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Could do better

I keep banging on about this subject since it is, in my eyes, a prime example of how the state is not pulling its share of the deal in coercing the citizenry to pay for schooling and for coercing children to spend the ages of 5 to 16 or more in school. Latest official data suggest that standards of literacy and numeracy among schoolchildren are not up to scratch.

Schools are not doing enough to improve the literacy and numeracy skills of those pupils who start their secondary education with low standards in English and mathematics,” a report from Ofsted said.

The findings were released on the same day the National Audit Office, the government’s spending watchdog, said more employers need to invest time and money in teaching staff basic skills such as maths and English.

Tony Blair is locked in conflict with his Labour backbench MPs over his education reforms. From a superficial reading, one would get the impression that Blair wanted to drastically open up the amount of choice available to parents as to where their offspring are educated. In practice, nothing so drastic seems to be on the cards and yet the slightest hint of increased choice seems to send socialists into a frenzy.

The other night, the Institute of Economic Affairs held an evening to honour the late, great Arthur Seldon, who among other reforms made the idea of school vouchers one of his pet issues. It is fair to say that we are as yet a million miles from achieving the kind of choice in education that Arthur wanted to bring about.

23 comments to Could do better

  • veryretired

    There will not be any meaningful reappraisal of the compulsory state educational system until people finally realize that the whole point of the entire enterprize is NOT the education of the young, but is instead a jobs and pension program for administrators and teachers.

    I recall many years ago reading an insightful comment that the enormously expensive and complex “War On Poverty” was not designed for the benefit of poor people, who would have been much better off if the money had simply been handed out to them, but was, in fact, an extremely expensive jobs program for middle class social workers and other reliably liberal college grads.

    Over the years, I noticed that the court system had little to do with justice, but much to do with providing a very good living for lawyers and judges; that the medical system had only marginal interest in the health and comfort of patients, and was clearly structured for the benefit of physicians; and that the banking system had little interest in rewarding thrifty and industrious working people, but was very lucrative for high-flying wheeler dealers who felt comfortable manipulating great amounts of other peoples’ money.

    The old saying is, “Actions speak louder than words.”

    Any “educational” system whose products are functionally illiterate does not need reform, but replacement.

  • Is there much home schooling in the UK? Or is it illegal there?

  • Chris Goodman

    To be fair ‘very retired’ it is not only about extracting money from society and redistributing it to Guardian readers, it is also about teaching children to have correct thinking

    [i.e. the sort of views shared by Guardian readers]

    but you are right that education is a very low priority

    [indeed education in the sense of objective standards and increased social mobility is actively opposed – on the grounds that a meritocracy is elitist and divisive].

  • Mark Seecof

    In Norway, the Socialist education minister has just banned the opening of any new private (in English English, “public”) schools.

    And this after cancelling standardized tests in the State schools to ensure that performance appraisal will be impossible.

  • veryretired

    Rand discusses the hatred of anyone who succeeds because of merit by a certain mentality, i.e., “The Fountainhead”, while the same types will fawn over any thug or mewling mediocrity.

    The best report on educational theory I’ve read in years was the one a few years ago that showed that bullies, contrary to theory, had over developed self-esteem, and it was their victims who needed to have their self worth validated. The educational theorists had it all backwards.

    The victims, usually, were the nerdy brain types who were foolish enough to hope their school would protect them and provide the intellectual stimulus they desired. They soon find out the jocks and thugs run the school, and the administration is utterly disinterested in their “elitist” problems.

    Then some nerd finally brings a gun to school and makes a big splash, but the “concern” quickly fades away, and everything goes back to status quo ante.

    I’m speaking as the father of four, two now grown and two still in high school. They’ve experienced some of this nonsense, and I’ve given a few asst. principals an earful.

    My advice to my kids is to work-out, be polite, and punch anyone who threatens you right in the nose and keep punching until they go down.

    They usually give me a funny look when I say it, but eventually they understand my point—self-defense is not only legitimate, it is a moral imperative.

  • Bombadil

    In the United States, schools have been experiencing mission creep for decades.

    Way back in the long ago, the goals of public education were literacy and numeracy.

    Now the goals are “cultural literacy” and “multicultural awareness” and “life skills”. Schools spend so much time trying to make kids feel good about their academic accomplishments that there is little time left for the accomplishments themselves.

    Actual intellectual achievement is now secondary to experiencing the good feeling that comes from intellectual achievement, and knowing that white people are (or have historically been) evil has become more important than being able to think critically.

  • Richard Easbey


    Bravo! Well said…

  • Nick Timms

    My 16 year old son, who was deaf until he was about 4 years old has always struggled in reading and writing. He is still way below the standard I would like to see and that attained by his older sister at a similar age. He is however, consistantly getting the highest marks on his business course at Bournemouth College where he is the youngest in a class of predominantly 18/19 year olds.

    What is really annoying, for both him and me, is that, due to means testing, he does not qualify for the £30 per week bribe that these other students (?) are receiving as an incentive to stay in school. Or the £200 xmas bonus they got for not having too many absences during the year!

    My wife and I have carefully nurtured a sense of personal responsibility and desire to achieve their best in our offspring only to have them see illiterates, who half the time cannot be bothered to get out of bed, claiming their reward for underachieving.

    Another con by the govenment designed to keep the unemployment figures down and redistribute wealth by the back door. How I hate socialists, not just for their stupid policies but for their dishonesty.

    And yes, veryretired, I share your philosophy about bullies, but when once I told my son to give a bully a thump he thought I was mad, and worse, behaving antisocially.

  • John East

    Very retired,
    “My advice to my kids is to work-out, be polite, and punch anyone who threatens you right in the nose and keep punching until they go down.”

    You’ve earned a second bravo.

    Sound advice indeed, exactly what I did with my kids, but try to keep it to yourselves otherwise the school authorities will put you on a black list as a “difficult” parent.

  • Verity

    John East, so you’re saying that the “difficult parent” is not the one who comes down and threatens the teacher, but the parent who tells his child to stick up for himself/herself?

    Nick Timms, children are getting bonuses from the taxpayers (who aren’t that large a group any more) for attending school?

    That is so appalling that it beggars belief. My god, how the socialists and Gramscians have ground down the masses. It would take three or four Margaret Thatchers to turn these perversions around.

  • Richard Easbey

    Let’s hear it for “difficult” parents. Too bad there aren’t more of them…

  • John East

    Verity, I’m saying that telling your kids to use violence against the assorted thugs, scum bags, and bullies will get you accused by the school of being a difficult parent.
    As for needing three or four more Thatchers to put the country back on track, I’m sure one Verity would be up to the job. Come back, we need you.

  • Lascaille

    The language used really does show the battle being fought: the question always asked of Blair, Cameron or whomever by the interviewer is ‘is this a return to selection by ability in state schools’ and the interviewee always immediately screams ‘absolutely not.’

    If ‘selection by ability’ is a concept that scares voters that much, to be honest, we’re fucked.

  • guy herbert

    Ken Hagler,

    Not illegal, but increasingly difficult, not least because home schoolers must now follow the National Curriculum. (Which near-fatal blow to British education was introduced by the Thatcher administration, let us not forget.) Education to a much higher standard would be easier if you ignored it, but fail to tick the right bureaucratic boxes and your children will be forced into the state system unless you can afford to buy a premium product in the private sector and pay through taxes too.

  • guy herbert

    Which is a point worth raising…

    School vouchers have some value in quality control, but that’s all they can do in a system of centrally controlled state-approved training, which is what British education has turned into.

    A centrally planned curriculum; centrally planned and controlled examinations, targets and standards; centrally controlled teacher training and accreditation; a state filter on all staff through the Criminal Records Bureau; central determination of who may be a governor and monitoring of their conduct in office by standards boards; central control of how pupils may be selected and disciplined; and central monitoring of university admissions, edging towards quotas by social class. Vouchers won’t fix any of that. They have become a totem that draws the attention of the right away from the big problems.

  • Julian Morrison

    guy herbert: that bit about home schoolers having to use the national curriculum doesn’t seem to be correct. Example of law info here http://www.education-otherwise.org/Legal/SummLawEng&Wls.htm#DefSuitEduc

  • guy herbert

    I’m grateful for the correction. Things are not quite as bad as I’d thought–somehow I had the impression that ruling had been superseded by regulation. LEAs and inspectors may take varying attitudes to education à la carte, so the usual strictures of official pressure do apply, and that may be what mislead me.

    However, since examinations are now built round it, I doubt escaping the national curriculum altogether is possible if your children want recognised qualifications. But at least they won’t be straightjacketed by it if you somehow evade the socialised system.

  • The Wobbly Guy

    As a teacher, if there’s any fighting, I’d say ‘good job’ quietly to the former bullied student, but punish both of them. Rules are rules, after all.

    An education system need not be privatised, as long as it remains a meritocracy based on objective standards of achievement.

    However, there’s been an obvious dumbing down of the syllabus, of what students are expecte to achieve, and I’m beginning to worry a bit…

  • RAB

    I did the 11plus and went to Grammar School.
    The standard Labour objection to this procedure was that it was far too young to set a person’s course for life on one arbitary exam. Well some merit in that. Some people mature later than others, emotionally and intellectually. However what Old Labour didn’t mention was that the Secondary Modern’s were supposed to spot “late developers and pass them over to the Grammars age 13.
    That happened quite a lot. Then the untested un-empirical Comprehensive movement swept all before it.
    Hence the mess of non selection we have now.
    Non selection on merit is like choosing the England football team by the first 11 supporters to reach the Stadium.

  • Johnathan Pearce

    I see that the government is trying to take away selection from universities like Oxford and centralise them in order that more state-educated students go to the best universities. It sounds all very meritocratic but ultimately will dumb down the whole process and make parents wonder what is the point of shelling out extra for a private school.

    Guy: you are right about vouchers. As long as the system of a state education bureaucracy remains, there is a risk that vouchers could be used indirectly to foist a centralised state philosophy on the whole system. I personally would like to see no state involvement in education whatsoever but in the real world, alas, we need some method of opening up parent power. Vouchers might be a good intermediate step.

  • guy herbert

    Well these things are as so often a matter of degree. Around 20 years ago there was already state education bureaucracy with a ripe orthodoxy. Yet some elements of the system created degrees of freedom. There were direct grant schools to keep some of the others honest; there were different policies in different local education authorities; there was a choice of independent examination boards in open competition with one another; and there were independent universities for a place at which the competition was predominantly academic, rather than socio-economic. It certainly could have been better and/or freer and/or more diverse. There were some deplorable and some silly trends–populist opposition to which led the Thatcherites into the fatal trap of Whitehall dirigisme–but the contrast with the democratic centralism of today is huge in retrospect.

  • Verity asks:

    children are getting bonuses from the taxpayers (who aren’t that large a group any more) for attending school?

    Yes; see here for details.

  • Even now with all the evidence in that phonics alone works the socialist change agent NUTters will have to be dragged kicking and screaming to adopt it exclusively.

    A literate society is a threat to these leftist trogolodytes.