A longer read for the weekend… David Laws on ‘Education: Lessons from this parliament and directions for the next’

david laws centre forumDavid Laws, Lib Dem minister for schools, delivered a keynote speech at CentreForum this week, ‘Education: Lessons from this parliament and directions for the next’.

As the title suggests, it was a reflection on the Coalition’s policies, and in particular the Lib Dems’ achievements. But also a look forward to what he sees as the major educational issues and what Lib Dems should be seeking to do in the next parliament.

You can read the full text over at CentreForum’s site here. But here’s an excerpt in which David looks to the challenges of the five years to come…

Most teachers do strive for higher standards, and to do the very best for the children in their class. If you do not accept this basic premise – or if you are not prepared to show that you do – then most teachers assume you don’t understand what makes them tick, and will never look to you for leadership. And, frankly, some of the very best people will look at the open warfare between teachers and politicians and simply decide that the profession is not for them. The question is how to galvanise and motivate teachers’ instinctive desire to do good.

The right response is not to lower expectations and shower peoplewith praise for the sake of it – that would be patronising to teachers and a conspiracy against poor children and better education. All politicians will sometimes challenge teachers to do things differently. If the challenge is fair, and if it comes with a promise of support, most will listen – particularly if politicians can show a willingness to listen in return.

A future government needs to avoid the conflict that demotivates serving teachers and could actually repel some of the best people from this extraordinarily important profession.

A future government must work with the profession to make raising standards the joint endeavour that it could be and should be.

Raising Standards

So how should we pursue this agenda into the next Parliament? Let me start with clarity about the aim.

The aim must be an education system in which the overwhelming majority of young people, of all backgrounds, reach a good level of attainment. That means 85% or 90% of pupils, at each key stage of their schooling, reaching a set of standards that signifies a credible benchmark of international success. Let us be clear that this means higher than Level 4c at Key Stage 2 and higher than the current 5 A*-C GCSE standard. If the Liberal Democrats are part of the next government, there will be no backsliding on these ambitions, which are already embedded in our accountability reforms.

But of course, education is about far, far, more than exam results. It is about music, the arts, thinking creatively, sports, being a confident person and a responsible citizen. It is about securing the skills you need for life, whether that is age appropriate sex and relationship education, first aid or understanding of personal finances. It is a false choice to imply that you have to decide between a rounded education and a solid academic core. Children who have mastered the basics in English and maths are more likely, not less likely, to be able to flourish in these other areas.

How, then, should we support this raising of standards? Let me set out my approach under five themes.

Resources.
Revolutionising the quality of early years education.
Raising teacher quality.
School improvement.
And finally, what I will call “getting politics out of education.”

Resources

Let me start with money. Money isn’t everything, of course. Pour money into a badly run school with poor teachers and you will still have a bad school. But it is naïve and dangerous to think that money isn’t important.

We have to be able to recruit outstanding teachers. We know that many interventions that help improve education cost money. It is no coincidence that some of our best performing schools are also our best funded ones. And if we want to expand provision – whether it is more places in early education or more young people staying on until 18, all this costs money.

That is why in spite of the tough economic climate, my party is making a clear commitment to education funding in the next Parliament. Not only will we protect schools funding in real terms, as we have in this Parliament, but we will extend the ring fence to protect early years funding and the funding of 16-19 education. It cannot make sense to continue protecting schools and colleges only up to age 16, in an age when education is now until at least 18.
Nor can we address the clear evidence on the importance of early intervention and early years quality if the real budget for early years is allowed to shrink.

We are the only party currently promising to protect all of the education budget, from cradle to college. For me, this will be a very high priority if the Liberal Democrats are in coalition talks in May 2015.

The Conservatives have not promised to protect schools funding, let alone wider education funding. They have promised to complete deficit reduction with no contribution from taxation, and indeed with tax cuts for the most wealthy 10%. It is extraordinary to me that a mainstream political party can propose that responsibility for sorting out the deficit should fall solely on the working age poor and the public services we need to build a fairer society. Majority Conservative Government poses a serious risk to the quality of our education system. Without money, standards will fall, reform will stall, and it will become much harder to recruit talented new teachers.

Labour, too, have been strangely silent on their spending plans for schools. A Liberal Democrat government would have the resources to expand early years education and improve its quality, to protect the Pupil Premium in real terms, and to ensure adequate funding of schools and colleges, right through to age of 18.

Early Years

That takes me directly to my second policy priority: quality in the early years. Much has been achieved in this parliament, but there is still a very long way to go. While there are many examples of excellent practice, too many early years settings which serve poor areas need to improve. And the early years profession has had too little attention from policy makers. The pay is very low and qualifications and status are lagging behind many other developed countries. This is despite the evidence that it is the early years that can have the biggest impact on later life chances.

In the next Parliament, we should expand early education so that it reaches all two year olds. But we should make as our TOP priority a revolution in the quality of early years education – particularly for disadvantaged children. We have already taken a big first step in this direction by announcing an Early Years Pupil Premium of around £300 per child per year. This is a good start, but not enough.

In the next Parliament, the Liberal Democrats would aim to increase the Early Years Pupil Premium to £1,000 per year per child – which would in full time terms mean that it would be higher than both the primary and secondary premia. We need to front-load our spending on education – so that we are investing early. We will also consider using our capital budget to allow more schools to provide on-site high quality early years provision, prioritising areas of high disadvantage.

The Free Schools Budget has grown very rapidly over recent years from a few hundred million to well over a billion pounds per year. That is almost as high as our spending on annual maintenance. It is close to the level we allocate for basic need – new school places. In future, we should target all new schools in areas of high basic need, and we should release some of the rest of this budget to build new nurseries, including in schools.

We must also invest in the quality of the early years workforce. We are lucky to have many excellent and dedicated staff in the early years. But we need more of these outstanding people. And this is not just about childcare. Many passionate people ask why they should teach in the Early Years when they receive proper pay and Qualified Teacher Status only for teaching in primary education.

In the next Parliament, we will ensure that early years teachers can secure Qualified Teacher Status and we will promote this standard across the sector. Alongside this, we will aim over time to significantly increase pay. Again, we will target these measures first on the settings serving areas of high disadvantage. By 2020, every early years setting should aim to employ at least one person who holds Qualified Teacher Status.

Teacher quality

That takes me to my third theme: teacher quality and professional development. Politicians are forever arguing about structures, accountability and the curriculum. Too little attention has been given for too long to those people who actually deliver education – our teachers.

Our schools are full of incredible teachers who work hard and want the best for their students. But we need to attract more outstanding people and we must do far more to invest in the development of the workforce. Bluntly, we need to be nicer to teachers and we need to invest more in them. Not merely because the elections are coming up, but because we cannot deliver good education without motivated and high quality people. We know that the quality of teaching a child receives has a profound impact on the results they achieve – more than any other school-based factor.

I do not believe that a free for all in teacher qualification standards is the answer. It runs counter to what matters most: high quality teaching. Of course, you can always find the odd untrained person who might make a brilliant teacher, lawyer or policeman. But I find it as bizarre to suggest that teachers should be able to teach without a proper recognised professional qualification as to suggest that a doctor or dentist should be able to practice on us without training.

I think the Conservatives have been wrong to insist that academies and free schools should be able to hire unqualified people to teach. And Labour were wrong to change the law on this so that the decision was in the Secretary of State’s hands.

In any new coalition, the Liberal Democrats will insist on all teachers, including in free schools and academies, being qualified and we will legislate to give parents that guarantee. And we also need to go much further in viewing Qualified Teacher Status as being a process and not an event.

This will put teaching where it deserves – on a par with other top professions like medicine and law. We must do far more to help teachers develop their own practice and build a culture in which career-long learning is the norm. There is currently far too little high quality Continuing Professional Development to support teachers. I would eventually like to see all teachers benefiting from a minimum of around 50 hours of high quality professional development each year – just as happens in other high performing countries and professions. But we must first ensure that the professional development on offer is of high quality, with an impact on what actually matters: pupil outcomes.

That is why we must do more to incentivise and support good professional development. It is also why my party has long supported an independent professional body for teachers led by teachers – a Royal College of Teaching. We should make progress on this and soon. This can act as a focal point to promote evidence-based professional development and drive up standards.

We must also recognise that to create the space for more professional development, we must remove some of the things that are less important. That is why the Deputy Prime Minister and the Secretary of State have launched our “Workload Challenge”, and I am delighted that 44,000 teachers have taken the time to give us their views. We will look carefully at the submissions and we will act to reduce unnecessary workload pressures.

School improvement

My fourth theme is school improvement. The mantra here under the last two governments has been about autonomy and structural reform. Some of this is to be welcomed. As a liberal, you do not need to persuade me of the benefits of devolving power. And many sponsored academies have made amazing progress in raising standards. Structural reform has been highly valuable where it has cut through complacency and failure and delivered better leadership and governance.

But I think there has sometimes been a naivety in both the Labour and Conservative parties about just what structural reform can achieve by itself. Changing the nameplates and designation of a school doesn’t make much difference to performance if the same people are running the school.

Let’s be honest and acknowledge that some of those schools that have voluntarily converted to academy status have only done so because they hoped to get a bit more money and sometimes because they wanted a little less scrutiny. Many converter academies are, as a consequence, no better schools than if they had remained under the local authority umbrella. And indeed the Department for Education has placed many hundreds of academies under close watch because of their poor performance.

That is proof, if needed, that changing the designation of schools does not automatically lead to success. Academisation itself is NOT a magic bullet. Now I welcome real school autonomy, provided it is within a clear and consistent structure of national standards – a guarantee to parents of what they can expect from every state funded school. But many academy chains have no better record of success than the average local authority. And we are struggling at present to find excellent sponsors for even the very weakest schools.

So if we are to raise the standards of the thousands of underperforming schools, particularly those requiring improvement, I believe that we need to do two things:

First, we need a clearer spotlight on the performance of the middle-tier and a more effective system to hold both local authorities and academy chains to account; and

Second, we need to make the so called system of “school led improvement” a reality that works for all and not just some.

Let me start with the first of these. At present, too much of the intervention around weak schools is left to the Education Department. Yet we have over 4000 schools that require improvement or are in special measures. Here lies an inherent contradiction in the drive for autonomy – it has led to even more meddling from the centre. But this provides a limited capacity for scrutiny which inevitably drives attention towards only the very weakest schools.
Regional Schools Commissioners are a response to this limited capacity and limited ability to micromanage from the centre. But they still cover absurdly large areas.

As a consequence of not putting enough focus on a middle tier of accountability, we are allowing too many underperforming schools, weak local authorities and mediocre academy chains to deliver poor education for too long.
Top down oversight, led by officials often hundreds of miles away, is allowing schools to slip through the net and contributing directly to lower standards.

Many chains and local authorities across the country are doing a good job in driving up school performance. But others are lagging behind, with significantly higher levels of underperforming schools. If all local authorities and chains were performing at the level reached by many of the better middle tier bodies across the country, we would today have over 2,000 fewer “requires improvement and inadequate” schools. We need a system which is far more effective at holding academy chains and local authorities to account.

The first step is to develop a more intelligent way to spot problems at this level. To do this we must produce clear and transparent performance information – league tables – showing how effective both academy chains and local authorities are in improving their schools. These tables should look at OFSTED ratings of schools, but also the extent to which individual pupils make progress, and the rate of improvement in results across the local authority or chain over time. We are working on such tables right now in the DFE, at my request. I hope that we can publish these tables before the end of the Parliament, but if not I would certainly commit to publish them if the Liberal Democrats are in the next Government.

The tables should include both local authorities AND academy chains, so that all middle tier bodies can be compared fairly against each other. These tables will show that some academy chains and local authorities are doing a brilliant job. Some are doing a mediocre job. Some are doing unacceptably badly – both local authorities and academy chains.

By bringing this to light, these tables can inform the next crucial stage in an enhanced accountability regime for the middle tier. OFSTED should inspect those local authorities AND academy chains where schools are doing badly; and they should rate all these bodies on how effective they are at improving schools.

I entirely support the Chief Inspector in his desire to have the powers to inspect Academy Chains, as well as LAs. I regret that neither Michael Gove nor the present Secretary of State has been willing to give those powers to OFSTED. I am determined to change this in the next Parliament.

We simply cannot let either failing chains or local authorities off the hook. Nor can we leave school improvement to chance, or hope that “autonomy” will prove to be the magic wand solution. That is why we must make use of another crucial weapon in the fight against underperforming schools: and that is, simply, OTHER schools.

We now have nearly 1,000 National Leaders of Education. And over 600 Teaching Schools. We are seeing the development of a “School Led System” of improvement, which I welcome. But I am not yet convinced that the “School Led System” is a reality across much of the country, with support often weakest in the places where it is most needed.

We should therefore be doing much more to encourage other good schools to help those that need to improve. There are still too few System Leaders, particularly in those parts of the country where they can make the biggest difference. And too many weak schools do not know of high performing schools with which they could partner.

Tough accountability means that head teachers presently have a strong incentive to concentrate only on their own schools, in order to “guard” their OFSTED ratings. And school autonomy could also mean schools focusing only on their own needs, at the expense of those of the system as a whole. A more intelligent middle tier accountability regime will play a role in addressing this, encouraging chains and local authorities to drive support to their weaker schools.

But we need other changes.

We should, in my view:

1. Refocus and revitalize the National College of Teaching and Leadership as a “National Leadership Institute” focused explicitly on identifying and supporting the school leaders of the future and on getting them into the schools and areas of the country where they can make the biggest difference. This cannot be left to chance.

2. Establish a new high profile, one-stop-shop ‘match-making’ website to help broker support between weaker schools and System Leading Schools.

3. Recruit many more system leaders – including those with a specific expertise in ‘gap narrowing’ – and pay them an addition to their regular salary. We almost certainly need to double the number of National Leaders of Education.

4. Reward and incentivise schools to take on a “System Leader” role by designating up to 2,500 Outstanding and Good Schools as “System Leaders”, with a National Leadership Institute grant to enable them to build extra capacity to allow them to undertake this system leadership role.

5. Expand the Talented Leaders Programme, to attract many more outstanding leaders and deputy head teachers to parts of the country that particularly need them.

There is huge potential in a school-led system in which a more autonomous, highly qualified profession leads the way on improving outcomes. But we cannot naively think that it is autonomy alone that provides all the answers. We need to create the right supporting circumstances to create real and lasting improvement. If we can achieve this then the vision of a school-led system that can drive improvements right across the country can become a reality.

Politics in education

My final theme, is “taking politics out of education.” I have talked about the need for some changes in the architecture of the Education System – with a new Royal College of Teachers and a new National Leadership Institute. Part of the justification for such changes is to strike the right balance between political accountability of the education system, and protection from the day to day vagaries of politics.

It is, of course, right that many issues in education should be matters for politicians. So issues such as finance, the nature of the core curriculum, rules relating to selection – these are all proper matters for public concern and political debate. But the micromanagement of education is, I believe, often excessive and damaging. There is too much change and instability. And in some areas too much political interference.

Political interference and instability can damage education, and it is right that there should be a degree of separation between some aspects of education and politics. Independent bodies such as OFQUAL and OFSTED do a good job, and their independence should be guarded. The leadership of OFSTED AND OFQUAL should be selected on the basis of competence, and not on the basis of political allegiance or pliability. The removal of Sally Morgan as Chair of OFSTED was one of the worst decisions taken by the former Secretary of State.

Politicians should be able to set out the core subjects that schools must teach. But they should not be allowed to prescribe exact works of literature which are or are not to be studied. This is a degree of political control of education that horrifies any liberal.

Commentary on issues such as changes in standards should not bebe dependent on politicians or a potentially self-serving department. And changes in qualifications, curriculum and accountability should not be allowed to occur with such rapidity and so little notice that the education of children could be damaged.

My time at the Department for Education has confirmed my view that we should establish an Educational Standards Authority, independent of the Department, which would be charged with assessing changes in standards and performance over time and overseeing the detailed development of curricula.

The next government should also set a very high hurdle for further changes to qualifications and the curriculum, beyond those already announced. Let us give schools the chance to implement existing reforms, before rushing to further change.

So my priorities for the next Parliament would be these:

1. Set incredibly ambitious targets to raise attainment and narrow the gap.

2. Protect education funding from cradle to college and ensure that this extra funding supports high attainment and gap narrowing.

3. Deliver a revolution in the quality of early years education.

4. Focus on increasing teacher quality, with a new Royal College of Teaching and a high quality CPD entitlement for all teachers.

5. Move all schools to good or outstanding by stronger and more intelligent middle-tier accountability and making the system of school led improvement work for all and not just some.

6. Establish an Education Standards Authority to reduce political interference in education.

In government, Liberal Democrats have made huge progress in raising standards and building a school system where everyone can succeed whatever their background. We are determined to finish the job. A stronger economy and a fairer society, with opportunity for everyone. This is what drives me, and I know it is what drives most of those working in education. Working together, we can, and I believe will, deliver it.

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27 Comments

  • Helen Tedcastle 29th Nov '14 - 11:23am

    This is the best analysis I have read from any politician in any party on education matters for four years. Laws is the only politician who seems to understand the damage that Gove did to teaching and to schools and provide an analysis of the way forward.

    Laws puts Tristram Hunt to shame, because he actually presents a clear programme of priorities, has listened to the profession and understands what needs to be done.

    Hunt’s Blairite championing of private schooling over state schooling is embarrassing for a party that actually brought in the comprehensive system. His ‘big idea’ for private schools to ‘help’ state schools is patronising at best and shows how Labour are not serious about raising standards for all or working with the profession. The idea of penalising private schools for not helping their local schools is a nice bit of Blairite triangulation – it sounds radical and leftie but it’s authoritarian and the outcomes will be arbitrary.

    I still think that politicians, including David Laws, need to be careful with their use of language and in arbitrary benchmark setting of standards for schools. Children are human beings not robots. This simple truth does not mean teachers can have low expectations and get away with it but it does mean we need realism from politicians.

    Dedicated teachers worry sick about achieving these targets and work their socks off to achieve government diktat, so if the DfE actually works with them, it would be a nice change.

    ‘Political interference and instability can damage education’ – I would put it more strongly – political interference and instability caused by such interference does damage education and does cause good professionals to leave the education service. The average length of service is five years. I managed fifteen in the state sector and would not return to state school teaching unless politicians let teachers get on with their job. I’m not alone in that view.

    I would also add that I think Ofsted is not doing a good job. Under Wilshaw – appointed by Gove – it has become an arm of the DfE – recent reports from schools in east London shows that Ofsted is dancing to Tory political priorities not independent inspection criteria of teaching and learning standards.

  • Martin Gentles 29th Nov '14 - 12:26pm

    Laws seems on top of his brief and able to see the problems and solutions with a technical exactness that many politicians appear to lack. A fine basis for future education policy.

  • @Helen Tedcastle
    “[Tristram Hunt’] ‘big idea’ for private schools to ‘help’ state schools is patronising at best and shows how Labour are not serious about raising standards for all or working with the profession.”

    It’s hardly a ‘big dea’ – David Laws has been making similar suggestions for years :-

    http://www.fismagazine.co.uk/opinions/lib_dems.html

    http://www.isc.co.uk/Resources/Independent%20Schools%20Council/Research%20Archive/Bulletin%20Articles/2008_04_Bulletin_PoliticiansViewOfTheIndependentSectorDavidLaws_DL.pdf

    Of course Laws would reject any suggestion of removing the charitable status enjoyed by private schools, but as far as the idea of private schools “helping” state schools goes, Laws is all for it. And far from this being patronising, both Laws and Hunt have argued that such cooperation would be hugely beneficial to both sides :-

    http://www.theguardian.com/commentisfree/2014/nov/24/private-schools-independent-sector-state-system

    “recent reports from schools in east London shows that Ofsted is dancing to Tory political priorities”

    Unlike the children in some of the schools in question, who are not dancing to any tune lest they go to hell. It is perfectly right and proper that Ofsted highlights such things where it finds them – Ofsted should be as independent of religion as it is of politics.

  • Not everyone was completely bowled over by David Laws’ speech.

    Christine Blower, of the NUT, on David Laws’ speech to Centre Forum included the following in her statement —

    “David Laws’ proposals to give local authorities (LAs) powers of intervention for school improvement in standalone academies are welcome but need to go further.

    It is too little too late to suggest that LAs should step in once an academy is in difficulty. 

    Instead, we need to return to the system in which LAs have the power of support and oversight of all state-funded schools in their locality. 

    The recognition of the role of local authorities in school improvement is a step in the right direction. However, at a time of huge budget cuts to LA budgets, this would of course have to be well resourced. 

    David Laws’ acceptance that the endless  criticism of the profession has to stop and that teachers should be qualified is welcome.

    What he will do to change the situation is another matter. 

    https://www.teachers.org.uk/node/22817

  • Helen Tedcastle 29th Nov '14 - 1:00pm

    Stuart

    As for private schools co-operating with state schools…. this already goes on informally and has done for decades. I’m surprised you don’t know that.

    I am objecting to this as a flagship education policy relying more on coercion than co-operation. The idea that borrowing facilities and having a debating competition is going to ‘raise standards’ is facile. Also, the idea that state school teachers should hand over their classes to private school teachers as a way of raising standards, is patronising. The two systems are very different – it will be an eye-opener for private school teachers, that’s for sure.

    ‘ It is perfectly right and proper that Ofsted highlights such things where it finds them’ – Ofsted should be as independent of religion as it is of politics.

    Quite – which is why marking down a school, because of an explicitly religious term used by a five year old, is ludicrous and an misguided interference in religious freedom. The idea that Ofsted are ‘highlighting such things’ whenever they find them means they are not looking at context, the community the school serves or whether the child is reporting what he has been told, verbatim.

    They are not remembering that Gove gave the green light for downgrading the arts with his narrow EBacc and an academy programme which allows schools to follow their own curriculum.

    Ofsted are dancing to a political tune and political ‘promote British values – whatever they are’ tune and are using sledgehammer tactics to frighten religious minorities. It’s a disgrace.

  • @Helen Tedcastle
    “I’m surprised you don’t know that.”

    Thanks, but I do know that. I was talking about cooperation in a future tense in exactly the same way Laws does in the articles I linked to. Cooperation goes on but there isn’t nearly enough of it, or enough different kinds of cooperation.

    “I am objecting to this as a flagship education policy”

    Is it though? The education page on Labour’s website doesn’t even mention it. Not everything a politician says is a flagship policy.

    “which is why marking down a school, because of an explicitly religious term used by a five year old, is ludicrous”

    That was one line in an Ofsted report.

    “and an misguided interference in religious freedom”

    Profoundly disagree – it’s the person or persons who told the boy that he would (literally) burn for eternity if he participated in music or dance who are guilty of restricting freedom.

  • Helen Tedcastle 29th Nov '14 - 2:18pm

    Stuart
    ‘ Cooperation goes on but there isn’t nearly enough of it, or enough different kinds of cooperation.’

    So what we have to consider is whether co-operation like this is a key way of raising standards across schools. My point is that this co-operation has gone on for decades and does not raise standards. It is icing on the cake, not the cake itself.

    ‘ Is it though? The education page on Labour’s website doesn’t even mention it. Not everything a politician says is a flagship policy.’

    So the keynote speech by Tristram Hunt, carried by all media outlets is a tiny part of Labour’s programme for schools?

    No. I know that this is part of Labour’s policy development with Anthony Seldon, who has opened his own Wellington College academy and oversees some others. This announcement is part and parcel of his plan – it’s elitist in nature in the sense that all Seldon is interested in is getting pupils to top ie: the most elite, universities – he is not interested in vocational education. He is also working on their other big idea – ‘character education.’ All of these are public school/boarding school ideas imported into a select few schools without any thought that moral development and outdoor sporting activities/competitions already happen in state schools.

    Hunt/Seldon are simply buying into the erroneous and patronising assumption by some in the right-leaning middle classes that competitions were abolished by trendy teachers in the sixties and never occur in state schools.

    In his speech, Hunt did not outline what works in state schools. The assumption was that public/private schools do what is best and state schools should copy/follow. He misses out other things like access to resources, background of children, small classes, freedom for teachers etc..

    Extraordinary priorities for a Labour shadow.. He’s a Tory through and through.

    ‘ Profoundly disagree – it’s the person or persons who told the boy that he would (literally) burn for eternity if he participated in music or dance who are guilty of restricting freedom.’

    Dear oh dear. So if it is discovered that he confused two separate things or that his parents told him at the breakfast table, should we lock up the parents? Freedom of belief means allowing people to express their beliefs openly, allowing them to bring up their children in their faith, even if you do not agree or even understand.

    On the word ‘Hell’. This is a religious term – it has a number of layers of meaning and is used not just in Islam but Christianity. You may hear this word uttered by Catholics – I heard the word myself as a child, at home, at school, in church. I lived to tell the tale and did not become a warrior against the west. Let’s please get this in perspective.

  • Helen Tedcastle 29th Nov '14 - 2:33pm

    John Tilley
    Thanks for the link. By NUT standards Blower’s comments are very positive! I am pleased with Laws’ speech in the context of the last four years. If this speech had been delivered in 2010, I would have been more critical. However, Laws understands what has been done to teachers. That is key for me.

    The first two years of this coalition, when the real damage was done by Gove had nothing to do with Laws. Clegg and his team agreed to Gove’s plan. Laws has steadied the ship and he exposed what Gove and Cummings were up to.

    As you note, LEAs should have the right to oversee all schools – I agree entirely.

  • Helen Tedcastle 29th Nov ’14 – 2:33pm

    Helen
    In the context of the last four years, or indeed the last forty years, my preference would be for a system of schooling that is stable, reliable, properly funded and not subjected to the whims of Secretaries of State who pass through the Whitehall Department as part of the political career.
    The national media makes demands on Westminster Bubble politicians to ” do something about education” and the clowns then think that they can.
    Since Butler in the 1940s how many Education Secretaries have done a decent job?

  • @Helen Tedcastle
    “So the keynote speech by Tristram Hunt, carried by all media outlets is a tiny part of Labour’s programme for schools?”

    Of course it is. Try reading some of Hunt’s other speeches, many of which are easily found on-line. In most of them (including his recent conference speech) he doesn’t mention the private sector at all. It’s hardly been a key part of his message, unless you’re restricting yourself to a timeframe of the last week.

    “This announcement is part and parcel of his plan – it’s elitist in nature in the sense that all Seldon is interested in is getting pupils to top ie: the most elite, universities – he is not interested in vocational education.”

    Who isn’t interested in vocational education – Hunt or Seldon? You can’t possibly be referring to Hunt, since vocational education is one of the three main planks of Labour’s current education policy and Hunt talks about it often.

    “In his speech, Hunt did not outline what works in state schools. The assumption was that public/private schools do what is best and state schools should copy/follow.”

    Not true. There’s a whole section where he praises the good things going on in state schools, summed up by his comment: “I know that neither sector has a monopoly on success, excellence and expertise.” Exactly like Laws, Hunt believes that there are some things the state sector does better than the private sector and that each can help the other.

    “Dear oh dear. So if it is discovered that he confused two separate things or that his parents told him at the breakfast table, should we lock up the parents? Freedom of belief means allowing people to express their beliefs openly, allowing them to bring up their children in their faith, even if you do not agree or even understand.”

    Who said anything about “locking people up”?

    I wouldn’t deny any parent the right to threaten their infant children with eternal damnation for listening to music. But equally, I would hope you would respect the right of other people to tell such parents that their attitudes are harmful, illiberal, totally unjustified and out of place in the 21st century. I’d also expect you to support the idea that parents should be offered help to protect their own children from such attitudes – which, actually, is the main purpose of the Ofsted reports you are so unhappy about.

  • Helen Tedcastle 29th Nov '14 - 6:40pm

    Stuart
    ‘ In most of them (including his recent conference speech) he doesn’t mention the private sector at all.’

    Yes I watched his speech and he talked about ‘character education’ – It was politely but unenthusiastically received. Labour party activists are not enamoured of Dr Hunt. His bland speech received a very lukewarm, response as did he.

    ‘ Who isn’t interested in vocational education – Hunt or Seldon? ‘ Seldon. As his experiment with the private school/state school collaboration is feeding into this ‘plank’ of Labour policy, I expect to hear a lot more in the coming months.

    As for your final comment: ‘But equally, I would hope you would respect the right of other people to tell such parents that their attitudes are harmful, illiberal, totally unjustified and out of place in the 21st century. ‘

    But it’s not ‘people’ in a conversation but Ofsted. What gives them – an arm of the state – the right to tell people what is or is not acceptable to believe in the 21st century? By that logic, I suppose they could send all faith schools into special measures because some Ofsted inspectors do not grasp theological concepts.

    You prove by your comment that these inspectors are rushing to judgement out of a lack of understanding of other people’s beliefs. It may well be that the child is from a deeply conservative tradition but that does not make him a potential jihadi. I’m from a Catholic background – we talked about Hell at school and it’s layered meanings – does that make me a potential Irish terrorist?

    What you seem to be prepared to do is agree with the state overriding religious freedom of belief, without regard to substantial evidence that the school is making children vulnerable to extreme ideologies.

    I tried to explain it to you clearly and simply but it is obvious that you have made your own judgement and are quite relaxed if ‘others’ ie: the state via Ofsted, impose their ‘will’ on religious minorities, without regard or sensitivity to context.

    Therefore, I don’t think you can be a liberal but you’re probably Labour.

  • After nearly 5-years in government why is it he only comes out with these grand plans a few months before a GE? This has far more to do with winning votes than caring about the education of our children – perhaps he could make a “pledge” so we can be certain he will carry out these priorities!

  • @Helen
    “What gives them – an arm of the state – the right to tell people what is or is not acceptable to believe in the 21st century?”

    Well, for a start, I don’t think “the state” is interested so much in what people believe as in what people do.

    As for what gives the state “the right” to intervene in these matters, I would suggest it’s exactly the same right the state exercises when, for instance, it insists that children are taught that female genital mutilation is wrong, or that forced marriage is wrong, or that treating people badly because of their sexuality or race is wrong. Some people believe, with deep religious conviction, that those behaviours are right. Society at large does not tolerate them any more.

    How about you Helen? Are you comfortable with the idea of “the state”, through its education system, interfering with those matters of faith? I would hope so. But if you are, then all that stuff about the state having no business getting involved with “belief” is shown to be bogus. The only issue then is whether we think (literally) demonising harmless and valuable activities like music and dance should be added to the list.

    I’m actually very comfortable with schools telling kids that music is not a path to Hell.

    Just out of interest, do you know what the religious basis is for such an attitude to music? I’m genuinely curious.

  • Helen Tedcastle 29th Nov '14 - 11:06pm

    John Tilley
    ‘… my preference would be for a system of schooling that is stable, reliable, properly funded and not subjected to the whims of Secretaries of State who pass through the Whitehall Department as part of the political career.’

    Agreed. Both Baker, Blunkett and Gove have felt they had ‘missions’ in education during my career. All of them were rewarded in some way for their trouble.

    ‘The national media makes demands on Westminster Bubble politicians to ” do something about education” and the clowns then think that they can.’

    Perhaps the most adulatory of Gove was Nick Robinson but he had a very easy ride from most in the London media – old muckers of his and all terrified of their own children mixing with unsavoury types in the local school. Hence the popularity of Toby Young’s free school/1950s grammar in Hammersmith.

    Since Butler in the 1940s how many Education Secretaries have done a decent job? Shirley Williams perhaps. In my time as a teacher, perhaps Estelle Morris.

  • Helen Tedcastle 29th Nov '14 - 11:40pm

    Stuart
    ‘ the idea of “the state”, through its education system, interfering with those matters of faith? I would hope so. ‘

    FGM, forced marriage – unacceptable. They are not matters of faith though.

    In terms of Ofsted and what is taught in schools, FGM, forced marriage are cultural practices.

    Islam and Hinduism do not teach these practices and they are not sanctioned by schools – but some people ( family members/mothers) for their own reasons, mix cultural/tribal custom with religious teaching – they are wrong.

    Is not teaching music against the law? No. Gove allowed academies to make their own curriculum and private schools always have done.

    Maybe the teaching and learning in the six private muslim schools had suddenly deteriorated from outstanding to special measures but failing a school for not ‘promoting British values or preparing children for British life’ and fearing possible radicalisation, because they are being taught a conservative version of Islam, seems a bit strange – these children were born and live in Britain in a 80% + muslim community – they are British muslims. Are they being taught by salafists or jihadis? No. They practice a conservative form of Islam.

    Their views and beliefs will not be those of white van UKIP voters , so who is more British and who holds more authentic British values?

    Imposing the latest Tory version of British values on them from outside, will simply have the effect of alienating them.

  • this is promising in its recognition that DFE influence should be reduced, and the professional bodies reinstated. It makes some indirect allusion to creativity and talks about incredibly high standards. Fine. We could do wonderful things via personalised learning and widened horizons rather than coercion. As a Headteacher who has been privileged to teach rural students OUTPERFORMING their independent school peers I know that, done properly, individualised learning transcends educational boundaries. It takes teacher confidence. Sadly the whole standards and ‘performance’ matrix is flawed, relying on a priori judgements about achievements and a linear model for student development (Einstein was 5 before he spoke). One set of ‘doctored’ Primary results can cause a huge Ofsted headache to the recipient Secondary etc. So Laws is a step in the right direction away from coercive models, but greater future vision is vital.
    Finally the whole issue of relevant curriculum needs some airing. Whether we like it or not, good maths teaching is crucial. Don’t coerce it, don’t throw money at it, but do develop it creatively. My ‘dream team’ for Education would include Anita Straker as well as Tim Brighouse!

  • Helen Tedcastle 30th Nov '14 - 10:33am

    @ Clive I agree with your comments on the Laws speech. He seems to recognise the importance of creativity in schooling and the necessity for a broad and balanced curriculum. Hard to believe that we are thankful for that when it should be taken as read.

    I also agree with you that the ‘targets’ and ambitions for KS2 and KS4 are very ambitious and this is where I think Laws’ economics background comes to the fore:

    ‘ That means 85% or 90% of pupils, at each key stage of their schooling, reaching a set of standards that signifies a credible benchmark of international success. Let us be clear that this means higher than Level 4c at Key Stage 2 and higher than the current 5 A*-C GCSE standard. ‘

    Laws seems to be of the opinion that if teachers give enough ‘input’ into any given child, then they will attain the benchmark target set by the state. This shows how little he knows about children’s learning and how much he knows about statistics.

    Having taught KS2 English with a mixed ability group, I know how difficult it is to move a child from level 3 to level 4 in year 6, especially in Comprehension. Even one to one may not be enough to help that child’s cognition develop to level 4c. Of course, there are many who do move, (at the right time for the league tables), but Laws and others like Gove, simply think children learn in a linear way.

    Realism among politicians and letting go of central control and obsessions with tables and rankings, is the key. We seem to be boxing ourselves into a corner as a society when it comes to league tables and performance measures – is meeting or exceeding a target all there is to learning?

    I wish they would leave teachers to their job instead of setting arbitrary benchmarks, so politicians can be seen to be doing something.

  • @Helen
    “FGM, forced marriage – unacceptable. They are not matters of faith though… some people ( family members/mothers) for their own reasons, mix cultural/tribal custom with religious teaching – they are wrong.”

    Prior to your last post, you were saying that the state should not be judging people on their beliefs.

    Now you are saying that actually, it isn’t what people believe that matters, but whether some external source (in this case, yourself) considers those beliefs to be valid and acceptable. Hence FGM is unacceptable because, in your eyes, it isn’t actually a valid belief. It doesn’t matter that some people sincerely believe FGM is sanctioned by their religion (and can even point to passages in their religious texts that explicitly sanction it). So long as you can find theological arguments to the contrary, you are happy to reject those beliefs as “unacceptable”.

    Which is all fine, and frankly I’m glad you feel that way about FGM. So do I.

    But why are you happy to accept the demonization of music as a valid belief? You didn’t answer my question so I’ve looked it up myself. And it appears that the scriptural basis for banning music in Islam is virtually non-existant and rejected by every sensible person who has ever looked at it. So on what basis are you defending it, Helen? There is far more scriptural support for FGM than there is for banning music – so condemning the former while defending the latter comes across as arbitrary.

    Of course this sort of thing is not unique to the Islamic world. Here in Britain, the Quakers used to have a similarly negative view of music – but that was around 300 years ago. Such views do not belong in a modern liberal country. It’s the old liberal dilemma once again – to what extent should we tolerate intolerance?

  • Helen Tedcastle 29th Nov ’14 – 11:06pm
    Since Butler in the 1940s how many Education Secretaries have done a decent job? Shirley Williams perhaps. In my time as a teacher, perhaps Estelle Morris.

    Good choice. I particularly like Shirley Williams because her interest in and commitment to state education has lasted well beyond her term of office. I came across Estelle Morris (at a distance) when I was a civil servant; I remember being impressed by her commitment and her ability to talk and sound like a human being. Like Shirley Williams she was treated badly by the Westminster media which then as now is a club for “old boys”.

  • Helen Tedcastle 30th Nov '14 - 11:08am

    Stuart
    ‘ So long as you can find theological arguments to the contrary, you are happy to reject those beliefs as “unacceptable”.’

    No. There is a clear difference between FGM, a tribal practice and custom in Africa, forbidden in Islam but practiced by some muslims at home and belief in Hell. Hell is part of the overall doctrine of separation from God. It has theological import. FGM is a custom with no theological basis. Of course those who practice it seek to justify it but there is no validity to their claims coming from reputable Imams.

    I’m only defending the right of religious communities to bring their children up in their own faith without fear of harrassment by the authorities and without fear of being labelled as potential-terrorists in a ‘British values’ campaign.

    As I have pointed out before, some conservative communities do see music as haram (forbidden) but others don’t.

    It’s a debatable area because Islam is not a monolith – people who do not know much about Islam think all muslims are the same – but a religion of nearly one billion people, includes many different groupings and backgrounds.

  • @Helen
    “FGM is a custom with no theological basis.”

    There are far more Hadith endorsing FGM than there are endorsing the demonization of music. You are not being consistent.

    And we weren’t comparing FGM with the concept of Hell – we were comparing religious acceptability of FGM with religious acceptability of declaring music sinful.

    You are doing what every religious apologist has done down the centuries – cherry picking the bits of each religion which are acceptable to you. If you can do that, you have to accept that others are going to do it too, and they may not like the same bits you do.

    “I’m only defending the right of religious communities to bring their children up in their own faith without fear of harrassment by the authorities”

    That’s not how it seems. You appear to have accepted that the state should “harass” people who believe in FGM and forced marriage. How about prejudice against other religions and homosexuals? You didn’t answer that one, but does that pass your acceptability test or not?

  • Helen Tedcastle 30th Nov '14 - 4:23pm

    Stuart
    True colours are shining through with this remark: ‘ You are doing what every religious apologist has done down the centuries’ – what on earth can you mean by it? I am defending the right of freedom of religion. This is a classically liberal viewpoint.

    ‘ You appear to have accepted that the state should “harass” people who believe in FGM and forced marriage.’

    No. That is the opposite of my view. I don’t think the state should ‘harass’ people at all. I prefer to work with communities to persuade them of the unacceptability of FGM/Forced marriage and explain how these customs are incompatible with their religion. This campaign of education would work hand in hand with government and does not involve witch-hunts.

    If one is an out and out secularist with little tolerance of religious viewpoints, no matter how many sensible arguments are put, it will not be acceptable or tolerable.

    No doubt that explains your remark about what people are supposed to think ‘in the twenty first century…’ The thing is, people are not ‘supposed’ to think what you do. There is not prescribed way of living unless one subscribes to a deeply intolerant and narrow agenda – a ‘British values agenda.’

    I question that for a reason. Who sets this agenda? Who is more British? As I said earlier to you – is a white van UKIP supporter living in an all-white area more reflective of Britishness than a British muslim belonging to a tight-knit community?

    Also, I have explained to you the difference between custom and theological concepts. I have also alluded to how different communities within a religion interpret hadith or a religious text.

    I don’t think we are ever going to agree. I believe in religious tolerance and freedom of religious belief in a liberal and free society – I’m not sure you do though.

  • Helen Tedcastle 30th Nov '14 - 4:35pm

    John Tilley
    ‘ I particularly like Shirley Williams because her interest in and commitment to state education has lasted well beyond her term of office’

    Agreed. I wrote to Shirley a couple of years ago when Gove was threatening to reintroduce the old GCE/ CSE divide in exams. She wrote back a very nice letter telling me how she had always been against elitism in education and how she would be opposing any move towards a two-tier exam system. That pleased me because I have had other letters from Lib Dems which have been decidedly equivocal about elitism in education.

  • @Helen

    “I believe in religious tolerance and freedom of religious belief in a liberal and free society – I’m not sure you do though.”

    Well you are wrong about me, Helen. Perhaps you’ve forgotten one or two past threads where people were queuing up to attack your beliefs and I was just about the only person who defended you.

    I apply the same rule to religious beliefs as I do to anything else – do what you will but harm none. I don’t believe in exceptions or special treatment for religionists, either in their favour or against them.

    In the case of teaching children that music is evil, I’m not convinced it even has anything to do with religion since there seems virtually no theological basis for it anyway (you certainly haven’t offered any).

    Saying that we should defend freedom of belief is fine as a basic principle but it’s never the whole story, as there will always be conundrums. What if somebody’s deeply held religious belief is that anybody with a different belief should be persecuted? Clearly, we can’t protect the freedoms of both – a choice has to be made.

    I’m veering into the wider realm here – enough’s enough. You’re right that we can’t ever agree on this, but I respect your view, and I’d like to think you’d respect mine if you actually knew me and we could talk about this properly, so I regret the fact that I’ve been unable to get that across.

  • Helen Tedcastle 30th Nov '14 - 9:09pm

    Stuart

    I appreciate your candour but I don’t defend anyone saying music is evil. I did n’t interpret the comments in the same way you did, because there is obviously more to this account than were are being told in the papers. I defend the right to religious freedom, especially as we do not all the facts.

    Therefore, I don’t think this school is getting any special treatment because it is a faith school – in fact quite the opposite. There is a danger of over-reaction – that is my other point.

    The original point of our discussion was regarding Ofsted’s reaction to the words of a five year old child. Now I’m not sure I can condemn an entire school community on the basis of the comment of a five year old, without finding out a great deal more about the context.

    That was actually my point all along, which I don’t think is asking for any special treatment for anyone. I don’t like Ofsted moving the goalposts to suit a political agenda in election year, simple as that.

  • “Therefore, I don’t think this school is getting any special treatment because it is a faith school – in fact quite the opposite.”

    I was reluctant to revisit this thread, but I believe very strongly that what you say there is wrong.

    Some of the schools in London and Birmingham which have been criticised by Ofsted have supposedly been giving girls fewer opportunities than boys (e.g. to participate in after-school activities). Far from being hauled over the coals for this, the schools are basically allowed to carry on doing it. If memory serves, Ofsted simply shrug their shoulders and point out that such things are “regrettable”, and that’s that.

    If there were another school run by an atheist headmaster where girls were denied the same opportunities, for no reason other than that the headmaster was a misogynist, I don’t believe the story would end there at all. I think there would be widespread outrage and something would be done.

    The only reason society takes a more lenient view with the faith school is because we allow them to use their faith as a justification for the kind of discrimination that people of no faith are no longer allowed to indulge in. It’s the same license to discriminate that was explicitly written into Labour’s equality laws – another example of special treatment for those of faith.

  • Whilst not directly relevant to the article, a related long read published this afternoon:
    http://www.theguardian.com/books/2014/dec/05/-sp-social-mobility-decline-elitist-education-david-kynaston

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