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Monday, 20 November 2006


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Well, I'm honoured (I think) that I get a whole new post! But I'm not convinced. If your pupils are continually immersed in BNP propaganda, or al-Qaeda, or whatever, at home, then school might be the only place where they get to spend much time with people who think differently. Like Son of Duff, but in reverse. And, if parents can exert so much influence over schools that their ideology starts to creep into the syllabus, and if there isn't an open forum for discussion of ideology already scheduled somewhere into the curriculum, then it will find some other outlet. In science classes, possibly. Or history. Or economics, as with Son of Duff's experience.
I don't see why such a forum couldn't follow the same proceedure as a debating society, though, as a normal lesson, with the whole class present. Some of our sixth form lessons ended up like this anyhow.

Hilary, I'm not averse to the *debating*, it is the *teaching* that worries me. I think any good teacher of the humanities would encourage a certain amount of debate amongst their pupils, especially in the 5th and 6th years but the question is should they *teach* rhetoric, logic and reasoning to general studies students.

Also, I am not sure that schools should, as a matter of policy, interfere in the political/social ethos of families. It is, so to speak, none of their business provided the pupils conduct themselves in a disciplined manner at school.

So, 'yes' to a debating scoiety but 'no' to philosophy as a set subject for general studies. Of course, in the 5th and 6th years it might well be offered as a specialist subject.

Okay. I can see that some parents would be worried if their offspring started coming home and contradicting their father, bringing out smart alec arguments they'd learnt that day in Rhetoric. But - well, maybe I'm being over-optimistic, but I tend to assume that Truth is the daughter of Time, i.e., that eventually the best argument will win out. So, if the parents' private beliefs are any good, the fact that their child is learning to think critically ought not to be a threat. A temporary irritant perhaps but you would get that from a teenager anyhow. Whereas, if the child's home environment is totally didactic, the school is teaching it an important skill that it may never have encountered from its parents - i.e. the ability to question - and some day it may grow up to be an inventor, entrepreneur, etc, as a result. I think Einstein actually once said something to the effect that children should be taught to think, rather than to learn by rote, though admittedly I don't think he explained how he'd do it.

"...we all think in the sense of possessing mental faculties..."

Barely, David.

You're a cheeky beggar for nicking my strap line, but then I guess I nicked it myself, so let that pass.

I remain curious about one aspect of this grand scheme, Dear Leader. If parents can spend their vouchers at the school of their choice, how will you prevent the (inevitably few) very good schools becoming over-subscribed beyond the point where they can function, while the merely average schools become further and further drained of resources, to the point where they collapse?

This whole spiel reminds me of something. What is it now? Mmm...

Oh yes - Thatcherism! How could I have been so forgetful? Now there was a truly golden age of education policy, the manifest benefits of which are demonstrated daily in that gilded generation who had the good fortune to grew up under her enlightened stewardship of our nation's youth.


Oh blast - 'to grew up'!

Curse these new-fangled typewriters. The TV thing is now covered in Tippex.

Cheap, Larry!

Well done, Andy, you've caught up! Indeed, the better schools will grow and grow and earn lots more education vouchers which will allow them to take over the failing schools. Thus, education will emulate the supermarkets, each vying for your custom, each eager to come up with new, innovative products and services, each staying open for as long as there are people out there (not just children) who wish to learn something - but all of them under the strict litmus test of exam results set by an independent body and marked by another independent body.

Alas, the Great Lady bottled the education question but she had other things on her mind.

So to sumarise we end up in a situation where we have 4/5 massive education corporations/cooperatives educating the vast majority of children and a few small alternatives catering for the niche market. - a bit like organic shops and specialist markets perhaps.

Now lets see what that means if we continue the analogy: the top chefs (the educated who know what makes a quality education) go to the specialist shops, and the great unwashed eat obesity inducing ready meals.

Only the analagy doesn't really work. Success rate in exams strongly correlates with postcode. So good school A in nice area gets good results, then gets an influx of council estate children who deprive school B of funds. School B closes. School A then buys School B with its new wealth, sends its new influx back to school B as school B is closer to where the new influx live. Then acts all surprised when the methods and management style that worked so well in producing exam results for the nice area fail to work when imported in to an area suffering problems. To put it another way - the teachers of Eton wouldn't achieve anything like the same results if they were put in a school that served inner city Brixton.

Another point to consider is that once at university, pupils from bad state schools do far better than privately educated ones. This is because the ones from state schools have had to succeed despite the schools, and largely learned the skills needed to get a good degree (learning without supervision etc). The ones from the privillaged areas have been mollycoddled all their lifes, and their education has been a series of private tutors and teachers teaching them how to pass exams not learn. Thus they get to an institution which isn't an exam factory, and leaves them on their own, and don't do as well. (or freed from the expectations of middle class parents start to take drugs, drop out and realise that academic stuff really isn't for them).

All this is a longwinded way of saying that judging schools purely by exams is flawed, and your system will encourage schools to be exam factories not institutions of learning.

I don't think your ideas on education are entirely without merit, but equally you don't seem have acknowledged the impact that market based reforms have had in the last 20 years, and come up with any proposals that are actually new or creative, or ones that actually solve the problems in education.

Indeed, planeshift is sadly correct. Added to which is the fact that the most significant predictor of academic success is parental involvement in the child's education. In other words, those children whose parents encourage and help them to learn tend to do better than those whose parents don't. Buying the kids the odd book, or taking them to the library - when it hasn't been run down by a Tory council - is always a plus.

It's always tempting to fall back on simplistic notions of 'good' and 'bad' teaching. And it helps to distract people from the manifest failings of many parents, and many politicians (oh, and let's not forget the little beasts that this is all about). Of course there are bad teachers. But there are good teachers at bad schools and vice versa. It really isn't a matter of teaching methods, either. Good teaching requires only one genuinely essential thing - pupils who wish to learn. In planeshift's scenario above, a more likely outcome of the influx of kids from school B into school A is that all of a sudden, school A isn't quite so good any more. When weaker pupils are mixed with stronger ones, the effect tends to be one where the academic level of the stronger ones is driven downwards, rather than the weaker ones being driven upwards. (I stress that the terms strong and weak are not intended to imply that planeshift's council kids are 'thick' while the middle-class ones are bright - I'm talking about academic aptitude and willingness to learn, which are things that parents - and peers - can significantly affect).

All of which looks increasingly like an argument for selective education. The idiocy of the current situation is that selection is now practised by postcode, leading to a far less meritocratic system than we had before the abolition of the 11-plus.

So why not go the whole hog, David? Forget this romantic notion of schools starting out as corner grocery shops and turning into Tescos. Just appoint the staff of Eton College to run education in this country, insist that all schools teach 'the Eton method', ensure that all classes are streamed by ability (based on regular testing), and sack every teacher whose class's results fall below a standardised measure of attainment for that stream.

Personally, I can't see why that would not be a rip-roaring success. Can you?

A somewhat rushed reply, Gentlemen, because I'm off for a long weekend away to include the wedding of an old friend's son.

First, 'PS'. Why do you assume that methods that are successful in one area will not work in another? All teh Tesco stores I ever see run on more or less the same lines and they all make money. Why should schools be any different? There is no sensible answer to your sweeping generalisations and flawed stereotyping. I suspect many an inner-city child would find life in a public school very hard to take. And why wouldn't a good teacher from Eton not teach well in Brixton? Good teachers are good teachers - ask Shuggy! What they need is the right structure to support them and the schools need the ability to quickly rid themselves of poor teachers.

However, it is true that my system will not create equally well-educated, balanced children with exactly the same exam results - that is the sort of Utopian chimera that socialist educationalists dream on. The point is that my worst schools will be infinitely better than today's worst schools. it is also true that my schools will be, as you call them, "exam factories". It is *not* the business of an institute of learning to mould characters, that is a private familial activity (or not, depending on the family!) It is only incumbent upon them to enforce a set of school rules by means of a code of discipline.

You are right to say that I haven't "acknowledged the impact that market based reforms" have had because I haven't seen any!

Now to Andy. I understand that libraries have never been in a more parlous state than now, after 10 years of New Labour. Not that the Tories would have done any better, of course.

You are quite right to say that a pupil's appraoch to being educated will vary because of a number of factors beyond the control of any school. Obviously then, 'streaming', based on teh exam results each year, will be required from the beginning.

Your statement that "Good teaching requires only one genuinely essential thing - pupils who wish to learn" is exactly the sort of defeatist, cynical attitude that effects so many teachers today. 'Good teaching', like good anything else, requires enthusiasm, skill, technique and ambition - not just for yourself as teacher but for your pupils.

You and 'PS' should be aware that your prejudicial slips are showing! Why this constant harping on Eton? Just let Eton get on with what it does and concentrate your minds on the state system which it's own inspectors think is fairly dismal - and remember, they are under pressure from you-know-who to mak ethings look as good as possible!

Sorry any typos, 'Teacher', to much of a rush to edit myself.

Duff, in case you have nothing else to drink this weekend, please see:
(As you requested, by the by).

I actually picked up the said ingredients, but owning to past indescretions I believe my gin days are over - in fact I seem to even have an allergy, sadly enough!

I will, however, rest easy by taking solace in the finest of single malt scotches to ease my grief.


"You are right to say that I haven't "acknowledged the impact that market based reforms" have had because I haven't seen any!"

The conservative government of the 1980s introduced the right for parents to choose which school their offspring went to, and schools were partly funded in proportion to each pupil they attracted. So basically a halfway house between your proposals and the status quo prior to then. They also introduced a centralised curriculum and league tables based upon exam results. In effect trying to create competition between schools based upon exam results.

We can look at the results of these reforms, and make fairly accurate predictions of the results of adopting your proposals based upon them.


Sorry for being so late in commenting, It's one of the those funny American customs, we celebrate people foolish enough to cross the Atlantic in the dead of winter with a leaky boat finally getting a good meal. Do make a promise not to inflict> this on your unsuspecting students.

Actually I think Hillary has a good idea.

While a tremendous amount of good ideas are not explained with a proper syllogistic method the bad ones never are. If we could kill just a few of the bad ones before they leave the keyboard there would be small outbreaks of sanity. Of course we do not want to much of that, it would really cut down the number of stupidities we can blog about.

Using a famous analogy from my military days.

Philosophy is like an anterior part of one’s anatomy – every one has one. Whether they know it or not.

The current Educashun system is feeding students a philossphy without telling them. But in broad categories there are only a few. If, in an age appropriate manner, the kids were taught a survey of the main suspects they would pretty soon realize that the current fads, which you lampoon so well, are not exactly new, and they have constantally been rejected with cause. Even without pushing a more sensible philosophy we would have many more graduates who not only have the basic cognitive ability to think, they will be able to reason effectively and reject the unreasonable.

Sometimes being neutral is one of the most partisan things you can do.

'RinR' (up above), for those not conversant with his site, is a dreadful old 'Trot' of the American persuasion whose only saving grace is his knowledge of dry martinis - than which no finer aperetif exists! His so-called expertise in philosophy, economics, history and politics can safely be ignored but he sounds like the sort of chap one would be happy to drink with.

'PS' says that Margaret Thatcher's Tories introduced school choice! Well, you could have fooled me and I bet if you tried it on you would have found climbing Mt. Everest easier. Anyway, we have 'enjoyed' 10 years of 'NuLabour' in which the only school choice I have seen was the PM's exercise of it in regard to his own children.

'PS' tells us that "We can look at the results of these reforms, and make fairly accurate predictions of the results of adopting your proposals based upon them." No, we can't! The schools were, and still are, state-controlled enclaves run by apparatchiks. Parents have virtually nil imput, teachers are rarely if ever sacked and no school ever goes broke!


Parents can choose which schools they want to send their kids too. Any education authority will be able to tell you this, the only limitation is that schools must prioritise places for those that live in the catchment area. (hence the fact house prices rise in the areas near good schools)

In this area alone 3 schools have closed in the last 5 years, and new ones with different management teams have opened in their place.

Parents can influence the running of the schools through parent-teacher associations, or by being elected to the board of governors amongst other things.

Some control of schools remains in the hands of the local authority, but schools can “opt out” altogether if the parents vote to do so. Even for those that remain, considerable scope exists for different management techniques. However you are correct about central control on one aspect – the curriculum and its examinations. If we recall your earlier suggestions you were in favour of a centralised curriculum and annual exams set by one authority….

There is in fact only one aspect on which you are correct, and that is that teachers are rarely sacked. Unless there is gross misconduct it is likely that teachers who aren’t very good simply get offered re-training if they are young, or early retirement if they are old. The generous pensions mean that that becomes an attractive option. On the other hand there is a high burnout rate of teachers, and many leave to receive higher salaries and more respect outside of the profession.

No doubt it will come as news to you that the Cane has been abolished as well.

"Your statement that "Good teaching requires only one genuinely essential thing - pupils who wish to learn" is exactly the sort of defeatist, cynical attitude that effects so many teachers today."
Defeatist? Cynical? Moi?

And that should be 'affects', by the way. Please don't tell me it's a typo, for I shall not believe it!

"'Good teaching', like good anything else, requires enthusiasm, skill, technique and ambition - not just for yourself as teacher but for your pupils."
Fine - you go and find these enthusiastic, skillful, technically accomplished and ambitious individuals. Then offer them a job as a teacher, with all the status, salary and workload that comes with it.

You'd better start in Poland.

Gentlemen, I apologise for the delay, I had a sudden rush of blood to the head and dashed off two posts. Now, then ...

'PS', you're not a bureaucrat by any chance? I ask because this had me chuckling: "the only limitation is that schools must prioritise places for those that live in the catchment area" and with one swift slash of the pen he was free! Er, the bureaucrat, that is! From some years ago I had direct experience of trying to get my son into the school of my choice and that was one of the reasons they threw at me until I threw a solicitor's letter back.

Come on, 'PS', I'm talking about the freedom of parents to take their vouchers/children to any school that will have them without having to leap over procedural hurdles.

The only part of the curriculum I want the government to control is the core, and the examinations should be set by a commercial organisation on commercial terms. Likewise the marking should be done by a seperate organisation on the same terms.

You seem to have forgotten another part of my proposal which is the ending of national pay rates. Because exams will be the same for everyone everywhere, the *teachers* will also have a record! The good ones, of course, will be poached by the good schools who have attracted more and more vouchers. Thus, the good teachers will demand top rates. It's the old, old story, 'don't throw money at the problem, throw competition'!

As for the cane, a dose of which I received every year for four years, yes, I do know it has gone and I wish very much it would come back.

Andy, affect/effects; you say potato, I say potahto, let's call the whole thing off! Seriously, you are right, of course, but you touch a sensitive nerve, sir. I am perpetually haunted by the shade of Miss Wood, Eng. Lang. & Lit., c. 1950-55, whose lips are even now pursing with anger!

As for your complaint concerning the monetary rewards for good teachers, again you are right, but the solution lies before you! What isn't a solution is the same old, same old. And Poland, or the Czech Republic would indeed be a very good place to start, not least because many of their teachers speak better English than ours! (Courtesy of your good self, perhaps!)

I believe your son went to school in the late 70s/early 80s. That’s prior to the 1988 education act that introduced the right of parents to choose. In fact schools are totally different now, some of the teachers even know how to use computers!

Now I did think you might pick up on the point regarding catchments areas.... however it doesn't invalidate the point that choice was introduced. In principle every parent has the right to send their child to a school of their choice, and schools will be funded accordingly. Does the choice exist in practice? It depends where you are. Heavily over-subscribed schools are left with limited places so there is an element of a lottery involved (different schools use different methods to ration), hence parents that can afford it buy houses in the correct catchment areas. The popular schools do get increased funding which many use to increase capacity to accommodate the demand, but unfortunately this takes time. In other words an imperfect market exists. Schools still compete through exam results published in league tables, they publish prospectuses and aim to attract pupils. All your own suggestions are essentially a more extreme version of competition between schools, and a different set of unspecified procedures and bureaucracies (each school adds a marketing department, a HR department, a finance department etc).

I haven’t forgotten your proposals to end national pay rates for teachers; it was one of the few aspects with which I (partly) agreed!

'PS', like mating porcupines we edge towards each other - carefully!

Act, or no Act, exactly the same qualifications and obstructions that you describe were applied to me and my son. What we have today is the age-old chimera, beloved of politicians who wish to avoid unpleasant decisions, of the 'third way' which they hope will avoid hurting anyone. Give it a nice, cuddly name, 'Parental Choice', but then hedge it round with ifs, buts and maybe's.

You are right, my scheme is more extreme - or more sensible - take your pick. In the meantime, looking back on the last 30-odd years of wasted lives and potential, I am sorely tempted to shoot one in three 'educationists' 'pour encourager les autres'. Then I think, why not all three?

One last thought, and I will leave the last word to you if you wish to add anything, my system will not only set the parents free, it will also free the best teachers in the land to do their very best and get rewarded for it.

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