LibLink: David Laws – Incentive for UK schools to promote talent

Writing in today’s Financial Times, Lib Dem schools minister David Laws has the following to say about the Government’s announcements on reforms to the systems of examination:

We need all schools to teach all children well in all subjects. For that reason, we propose judging schools by the progress their pupils make in eight subjects. Two of those subjects will be English and maths; a further three will be any combination of sciences, history, geography and languages. The remaining three are open – they could be further sciences or languages, subjects such as art or music, or high-quality vocational subjects. All will count equally.

We are recognising the importance of the arts and of vocational education. A school whose pupils excel in a wide range of subjects will be rewarded in the league tables. Music and art are important, and it is right that we recognise that. The same is true for vocational subjects. But we will not reward a school that provides these subjects at the expense of the academic core. Professor Alison Wolf, in her review of vocational courses, was right that English and maths are the most important vocational courses available.

The approach will reward schools for stretching all pupils, by using progress and not attainment as the measure. For some pupils achieving D grades rather than F grades is a major triumph for them and for their school. We will reward that success. Equally, there are some for whom we can tell by the age of 11 that a string of Bs and Cs would be a real failing. Such schools will be held to account. We will do this by setting each school a target attainment level at 16 for their pupils, based on the attainment level of those pupils when they join the school. This will tell us whether schools have served their pupils well.

There is, of course, more to school policy than accountability. The recent LSE Growth Commission, for example, also called for more freedoms for schools and better support for children from poorer backgrounds.

We have already allowed far more schools than ever before the freedoms that come from academy status. More recently we have freed up heads to pay more to teachers who go the extra mile.

We have created the pupil premium – £2.5bn a year by the end of this parliament. This money will be attached to every student receiving free school meals. I doubt many Financial Times readers will be directly affected. That money will, however, ensure that all pupils keep up, making classes easier to teach, and raising outcomes for all. And it supports our economy: an education system that throws away the talents of one in six because their parents are poor does no one any favours at all.

Together, this package of freedom, funding and accountability offers us the education system our children deserve and our country needs.

You can read David’s piece in full here (registration required).

* Nick Thornsby is Thursday Editor of Liberal Democrat Voice and blogs here.

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3 Comments

  • Julian Critchley 7th Feb '13 - 4:29pm

    The proposals for measuring school achievement by looking at value-added and average point score is a sensible one, and significantly better than the 5 A*-C measurement which led to so much focus on a tiny number of C/D borderline students. It’s also sensible that this average score will include subjects other than the Ebacc list. Generally, an improvement on the current situation, or Gove’s original proposals for a new EBC qualification.

    The devil is in the detail, and there’ll be stormy waters ahead over what constitutes a high quality vocational subject, but I can give this a cautious welcome at this stage, which is something I never thought I would ever do for a policy emerging from Gove’s ministry. If the LibDems have anything to do with this, they really sould be proud of themselves, and let people know. It’s an improvement.

  • Helen Tedcastle 7th Feb '13 - 4:52pm

    ” The remaining three are open – they could be further sciences or languages, subjects such as art or music, or high-quality vocational subjects. All will count equally.”

    From my perspective as an RS specialist, this shift in policy is to be welcomed. I would have liked David Laws to have acknowledged the existence of the third humanity in his statement but at least the average point score gives a greater range of subjects some weight.

    Like Julian, I welcome today’s climb-down by Gove but with some caution – until all the details have been published.

  • Nigel Jones 10th Feb '13 - 3:08pm

    This is encouraging. We really must now be seen to be taking an approach to Education which is fundamentally different from that of the conservatives, even though we share the concern to improve standards.
    So far this has not happened and in the recent past the comments by Nick Clegg have given the totally wrong message to the public as to where we stand. I read recently in the Independent that David Laws was generally supportive of Michael Gove and that shows just how disastrous our leadership has been in not conveying to the public what our approach to Education really is.
    Our fundamental position surely is that we want a framework within which good quality education of all sorts is provided for all sorts of young people. That means blurring, if not abandoning completely the divide between academic and vocational and having a complete mix. We should not forget either that knowledge and skills for some people are better attained through practical ways, rather than sitting in a classroom trying to absorb it.
    We should also be telling the public that we want to find ways of improving the education for those who do not go to university and steer our message away from being so hooked on universities that we give the impression that is the best route and all others are inherently poorer and only for those who fail the university route.
    Hence, I share the slight doubt expressed about what is meant by good quality vocational courses. A good start, but much much more to be done to save our party from the disastrous impression given so far.

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