I would like to suggest that Jonathan’s “Missing the point over grammar schools” below, itself misses the point. I am as in favour of grammar schools as anyone. But I do not think Cameron’s decision is any more than another piece of political pragmatism (read my comment on Jonathan’s piece for the rationale.)
I agree the new Tory policy does nothing significant for education. But I suspect Jonathan’s policy prescription – compromise vis-a-vis properly voluntary schooling it may be, is doomed. Introducing vouchers now would be worthless and the Tories are sensible, therefore, not to tie themselves to that. Not least they would risk discrediting vouchers: vouchers could be a move in the right direction, but not yet.
This is why. Here is a sensible lefty, Jenni Russell, reporting in the Guardian’s bloggish Comment is Free:
[A] father with an 18 year-old daughter at one of London’s famous public schools is shocked by her fear of anything beyond her narrow syllabus. She pleads with him not to tell her anything he knows about history or classics or literature, because she understands by now that knowing anything beyond the points on the examiners’ mark schemes will jeopardise her chances of getting top grades. She has learned that education is not about discovery, but the dutiful repetition of precisely what you have been told.
However good the school, however motivated the pupil, there is no choice to be had. There is a chemin-de-fer, directions predetermined, signals to be passed at the prescribed speed. No entry to university at 16, Mr Brown. No ignoring unutterably tedious and repetitious schoolwork and passing the exams at the end on the basis of your own reading. Step off the lockstep elevator once, and you are out for ever. (Mr Fry, the University regrets that we require a clean Criminal Records Bureau certificate.)
All Britain’s education is under the supervision of a suffocating bureaucracy, that serves itself and its conception of proper development. There is small choice in rotten apples; the sadly pocked sharecrop goes to uniform damp barrells.
Who is to blame? The conservative defenders of both grammar schools and ‘family values’, that is who; and the utilitarian industrialists who now complain workers can’t read or count. It was they who sought to save the population from indoctrination by radical Local Education Authorities, so delivered the entire population into the hands of pseudo-progressive educationalists by creating the National Curriculum; they who worried that universities could not be trusted to set sufficiently ‘practical’ exams, and did the same with syllabuses.
My modest proposal for English education:
Scrap the National Curriculum. Do not replace it. Scrap league tables and DoE “Key stage” testing. Do not replace them. Scrap rules on school admissions and allow schools to exclude or expel pupils as they choose. Scrap the QCA. Do not replace it. Scrap the Teacher Registration Regulations. Do not replace them. Scrap the office of the Access Regulator. Do not replace him. Wait five years, continuing to run and fund schools otherwise the same, which means a mix of Local Authority, central government, voluntary aided, and private schools. Only then, when people have got used to making their own decisions again, consider vouchers.