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.