‘Nick Clegg sets out plans to break private schools’ grip on establishment’

Nick Clegg has long championed the pupil premium, new money allocated to schools to help boost the educational chances of children from the most disadvantaged backgrounds. Today’s Guardian reports how he plans in a major speech on Monday to emphasise its importance in improving social mobility in the UK:

Nick Clegg will next week set out long-term plans to break the grip of private schools on the British establishment when he publishes proposals for a surge in social mobility based on the “pupil premium”. … Clegg, launching a two-week drive on social mobility, which he sees as one of the central goals of his deputy premiership, will set out in a speech on Monday how he wants the £1.25bn pupil premium to be used by schools.

Schools currently get a pupil premium of £488 per child on free school meals from central government. But the cash is not ringfenced, so once schools are handed the money by central government, there is no requirement to spend it in any specific way.

Clegg, instinctively opposed to central targets, has rejected setting requirements on how the cash is spent. He will instead highlight the most effective programmes without ruling out others. But school performance tables will be required to show the achievement of deprived pupils covered by the pupil premium. Schools will also be made to publish information online about how they have used the premium.

Clegg has insisted that all his school reforms, including more academies, free schools and greater discipline, are designed to help the poorest children in society.

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42 Comments

  • Steve Comer 12th May '12 - 6:49pm

    “Schools currently get a pupil premium of £488 per child on free school meals from central government. But the cash is not ringfenced, so once schools are handed the money by central government, there is no requirement to spend it in any specific way.” This is the gist of the problem of why a good policy has gone bad. On the one hand the ‘pupil premium has gone up, but Head Teachers say other funding has been cut. I agree we don’t want to go back the the bad old Labour days of ‘ring fencing,’ but equally we need to show how our policy is having a positive effect on social mobility.

  • Keith Browning 12th May '12 - 6:56pm

    I’m not convinced that the younger end is the problem. Where I see the main opportunity for social mobility is the many tens of thousands of 16.17 and 18 year olds who are bright enough to take control of the ‘system’ – to become politicians, bankers, and civil servants, but don’t know how to access the system in the first place – and neither do their teachers.

    The private sector knows the ‘system’ inside out and also makes sure they keep the secrets of access to themselves.

    We do need to educate people more effectively at the grass roots but that is going to have NIL effect on getting ‘normal’ people into the Cabinet Office or as civil servants, top ambassadors, bankers etc etc.

    The key is to offer the best public sector kids the right training at the crucial moments. They need to handle interviews at the most desirable places and to have a CV that is going to rattle the cages of the selection committees, when they come up against the ‘well schooled’ rich kids who have been groomed for stardom. They are certainly no more intelligent than the brightest tranche of Comprehensive School kids – they just think they are.

    Most of the brightest people I have met in my life, and I have met and worked with a fair number of exceptional talents, remain in mundane jobs because they are overwhelmed by the ‘system’. They remained where they were because no-one told them how to play the game.

    Lets see the application boards overwhelmed by kids going for the best places – at Oxford, Cambridge and in the City. If you dont buy a ticket you cant expect to win a prize!

  • @Steve
    Yes it’s unfortunate that cuts have had to be made but we could hardly ringfence education spending from the deficit reduction programme. The point of this policy is that the remaining money is more oriented towards less well-off children.

    @Keith
    I agree completely with most of what you say, but be careful about underestimating the importance of primary education – there is a lot of research showing how crucial a child’s early years are in determining their likely future academic success and ultimately even their income bracket. See this paper for example: http://eprints.lse.ac.uk/6302/.

    But you’re absolutely right about private schools gaming the system for all they’re worth. I should know – I went to one and we had special “Oxbridge lessons” to prepare for the interviews. What to wear, what to say, how to say it… Even an average student could probably make the cut with that much training.

    I have great reservations about much of the coalition’s education policy, but the pupil premium is something to genuinely celebrate, and a good example of evidence based decision-making (unlike free schools!).

  • “we could hardly ringfence education spending from the deficit reduction programme”

    Surely it was Lib Dem policy not only to ‘ringfence’ education spending, but to increase it in real terms. The pupil premium was meant to be extra money, wasn’t it?

    Your statement amounts to “we could hardly do what we said in our manifesto.”

  • Martin Pierce 13th May '12 - 8:01am

    I think there’s an awkward confusion of objectives here on Clegg’s part. Increasing social mobility and ‘breaking the grip’ of private schools is not the same thing. Unfortunately the ‘grip’ of the private schools is far more likely to be broken by the kind of interview and CV skills set out by Catherine and Keith than by the pupil premium. Like so much with Clegg I don’t doubt he is absolute genuine in his objective, but he is hopelessly naive about how to make it happen – one thing his own privileged private schooling doesn’t seem to have taught him. The horrible truth is that to break the grip of private schools requires parents WHO HAVE THE CHOICE to choose to send their children to state rather than private schools, and that means the middle classes. I have a daughter coming up to secondary school age who has been through the excellent state primaries in Richmond. Sadly the position isn’t so good when it comes to secondaries. Half the class (no prizes for guessing which half economically and socially) therefore spent the last 2 years cramming for the competitive places at the local private schools – while we have moved to Cambridge where there is an excellent Comprehensive but moving has cost so much we almost might as well have paid up too. In the end what we need is excellence across the board in state schools – so those with the choice start to think private schooling is a waste of money, and those without the choice benefit from that excellence too. A small amount extra for some schools in less well off areas, while worthy (though it would have been more worthy if it wasn’t just partially offsetting the cuts to all schools) and possibly even helping social mobility to some extent, will certainly not ‘break the grip’ of private schools.

  • Keith Browning 13th May '12 - 8:30am

    Over the past 20 years there have been a variety of schemes and extra incentives to identify and enthuse ‘gifted’ children at Primary School age. They often involve ‘extra’ seminar type sessions at weekends and have traditionally been very popular with the upwardly mobile. However, they don’t exist in secondary schools in the same way – yet that is where they will make the biggest difference.

    ‘Access the system’ seminars starting with 15 and 16 year olds ( any later may be too late) would allow pupils to set their career objectives at an earlier stage.

    How do you join a bank or get a job in the civil service? How do you become an officer in the armed forces. (The only adverts I see are at the squaddie end of the system.) How do you get a job with a Formula One team or work in a film studio or a top fashion house?

    All these jobs in the ‘system’ have been reserved for an elite that was selected at birth or certainly before they get to secondary school.

    Nick’s plan will take ten years to have an effect and then wont make any difference. My system will have an almost immediate effect, certainly within 12 months because the present tranche of ‘bright’ secondary kids will be able to challenge for a better role in life straight away. They already have the background they just need a ‘finishing school’ to help them unlock the final door. Spend some money on providing that kind of extra help would see many more people from a wider variety of backgrounds applying for all sorts of opportunities they didn’t know were possible in 2012-13, which also happens to be before the next general election.

    Lib Dems need quick fixes not ‘nice to have’ long term goals that get swallowed up into the mists of time.

  • The problem isn’t aways education. In truth with simply allowed the old boy network to create a kind of media and political caste that organisations like the BBC even extends to comedy shows.

  • Richard Dean 13th May '12 - 8:54am

    £488 per child does not seem an awful lot to me. Will it be enough to “break” the “grip”? What other actions are being taken to improve social mobility? Educating parents, employers, and other controllers od destiny? Scholarships? Post-school support? Night schools? Community support? Amenities ton encourage creativity and ambition? Help for universities? Help on tuition fees? Might it be counter-productive to embarrass pupils by requiring performance tables to show the achievement of deprived pupils covered by the pupil premium?

  • The only way to break the grip of public schools on some parts of society (odd how skilled professions, eg teaching, academia, engineering, etc are not public school dominated) is to remove the advantages of the public school system. This means penalising those who went to public schools by increasing requirements for uni entry, restricting the numbers who can apply for jobs, etc.

    It’s also unfortunate that archetypical public school boys like Gove and Clegg have placed themselves in charge of this, why don’t they defer to Pickles, or David Davis, etc?

  • Sara Bedford 13th May '12 - 9:41am

    @Catherine All the local state schools in this area pay for consultants to come in to run Oxbridge classes.

  • Simon McGrath 13th May '12 - 10:03am

    Keith – you are simply talking nonsense. there is no conspiracy to ‘reserve’ the better jobs for privately educated people.

    “How do you join a bank or get a job in the civil service? How do you become an officer in the armed forces”
    You apply – they all have excellent websites. http://www.army.mod.uk/join/22469.aspx

  • Simon McGrath 13th May '12 - 10:04am

    @Geoffrey – by your logic can i get a refund on my taxes because I don’t send my son to a state school?

  • I don’t see how Clegg gets from the pupil premium to a surge in social mobility. It’ll never happen since these drives only ever focus on how to get people up the ladder when the reality is that there is never any reciprocal movement down the ladder – we will never have a true meritocracy as long as membership of the elites is largely determined by the wealth and influence of one’s parents.

    Since I think we can rule out any radical reassessment of our society when it comes to things like inheritance, the Lib Dems would do better to focus on income inequality. Government can at least lessen the impact of the variance in the advantage passed onto children, which will be huge as long as income inequality is also huge. But then I get the feeling ‘distribution’ is a dirty word round these parts as of late.

  • Or even, ‘redistribution’.

  • Rebecca Hanson 13th May '12 - 10:35am

    Please, please somebody stop him. We’ve already lost the education vote because of tuition fees, is he trying to grind it into the dirt?

    These Westminster bubble ‘free market in education’ policies were always deeply ignorant and out of touch with either the theory or the practice of education planning. They are now starting to play out in the obvious cataclysmic ‘glory’ which would always come.

    The issues in education which really matter are:

    1. Primary places. We have a huge pending crisis in primary places because this government has been opening secondary free schools at times of declining numbers rather than reading the figures which clearly state what’s needed.

    2. Ofsted. I wrote recently that it had been reported on the BBC that Ofsted is to be subject to judicial review. Unfortunately the BBC were not correct and the issue was fudged. Even worse than this it now seems that the Ofsted directorate have managed to win themselves and exemption from being obliged to the law on inspection and and regulation in their dealings with state schools which means that state schools have no legal protection from Ofsted – it really is above the law. Hence the huge issues arising at conferences as more and more schools are being labelled as being failing by teams of inspectors who have seen a video of Mossbourne and don’t realise that schools with have the funding, overcrowded building, far fewer staff and resources and very challenging kids are not failing schools just because their standards are lower than Mossbourne’s.

    3. Parents having no way to complain if their child is being seriously bullied by staff at a school and that schools is an Academy or a Free School.

    4. The issues associated with the reduction of freedom of choice due to Free Schools.

    It’s time this party woke up to the reality of education. I suspect I’m going to have to hide under a blanket for the day to cope with the ignorance which will be displayed here. If the Lib Dems care an ounce about their education vote they need to get in touch with reality.

  • Sara Bedford 13th May '12 - 10:48am

    @Geoffrey Payne It is people’s choice where to apply their labour. Most people trained at a publicly funded university. Many people go on to work in the private sector. Everyone pays taxes which fund universities, whcih are intended to support individuals in their future, not simply to provide worker ants for state enterprises.

  • Rebecca Hanson 13th May '12 - 10:58am

    Here are some things he could say:

    1. On pupil premiums stick to descriptive examples of specific children and schools which have benefited.

    2. Talk about early years.

    3. Express concerns re current policies and promise to keep an eye on them (AND DO THAT!).

    4. On social mobility make a commitment to keep working on it.

    They for goodness sake – please – could someone actually take the time to find out what’s actually going on in state education before he opens his mouth again? I’ll be at the next meeting of the LDEA committee. Will anybody involved in writing these speeches bother to come?

  • Paul Catherall 13th May '12 - 11:07am

    Time I think to start listening to conference and come out all guns blazing against the much reviled academies and free schools projects which are designed to break the state education sector and replace it with a philanthropist elite and commercialised models lacking all standards, curricula, equalities and safety rules.
    Forcing schools and parents and teachers to ‘become’ a liberalized school is one of the most hated policies of this coalition and one the public will not forgive the LibDems for in 2015.

  • Simon McGrath 13th May '12 - 11:13am

    @Geoffrey – you make my point. i don’t think i should pay less taxes because of where I choose to educate my son. But it is just as logical as your absurd suggestion that private schools should have to pay for teacher training

  • Matthew Huntbach 13th May '12 - 1:54pm

    Martin Pierce

    There is a lot of theoretical argument presented here. That scares me. What matters is what will happen in the ugly old practical world, and I am worried that not enough people are addressing that.

    Yup, it’s perverse incentive time again. I’ve just learned this from the university department where I work – if we don’t improve our failure rate, we run the risk of being banned from charging top rate tuition fees. I seem to recall this was all Clegg’s doing when he was trying to be tough about social mobility after having given in on tuition fees. The subject I teach at university, computer programming, is acknowledged the world over to be one which has a high failure rate. A lot of people start it and just can’t get into the abstract way of thinking it involves. So – what can we do to improve the failure rate? Easy – cut out the difficult technical stuff that involves real useful skills, put in more waffle and memorisation stuff. So there you are, what a perverse incentive – we can teach high skill high rate stuff and have to charge low fees for doing so, or we can dumb it down and charge higher fees.

    This is what happened at schools level, when school took up pretty useless “ICT” qualifications, and other “soft options”, which the government has now recognised to be a problem. They did it because the soft options could be passed by memorisation and waffle rather than the exercise of technical skills, and that meant less chance of failure and so less penalisation in the league table. So when Clegg says “But school performance tables will be required to show the achievement of deprived pupils covered by the pupil premium”, well, he might as well say “push the students from poor backgrounds into easy-options subjects”.

  • Richard Dean 13th May '12 - 2:13pm

    @Matthew Huntbach.

    Don’t you have a third option – improve your teaching? I’m not trying to offend. Where I used to work there were people to teach the teachers how to teach to larger class sizes, how to adapt teaching approaches to learning approaches, how to convert from blackboard to whiteboard, how to motivate and encourage, how not to put down, etc. Those sorts of changes are hard for people to do without guidance, but do get results.

    Do you not also have a fourth option – split courses into Standard and Advanced levels? In my subject – engineering – this is very feasible,, because in many topics the final year includes skills that are rather abstruse, not really too useful in practice but enligtening for people going on to research.

    My experience of teaching at school is in the dim and distant past, but perhaps these options are available there too.

  • Matthew Huntbach 13th May '12 - 6:21pm

    Richard Dean

    Don’t you have a third option – improve your teaching?

    Yes, of course. I’m not saying dumbing down is the only possible response, but I am noting it as perhaps the easiest possible response. That’s what perverse incentives often are. I have been teaching my subject at university level for over 20 years, I have continuously striven to deliver high cost relevant teaching, and will continue to do so. In fact my university institution offers training courses on all the things you mention and much else.

    The point is that if people are subject to harsh penalties in a target driven culture, in the end if their personal survival is at stake, they will go down the easy perverse incentive route. Note part of the problem is the long-standing perverse incentive caused by the “Research Assessment Exercise” or “Research Assessment Framework” as it has now become. Intended to concentrate research excellence in a few universities, the result, due to targeting and punitive measures adopted by universities to try and meet targets, is that rewards in the academic profession go only on research results, meaning any academic who puts more than the minimum effort into teaching is damaging his or her career. If you are threatened with being sacked because you are not churning out research papers, and then asked to cut down your module failure rate, what do you do?

    You have also not taken account of the point I made “The subject I teach at university, computer programming, is acknowledged the world over to be one which has a high failure rate”. It’s easy for those who don’t know the subject to say “It’s because you are bad teachers”. But if EVERY university across the world observes the same thing, if this is a phenomenon that has been observed since it first became an academic subject, is it really the case that we are ALL bad teachers? I suggest you try looking at some of the papers published by SIGCSE (http://www.sigcse.org/) to see more about this. You can go back over the years, people keep coming up with “solutions”, a few years later you find the next “solution” is to undo the last one, which is now blamed for the problem. I could say much more about this, but it would be on a technical level unsuited for this forum.


    Do you not also have a fourth option – split courses into Standard and Advanced levels?

    Not in the UK university system – degree standards are not meant to vary according to their subject. But also, please note, this again misses my other point. The high failure rates are not in abstruse final year modules. They are in core first year modules.

  • Peter Watson 13th May '12 - 9:25pm

    There seems to be an assumption that those who went to a private school received a better education and are better suited to these prestigious careers, as if it were all part of a glorious meritocracy in which those less wealthy could take part if only they were better educated.
    We have a system in which it is “who you know” that gives unfair opportunities to a privileged few, not “what you know”. When your father can open doors for you with a letter of recommendation or you can afford to live off mater and pater while you work for no salary as an intern, then there is no guarantee that those jobs are being carried out by the best people. It seems silly to believe that the pupil premium can address that level of unfairness: it needs changes at the top to ensure that there is true equality of opportunity for those applying for the jobs.

  • Richard Dean 13th May '12 - 9:43pm

    @Matthew Huntbach. When I was young I was told that there were Chartered Civil Engineers. That arrangement was wasteful because there were plent of people who could carry out high level civil engineering tasks without having the wider skillsets of chartereds. Nowadays there are more categories, Incorporated Engineers and Engineering Technicians, which cover some of what the previous categories did, as well as bringing in other skills and tasks.

    This is a more efficient system because you don’t need to employ over-qualified staff, or pay teachers to teach people something beyond their comfortable abilities. And more people can be employed in the industry. Generalizing from this, if the skill-sets required in industry are arranged so that they fit the ability-sets of the population, everyone benefits. Maybe something like this could be done to in your subject area?

  • Peter Watson 13th May '12 - 11:05pm

    @Richard & Matthew
    I think you are coming at this from different positions. For those in any career (engineering or programming) there are different routes. The different grades of membership of the engineering institutions allows those with different degrees (or no degree) to be recognised. Similarly, some programmers have studied the subject at university, others have studied something else (chemical engineering in my case) or have not studied to degree level. I think that Matthew is making the point that those who have chosen to study programming at university should be taught to a level that makes the degree meaningful. In programming and engineering there are other options and qualifications available for those who are not suited to university studies which needs to produce practitioners and those capable of moving the subject forward in terms of theory and practice.

  • Richard Dean 13th May '12 - 11:21pm

    @Peter, and Matthew. I am suggesting that it might be possible to develop new degrees that are just as rigorous as presently, but which have patterns of courses that allow students that are presently doing poorly to choose in ways that are better for them – ways that they can excel in. A very much simplified example would be if you start off with a degree course in Microsoft Office which includes

    Office Basics
    Word
    Powerpoint

    Suppose you find that some people are best at Word and do poorly at Powerpoint, and some do the other way round. So you two new courses, OfficeW which covers

    Office Basics
    Word
    Advanced Word

    and OfficeP which covers

    Office Basics
    Powerpoint
    Advanced Powerpoint

    Then if you want you could have a Masters that got everyone up to Advanced Word AND Advanced Powerpoint. Do you see my suggestion? Alter the curriculum, split, add, adjust, until you get courses that are both useful and that make best use of the natural abilities of the students, and which also allow students to avoid having to fail at courses they are somehow not suited for.

    It’s only one suggestion, there can be plenty more if you think … and the people I mentioned previously, who teach teachers to teach, do have the ability to help with this kind of new course development

  • Matthew Huntbach 14th May '12 - 10:02am

    Richard Dean

    I am suggesting that it might be possible to develop new degrees that are just as rigorous as presently, but which have patterns of courses that allow students that are presently doing poorly to choose in ways that are better for them – ways that they can excel in.

    Sure, but again you are coming across as rather condescending in supposing this isn’t already done and we need outsiders to come in and tell us how to do it. Please understand, I’ve not only been doing this and thinking about it for over twenty years, I’m familiar with the pedagogical literature. That’s the point I was trying to make in the first place – if politicians and bureaucrats who actually don’t have much of a clue about the realities of the subject come in and impose targets and penalties, it’s highly likely to have a perverse effect.

    Here’s a few references, just pulled quickly from Google, maybe you could try reading these to get a better understanding:

    http://www.jite.org/documents/Vol9/JITEv9p133-145Ford810.pdf
    http://eprints.qut.edu.au/46255/1/Donna_Teague_Thesis.pdf
    http://users-cs.au.dk/mec/publications/journal/25–bulletin2007.pdf
    http://www.psy.gla.ac.uk/~steve/localed/conf1.html
    http://129.96.12.107/confpapers/CRPITV20Lister.pdf
    http://www.daimi.au.dk/~mec/dissertation/Dissertation.pdf
    http://www.eis.mdx.ac.uk/research/PhDArea/saeed/paper3.pdf

    I hope this goes some way to convince you that it is not just a particular problem with “bad teaching” at my institution (the usual first line that gets thrown at me when I try to talk about this), or something that has an easy solution that could be got just by calling in a few education generalists to advise. It is in fact a well-understood and researched problem, observed across the world (I have given examples from a variety of countries), into which a lot of effort has been put and no real solution has been found.

    Now, the problem is when we get politicians and bureaucrats stepping in, ignorant of all these pedagogical issues, but, just like you, trying to tell those of us that have worked on this for years, that it’s all easy-peasy, we could easily solve the problem if we tried, but just to make sure we do it, if it isn’t done they’ll cut our funding and half of us will lose our jobs. The natural reaction to this is to note that as these politicians and bureaucrats are clueless, they won’t notice if we solve it in the easy-peasy way i.e. dumb down and turn out students with qualifications of little real worth. As I said, that is what happened with secondary school education in “Information Technology”.

    The problem is that computer programming is a core subject for our degree, it is central to everything else in it. Yet it is a subject which many people start and find very early on they just can’t get the hang of it. The best thing would be to fail these people early on, so they can move on and do something else. The effect of imposing heavy penalties for this is that we end up keeping them on degree programmes they find hard and don’t enjoy, struggling to get a degree by passing subsidiary modules. However, this then devalues the degree, because we get complaints from employers “We took on this person who has your degree, yet s/he just can’t program”. The problem is made worse by the heavy targetting and league table pressure to increase the proportion of students awarded 1st and 2is. If you stand to be pushed into a cycle of decline by being rigorous with your standards, because if you don’t give away 2is easily you fall down the league table, get fewer and less able applicants, so it gets even more difficult in future, what do you do?

    As another example of damage caused by interfering politicians and bureaucrats, this government has introduced special funding benefits for students with AAB grades. So, there we go again, more perverse incentives. Instead of being able to pick the students with the profile we know from our experience is likely to lead to success, we are pressured, because of the financial benefits, to pick instead students with high grades even though those grades are in subjects we know not to be very useful for our purposes or there are other aspects of the students’ profile we know suggest s/he is unsuitable.

    The point is that most of us are passionately concerned with giving young people the skills we can teach and they need to go out and get a good career. We’d be able to do it a lot better if it were not for politicians and bureaucrats threatening us and forcing us through badly thought out targeting and penalties to do what we know is wrong.

  • Not wanting to throw a spanner in the works of the admirable aims of the pupil premium, but if you correlate spending per pupil in each school with the percentage of pupils getting 5 good GCSEs or more, there is actually a mildly NEGATIVE correlation. i.e. where there is higher spending, results are worse. This result is based on data from this report:

    http://www.guardian.co.uk/news/datablog/2011/jan/12/secondary-school-tables-gcse-alevel-data

    Of course it does not follow that results are worse BECAUSE of higher spending, but it means that there is something more fundamental going on that is not affected by money. I believe that the crucial determinant is culture outside the school environment. Unless we can persuade poorer families that education is vitally important for their children and without it they are likely to fail in life, then all the money in the world can be poured into schools and the results will not improve. I’m not an expert in education policy, but it seems to me that there are huge cultural barriers among the certain groups in society (note the differences in performance say between white British children and children from the most successful groups) that mean learning and education are undervalued. Unless we can overcome these, we can lead the horse to water but we won’t be able to make it drink.

  • Peter Watson 14th May '12 - 2:41pm

    @RC
    I agree with you entirely.
    I do not see the link between the pupil premium and social mobility: it could simply lead to well-funded sink schools.
    Pupils in private schools and from the middle-classes in state schools are most likely to have parents who value education and demonstrate the benefit of a good education in their own lives. Also, they are likely to be surrounded by peers who expect to go on to further education. For those in poorer areas, not only are these expectations and positive influences missing, but capable children have to overcome the obstacle of pressure to leave the education system, whether because of the attitudes of their peers or their immediate economic situation.
    To improve social mobility, disadvantaged children need help at so many levels. They need to have positive role models who demonstrate and embody the importance of education. They need financial help to stay in education after 16. They need information, teaching, guidance and assistance to identify the options they have and to make the best choices. Maybe they need positive discrimination to make opportunities for them.
    It feels right to increase funding in education for poorer families, but in itself the pupil premium seems a pretty inadequate approach despite the claims Clegg makes for it. To me it seems too “laissez-faire”, an attempt to grease the wheels of an education market rather than to make a positive difference to the lives of children.

  • Richard Swales 14th May '12 - 7:40pm

    The headline doesn’t have much to do with the article. I would be interested if it comes originally from the Guardian or from the Lib Dems.
    What is proposed is effectively bringing up the standards of state eduction to match that of private education (also in terms of careers and course advice) – which is admirable but very long term as the Guardian article says that white children in the UK are only half as likely as Bangladeshi children in the UK to get the expected grades in their GCSE – a difference that can be explained only in terms of negative aspects of our culture that will take a long time to change. The headline suggests some kind of cartel busting action or positive disscrimination to “beat” some of our fellow citizens who are being evil by providing their kids with what we want for all of ours.

    If you market it (or have it marketed for you by the Guardian) like that then voters will either:
    1) Notice the inconsistency and think you are disingenuous and vote for another party if at all,
    2) Be turned off by the zero-sum mentality of the headline and not read the proposal, which they might have supported, and vote Conservative or
    3) Love the headline and then later be disappointed that in 2015 sending your kid to a private school will still be one of the best things you can do for his future, conclude that the Lib Dems are disingenous and vote Labour.

    The op-ed that says that policies need to flow from a clearly articulated ideological base is true. Where we have differences with the Tories it seems to be expressed (rhetoric only not policy) in terms of looking for enemies in “the establishment”. This is why I’m not renewing my own membership.

  • I read John Bird’s Opinion in Saturday (May 12th) Times (John Bird the founder of The Big Issue) and what struck me was given how much money the government was spending on children in care (approx. £2,000 per week per child), that surely a more effective use of this money would be to send many of these children to private schools!

  • Richard Dean 14th May '12 - 11:17pm

    @Matthew Huntbach. Sorry if you feel I was condescending, which was not my intention. Having been pulled through many hedges backwards myself, I tend not to notice these things. I was just trying to clarify what I had meant earlier, which I thought had been misunderstood.

    You have nevertheless asked me a question, so I will try to answer. The question was “If you stand to be pushed into a cycle of decline by being rigorous with your standards, because if you don’t give away 2is easily you fall down the league table, get fewer and less able applicants, so it gets even more difficult in future, what do you do?” In the situation that I faced a few years ago, the answer was to lower the standards, and make sure every student knew the exam was not that tough. The result was that the students felt more relaxed about the course, so the learned more easily, and their standards went up. They scored better than previous students, at exams that were of the same difficulty as previous exams.

    My story is an example of how perverse incentives may be used to achieve real objectives. Of course it’s just a bit of trickery, but teachers are entertainers after all. And of course I used other tricks which may have helped too. I don’t know whether you’ve tried this kind of thing yourself, but maybe the idea of using perversity as a tool, rather than just being a victim of it, can be a way forward.

  • Richard Swales 15th May '12 - 6:18am

    @Richard Dean
    I think you want a more specific answer about splitting the profesion as with engineers. The IT profession is already split into jobs that people of diffferent abilities can do. Some people can do data entry, some people can do testing and some people can do software development. The first two aren’t considered to require degrees anyway (whether or not the third does or can be self-taught alongside the job is another debate). Matthew’s problem is what to do with people who are registered on his course who haven’t got what it takes to be a programmer. He can either
    1) Kick them off and get a bad league table rating or
    2) Pretend they have got what it takes and then get employers calling him and asking why his uni has no standards.

  • I fully agree with the comments about a significant part of the problem being around coaching and grooming, something the private sector seems to do well and the state sector poorly.

    However, I suggest that a major part of the problem is the schools themselves; I remember a comprehensive school where the head (a committed socialist) regarded Oxbridge entrance as being within the capabilities of his pupils and hence an achievable aspiration. Invariably many applied, some got accepted and a few gained scholarships. Whereas my grammar school regarded Oxbridge with awe and so rarely encouraged any one to apply.

    Hence I suggest that if a school is producing students with A-level results that would get them into a top university the question needs to be asked is what is the school doing to identify and encourage such students to aspire and apply to top universities.

  • Richard Dean 15th May '12 - 2:26pm

    @Richard Swales, Thanks, My solution in a similar situation was to make space by telling the students it was an easy course. I worked hard to be convincing, and that created enough space for them to reach the standard that started reducing the employers’ complaints. Put another way, I rejected the idea that some people “hadn’t got what it takes”, and by doing so I freed them to acquire what it takes. I have no idea what Matthew’s solution would be, but some off-the-wall thinking might help find it.

  • Matthew Huntbach 15th May '12 - 3:51pm

    Richard Dean

    Put another way, I rejected the idea that some people “hadn’t got what it takes”, and by doing so I freed them to acquire what it takes.

    I assure you, I have tried all these tricks. As the references I have given indicate, this is not just a problem with me, not just a problem with my institution, not just a problem with the UK, it’s a phenomenon observed worldwide. As it happens what I experienced trying the “lower standards early on and try hard to pretend it’s all easy” tactic was that they became complacent, didn’t realise how little they had actually covered of what’s needed to become a proficient programmer, and so did even worse later on. Also, the ones that had “got it” were bored out of their skulls by the basic level of what they were being given. Or in some cases, having been lulled into thinking it was all easy, they stopped bothering and by the time they realised it had moved on from what they already knew, they were lost.

    Richard Swales

    1) Kick them off and get a bad league table rating

    I have recently found out that a high failure rate also runs the risk of missing some target that has been imposed as necessary to be able to charge £9000 fees rather than £6000 fees. So it’s not just falling down the league table, it’s losing a big chunk of income, which will be paid for by staff sackings. Now, this target was set as part of the insistence on “fair access” that Clegg was boasting about, but it has the reverse effect. Another effect of being penalised for high failure rates is that you stop taking risks with admissions. So faced with a middle-class plodder and a bright kid from a socially deprived background who may do brilliantly or may flop, you take the middle-class plodder, since you know he’s a good bet to scrape through with a 2ii.You also don’t take the risk of introducing new courses or anything else innovative in case it doesn’t work and increases the failure rate – instead stick to the tried and tested.

  • Rebecca Hanson 15th May '12 - 10:31pm

    “I suspect I’m going to have to hide under a blanket for the day to cope with the ignorance which will be displayed here.”

    Nope – I really didn’t want to receive an email about how those teachers who are working relentlessly hard on the front line being continously dumped into or on the verge of special measures could ‘redouble our efforts’ while he showed no awareness whatsoever of the hell this government’s policies are wreaking on education and his responsibility to address that.

    Are the Leb Dems determined to trample on the grave of their education vote?

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