More on Cameron's campaigning speech at Kingsmead School on 2 February

Roger Titcombe's picture
This speech was so deeply shocking in its politicking tone, absence of evidence and abuse of the facts that I have been puzzling for a while on how best to respond.

I will make a start by repeating John Mountford's comments on Janet's thread.

"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."

I agree so wholeheartedly with John that I decided to dissect Cameron's speech and provide point for point commentaries and refutations. I have done my best and posted it on my website here.(Scroll down to the second blog)

It is too long to post in full here on LSN (it was a very long, scattergun speech).

I share John's frustration. But what can we do other than keep countering by pointing out the truth and drawing attention to the evidence so much of which is made available on LSN thanks to Janet.
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JenniferAlice's picture
Wed, 25/02/2015 - 08:50

I think we are wrong to think that any Sectretary of State has any real concern for educating the next generation ....they are simply trying to make a name for themselves in Parliament and the press ....their motivation seems to be 'what will ensure that my career will benefit '.
Estelle Morris is the exception I think. Reading recent pontifications from politicians I could be led to believe that all young people today are less educated than my generation or previous generations.

Brian's picture
Wed, 25/02/2015 - 10:56

I think you make good points Jennifer. I also suspect your comment ' ... I could be led to believe ....' should read ' ... I am expected to believe ..'.

It isn't an inadvertent misleading of the public; it is a deliberate undermining of public confidence so that policies can be pushed through without debate.

agov's picture
Wed, 25/02/2015 - 11:46

Thank you Roger. As you say, it is quite long but I enjoyed reading it. In fact, it could easily have been much longer if points had been more fully made e.g. the way Teach First (unlike universities) gets to fill places supposedly for maths and science with English courses instead.

Roger Titcombe's picture
Wed, 25/02/2015 - 12:33

Tell us more please agov. I can update my website blog post while it is live if any readers have more information they think I have missed and should be included.

Roger Titcombe's picture
Wed, 25/02/2015 - 14:35

Comments can also be posted on my website. Thank you for yours John.

Janet Downs's picture
Wed, 25/02/2015 - 16:16

Roger - Teach First filling spare places with English is here.

John Mountford's picture
Wed, 25/02/2015 - 15:25

Your opening remark is spot-on, Roger. This speech is deeply shocking because of the absence of evidence and abuse of the facts. It is an indication of how far up the greasy pole the influence of GERM propaganda reaches. Some might argue that, with an election looming, how could we expect less that 'politicking' from a party leader. What you have achieved in your editing of the PM's speech is to clarify why education and politics is such a potentially disastrous combination.

Every statement of Cameron's was an opportunity to score points over the opposition and an attempt to persuade voters of the superiority of the Conservatives 'solution' to education's 'woes'. How many people will be able to weigh up the arguments, as you have? Equally, this is true when considering the other parties.

Our whole political system is driven by adversarial argument - me, right, you, wrong! Perhaps this is the only way to survive in the cut and thrust of parliamentary debate, but this approach fails our democracy when it is applied to education, where debate, based around the search for consensus, is a vital element of the process of reform.

I see the problem with what I am seeking. It is that it requires time to reach consensus and 'slow thinking' wastes time. Sadly, our leaders choose mostly to consume time like a greedy child demolishing candy, rather than build on the restraints and opportunities it could afford us in the vital search for a common humanity.

Janet Downs's picture
Wed, 25/02/2015 - 15:55

Roger - your riposte to Cameron is a step-by-step demolition job.

When I wrote my article on Cameron's speech, there were some things I had to omit because I wanted to keep it short. For example, Cameron's sneer at any GCSE grade less than a C. He seemed to forget it was a Conservative, Sir Keith Joseph, who introduced GCSEs and he insisted on a grade scale from A-G which would show what pupils could know, understand and do. This scale, referenced by criteria, would demonstrate achievement not degrees of failure.

But Sir Keith's vision has been rubbished by succeeding Tory ministers and many in the media who regard anything less than a C as a sign of near illiteracy and innumeracy.

Janet Downs's picture
Wed, 25/02/2015 - 16:11

‘Some teenagers could shrug their shoulders at their Ds, Es and Us. They knew they could leave school and get a benefits cheque and a house whatever their grades’, said Cameron.

I wonder how many sitting in his audience felt insulted by his implication that if they get less than a C, they will be 'skivers'. Does he really think there are no people on benefits with 'good' GCSEs, A levels, degrees? Does he not know that for the first time, the proportion of people claiming benefits (disregarding pensioners) who are in work is greater than those who are not?

He speaks as if those with 'bad' GCSEs are sub-human beings who, in Boris Johnson's words, are ‘already very far from equal in raw ability, if not spiritual worth’.

And there we have it - those with lower 'raw ability', no matter how hard working, thoughtful, kind, generous and loving they might be, are perceived as lacking 'spiritual worth'.

Perhaps Martin Luther King's speech should be updated to read:

'I have a dream that my four little children will one day live in a nation where they will not be judged by the grade of their exams, but by the content of their character.

Janet Downs's picture
Wed, 25/02/2015 - 16:14

Cameron also gave a spiteful dig at Downhills where parents had tried to fight off enforced academy conversion. ‘For years it wasn’t teaching children to read and write properly’. It was now the Harris Academy, Cameron said, and it was ranked Good.

But Harris, which took over Downhills, built on improvements made by the predecessor school.

Michele -Lowe's picture
Fri, 27/02/2015 - 09:21

Thanks for doing all the spade work there, Roger. It is, indeed, profoundly depressing how little Ministers and Prime Ministers grasp - or feel they need to grasp - about education. Although I live in Wales and in theory we have a separate system, in reality a lot of what goes on in England washes over our way.
Where I am (Wales) we have another initiative - pardon my weariness - in the form of the Donaldson Report, which at this stage is a set of proposals more than anything else. Donaldson created the blueprint for education reform in Scotland and has been invited to do the same for Wales, covering education from reception through to GCSE. Welsh Assembly Govt is very driven by Wales' lack of attainment in the PISA League relative to the home nations and is currently operating the 'Wales Challenge', similar in character, I believe, to the 'London Challenge'. However, as there is no extra money in the pot, the worst-performing 40 schools in Wales are being boosted by money siphoned off from the best-performing schools. It remains to be seen how well this all works out. What has been lacking in reporting is detail as to how the 'Wales Challenge' will work.
But to return to the Donaldson Report, so far it's at the discussion stage, so I would ask if anyone is aware of what this may entail and if we have contributors in Scotland, what it has done for Scottish Education.

Janet Downs's picture
Fri, 27/02/2015 - 17:06

Michele - in April last year the OECD said the pace of education reform in Wales was moving too fast and risked 'reform fatigue'.

I haven't read Donaldson, but Wales OnLine has a useful summary. It sounds much better than the stuff we've had to put up with in England.

Trevor Fisher's picture
Mon, 02/03/2015 - 11:20

The problem for the celtic nations is that they are driven by what Pasi Sahlberg called The GERM - The Global Education Reform Movement. All must dance to the same tune.

The London Challenge was highly successful, and SOSS will be bringing out a pamphlet on it in the spring. However it was not a magic bullet and needed increased resources. THe Welsh and now the Scots Nationalists - Nicola Sturgeon was in a London school last month talking about what she will do to transfer the Challenge into SNP Land - and there is an urgent need to analyse what made it successful.

Political intervention it was not. There is also a fundamental problem with top down intervention, the intervention was driven at school level.

We have to take the GERM on board. Meanwhile note that Cameron talks about Britain all the way through the speech. He is incapable of understanding education is devolved. This is one reason why the Scots are increasingly looking for the exit door.

trevor fisher

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