching the benchmark 5 GCSEs A*-C including Maths and English. I had given the results for 1999 (8%).

1999 is rather a long way back to make meaningful comparisons. But ARK does just that. ARK gives a figure of 0% for proportion of St Luke's pupils gaining the benchmark including Maths and English (which wasn't a measure in 1999 as the benchmark didn't include Maths and English).

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