Why things need to change in education

At no other time during a 10 year teaching career has the horizon appeared so dark and bleak over the educational landscape.  Retention is low and recruitment equally as poor within the sector, begging the question “Why is it so hard to find teachers?”  Even now as I type, I find myself questioning if this is what I want for my future.

The truth is that the profession is built on people with a passion for their career, people who believe in the importance and the worth of educating and guiding future generations.  And it is the good will and convictions of their beliefs that has held it together thus far, but with ever increasing frequency more and more have had this good will stretched to breaking point.

Teachers have become the puppets of a system that helps the few at the expense of the many.  A child’s education should not be determined by how rich they are or their faith, but yet this is the system we find ourselves in.

With the Conservatives in government we have suffered through an educational leader, Michael Gove,  who openly decried experts, who had a complete lack of experience or expertise in an educational environment.  Though he has since moved on, each passing Education Secretary has had equally little experience or desire to listen to experts.  Even now Mrs May plans to force Grammar Schools into the system without and evidence that they work, at the expense of schools that are already operating.

We have the privilege of living in one of the wealthiest countries in the world, but somehow find ourselves strapped for cash within our schools.  The truth is teachers in many schools are no longer allowed to photocopy, print in colour, order new pens, go on educational visits, purchase art resources or even buy new exercise books.  Even worse is the reality that many schools are cutting staff, which on top of losing valuable skills, is increasing average class sizes from 25 to above 30.  In short, schools are required to do more, with more children, with less time, money and staff.  The inevitable result will be the loss of passion and excitement for learning and a fall in standards.

Now with a General Election coming up, where overturning fox hunting is higher up the agenda than education, I wonder what the future holds if the country continues down this path.  If things continue as they are, the most significant factor on a child’s education will be their birth.  With the right amount of money and a decent postcode, the few can climb to the top over the shoulders of the many. Rather than providing a ladder for all to raise themselves to the top.

If we are presented with another 5 years of this I (like many others), with a heavy heart, may turn our backs on what we once loved but is no longer the career we signed up for.

* Ian Ridge is a Liberal Democrat member in North Somerset

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41 Comments

  • The problems in education are so many and run so deep that it is very hard to know where to begin. Although there are teacher shortages, many older teachers who have so much experience to offer schools, can’t find a job because 1) they are too expensive to hire, and 2) younger heads and senior staff actually feel threatened by someone who may know as much, or even more about the job than they do. So struggling schools fill up with NQTs.
    Two stories which point to much that is wrong with education.
    A primary teacher comes into the staff room with fruit for a project the kids are doing. “At least we don’t have to worry about buying South African fruit these days”, she says. “Why’s that”, responds a younger member of staff. “Well, during apartheid many of us boycotted South African goods”. “What’s apartheid”. I know. It’s scary. Teachers who were educated themselves under the national curriculum often have no intellectual hinterland.
    Ofsted visit a primary school and give it “Good” for management and governance. A couple of weeks later they visit another primary school down the road. This time they deem management and governance to be “inadequate”. Only problem is that the two schools are federated and they have the same head teacher and the same board of governors.
    Add to that the large number of heads who are bullies (see the Guardian’s Secret Teacher blog for some truly horrible stories) and teaching really isn’t a job for sane people anymore.

  • David Evershed 11th May '17 - 1:11pm

    Any country’s wealth is only increased by higher productivity.

    Productivity in the Uk has stagnated for the last 10 years.

    Like other occupations, teaching needs to innovate and change to improve its productivity – raising children’s educational standards with fewer resources.

    That’s reality. It’s what the world outside teaching is doing.

    The problem is partly a sense of entitlement within the teaching profession and that it’s the responsibility of the government to give them more resources rather than the teachers’ responsibility to do more with what they have.

  • Allan Brame 11th May '17 - 1:26pm

    @ David Evershed ‘the teachers’ responsibility to do more with what they have.’
    So instead of ordering new exercise books Ian Ridge mentions, they should ask pupils to share?
    Teaching is not a branch of business: It depends on relationships between a teacher and students. An over-burdened and stressed teacher will not be so able to foster the additional relationships demanded by increased ‘productivity’

  • Richard Underhill 11th May '17 - 1:31pm

    David Evershed 11th May ’17 – 1:11pm “Any country’s wealth is only increased by higher productivity. Productivity in the UK has stagnated for the last 10 years.”
    Productivity in education and in the economy generally are different things. This is not just about working harder, or more cleverly. In the economy generally investment in equipment is a key factor.

  • Nigel Jones 11th May '17 - 3:44pm

    As Chris Cory says, the problems are many and run deep, involving complex human and organisational relationships. Here are 8 of them:
    1. Funding to enable resources to keep up with demands and costs
    2. Early years quality of provision emphasising loving care and child development
    3. Well-being of staff and pupils to make space for personal development
    4. The testing regime needs radical reform to focus on learning, rather than accountability
    5. Provide for the various different ways of learning and motivating young people, including the very bright, without wasting resources on divisive selective schools.
    6. Blurring the distinction (at least until age 16) between technical and academic; develop more of the practical approaches to learning which will help motivation and go some way to dealing with behavioural problems.
    7. Inspection to be linked more closely to support and improvement plans, which implies more local involvement, not just a national system of inspectors.
    8. Local democratic accountability and local services (including youth services) that support parents and young people that are falling behind, lack motivation to learn or suffer from deprivation; the schools cannot do this alone; the social dimension gets forgotten at our peril.

  • I feel like I need to just clarify my position.

    I can assure everyone there is no sense of entitlement within teaching, I have worked years to a budget and have always found ways to make the most of the money we have.

    There is only so far that a pound will stretch, especially considering that the amount spent per pupil is falling at the moment. I am yet to meet a teacher who’s passion wasn’t raising standards and improving the future of children, but that is hard to achieve when simple resources like pencils and books are rationed.

    I for one believe that our children’s future, as well as other things (like health care), shouldn’t be put at risk.

    As for the other points so far, education in the UK has many issues and though money may not be the greatest of these (yet), it is the most relevant at the moment with announcements that have been made over the past few months.

  • Steve Trevethan 11th May '17 - 4:17pm

    Thank you for a most interesting, relevant and alarm raising article. Please take care of yourself, your students and, at least, some of your colleagues.
    Education both empowers and imprisons. Currently, and not accidentally, we are in a phase in which learning, learners and teachers are ever more controlled and diminished.
    The strategic aim of those with power is to have a bigger slice of a smaller cake.
    The strategic aim of efficient teachers is that everyone gets at least a sufficient slice of a big cake.
    A country’s wealth is affected by productivity. It is also affected by the efficiency, visibility and accessibility of its governance and the distribution and uses of its wealth.
    What are the complex reasons for qualified, ie specially educated, nurses using food banks?

  • Peter Watson 11th May '17 - 5:10pm

    An excellent article about important points. But …
    “With the Conservatives in government “ … for half of your ten year teaching career the Lib Dems were in government as well.

    I always believed that the Lib Dems would be the best party for education and should be a natural choice for teachers, but if that were ever the case, the Coalition years certainly changed things. Articles like this: https://www.libdemvoice.org/opinion-support-teachers-right-to-strike-but-not-the-nut-strikes-in-june-39492.html suggest that the party has a lot of ground to make up. When I first discovered this site several years ago, I was hugely impressed by the posts of Juian Critchley and Helen Tedcastle who had a passionate and informed view of the education system: the fact that I can remember their names is telling, but the fact that they no longer seem to post here is possibly more so.

  • The disillusionment with their chosen profession goes far beyond teachers. At root is an embarrassing secret – the Tories are simply terrible managers.

    That’s because, as Gladstone famously observed, “Conservatism is distrust of the people tempered by fear”. So their instinct is to build top-down, controlling, authoritarian systems that disempower those at the coal face/chalk face making them subject to those who primary (often ONLY) skill is buttering up politicians to advance their own career.

    For instance, I have two nieces who went through both primary and secondary school under heads that were almost universally despised by parents and teachers alike. The secondary school in particular was/is one of the country’s top state schools and the then head was a darling of ministers yet ran a reign of terror. (Happily, both heads were eventually fired but only after many children’s and teachers’ lives were harmed.)

    If that’s how it was in one of the country’s best schools I dread to think what it’s like in others. And what does this say about the Tories’ vaunted “choice” agenda?

    This is latter-day Stalinism and it’s failing for the same reasons – because it is unresponsive to local circumstances; the key decision-makers are in Westminster and don’t know the facts or, if local, are in post only because they impressed the DfE and not because of their good judgement. Being unresponsive drives up costs; too many decisions are poor quality and lead to waste. Also, the information needs of top-down control drive an insatiable demand for data that is horribly expensive (in time & money) to collect yet still doesn’t provide an adequate basis for action.

    And that is largely why there’s no money for books and teachers.

    The answer was summed up by Gladstone, “Liberalism is trust of the people tempered by prudence.” That means authority should be devolved to the professionals – teachers & heads – within a framework that rewards good judgement and penalizes bad.

  • Matthew Huntbach 12th May '17 - 5:45am

    Peter Watson

    An excellent article about important points. But …
    “With the Conservatives in government “ … for half of your ten year teaching career the Lib Dems were in government as well.

    A government which is five-sixths Conservative and one-sixth Liberal Democrat in terms of its MPs is not going to be a pure Liberal Democrat government, is it? I do wish people like you would stop pushing a line that suggests everything done by the Coalition was what the LibDems regarded as ideal and would have done if they had won a majority.

    The reality is that all the LibDems could do in the Coalition was swing things a little bit, or get the odd thing through at the cost of having to let a lot go.

    There was certainly a conflict within the party between its right-wing who tried to push the coalition as a success and its left who were much more critical (and that includes Tim Farron who gave it “2 out of 10”). The problem with attacks on us like yours is that they ended up boosting the right and damaging the left. By making out those of us on the left did not exist or dismissing us as insignificant, your type helped the right push the party their way, and demoralised the left. I think if we had more recognition and support instead dismissal, we could have achieved more by standing our ground.

    I am concerned that as a result of people like you pushing the line that all LibDems were happy with the coalition you have helped build up a right-wing image for the party, and as a result most of our new recruits see it that way. When I joined the party its younger members tended to be on its left. Now its younger members all seem to be on its right, people who think that liberalism means free-market economy and not much else.

  • Martin Walker 12th May '17 - 7:56am

    Just a reminder that, for Liberal Democrats who are concerned about how children and young people are being educated and supported, the Liberal Democrat Education Association is worth a look – http://www.ldea.co.uk

  • Peter Watson 12th May '17 - 9:08am

    @Matthew Huntbach “I am concerned that as a result of people like you pushing the line that all LibDems were happy with the coalition you have helped build up a right-wing image for the party, and as a result most of our new recruits see it that way.”
    Not all Lib Dems were happy, but the party did little to give the impression it was unhappy with the policies of an overwhelmingly Tory government, even in areas like education (free schools, grammar school expansion, exam and curriculum changes, etc.) which had nothing to do with deficit reduction. On this site many Lib Dems defended Coalition policies on their own merits, not because the nasty Tories held their feet to the fire, and those who disagreed looked like a minority. At that time you regularly pointed out that Lib Dems to the left were effectively invited to leave the party.

    Even under a new leader with great potential to restore its reputation the party does not look like it has changed direction; it does not look like it has a direction. Nick Clegg is often wheeled out as the face of the party so there has been no break with the past. This is why I believe the party languishes in the polls despite facing a weak and divided Labour party and despite its attempts to galvanise 48% of the population around a single issue.

    There was no step change in the way the government looked or behaved after the 2015 general election. it was no 1997 or 2010 because effectively we had a Tory government before the election and afterwards. And there was little change in the way the Lib Dems looked or behaved. I can’t imagine that new recruits see a “right-wing image”, but if we narrow that down to a “right-wing image” economically with a bias towards small-state free-market solutions everywhere, one that targets the Cameron/Remain wing of the Tories, how can I be sure that they would be incorrect.

    Consequently I object when the author of this article blames Conservatives in government for making it “dark and bleak over the educational landscape” without acknowledging the role that his own party played, without explaining how and why the party is different now, and without explaining what the party will do about it. I want to point this out, not for fun, but because I want a response so I can gauge if the party is one I could support again. I agree with the author of this article and share his concerns, but I cannot tell whether or not his party is best placed to address them.

  • @ Peter Watson You speak for a lot of us.

  • Jayne Mansfield 12th May '17 - 9:50am

    @ Matthew Huntback,
    The education of young people should include teaching them that actions have consequences and that having made a choice, they should take responsibility for their choices .

    Any problems that have befallen the Liberal Democrat Party are the result of the party’s choices, and not those who tried to offer timely warnings.

    I know of no -one , including teachers who thinks that the education system was damaged by Peter Watson or his type. They are quite clear about where they think the blame lies.

    @ Gordon,
    The Health and Social Care Act has achieved much the same result. A top -down approach that has become divorced from local need. PCG’s have become the rationing agents of Jeremy Hunt.

  • Every time a decent socially liberal orientated article gets published it seems a debate over the coalition must be had. Perhaps we should be prepared to move on.

    It’s an interesting point about younger members tending to be from the right. I think our collapse in support among university students has stifled our growth a bit. I saw an article that said 55% of students are planning to vote Labour and we were in 3rd place behind the Conservatives. Before tuition fees we were the most popular party with students.

  • Peter Watson 12th May '17 - 10:41am

    @Matthew Huntbach
    In case my earlier post sounds like an attack on you,I feel I should add that over the years of visiting this site, I can’t recall disagreeing with you on anything of substance and I envy the passion and eloquence with which you express your convictions.
    On the subject of the Lib Dems in Coalition, I believe that we agree that the circumstances of going in to Coalition with the Conservatives were unfortunate but it was the right thing to do, but being in Coalition was managed and presented poorly by the leadership of the party.
    Where I think we diverge is that being on the inside of the party you appear outraged because its outward image does not represent its true soul, while from the outside I need to be convinced otherwise.

  • Matthew Huntbach 12th May '17 - 10:49am

    Peter Watson

    Not all Lib Dems were happy, but the party did little to give the impression it was unhappy with the policies of an overwhelmingly Tory government, even in areas like education (free schools, grammar school expansion, exam and curriculum changes, etc.) which had nothing to do with deficit reduction.

    Sure, but as you know, I myself was extremely critical of the leadership of the party during that time, and I was not the only one. Again, you are using words that could be read as implying that almost every member of the Liberal Democrats was happy with what the Coalition did. That is just not true, and I am asking for more recognition of that. As I keep saying, this constant pushing off this sort of attack on us is just not helping those of us who do want the party to move back to where it was before the Coalition.

    During the time of the Coalition, when we in the party who were opposed to Clegg turned round to look for the sort of outside support we needed from people like you, we got none. Just the constant throwing of this line that suggests all of us were Clegg fans. I believe we could have been far more successful if we could have demonstrated support. However, thanks to people like you, the Cleggies were able to use the line “yours is a lost cause”, and that managed to persuade the centrists in the party to back the Cleggies.

    The aim of those who used that line was to destroy our party so that Labour would then win. Well, they got the first part right, but as I predicted at the time it would have the opposite effect regarding the second part.

  • Matthew Huntbach 12th May '17 - 11:02am

    Peter Watson

    Where I think we diverge is that being on the inside of the party you appear outraged because its outward image does not represent its true soul, while from the outside I need to be convinced otherwise.

    It certainly does not represent the soul of the party in terms of the view of almost every member of it that I know. Plenty of those I know who have the same sort of view as me are still very active in the party. I actually do not know anyone in the party who has the sort of viewpoint you are now accusing us all of having.

    However, I have myself dropped out of the sort of activity in the party I used to engage in, partly due to workload pressure, partly because I am concerned it is not the party it used to be. It’s nice to see membership numbers increasing, but I am concerned it is mainly people who think of the party as the way you portray it.

    So please don’t accuse me of saying what I am saying because I am some sort of blind party loyalist. The point I am making is that yours and others continual throwing of these lines is not helping the recoveryI want to see, it is doing the reverse.

  • Peter Watson 12th May '17 - 11:02am

    @Simon Shaw “I’m not sure you are correct about “grammar school expansion” (in 2010 – 2015).”
    Unfortunately the expansion of existing grammar schools began early in the Coalition years (http://www.telegraph.co.uk/education/educationnews/8098752/Grammar-schools-will-be-allowed-to-expand.html) and opposition by Lib Dems was far from unanimous (https://www.libdemvoice.org/schools-members-survey-38038.html).
    Lib Dem policy had long appeared to be a confusing and inconsistent conservative (small-c) position of opposing the creation of new grammar schools while simultaneously retaining existing ones, which looked more like an exercise in not scaring voters in target seats. However, I welcome a recent Conference motion which appears to change this approach by calling “on the government to abandon the selection by ability and social separation of young people, into different schools” and I hope that this translates into an unequivocal manifesto policy.
    You are probably right that the terminology can effect public perception and a campaigning approach that emphasises the “secondary modern” label but otherwise refers to “selection” or even “segregation” could be more effective.

  • Jayne Mansfield 12th May '17 - 11:07am

    @ Simon Shaw,
    I agree that a change of emphasis is needed.

    Theresa May has clearly conceded that Grammar schools were mainly the preserve of middle class children from supportive homes, that is why she and her government are pushing the claim that the new wave of grammar school system will benefit those from poorer backgrounds.

    The point that is not being emphasises is the one that you make. The vast majority of children from poorer homes will be condemned to a new wave of Secondary Modern schools.

  • Matthew Huntbach 12th May '17 - 11:12am

    Jayne Mansfield

    Any problems that have befallen the Liberal Democrat Party are the result of the party’s choices, and not those who tried to offer timely warnings.

    I know of no -one , including teachers who thinks that the education system was damaged by Peter Watson or his type.

    Sorry, what is the point of that second sentence? It implies I am saying that Peter Watson and his type are responsible for damaging the education system.

    I have said nothing whatsoever which states this or implies it.

    So this indicates clearly that you are paying no attention whatsoever to what I am actually saying.

    I actually agree very much that the Conservative governments we have had have had a disastrous effect on the education system. Most Liberal Democrat members I know would say that as well. I would much rather be arguing with the one that doesn’t here – David Evershed – than having to repeat the point I made for five years because people like you either didn’t or couldn’t get it, and so carried on acting in a way that helped push the party in precisely the opposite direction to the one you say you go to.

  • Matthew Huntbach 12th May '17 - 11:51am

    Jayne Mansfield

    The implication of your first sentence that I quoted is that the Liberal Democrats had a choice which meant they could have achieved whatever they wanted following the 2010 general election, and so are bad people because they did not manage to achieve what a 100% LibDem government would have achieved, or that what they really wanted was what the Coalition did.

    There were not enough Labour MPs to form a viable government in coalition with Labour, so the alternative to what we had would have been a minority Conservative government. Those who say if that was the case they would never call another general election in order to gain a majority need to consider what is happening right now.

    It was a choice between two horrible things. I felt that a Conservative-LibDem coalition would be able to temper the Conservatives a bit, and so would be better than what would lead to a majority Conservative government. That does not mean, as you are implying, that I or anyone else in the LibDems who accepted the Coalition agreed with everything it did.

    Oh, it’s easy to look in from the outside and claim the LibDems could have achieved far more than they did, somehow persuading five times as many Conservative MPs to drop their pledges and pick up LibDem ones. It’s rather like David Evershed looking in on the outside and claiming teachers could easily make education much better with less money. Evershed clearly hasn’t a clue of the reality of teaching.

    If you look at coalitions across the world, the idea that small parties can get whatever they want out of them never happens. The LibDems tempered the Tories a little, that was it, and we now see the Tories shifting even further to the right as they no longer have that tempering. I think it was wrong for Clegg and co to present that as some sort of triumph, and you know I said that – continuously.

    However, I think it is wrong to accuse someone of doing a bad thing if you cannot offer a realistic better alternative they could have done. That is the position I took myself when I was Leader of the Opposition to Labour in the London Borough of Lewisham. I am sorry that Labour never keeps to that principle.

  • Matthew Huntbach 12th May '17 - 11:56am

    Andrew T

    Every time a decent socially liberal orientated article gets published it seems a debate over the coalition must be had. Perhaps we should be prepared to move on.

    Yes, I would very much like to move on.

    However, we are never going to be able to move on and have a constructive discussion if every time it is tried we get people like Jayne Mansfield who do what is in effect to stick their fingers in their ears and yell “Nah nah nah nah nah, I’m not listening to you, you’re just a supporter of everything the Tories did”.

  • Matthew Huntbach 12th May '17 - 12:06pm

    Andrew T

    Before tuition fees we were the most popular party with students.

    Again, there is a horrible choice issue here. The LibDems were not in a position to get the Tories to raise the extra taxes needed to carry on subsidising universities. The compromise of accepting tuition fees, but making sure loans were available to all and only to be paid back when they could be afforded was an alternative to what as the realistic choice? Massive cuts to universities.

    If I had been a LibDem MP, I think I would have been one of those who voted against the tuition fee rises, but as a university lecturer I have to be grateful, because what the LibDems in government did has, I think, saved my job.

    Incidentally, the fact that many of the LibDem MPs who were not in government voted against the tuition fees increase hardly ever gets mentioned. I was at a UCU meeting recently where an former LibDem MP, now a Lord (sorry, didn’t catch who it was) spoke and said he was one of those who vote against. A shout went out “Huh, must have been the only one”. Well, no, he certainly wasn’t the only one.

  • With a child “enjoying” the full-Gove at the moment with his SATS this very week it is not the Gove regime I dislike as much as the chopping and changing my son has experienced. When he began primary school the regime was stereotypically “Blob” . I was practically escorted out of the school building when I mentioned old-fashioned stuff like spelling to some of his teachers. Now, at the end of primary school, things have swung the other way with a regime of grammar and testing like something from an Edwardian prep school.

  • Sue Sutherland 12th May '17 - 1:45pm

    I’m not sure what more party members could have done to reassure doubters than elect as leader a person who voted against tuition fees. I was hugely disappointed in our party when the tuition fees decision happened, because I thought we were different from other parties and would keep our promises. However, if I had been in government and had known what cut backs there would have to be following the crash I don’t think I would have wanted to support students more than the disabled or the homeless.
    Personally I don’t think austerity has worked and would like to see our economic policies change and I know there are others in the party with more influence than I have who agree with me. I am not a socialist, but our Liberal beliefs lead me to want to help those who rely on state services to be given better support. I feel the country has gone too far towards benefitting the rich and I very much fear what the authoritarian Teresa May will do if she has a landslide victory.

  • @David Evershed
    ” Like other occupations, teaching needs to innovate and change to improve its productivity – raising children’s educational standards with fewer resources.

    That’s reality. It’s what the world outside teaching is doing.

    The problem is partly a sense of entitlement within the teaching profession and that it’s the responsibility of the government to give them more resources rather than the teachers’ responsibility to do more with what they have.”

    I find it hard to believe that a Lib Dem could write those comments, especially as we pride ourselves on evidence-based policies to help us in contextualising our values.

    Anyone who follows developments in education in any degree of depth would know that it has experienced prolonged periods of extensive change. The tenure of Michael Gove as Education Secretary during the coalition years, saw unleashed a battery of changes to the curriculum, to teachers’ pay and conditions, to the structure of schools- all done with the deft skill of a populist right-winger with the ability to present selective and even tenuous data and polemic as truth. We saw his unique abilities at presenting alternative facts again at work during the EU Referendum.

    Liberal Democrats as a party deplore Gove’s approach. He was, rightly, sacked from Education and his reputation will never recover.

  • Peter Watson 12th May '17 - 3:08pm

    @Louise “Liberal Democrats as a party deplore Gove’s approach. He was, rightly, sacked from Education and his reputation will never recover.”
    It is too easy to pin all of the blame on one person and to let off the hook the 362 MPs who kept him there. Ultimately Gove’s replacement looked less like a sacking and more like a presentation-oriented reshuffle to put media friendly politicians in the spotlight ahead of the general election, and his reputation was damaged more by his role in Brexit and the change in Tory leadership than it was by his tenure as Education secretary.
    To Gove’s credit (I’ll have to wash my hands after typing that 😉 ) he was one of the few politicians who seemed to have a sincere and genuine commitment to improving the education of all of our children, it’s just a shame that he did the wrong things in that cause! And Nick Clegg stood alongside Michael Gove to present some of those things.
    Unfortunately, it is difficult to call for a reversal of those policies and simultaneously call for stability and an end to constant government-led changes of direction for schools. Hopefully the Lib Dem manifesto will find a way through that dilemma. I think that the starting point should be a clear vision and set of principles for the sort of education the party wants for our children, balancing academic and vocational needs, and then to set out a path towards that. These days it seems to be too much about opposing this change or that one, meddling with examinations or school entry criteria or school structures (are faith schools really the most important topic in education at the moment?), tinkering at the edges but without a big picture.

  • Peter Watson 12th May '17 - 4:16pm

    @Simon Shaw
    (1) “was there really an expansion (or at least any material expansion) of grammar schools during 2010 – 2015?”
    As far as I can tell, there was an expansion but it was the continuation of a longer term trend. Sadly the proportion of pupils in grammar schools has risen steadily for over thirty years (http://researchbriefings.parliament.uk/ResearchBriefing/Summary/SN01398), including during Labour’s time in government, though at least they passed legislation to prevent new grammar schools from opening. Then, as reported here (http://researchbriefings.files.parliament.uk/documents/SN07070/SN07070.pdf), “Changes to the School Admissions Code made in 2012, and retained in the updated December 2014 version, made it easier for schools, including grammar schools, to expand their numbers.” so the ground was knowingly prepared for the expansion of grammar schools (including a very liberal interpretation of what expansion meant) while Lib Dems were in government. That is why I thought twice before mentioning grammars in my original post as it might not be an example of Lib Dem acquiescence, though given Labour calls in 2012 for Lib Dems to support them in blocking those changes to the schools admission code, I would have hoped for a better outcome.

    (2) “when you say “opposition by Lib Dems was far from unanimous”
    you are actually talking about a survey of party members, rather than what official party spokespersons have said on the subject. My assumption is that they have been fairly clear in stating our position.”

    In this thread I’ve already learnt the danger of assuming that “official party spokespersons” are representative of the party!! 😉 Senior party figures seem to be consistent in restating the party’s opposition to bringing back grammar schools but this approach has always looked two-faced: if grammar schools are bad then why retain existing ones, and if parental choice is good then why not extend selection to places with no grammars. The most up-to-date official line I could find was in the 1997 manifesto: “Liberal Democrats are opposed to selection, but believe that decisions on this should be made by local communities through their local Councils and not by politicians at Westminster.” That is why I welcome the motion passed by the party’s conference and hope it leads to an unequivocal policy to end academic selection in state schools.

  • As usual I share Matthew Huntbach’s analysis of the coalition years even his explanation for the Tuition Fees decision. It wasn’t the decision, it was the pledge not to do it. Investment in education has been skewed by the huge increase in University students. The most effective use of funding is in early years education.
    I recall the 2013 conference when the SLF forum tabled a motion to stimulate an economy policystuck in austerity. We were told to ‘trust Danny’ and there was an intercession from Tim Farron who said that ‘it would be crackers to change course now’.

  • Richard Fortescue 12th May '17 - 8:08pm

    David Evershed

    Apparently, David, if teachers get better results from students, that is grade inflation not an impovement in productivity.

    I think your comment about entitlement is wide of the mark.

    But I am a teacher, so…

  • You can always move to Wales.

  • @ David Evershed ” Like other occupations, teaching needs to innovate and change to improve its productivity – raising children’s educational standards with fewer resources”.

    DAVID EVERSHED, sir. A man of realities. A man of facts and calculations. A man who proceeds upon the principle that two and two are four, and nothing over, and who is not to be talked into allowing for anything over. Thomas Gradgrind, sir — peremptorily Thomas — Thomas Gradgrind. With a rule and a pair of scales, and the multiplication table always in his pocket, sir, ready to weigh and measure any parcel of human nature, and tell you exactly what it comes to. It is a mere question of figures, a case of simple arithmetic.

    With thanks to Charles Dickens, Hard Times, Chapter Two.

  • Richard Fortescue 12th May '17 - 9:47pm

    Louise – Peter Watson

    Several good points, well made.

    The narrowing of the curriculum is a tragedy for many of our children. They are not all little Michael Goves. If we do not offer an appropriate mix of academic and vocational learning we deprive a significant proportion of our young people of a learning experience appropriate to them. We also risk putting many off the idea of lifelong learning that is a key part of improving our productivity.

    Albert Einstein is often quoted as saying ‘Everybody is a genius. But if you judge a fish by its ability to climb a tree it will live its whole life believing that it is stupid.’ As a teacher, I find I am occasionally asked to teach fish to climb trees; it is not a good use of my time, or the students’ time!

    As Liberal Democrats, I hope most of us believe that education is about making opportunity for all, but that we also respect that each person will contribute to society in their own way. Breadth and choice in education are fairly essential to that.

    I would also argue that the education system is really for teaching our students to be effective learners. Schools cannot possibly turn out fully ’employment ready’ workers for all of the different jobs people will do. (Universties have never pretended to do that, graduates need vocational training to become professionals). Some employers rejoice in telling schools that they aren’t getting it right. I have much more respect for those employers who contribute to the process by providing quality apprenticeships. Real apprenticeships and quality training in employment should be incentivised and supported.

    None of this should be taken as suggesting schools don’t need to up their game: a continuous process that the vast majority have long been engaged in.

  • Matthew Huntbach 13th May '17 - 1:49am

    David Evershed

    Productivity in the Uk has stagnated for the last 10 years.

    Why is that? We’ve had governments committed to cutting tax, pushing the line that low tax leads to higher productivity, because people will want to work harder if they don’t pay so much tax.

    How come there was more economic growth and increase in productivity when income tax was much higher, as it was in the past?

    Might in not be that the lack of state support, and the fear and stress caused by an extreme free market economy is leading to people becoming less productive?

    So many people tell me this, people who have worked in jobs for a long time, that it is not like it was, that jobs they used to enjoy they do not any more, due to the stress caused by constant uncertainty, this obsession with competition, leading to a culture of bullying.

    If you want people to be innovative, what you actually need is a strong network of support, so they don’t have the fear that if things go wrong they’ve lost everything. For example, when there was council housing available as a backup, ordinary people could afford to try out more experiments in their careers. If you are paying a high rent or high mortgage, you can’t afford to take that risk: better to take a safety-first heads-down approach.

  • Matthew Huntbach 13th May '17 - 2:00am

    David Evershed

    Like other occupations, teaching needs to innovate and change to improve its productivity – raising children’s educational standards with fewer resources.

    Well, this seems to be the message that has been put out throughout my adult life, that cuts in spending on public services can always be made, because there’s always some inefficiency that can be removed, or innovation that can be put in and so on. After nearly 40 years of this, might it not be the case that there is no more inefficiency left to remove, that innovations that would help have been tried?

    If teaching is as you seem to be suggesting: a cushy job where people are paid well and could easily get by on less, wouldn’t there be loads of people wanting to do it?

    If it was easy to improve these things without more money, isn’t that what we would see in those who provide these services privately? They are in the free market competing with each, so surely according to free market theory the costs of private education and private health services would be going down if that were possible, as you claim it is.

    I think you will find that the costs of private education have actually been rising quite rapidly well above the standard inflation rate.

    Or again if we are to follow free market theory, if it’s hard to get enough people to do a job doesn’t that mean you have to put the wages up in order to attract more? So why don’t you as a free market supporter suggest that?

  • Matthew Huntbach 13th May '17 - 2:21am

    Richard Fortescue

    I would also argue that the education system is really for teaching our students to be effective learners. Schools cannot possibly turn out fully ’employment ready’ workers for all of the different jobs people will do.

    Yes, and that is why good education in the core subjects is the most useful thing schools can do. That is why, though I don’t agree with everything Michael Gove did, I do have some sympathy with what you call “narrowing of the curriculum”.

    As a university lecturer, who was for many years the admissions tutor for my subject, Computer Science, we had huge problems because so many applicants just did have the right sort of qualifications. In particular, so many applicants didn’t have A-level Maths, because no-one told them that that was the most useful subject to study to become an effective learner for Computer Science. After that the most useful subjects are those that develop core writing skills.

    I am not just saying this out of snobbery, as I am sometimes accused of, it is out of analysis of entrance qualifications against final degree results.

    Supposedly vocational subjects turn out to be useless. Mostly this is because they miss out the core learning skills and are really just memorisation of facts and definitions to do with the subject: often rather out of date by the time they get to school teaching, and taught be teachers who themselves don’t really have deep knowledge of them.

    When we asked applicants why they hadn’t taken the qualifications we found most useful, they often answered, honestly, that it was because no-one told them that they ought to have done so. It was particularly applicants from a lower social class background who tended to choose the subjects that actually aren’t helpful for our needs. During my time I had to reject literally thousands of applicants who, had they chosen more core subjects, might have been given an offer.

    So I think there certainly was a case for pushing more emphasis on what you dismiss as “narrowing the curriculum”.

  • Peter Watson 13th May '17 - 10:09am

    @Matthew Huntbach “During my time I had to reject literally thousands of applicants who, had they chosen more core subjects, might have been given an offer. So I think there certainly was a case for pushing more emphasis on what you dismiss as “narrowing the curriculum”.”
    In a sense I think this reflects a problem that is too complex to be addressed by just narrowing or broadening the curriculum.
    I’m a parent not an educationalist, so hopefully this makes sense, but considering only those children on a more academic route from school to university (other options are obviously vitally important within the education system but that is part of a whole other conversation!) then I believe that a broader and necessarily shallower range of studies is important up to year 13.
    Forcing children to choose e.g. scientific or mathematical or humanities A-levels at the age of 15/16 seems unfair to those from backgrounds which make them less aware of the opportunities that are available to them a few years down the line, leading to the sort of problems you identify where children have made unsuitable choices from the options available to them. Specialising too early also seems likely to produce clever people with huge important gaps in their knowledge. The changes introduced by the Coalition seem to worsen this, making it more difficult to start 4 subjects at A-level and refine this when a year older and wiser.
    The only way I can see to square this circle is to make a pre-university foundation year a standard step, introducing the pre-requisite skills and knowledge for branches of academic study at a stage when children and young adults have the experience and self-awareness to make more informed choices.

  • Matthew Huntbach 14th May '17 - 4:31pm

    @Peter Watson

    Yes I agree with you about the dangers of specialising early. However not specialising early is what is termed “narrowing of the curriculum”. If everyone continues studying core subjects instead of specialising early on, then they are not in a position to take more specialist subjects.

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