Schools in well-off areas ‘are failing’ poorer pupils

David LawsThe Pupil Premium has had an impact on the educational achievements of many children from disadvantaged backgrounds. Indeed, the gap in attainment between them and the rest of the pupil population is the narrowest it has been for many years.

However, in an interview with the Independent, David Laws highlights the, perhaps surprising, differences between performance in deprived and in affluent areas of the country. It seems that disadvantaged children in well-off areas are not achieving as well as similar children in deprived areas.

David Laws, the Schools minister, described the record of schools in “some of the leafiest parts of the country” as “a disgrace”, accusing them of wasting extra money provided for disadvantaged young people. If these schools fail to improve the “outrageously low” exam results of poor children, he warned, they could eventually face closure.

Nationally, 42% of those children who attract the pupil premium (that is, those eligible for free school meals) gained five GCSEs with grades A* to C in 2011 .

Up until now, the variations in achievement for these children between areas have been overlooked. New research from the Department of Education has shown that in some areas attainment of disadvantaged children drops as low as 35% . Some of the most affluent areas, such as Buckinghamshire, Dorset, West Sussex, Wiltshire, Surrey and Hampshire, were among those with the worst exam results for disadvantaged young people.

In contrast, all 10 authorities with the highest levels of deprivation have good results for children on pupil premiums.

To counteract this, Ofsted will not award outstanding status to a school if it is failing its disadvantaged children, with the long term threat of closure if it does not improve. He has also written to about 100 schools to ensure that the pupil premium is used to lift the performance of the target children.

Mr Laws said: “These figures highlight what a mess our education system is in and how it is failing young people.” He added: “Schools in the leafiest parts of the country may think they are doing extremely well, but they have an outrageously low number of pupil premium youngsters getting five good GCSEs. To have 65 per cent of poor youngsters in Buckinghamshire failing to get five good GCSEs is a disgrace. Local authorities and schools need to understand that they cannot hide behind good headline figures if they fail a very large cohort of pupils.”

* Mary Reid is a contributing editor on Lib Dem Voice. She was a councillor in Kingston upon Thames where she is still very active with the local party.

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48 Comments

  • Poor kids get teased (and worse) by rich kids. Worse for poor kids in rich areas I suspect.

  • Eddie Sammon 23rd Apr '13 - 7:42pm

    Class warfare moving onto the children. Some people just don’t know when to stop.

  • Eddie Sammon 23rd Apr '13 - 7:46pm

    The pupil premium is a novelty joke, the way to reduce the attainment gap is to reduce the gap between the rich and the poor. The billions spent on the pupil premium would have been better used to reduce welfare cuts.

  • “If these schools fail to improve the “outrageously low” exam results of poor children, he warned, they could eventually face closure.”

    Wouldn’t it be an idea to make a bit of an effort to understand why this is happening, rather than just saying it’s “outrageous” and making a (rather implausible) threat to close large numbers of schools in prosperous areas?

  • Peter Watson 23rd Apr '13 - 8:12pm

    Does anybody have a link to the research that Laws is quoting here?
    At first glance it appears to me that his list of counties that are letting down poorer pupils are largely under Conservative control with Lib Dems in second place (while the boroughs helping their poorer pupils perform better are Labour-controlled), and I wondered if there was a fuller list from which he has chosen to select (or ignore). Also it is not clear to me whether he is talking about performance within or between schools in those areas, whether the data even corresponds with the timing of the Pupil Premium’s introduction, and what other factors were considered.

  • @ Eddie Sammon

    “The billions spent on the pupil premium would have been better used to reduce welfare cuts.”

    Typical Labour thinking. Shoving loads of benefit money at people doesn’t help them in the long run, it just makes them dependent on benefits, as well as wrecking the nation’s finances. If you actually give people a decent education, they can get better jobs and work to escape poverty, rather than living permanently on government handouts.

    By the way, if you analyse the figures, there is actually a negative correlation between spending per pupil and percentage achieving five good GCSEs. The implication is that there are other, more important, factors at work.

    Primarily, lack of academic achievement is not related to funding. It is related to culture, both inside and outside the school. If you are spending lots of money in schools but the surrounding culture is hostile to learning, then you are not going to make much progress. The proof of this fact is the divergence in results between pupils of different ethnic backgrounds, with Indians and Chinese being particularly successful.

    But no one can mention this, because it breaks taboos about culture and race and also doesn’t fit with some people’s preconceived ideas that spending more in schools must necessarily be the answer. What we need is to break down the anti-learning culture among some parts of our population.

  • Eddie Sammon 23rd Apr '13 - 8:33pm

    OK RC, disagree for sure, but I’m not a typical Labour thinker.

  • Peter: The full data can be found here:
    http://www.education.gov.uk/schools/performance/download_data.html

    Click on KS4 results (in either csv or xls format). You will then find data on each school – LA, school name, address, type of school (private, comp, selective), gender, age range, # pupils, KS2 prior attainment of children on entry, % 5ACEM (last 4 years), etc etc. The data given to the Independent were for the most recent year available. A link to the explanations of the coding is also on that page. You are welcome to reproduce the results.

    RC: Race does matter, but so do schools. White children from poor backgrounds do much better in London schools than elsewhere. See slide 20 here: http://blogs.ft.com/ftdata/author/christophercook/.

    Geoffrey (and others). No-one shuts down a school on headline results. It is for Ofsted inspectors – mostly former heads – to decide whether a school is up to scratch. Sir Michael Wilshaw has stated that schools with poor results for poor kids will need a good explanation of why this is the case. That is the message David Laws was reinforcing today.

  • Peter Watson 24th Apr '13 - 12:13am

    @Tim Leunig
    Thanks for the link. The data is too raw for me to quickly trawl through, especially on my little ChromeBook. However, I found the following which I think is the report that Law’s comments are based upon: https://www.gov.uk/government/policies/raising-the-achievement-of-disadvantaged-children.
    Interestingly it seems to be based upon data published in February 2012 about GCSE performance in 2011, so I fail to see the relevance in this context of Laws’ criticisms of how Pupil Premium money was spent when all but the last 13 months of those children’s education took place under a different government. The report also identifies that “Pupils eligible for Free School Meals (FSM) continue to underperform all other pupils … The gap has continually narrowed between 2006/07 and 2010/11, particularly in the proportion achieving 5 or more A*-C grades at GCSE or equivalent.”
    Laws seems to be highlighting counties where there is the biggest difference in performance between those who are or are not eligible for free school meals. I must be missing something though, because at first glance Lib Dem Bath & East Somerset seems worse than the Tory Dorset authority that Laws mentioned. Perhaps he is using an unreported measure of the comparative affluence of each local authority which is distinct from the relative proportion of pupils eligible for FSMs. Or perhaps he is deliberately naming and shaming a select few Tory councils in time for their local elections next month.
    I am now uncertain whether the timing of this expression of concern for the academic performance of poorer children is a reflection of high principle or low politics.

  • Peter: The most recent data are for 2012, for which I have given the link. The older data that you have found were not the basis of the comments made by the minister.

  • Peter Watson 24th Apr '13 - 12:38am

    I also have to wonder how much of a disincentive it would be for some of the schools that Laws would have Ofsted berate for failing to close the “attainment gap”. A school would not need a covert system of social selection to exclude the riff-raff if Ofsted is going to freely advertise on its behalf that it is not the school for you unless you have money. And are the more affluent parents whose children are well-served by those schools going to let the government rock the boat even if it did take the unlikely course of closing or micro-managing a school with a good record of exam performance?
    By the minute I’m becoming less and less impressed by Laws’ comments; can somebody please save me from my cynicism!! 🙂

  • Peter Watson 24th Apr '13 - 1:16am

    Tim Leunig “The older data that you have found were not the basis of the comments made by the minister.”
    It’s all a little confusing: in her article above, Mary explicitly refers to the 2011 exam results, and the report I looked at was published by the DfE on Monday of this week, the day before Laws’ interview.
    Laws seems to have chosen an odd tack though. The 2011 data “show that in 2011, 35% of pupils who qualified for free school meals got 5 GCSEs, including English and mathematics at A* to C, compared with 62% of pupils who do not qualify.” whilst from the Independent interview “New Department for Education figures show that 42 per cent of those eligible got five GCSEs with grades A* to C in 2011-12, compared with 67 per cent from better-off families – a national “attainment gap” of 25 percentage points.” After several years of slow closure of the gap from 27.9% to 27.4% I am surprised that he is not celebrating a big step to 25% in a single year and a big improvement by all children.
    What am I missing?

  • Peter Watson 24th Apr '13 - 1:39am

    Edit: I just realised that the page from which I accessed the report was published this week, but the report itself was published in Feb 2012, which is much more consistent with the data it summarises. Hopefully an update will include a more digestible form of the newer data.
    I’m still not sure though why Laws is not celebrating the improvement from the previous situation, since he was referring to the older data when discussing the “achievement gap” in speeches last month.

  • Looking at the Independent article, Laws is comparing 67% from “better-off” families getting higher grades in GCSEs with 42% of those on free school meals, and then picking out Buckinghamshire for which the latter figure is only 35%, and saying it’s a “disgrace”. The article also says Laws’s “goal” – whatever that means – is to halve the gap between richer and poorer.

    Presumably Laws thinks the figures should be 61% and 48%, but is there any rational basis for that, or is it a question of a politician picking fantasy exam results out of thin air?

    This seems to be more a question of political grandstanding than anything else.

  • Peter Watson 24th Apr '13 - 1:59am

    I think I’ve managed to look at some of the the up-to-date data, but am still a bit confused. The data for England seems to say that in 2012 the percentage of disadvantaged children achieving 5 GCSEs at A*-C is 39.1% compared to 66.1% of other pupils in their cohort with a 27% gap. This is consistent with historic data but not with the 42%/67% in the Independent article.
    Oh well, time for bed said Zebedee.

  • Helen Dudden 24th Apr '13 - 7:41am

    There was a point was being made that those children having free school meals, were segregated from those who paid.

    Are those children who need that meal, getting it? I believe in breakfast clubs, free school milk was also one good idea removed many years ago. A pasty from Greg s for breakfast, is not the answer.

    We were taught cooking and other useful things. But that was when education was more than just exam result.

    I see the class war is still alive and well. Nick, where is the social mobility you spoke about?

    Lib Dem Bath it seems is not that great. Well Don, you better get your council to read that one.

  • To put it more directly, Laws is comparing the educational attainments of children from a category of rural low-income families with those of children from the equivalent category of urban low-income families. But is that a fair comparison? Are those groups of families really comparable? Are there other factors that might be relevant?
    If the reason for the problem isn’t understood, is it reasonable to think that putting the fear of God into rural schools will result in a solution?

  • Chris – you may have hit the nail on the head, there. In rural communities there will in the main only be one school that parents can send their children to. In urban areas, there are alternatives.

  • Mr Laws said: “These figures highlight what a mess our education system is in and how it is failing young people.”

    Why do education ministers feel the need to denigrate the education system with such blase generalisations? These figures show that it some areas schools are not making sufficient head way with certain pupils. This doesn’t prove the ‘education system….is failing young people”. Such generalisations that tar all with the same brush are at the heart of many in education’s disillusionment with Westminster. Coming from a school (in Lambeth) where the difference between FSM pupils and others is only 1% i’d like to ask Mr Laws to confine himself to statements of fact rather than rhetoric which is wide of the mark but nicely quotable for the right wing press.

  • One likes to hope that it is being too much in the company of and too close to Michael Gove that is rubbing off on David Laws.

  • Coverage of the PP was increased from those currently on FSM to those who had been in the previous 6 years. We cannot therefore compare results of PP kids directly from one year to another when the definition of those included has changed.

    At LA level we publish figures for both PP and those on (or ever on) FSM, where the former also include looked after children. At school level we only publish data on PP, to eliminate the risk of identifying looked after children.

    Since there are multiple definitions, there are more than one set of (correct) figures out there.

  • Matthew Huntbach 25th Apr '13 - 1:28am

    If it was purely down to the schools being bad you would not see a general pattern like this. If it’s a case that in wealthy areas across the country pupils from poor families are doing particularly badly, then there’s likely to be some general problem which is not to do with the schools. If it was purely due to the schools, you’d see this pattern in some and not others.

    It’s good of Laws to point this out, but the way he is handling it is appalling. If this general pattern has been noticed, he needs to work with the schools co-operatively and find out what is causing the problem and whether any of them have solutions. He should not be using the language of blame and threat, that’s not the way to get things done. It may well be that the problem is due to factors outside the schools’ control, it may well be that if you are poor in a wealthy area you are more isolated in your poverty, you do not have that community of people like you around you giving mutual support. To suggest that it is purely down to teachers in such schools being universally bad people when it comes to this problem, and to throw abuse at then for it is, well not how I would expect a caring professional person to behave. It is also suggesting a lack of numeracy and a poor understanding of statistics on behalf of Mr Laws.

  • In many rural areas, perhaps 20-30% of un-skilled parents are indifferent to education. Until the mid 70s many unskilled people lived in tied cottages and undertook seasonal rural work: many children left school to work picking fruit. Many comprehensives were former Sec’Moderns where to to mid 70s children left at 15 years old. When school leaving age was raised to 16 , many pupils left after birthday and did not take public exams. A few percent of the children who took up apprenticeships repairing agricultural machinery, working in local , becoming a police officer etc,etc needed O Levels. Many children did not even take CSEs but took RSA exams. Rural schools not within commuting distance of large cities often perform poorly.

    Teaching in rural comprehensive can be quite cushy; little violence or drug taking , low expectations , a few bright middle class children( often vicars , doctors,vetschildren) to obtain a few university places . Let any large and disruptive boys bunk of school to work on farms, forestry local building company.

    The counties mentioned have plenty of fee paying schools of varying academic ability where distraught parents send their children , often having re-mortgaged their homes and accepted support from grandparents. Consequently , many parents who push teachers to improve standards do not use comprehensives. Rural C of E primary schools are often of high standard but then many parents send children to grammar and public schools.

    Rural poverty is often ignored because most left wing middle class people live in urban areas . Rural poor may live in scenic homes in beautiful landscapes but income can be very low. An absence of car, poor inter-net , poor bus services ( therefore no after school activities ) means there is little access to libraries , theatres, and culture in general.
    In countryside , catchments for schools can be 5-10 miles across : therefore parent communicating with teacher can be difficult.

  • Helen Tedcastle 26th Apr '13 - 12:27am

    Quoting David Laws: “These figures highlight what a mess our education system is in and how it is failing young people.”

    A sweeping generalisation designed as the excuse to attack schools as ‘failing’ again.

    This is the rhetoric of the Tory Party.

    It’s a disgrace that a Liberal Democrat Minister should descend to the use of such broadsides . The idea that we should be encouraging Ofsted to downgrade schools we think are not using the pupil premium effectively, is the method again of the Tory.

    The sensible approach would be to encourage and assist schools to put in place target help for less advantaged children. However, the idea that extra money and resources or the beating stick of Ofsted on their own could eliminate generations of underachievement in some families – without a serious change in culture – is naive to say the least.

    I really despair of this Government’s education policy – it makes me wonder if our leadership has done a secret deal with Cameron to let Gove do more or less what he likes, in return for a few cherries prized by the Lib Dems .

  • Mike, good analysis. Fits with my own experience of a rural comp

  • Helen Tedcastle 26th Apr '13 - 10:09am

    @Mike: I agree with your analysis of rural schools also. I began my teaching career in a very rural, small market town comprehensive. It was the only secondary school for miles around. There were many very able children, sons and daughters of academics, doctors, teachers etc.. but a fair number came from families of ‘rural poor’ who made it known they were ‘not interested’ – their lives were pretty much mapped out. Needless to say, we never saw their parents at parents’ evenings.

    I do wonder whether David Laws, for all his mastery of statistics, graphs, trends and the like, has the first clue about the daily struggles of teachers to over come sets of values and expectations a world apart from their own and his.

    Certainly it is possible to turn around some and one must never be fatalistic or complacent but pontificating from on high and criticising schools in general as Laws has done, defeats the object and in reality, alienates the very people he must persuade to get ‘on board’.

  • Tabman and Helen, thank you for your comments. I think there used to be some sort of agricultural exam in basic english and maths , which if passed enabled children to leave school after 14 . H. E Bates novels about rural Kent depicts children working in the fields picking fruit .

    Where families owned small farms, nurseries, poultry units, stables and generally small holdings, children often had to work before and after school. Where fruit had to be grown late frosts on flowers meant everyone had to stay up producing smoky fires . The reality was and is that small farms etc often need the assistance of children .Consequently school attendance would often drop after April due to work on the farm/small holding.

    Where Britain needs to learn from is Germany with it’s good vocational training. What would improve education in many rural areas would be the teaching of english, maths, geography, science and history relevant to rural skills- farming, mechanical engineering, husbandry, equestrian pursuits, building in local materials. forestry, etc,etc. In The Netherlands , children can leave school at 14 if they have job and then continue education while working. The reality that keeping a 14-16 stone( bone and muscle ) 14 to 16 year old boy at school when he wants to working is absurd. Many boys in the countryside have started work at 5 or 6 , if nothing else , weeding the garden at home. When you have a 15 yr old boy( who plays u16 for a county like Gloucestershire) who is larger and stronger than 90% of the staff ( apart from the master who played county rugby) then you have potential problems.

    Any girl who has worked on a farm and/or stables is also likely to be very strong and by the age of 14 tougher than many teachers. Mucking out horses in winter before and after school builds muscles.

  • Helen Tedcastle 26th Apr '13 - 12:42pm

    @Mike: So do you think David Laws’ comments bare any direct relation to human beings as they are, or are they based in your view, on a perspective more reliant on figures on a sheet of statistics ?

  • Helen Tedcastle. Factually correct but does not understand causes and therefore unlikely to produce solutions . Peer group pressure from friends and family can either raise or keep standards low. If historically a rural county has had low expectations combined with the parents , family and friends , then it is very difficult for a teacher to raise the aspiration of pupil. I think there needs to be much more forthright comments from teachers as to the extent of prejudice against academic attainment by so many pupils and their families.

    I think there needs to be separate vocational and academic stream after 14 years old. Some boys and girls want to work after 14 and do not want to be in a class room but they need a rigorous education relevant to their jobs: others enjoy academic study.

    One take a horse to water but one cannot make it drink.

  • Helen Tedcastle 26th Apr '13 - 4:42pm

    @Mike: I think the implementation of the Tomlinson Report , which, in effect, Liberal Democrat policy (in 2010) follows, is long overdue. It would create a single qualification or diploma but allows for pupils to follow different pathways – thus ending the two-tier academic-vocational divide which so blights our system. I think this would be real motivator for that hard to reach group who underachieve at present, because the pathway is either inappropriate or inadequate.

    Back to Laws. I can’t see how yet another broadside against teachers and schools is going to bear fruit – it simply alienates the very people he wants to implement the pupil premium effectively – very strange. – unless he’s trying to bring Gove on board for something else he’s planning.

  • Helen Tedcastle . The problem is that so many vocational qualifications are poor quality- NVQ- Not Very Qualified. Many craftsmen consider City Guilds produced better trained personnel than NVQs.What we need is evening study where people can study at ALevel, HND and degree in science , engineering and vocational degrees( law, accountancy, surveying, banking, insurance) whilst working . Bring back back the old polys. Where vocational qualifications are set up , employers must have more say , especially where standards are too low. Trying to make plumbing equivalent to Latin or Greek is pointless: what we need is to produce the best plumbers in the world.

    It is time for those working in education to spend a few years in industry/private employment to understand what is required of school leavers at 14,16, 18 and 21. Fr too many in the education world appear uninterested in academic abilities and skills required for employment, especially private sector jobs. A major reason for organisations employing foreigners is that they have the education, skills and attitude they want.

    We need far more University Technical Colleges http://www.utcolleges.org
    / but I suggest we may need something similar for 9- 14 years old pupils. There used to be schools which specialised in farm work , a sort of rural UTC, I do not know whether they still exist.

  • Matthew Huntbach 26th Apr '13 - 5:22pm

    We’re getting a bit carried away here. I think you will find the proportion of people in Buckinghamshire, Dorset, West Sussex, Wiltshire, Surrey and Hampshire (the counties named) who work as agricultural labourers is very small. As I’ve been arguing elsewhere, the electoral system used in this country gives the impression that places like this contain nothing but the sort of person who regularly votes Conservative and has the lifestyle that goes with that. Poverty in real rural areas is a big issue, yes, but what this is about is vastly more than that. Most of the children we’re talking about here will be living in the big towns in these counties, not in rural villages. Their parents, if employed, will most likely be employed in the vast number of low paid service jobs that, if you think about it, must exist to service the sort of well-paid professional that is the stereotypical “southerner”. Actual industrial jobs have gone in the south as well. They are likely to be living in the big council estates these towns tend to have, hidden away up a road no-one would use if they didn’t need to go there, so no-one can see them.

    There is a whole underclass in the south that most people in this country are hardly aware of, and it is savagely discriminated against. If you speak with a southern working class accent you are regarded as stupid, and written off. The electoral system has even denied you representation and a way of establishing a common identity. When political commentary in this country descends into “wealthy south v. poor north”, if you’re a working class southerner, you’re being told you don’t exist. And you might as well not for all politicians take any notice of you.

    So I was pleased that David Laws had drawn attention to the issue. That doesn’t stop me, however, from being appalled at the way he wants to tackle it.

  • Matthew Huntbach . I agree but the historical legacy of poorly educated people employed in un/semi-skilled jobs having attended a comprehensive which was a former Sec’Modern is a major problem. In Sussex and Kent academic grades in comprehensives which were former Sec’Mods tend to decline once outside of commuting distance.

  • Peter Watson 26th Apr '13 - 6:19pm

    @Mike “Far too many in the education world appear uninterested in academic abilities and skills required for employment, especially private sector jobs.”
    To be fair, I think all of those working at the sharp end of education would happily train/teach children the sorts of skills you describe. For years our politicians, egged on by important parts of the right-wing press, seem to have heavily prioritised ‘academic’ education over ‘vocational’, and under this government (especially Gove) it feels so much worse. Arguments rage over the quality of GCSEs and “gold standard” A-levels, the motivation for Free Schools seems to be so that Toby Young’s kids can study classics in a state school, and the terrible impression is given that children only end up in trades when they have failed to make the cut. Schools and colleges will produce students with better vocational skills and qualifications when our society treats them with the respect that they deserve.

  • Peter Watson . What I think we need is far more University Technical Colleges. My own experience at rural comprehensive which was former secondary modern is that teachers did not, explain the realities of employment . When coming to science and engineering , high levels of academic ability are needed . Try reading Mech Eng at Imperial without Further Maths A level . Classics are useful for learning other foreign languages. A friend learnt Portugese in weeks because of his French and Latin. It was the knowledge of Greek ( an Indo Aryan Language) which enabled Britons to learn Hindi , Urdu and other Indian languages .

    The problem is that so much vocational training is poor quality , hence NVQs are known as Not Very Qualified. When the UK had YTS ,a German would complete in 6 months what a Briton took 2 years to complete.

    We need car mechanics and electricians who have A Level Maths and Physics plus can speak a foreign language ( preferably German) . Great engineers such as Mitchel- Spitfire, Chadwick- Lancaster , Wallis- Wellington, Bouncing Bomb , 10T bomb ,swing technology, etc, etc all left school at 16, became apprentices and undertook degree level education at night school.

  • Helen Tedcastle 26th Apr '13 - 8:33pm

    @ Mike: I would prefer to see a single diploma achieved through different pathways than continuing with separate academic and NVQs. One of the reasons that vocational qualifications are under-valued (not the only reason as employers say they do not produce the skills needed) is because so much status is given to academic qualifications and vocational appears to be a poor runner up . There is absolutely no reason why Advanced Maths, Science and Engineering cannot be taught in a conventional school – it needs resources of course but why divide school children from each other at 14? With a single diploma, either pathway or a third mixed route, can be followed on one campus.

    Also, I do not think employers take enough responsibility for young people – they should offer high quality apprenticeships so young people can learn skills practically – not all firms do this, preferring to blame schools.

    On languages – they were in the core from 1988 until 2004, when Labour took them out. They were more popular when they were in the core but we did not become a nation of linguists as Gove appears to believe. I think learning languages is good but the idea that children but at 16, apart from the key subjects of maths and English, I think children should be able to choose subjects suited to their interest and aptitudes.

    Not everyone can pick up Latin and then quickly learn a new language from scratch – that takes talent.

    @ Matthew Huntbach: You are probably right on the silent working class in the South. My experience in rural Shropshire was different – there we are dealing with the agricultural poor and those who rely heavily on one or two employers in a small market town. They are a forgotten group and Laws is right to want to raise expectations but as you point out – his methods/tactics are appalling and a copy of the Tory stick approach.

    @Peter Watson: I agree with you that the academic/vocational split has been made far worse by Gove and his chief cheer-leader, Toby Young. Labour had the chance to put this right. Instead they increased greatly the quantity of courses and qualifications, to the confusion of employers. To be fair, this kind of tinkering has been going on with vocational courses for decades. I started teaching in 1989. The TVEI was in operation than as a way of improving vocational and technology-based subjects in schools – what ever happened to that?

  • Helen Tedcastle 26th Apr '13 - 8:47pm

    @ Mike: Sorry I have rewritten this paragraph so it makes some sense! It should read as follows:

    On languages – they were in the core from 1988 until 2004, when Labour took them out. They were more popular when they were in the core but we did not become a nation of linguists as Gove appears to believe. I think learning languages is good but apart from the key subjects of maths and English, I think at 14, children should be able to choose subjects suited to their interests, ambitions and aptitudes.

  • Sorry Helen, but while I generally agree with you on this issue, I must disagree with you on the language point. We have to force our young to learn languages because otherwise, as we saw when Labour stopped doing so, they will not pick them. I hate to sound so elitist,, but I know from being a child growing up in a poorer part of English, the idea of learning English seems point, so we certainly did not see the importance of knowing a second language. It was not until I move to Taiwan that I realised how vital a second language really is, and then in true it more out jealously that the Taiwanese youths could speak three languages, while I could barely use my one.

    In our schools, generally speaking, the only kids who take a second language are those who already know one due to family or social connections. I say this not just because it is really important for our economy, but because if there is one thing which can give someone from a poorer background an edge over his private/public schooled counterparts, it is knowing a second language. I was lucky, I got to spend a part of my youth in Taiwan and as such, I know a fair amount of Chinese. It is something employers jump on. Not many will have that lucky break that I had.

    @Matthew, I completely agree with you on your point about Southern poverty. The legal aid/social work I am currently doing is in the south, and I have to say, the poverty and culture here is no different to that which I experienced growing up in the midlands; the only real difference is that here you have Tory dominated councils actively punishing the poor for being poor.

  • I really need to buy a computer with Word on it ,so that I can more easily see everything I am writing. Sorry about the shameful grammar and spelling in that last piece.

  • Helen Tedcastle 26th Apr '13 - 10:34pm

    @ Liberal Al: I am in favour of young people, in fact people of any age engaging in learning a new language. All have to take a language to 14 and I presume now it will return to 16.

    Two thirds of the cohort will go on to GCSE in one or two languages – the question is what one does with the third who are weakest – language teachers used to teach a certificate course in languages – perhaps that will return.

    I don’t regard it as elitist to learn a language but I think one should be the minimum so that other choices can be accessed – I really object to the lack of choice on offer in the core humanities, due to Gove – far worse than languages in fact.

  • Helen . I support learning languages because it helps to understand different cultures: it affords a different view of life.
    In many parts of the World people grow up knowing a local language and a national one. Also , where people live close to a border , they are often bi-lingual or where parents come from different nationalities . Historically most people in the UK grew up mono-lingual unless they grew up knowing Celtic/ English. In the upper middle class families people tended to be taught Latin, Greek , French and German .

    In most of Europe children are taught a foreign language from 6 or 7 and start a second one a few years later. Part of the reason is most modern music and culture is in English- not many Britons listen to pop music in foreign languages.

    I think people should learn a foreign language up to 16 but the difficulty is to make it enjoyable and children want to do it. Once again the obstacle is ethos . I think we need to learn from Europe when it comes to teaching languages.

    When it comes to choosing subjects I think people need to consider what they are good at, what they like and what the market needs over the next few years. Too many children are choosing a mixture of subjects which make no sense for employment and/o r going to top universities. There are too many GSCEs which lack academic rigour and only benefit is to boost schools rankings. Those at public schools take twice as many maths and science A levels and three times as many modern languages as those at comprehensives . Only 60% of comprehensive schools offer Further Maths A level . At one stage no Islington school offered single subject GCSEs in science .

    One reason vocational training has been looked down upon is that so much was associated with dirty and noisy work but now much of manufacturing is clean – building Mclaren Cars, Rolls Royce Engines , satellites, drugs , car assembly plants . Consequently , people used to aspire to work in clean and comfortable offices.

    However, I think many people will soon realise that someone with a humanities degree from most universities ( perhaps excluding top Russell Group ) will earn less than an electricians registered by NICEIC or similar highly skilled craftsmen. Becoming a top chef means that one could be running one’s own kitchen by one’s late 20s or being a hairdresser one could be running one’s own saloon by one’s late 20s. When Blair said to German minister that soon 50% of British children would be going to university he laughed at the absurdity . How many children in Germany and/or Switzerland go to university and of those that do, what is proportion of arts and technology subjects ? . If we wish to to copy the success of the Germany,Swiss and Austrian Mittelstand , we need to recreate their vocational apprenticeship schemes .

  • Paper on “The power of uncommon common sense management principles – The secret recipe of German Mittelstand companies – Lessons for large and small companies”

    http://www.druckersociety.at/repository/2010/day01/15'30-17'00/Venohr_101118_PPT_Beamerversion.pdf

  • @Helen: Gove only recently introduced modern languages to Primary school so fundamentally, say whatever you wish about him, but that is one of the most important decisions a Minister in this Government has ever made. I know his proposals in this area are not perfect, but schools need time to adapt and teachers need to be found, so I am hopeful this a stepping stone in the right direction. You say they have to learn it until 14, but lets face it, for far too long, language teaching in this country has been a joke because we introduce students to language learning far too late. 12-14, 3 years study; it is simply not enough. In my school, after three years of German, only 10 out of 60 students were deemed even good enough to go on to GCSE level, and none of them had any choice to do so in the end because not enough students picked modern languages anyway, so the school could not run the course. After three years of German, I had learnt one phase, and while not the best student academically, I certainly was not lazy. Furthermore, it cannot be because I am incapable of learning languages 因为我会说一点儿华语,说得不错。

    I believe it is because by 13 the window of opportunity for language learning as a natural process is closed and it only gets harder the older you get, So by choosing to teach start teaching languages at a time that studies have shown is possibly the worse time for language learning ,when you mix in the general problems that you get with teaching 13-14 year olds, we basically completely undermine the whole thing.

    Students have to start learning languages when they 4-6 if you really want them to find it natural and fun. They then ideally want to keep learning until at least 16-18. If a child has learnt 2 or even 3 languages by this point, then for most people learning languages will suddenly become much easier. In Taiwan I met a gentlemen who can speak 7 languages; after only one years worth of study, his Chinese was good enough that he was able to take a post-graduate course in advanced engineering in Chinese. Now, I admit, he is probably quite a special case, but still he, himself, would say that each language is much easier than the one before it. So to me this shows we have to not only teach earlier, but then keep teaching throughout the whole education process ,

    Another great thing is that, as Mike says, it breaks down cultural barriers. Many children in East Asian countries have begun developing far more positive views about foreigners because in their early years they are introduced to their ‘cool and fun’ foreign language teachers. I admit, it is not perfect because their views are also very stereotyped as they generally end up meeting a very particular group of foreigners, but still, it is a start. This is why I think Graham Watson’s Broadening Horizons campaign is so fantastic. http://www.grahamwatsonmep.org/campaigns

    As for your point about humanities, well, to my mind, his decision to remove RE as a compulsory subject is one, which I hate to admit that I once again completely agree with, RE should be something you choose to learn because it is something that only applies to a select few who wish to learn it. I see no reason why it is the state’s job to teach students about something as personal as religion unless you personally choose to learn it. On the other hand, if you are referring to his history reforms and the like, then yes, here is where my limited respect for Gove’s expansion of languages is cancelled out. While I agree, teaching students about American Prohibition at the expense of Britain’s own far more interesting history was a cowardly move by a Government Labour who did not dare teach anything as contentious as British history, it is still unfortunate that Gove clearly fails to appreciate that to understand British history, we have to understand world history.

  • Helen Tedcastle 27th Apr '13 - 5:10pm

    @ Mike: “When it comes to choosing subjects I think people need to consider what they are good at, what they like and what the market needs over the next few years. Too many children are choosing a mixture of subjects which make no sense for employment and/o r going to top universities. ”

    I have no problem with people learning languages – I did an A Level in French myself and took German at night school, so I have nothing against it! I’m simply pointing out that logistically and realistically a. not everyone is a linguist b. there are not enough teachers (and haven’t been for decades, despite the generous bursaries). Maybe this will change but it will take a long time – perhaps a generation.

    Okay, in response to the quotation from your comment, above: I have to disagree with the premise of the argument – that education and choice of subject if for the market. I strongly believe in the idea of a liberal education – a broad and balanced education for each child to help them reach their potential. The idea that children should be pushed into subjects to suit the economy is antithetical to this view.

    I do not accept the current selectively and partially evidence nonsense coming from Gove that only certain subjects get you to top universities in certain mission groups. It’s been blown out of the water by Cambridge University whose admissions policy encourages students to select from a wider variety of subjects than Gove advocates – plus a number of heads of top independent schools have written strong complaints to Gove and the head of the Russell Group about their advocacy of a small range of subjects, to the detriment of Music and the Arts. I’m afraid Gove is an ideologue who cannot be believed in matters like this – sad but true.

    On humanities degrees – when I did mine way back in the 1980s, I knew full well that my degree wouldn’t get me fast tracked into a top firm but then again I was not doing a degree in order to earn huge bucks afterwards – I was passionate about the subject and wished to make a difference to people’s lives (I chose teaching). Most undergraduates know the score with degrees – not all are motivated by money I’m still pleased to write.

    @ Liberal Al: Languages are taught voluntarily in a number of primaries already – Gove is simply making it mandatory and making them start younger. As usual though, he decreed it rather than thinking through the resource implications – most teachers are not trained in language teaching, so although some non-specialists have taught it, now Gove is making it compulsory, there will be a proper curriculum to follow, so training will be necessary – will he pay for it? Unlikely because he is going to have to pay to train the same teachers to deliver the vast tracts of history he wishes taught in those schools. The reason why I have poured water on some of the ideas is because they are decreed without paying attention to the profession first – then he would find out about the logistical problems before dreaming up ideas.

    On RE – I’m afraid I have to disagree with you. RE is teaching about religion. As the latter, whether one likes it personally or not, is a major factor in world history and the contemporary world, it is doing a disservice to young people to leave them ignorant of it. Ignorance breeds fear, and prejudice.

    A religiously literate young person for example, would be able to tell the difference (in beliefs, outlook etc…) between a fundamentalist and a mainstream muslim – this has consequences for society, especially in a multi-religious society like Britain. You do not need to have any religious belief to study religion – it’s an academic subject in its own right.

  • Matthew Huntbach 27th Apr '13 - 5:51pm

    Mike

    I think people should learn a foreign language up to 16 but the difficulty is to make it enjoyable and children want to do it

    What I really enjoyed about learning languages at school was the grammar. All those complicated rules about how meaning is expressed. I lived the old-fashioned grammar-based way that Latin was taught, but didn’t get on with the trendy conversation-oriented way that French was taught. Of course, I was a strange kid … Point is, what some like, others don’t. There’s not a general rule that fits everyone.

  • @Matthew: I completely agree, which is why I am in favour of Latin being taught in schools again. It is just a shame that a lack of teachers would probably make it impossible. However, what I will say is, my comprehensive education taught me that commas are used when you need to take a breath. If that is the best that the British education system could muster, it is no surprise that when I got to Taiwan, my grammar was worse than that of my classmates, and that most people’s English is now just woeful. I, of course, include my own English in that statement.

    However, I, too, love learning about grammar, so that made learning Mandarin a lot easier.

  • Helen Tedcastle 27th Apr '13 - 8:59pm

    @ Liberal Al: ” If that is the best that the British education system could muster, it is no surprise that when I got to Taiwan, my grammar was worse than that of my classmates, and that most people’s English is now just woeful.”

    Grammar is taught until it comes out of young people’s ears. I can write this with confidence as a teacher of English (and RE) and spend a great deal of time teaching grammar and vocabulary as well as extended writing. The fact that some people cannot use grammar even though they have lessons in it and take exams in it, is actually a problem of retention. Probably the reason you remember the basic rule of the comma is because your teacher thought of inventive ways to help you retain the rule. It is a useful technique except that some rules are easier to remember than others.

    Last Spring, I spent hours and hours going over grammar with my nephew in preparation for his English exams (SATs.) After some time showing him and explaining over and over again how to use the comma, he suddenly got it ie: the aspect of commas suggesting a pause in the sentence. After that, he used the comma in a sentence flawlessly.

    My point is this – grammar is hard to learn – practising over and over again is the only way unless one has a talent – and even then it all aspects do not sink in.

    One good way to learn grammar is to read a good deal. Boys, (on the whole),do not read as much as girls in the primary phase and I am convinced this is what holds them back at secondary. They need a lot of encouragement to leave the X-box to one side!

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