What does the White Paper really mean for English education?

Melissa Benn's picture

As protests grow at so many aspects of current policy - from an impoverished curriculum to the diminishment of  local democracy, the erosion of meaningful teacher qualifications to the expansion of selective education - many people are finally waking up to the reality of long years of top-down reform of education, and asking what can we do about it and how might we organise our system in a better way? 

In short, this feels like an important moment in educational  and political history.  Many different groups, individuals and professionals are reflecting on the current crisis ( because it does feel like a crisis) and ways through it. 

For all these reasons, I thought LSN readers might appreciate this considered critique of the White Paper, written by the editorial board of Forum, the only academic journal devoted to the promotion of comprehensive education from age 3-19. Forum has a  long and rich history of discussion of government policy and advocacy of comprehensive education. This history is brought in full to this critique of the government's latest offering.


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trevor fisher's picture
Wed, 04/05/2016 - 11:24

sadly this critique, is only a critique. Admirable though it is, there is no focus for campaigning. Michael Bassey and I have just put a discussion document on the SOSS (Symposium on Sustainable Schools) web site, in the briefing section, calling for a game changer in the form of a ROyal Commission, which would allow us all to have a say. At the moment, only the government does. This is a white paper. It is not a green paper, so no discussion.

We would ask for comments to be forthcoming. I posted an earlier version of the paper on this site with little response. To defeat a government with a majority in the commons, tory MPs have to hve a way to join the opposition. Campaigning to suspend the White Paper and have a full, independent inquiry in the form of a Royal Commission would do the job, though it would need an unprecedented campaign.

But this is indeed a crisis. SOSS in the autumn published its analysis of what the coalition called a School Revolution. Its that and more. Now the Lib Dems do not have even a slight moderating effect, the ideologues are driving forward for total victory.

if you have any alternatives to a Royal Commission, lets hear them please. But lets not simply talk and analyse. There has to be a central core to a campaign which the many different very worried but fragmented interest groups can all agree on. Action not words.

And please act rapidly. The White Paper will be in the Queens speech.

Trevor Fisher
Convenor SOSS

Melissa Benn's picture
Wed, 04/05/2016 - 12:26

Aren't Royal Commissions appointed by government? Why would this government host a Commission that might be criticial of its direction of travel? The answer surely lies in the creation of a political alternative -  and aprt of that means putting pressure on Labour to come up with some alternative proposals, and new principles. 

Janet Downs's picture
Wed, 04/05/2016 - 12:49

The only group which can set up a Royal Commission is the Government: 'they are set up by issuing to the Commissioners a Royal Warrant by the Sovereign, through the relevant Secretary of State'  (see here page 5).  It's highly unlikely Nicky Morgan will be a conduit for such a Warrant.  She, together with those who control her, will attempt to push through their policies simply because they think they can.   

But there are growing rumblings of discontent.  It's a long time coming but when parents realise, as many of them are realising, that what is on offer in state schools is not education in the broadest sense but narrow, superficial and test-driven (it's easier to test pupils on their ability to spot a prepostion than to judge their effective use of writing, for example).  This Government is sucking the joy out of education for pupils and their teachers.  

Janet Downs's picture
Fri, 06/05/2016 - 12:41

Schools Improvement Net (now up and running again) has a poll today asking if there should be a Royal Commission into state education.  More people are saying No than Yes.

Paul Reeve's picture
Wed, 04/05/2016 - 12:53

Yes the answer does lie in the creation of a political alternative and it does mean putting pressure on Labour to consider and create alternative proposals but how do we do that? Is there a group of like minded people large enough to mount an effective campaign?

agov's picture
Sat, 07/05/2016 - 11:05

Thatcher refused to set up any royal commissions as previous ones had produced answers she didn't like and she admired her own opinions. The appalling NuLab governments followed her in that as in so much else. Not quite sure why Dodgy & Co would be more interested in evidence. No harm in requesting one, I suppose.

Roger Titcombe's picture
Sat, 07/05/2016 - 14:40

You are right Melissa. But as everyone that has worked in education knows, it is not simple. Ask Toby Young. I realise that Labour politicians are busy, but they really do need to do their homework. My book would be a good place to start. Jeremy Corbyn and Lucy Powell both possess copies. They need to read them along with these other suggestions.

The Truth About Our Schools: Exposing the myths, exploring the evidence

Growth Mindsel Pocketbook

Learning Intelligence

Reading the articles on LSN would also help.


Janet Downs's picture
Sat, 07/05/2016 - 14:01

agov - great to see you commenting again.  Thought we'd lost you after the site was updated.

agov's picture
Sun, 08/05/2016 - 07:21

That's very sweet of you Janet. I've been lurking so not actually missed anything. (Not that I much like the update but I gather it's more convenient for mobile devices.)

Roger Titcombe's picture
Thu, 05/05/2016 - 21:39

Melissa - A most timely and well put together piece. The Forum Board analysis is powerful, comprehensive and well argued, but as Trevor points out, it brings us no nearer to unified and informed opposition. I fear that Jeremy Corbyn and his immediate advisors have yet to do the hard work of understanding the complex and frequently counter intuitive truths embedded in the Forum analysis, so the generals lack the ammunition to do the devasting damage needed to these mad, bad ideas that are taking over the English education system. Lucy Powell has so far been a disappointment - far too shallow and opportunistic in her approach.

The greatest hope may lie in the 'Emperor's New Clothes' reaction of the general public, which has been far ahead of the media and the politicians in recognising the absence of logical substance in the daft notion of compulsory enforced academisation. Maybe the opposition army will have to be led by Mumsnet.


Alan Gurbutt's picture
Fri, 06/05/2016 - 22:58

Why can't the fight against academisation include the 11+? Proponents of selective education have weaponised the debate so many parents dare not speak out. I really do not see that there is much difference between stressing children out over SATs or the 11+, in fact results of the latter can be known before before sitting the former, which is not good for self-esteem.

Paul Reeve's picture
Sat, 07/05/2016 - 08:53

Totally agree and let's hope it means the end of 'public' schools as well. Birth privilege must go.

Roger Titcombe's picture
Sat, 07/05/2016 - 09:19

Yes, I agree that the 11+ is as bad or worse than SATs.

trevor fisher's picture
Sat, 07/05/2016 - 09:44

Alan - the comment made by Melissa is about the White Paper. The Paper does not include grammar schools. Sorry, that is a different issue. If we want to get the White Paper withdrawn, and that is the objective now the forcible academisation has been withdrawn, then we have to make the focus what it contains.

It is notable that the ITT proposals have flown under the radar, but SOSS is organising a seminar in the Lords on June 6th. If that part of the proposals goes ahead, as I read it university involvement in teacher training ends, uniquely in Europe (Wales is not going down that path). So lets please focus on the proposals not other disasters.

Trevr FIsher.

Alan Gurbutt's picture
Sat, 07/05/2016 - 17:25

Trevor - the Forum paper includes "A grammar school in every town", and I too don't see a market driven academy system that dissimilar to an academically selective one, in fact most grammars are now academies or I expect aspiring to be lead schools in MATs.

Agreed, it's important to retain university involvement in teacher training. Thank you for bringing it to the fore.

Alan Gurbutt's picture
Mon, 09/05/2016 - 08:10

This article by Melissa Benn is excellent, it sums up the mess that is has become education. I would like to add that the system has been weaponised to pit parent against parent, child against child and school against school, so that hardly a parent, teacher or student feels safe to speak out. The dire consequences of the 11+ and 40% child poverty along the coast of Lincolnshire, for example, have been pushed to the back of the class and it has affected community cohesion, so much so that it has also affected one's right to have a voice in the politics of education.

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