Posts Tagged ‘education’

The left’s failure to embrace school standards has opened the door to grammars’ return

19/09/2016, 05:21:05 PM

by Kevin Meagher

The debate about grammar schools should have been over and done with a generation ago.

After all, it was a system that locked-in the most appalling social inequality.

If you passed your 11-Plus exam, you went to grammar school, with an effective guarantee of a professional career and life membership of the middle class.

If you failed it – because you were poorly on the day of your exam, or dyslexic, or for any other reason – you went to Secondary Modern school, where you would learn to ‘do something with your hands.’

A broadly-based education was not for the likes of you. Like the Epsilons in Huxley’s Brave New World, you were bred for drudgery.

It was a wicked system that divided families and communities, perpetuating ridiculous assumptions about intelligence and by extension, the worth, of tens of millions of people over decades.

By disregarding the talents of so many, so early and so utterly, it fuelled strife in industrial relations that bedevilled post-war Britain.


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We need to raise aspirations in coast and country

07/12/2014, 11:00:43 PM

by Alex McKerrow

It does not take much for figures on social mobility to astound our conscience. Given one in every six children are still in relative poverty, it seems Britain is still a broadly unequal society. This situation underpins any modern progressive: spurring each of us on in finding solutions to tackle these problems.

Under the last Labour government, unquestionable leaps were taken in education. Whether it be our Education Action Zones or the initial academies programme, we got it right by targeting the most disadvantaged parts of our education system. It is from this that we can celebrate the so-called “London effect”, which reflects the immensity of investment undertaken in the late 1990s and early 2000s in the capital.

However, whilst London and other metropolitan areas have surged, the isolation suffered by many parts of the UK has been ignored. David Bell was quick to warn us of this in 2003, noting that some of our greatest areas of educational disadvantage are located “in towns on the coast or tucked away in a corner of [a] local education authority area”.

Worryingly, this trend has not ceased, as these areas have been unable to reap the benefit of national initiatives which have targeted disadvantaged children in urban areas. Although our attitudes seem to be shifting, particularly through the increasing growth of the outstanding TeachFirst program outside of metropolitan areas, we still lack the capacity to inspire children in isolated areas.

It is in the coastal towns of this country – where I grew up – that children feel the greatest disconnect. Isolated from parts of the country geographically and economically, it is easy for schools to fall into a cycle of mediocrity.


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Tristram Hunt is losing teachers’ votes

26/11/2014, 02:32:25 PM

by Daniel Charleston-Downes

In a recent Labour List poll, Tristram Hunt was voted the least popular shadow cabinet member. Other than himself and Ed Balls, all other shadow cabinet members were gifted a positive rating. Dr Hunt’s rating was the only one in negative double figures.

David Cameron moved Michael Gove out of the Education portfolio to protect the Tories approaching an election year. Since then, Nicky Morgan has done all that she can to placate teachers on the verge of further strikes by asking Ofsted to release clear expectations on workload. The Tories have also shifted education debate on to the only thing that they can win on, fear of Islamic extremism.

Teachers are unlikely to flock to the Conservatives at the general election, but parents might. Parents should be angry that their children have been used by Gove as guinea pigs in untested curriculum experiments and have had their futures pulled from under them by shifting goal posts. They should be concerned that 10 years of movement towards an education of inclusion is being abandoned for tighter definitions of special needs and rigorous and inflexible examinations.

But they aren’t because there is silence from the opposition. From a parental perspective, Hunt is nowhere. He has made one statement about curriculum changes, that being that the AS Levels alterations are ‘confusing’. Other than that he has attempted to position himself next to the Conservatives on family values in schools and battling extremism. Both territories that Labour are not perceived as strong on with undecided voters and that the Labour grassroots will feel uncomfortable with.

And when it comes to teachers, Labour really are in trouble. Strike action has been gaining less and less traction with NUT and NASWUT members who are increasingly concerned that unions are losing parents and alienating staff from school leaders. An appetite for further strikes has been lost by the utter contempt displayed by the Conservative/Lib Dem coalition and the deafening silence from anyone on the Labour front benches.


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Letter from Wales: In the spotlight: Keith Davies AM and Nia Griffith MP

08/11/2013, 10:27:23 AM

by Julian Ruck

Earlier this week I interviewed Labour AM,  Keith Davies and Labour MP, Nia Griffith.

Both interviews set out to explore firstly, the abysmal state of education in Wales and secondly, the political tensions that exist between Cardiff and London.

To begin, allow me to observe that Mr Davies was frank, open and obviously hasn’t forgotten that a sense of humour is an essential pre-requisite for any political ambition. His parliamentary counterpart however, was an accomplished pretender to the classic political art form of how not to answer a straight forward question. An ‘Off Message’ Bob Marhsall-Andrews, Ms Griffith was most definitely not. Ex-school mam and doyen of taxpayer funded haute cuisine, the lady was more a quintessential politician.

In relation to the parlous state of education in Wales, Mr Davies fully appreciated that a lot more needed to done in respect of science and engineering at Welsh schools, universities and colleges. He also readily agreed that inferior degrees were unacceptable if Wales is to compete in the modern world. When I quoted Matthew Taylor’s recent speech at the University of South Wales where he stated unequivocally that people in Wales should be ‘enraged’ at what was being done to Welsh schoolchildren, Mr Davies expressed at the very least some thoughtful understanding.

Ms Griffith on the other hand seemed to be in chronic state of Napoleonic denial, either this or she is an aficionado of Medieval trial by ordeal? It took a pair of dental pliers for her to concede and I quote, that “standards could be improved,” albeit that the evidence is clear and irrefutable: numeracy and literacy in Wales is on a par with Rumania and Bulgaria, that Welsh universities are accepting Law and Biology students who attain the minimum grade ‘E’ at two ‘A’ Levels and that spanking new Welsh education institutions are only allocating 12% of their budgets for engineering and science. As for the Welsh Baccalaureate and GCSE, apparently “plenty of consultation” makes them superior to the rest of the country and that was that. There was also a note of desperate satisfaction when she declared proudly that 40% of youngsters in the UK are now graduates “when in our day (she and I are the same age by the way) it was 2%”


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Letter from Wales: the Welsh language is in emergency measures

25/10/2013, 12:36:02 PM

by Julian Ruck

The Western Mail recently reported (4.10.13) that a group of Welsh educationalists, chaired by one Professor Sioned Davies, have composed a report for the Welsh government recommending that the teaching of Welsh in English medium schools should be extended and made compulsory. Needless to say the Welsh Language Society has now jumped on the extremist bandwagon (BBC News 5.10.13) and declared open warfare on English speakers too – and there’s me saying how moderate they were on this very site a few weeks ago?!

Alinskyite trauma and direct action are apparently to be the name of the game from now on – as if it has ever been otherwise? “Welsh medium education for all and ‘fair’ funding toward the language from the Welsh government” appear to be the straplines of the latest minority push for an RS Thomas Welsh speaking Elysium, where sheep dipping and haystack procreation are the only forces for Welsh economic regeneration. No doubt it will be a year zero calendar for the Welsh too.

More children wearing Harry Potter wizard hats being bunged into corners for not asking for the lavatory in Welsh and other children being placed in a Welsh style Coventry for speaking dastardly English along the corridors of youthful learning during school hours seems to be the name of the game. Nothing new here then.

Consider the following points:

1 Professor Davies as one would expect, is a fully paid up member of the Welsh speaking  Crachach, who bluster around the boutique coffee shops of Cardiff Bay searching for anyone under 25 who will listen (so much for objectivity and independence?), and an alumni of the fully taxpayer funded Welsh literati – she has written yet another couple of subsidised translations of the Mabinogion, subtitled “Overkill.”

The Cardiff university chair of Welsh (one would never have guessed), is presently researching a project entitled “Performing from the Pulpit” about “dramatic preaching in 19th and 20th century Wales.” You English readers really must wonder sometimes whether I am making all this up. I am not, I assure you.

One would have to be a devout disciple of X Factor optimism to expect anything less from the de-souling dysentery of intellectual fascism, sly social engineering and minority diktat that the good professor espouses. Naturally, where the Crachach are concerned, the shining beacons of reality are as elusive as the bones of Owen Glendower.


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Finland offers Labour an education model to challenge Gove’s retreat into the past

20/09/2012, 02:59:38 PM

by Robin Thorpe

Regardless of whether Michael Gove had any influence on the recent GCSE results, education should be a major area of debate between the incumbent government and a Labour party aspiring to reduce inequality. Yet the parliamentary Labour party has been remarkably quiet on this issue and seems content to pick fault only with the way that Gove handled the exams debacle.

What I would like to see the PLP do is challenge the coalition on issues that are of real importance to the full spectrum of stakeholders within our public education system; for example a clear definition of what education is for and transparently defined objectives for any reforms that are undertaken.

Let us first consider the issue of examinations and so-called grade inflation; in 2010 the Cambridge Assessment Group reported that

“we found there were different challenges associated with different types of exam but that these are related to the changing purposes of examinations, not a simplistic matter of ‘too easy’ or ‘too hard’.”

The Cambridge Assessment Report was undertaken by a large group of educators, inspectors and assessors over a period of months and considered, amongst other things, the issue of ‘grade drift’.

The report states that “grade drift probably existed, although so many confounding factors made it difficult to isolate and identify. How this might have come about was extensively discussed.

One cause was the constant change to qualifications. Tim Oates suggested that

if you effect continual or inappropriate and unnecessary change of qualifications, it makes holding standards over time extremely difficult”.

Yet despite this report Gove has proceeded to attempt to further modify examinations without first forming a cohesive plan of what and how is to be reformed. One of the first acts of Gove as secretary of state was to cancel the issue of the new (skills-based) national curriculum that was written under the previous government. He then also removed the modular element of GCSEs; a decision that may have been made for good reason but it goes counter to the findings regarding grade drift.  Gove’s most recent proposed change is of course the E-Bacc; a sure-fire way of ceasing grade drift – change the qualification.

The review of the national curriculum now being undertaken is to be welcomed, although I fear I won’t agree with the results. The signs are that a renewed emphasis is to be placed on examinations instead of coursework and that these examinations are to be harder. In Finland, the top-performing European nation in the PISA results, the emphasis on testing has been much reduced; no external testing takes place and schools are free to set their own syllabus from a very simple national core curriculum.


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Counting the graduates in the dole queue, it’s clear that our system isn’t serving the young, says Claire French

21/08/2010, 10:00:02 AM

Last summer, tens of thousands of young people fresh out of school went straight onto the dole. Student loans were paid late, occasionally months after the autumn semester began. By all accounts, it’s going to be worse this year. With increased numbers of applicants and an under-cut of 10,000 university places by the coalition government, there is severe competition.

Having graduated this summer, I too am feeling the pressure of swathes of graduates leaving university with a respectable degree and no job. Finding myself with no other option than signing onto job seekers allowance while looking for employment, I find myself wondering how we have reached a state where so many young people – having attended university or not – having no other option than to look to the welfare state for help?

Higher education would supposedly become more accessible and universal after the introduction of top-top fees near the beginning of the Labour administration. In reality from applying for university places through UCAS to landing their first job – many young adults are now fighting harder than has been fought before. The threat of soaring youth unemployment is leading to what some commentators call the “lost generation”.

With the projected number of young people missing out on a university place this Thursday standing at around 150,000, it is time to seriously question the new Labour 50% university target. Educating the future workforce to a highly competitive standard is obviously important for the economy and our global position. At this time of austerity, is not feasible for hundreds of thousands of young people to be signing on to job seekers allowance because they cannot afford to take a gap year, or because they leave university with no other option.

The further education system over emphasises the importance of a university degree. The Labour party continues to predict that 40% of jobs will be filled by graduates by 2020. Those who are less than taken by the idea of being indebted suffer from the current lack of apprenticeships and unskilled work. 

An undergraduate university degree is no longer a foot-in-the-door in today’s tough labour market. As areas of the private sector begin to advertise for more graduate jobs than last year, the public sector is tightening its belt – with huge redundancies being made and cuts to department budgets around the country.

The Guardian last week reported that only “36% of final-year students expect to find a graduate-level job this summer”. High numbers of graduates from some institutions are left out of work and not in education for more than six months after leaving university (up to one in four).

For many university leavers, a degree is not enough to land a paid, graduate-level job. Employers expect candidates to have skills and knowledge that is best demonstrated through previous work experience. For individuals without well-connected parents this can be a battlefield.

Internships – an increasingly popular form of learning in the professional workplace – pose a number of problems, foremost because many remain unpaid. Firstly, the majority of placements are located in London. Secondly, the nature of ‘the internship’ is to provide free labour to an employer in return for training. For applicants who need to pay for travel, accommodation and other outgoings this poses a problem. Campaigns such as Intern Aware and Internocracy work for fairer conditions, including a wage for interns.

Worldwide, the outlook for people aged between 15 and 24 years old is bleak. The global youth unemployment rate is sitting at 13%, 81 million people in real terms. It’s a big number that we need to address, and the current system just can’t cope.

Claire French is an aspiring journalist and writes at

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Caption contest: Michael Gove wacky races special

31/07/2010, 02:36:17 PM


Another bad week for the Education Secretary. Captions please.

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In the face of the BSF decision we must stand up for our schools, says Nick McDonald

30/07/2010, 02:36:11 PM

In Nottingham, we have recently started a campaign to protest against Michael Gove’s decision to cancel Labour’s Building Schools for the Future. His decision came as no surprise, but that will be of little comfort to the schools and learning centres that have fallen on the wrong side of the line.

The cancellation of BSF affects two of our schools; Top Valley School & Engineering College in the north of Nottingham and The Trinity School in the west. These two schools are special cases. They were to receive part of the £33 million funding specifically promised as an agreed fifth wave of BSF investment in Nottingham. But there are even more schools or learning centres here have had their building projects either scrapped entirely or dramatically reduced. For teachers, parents, and children of all of these schools this is clearly a devastating blow.


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