Monday, 18 January 2010

Conservative Education Draft Manifesto: Testing Times Ahead

David Cameron today launched the Conservative Party Education Draft Manifesto. It is based on three strands:
  • Better teachers and tougher discipline
  • A rigorous curriculum and exam system
  • Giving every parent access to a good school

A few initial thoughts:

Better Teachers

[Ignoring the issue of what a manifesto commitment like this does for the morale of the present workforce,] the Conservatives aim to attract a higher calibre of teacher through two initiatives. First, in raising the academic entry qualifications for teacher training [to Grade B GCSE passes in Maths and English and a 2:2 degree], they are simply acknowledging the general grade inflation at both secondary and tertiary level. Secondly, by giving greater financial incentives to join and remain in the profession [the ability of schools to pay more; loans paid off for Maths and Science graduates who go into teaching], they are resurrecting old ideas that were dropped in the past for not being cost-effective.

Tougher Discipline
Measures such as clarity on the use of reasonable force, providing greater protection for teachers from false accusations, and giving more autonomy for Headteachers over exclusions will be welcomed by teachers and Heads alike. However, history has shown that it is much more difficult to effect real change on the ground in these areas than politicians make out.

A Rigorous Curriculum
There is nothing innovative in backing synthetic phonics - it's always easy to pick a winner once the race is over. The phrase "We will reform the National Curriculum so that it is more challenging and based on evidence about what knowledge can be mastered by children at different ages" would be worrying if it were not so vague.

A Rigorous Exam System
Well the bad news is that Key Stage Assessments and League Tables are not only here to stay, but are a cornerstone of the policy. I am not sure that there are going to be many schools around the country that take any pleasure in the thought of our six year olds doing a literacy examination, the results of which will be published in league tables. The real danger of this is that everyone will teach to the exam rather than teaching children to read and write. That the Conservatives are making a commitment to a "more robust and rigorous" version of KS2 SATs is a bit of a surprise, particularly given that the way in which they used the existing exams to torture the present Government. Allowing Maintained sector schools to do IGCSEs is long overdue, but I suspect is only driven by a desire to give some credibility back to league tables.

Giving every parent access to a good school
There is a strong commitment here to the Academy programme with an understandable focus of resources on the poorest and weakest areas of society. The commitment to "make sure Academies have the vital freedoms that help make them so successful in the first place" is welcome [not least because they have abandoned the abuse of the term "independent" - so beloved of this Government!]. However, there is no return to selection or Grammar Schools here - the emphasis continues to be on bringing up the bottom end, rather than on stretching the brightest.

Given the ever increasing regulatory burden on all schools, the commitment that OFSTED will adopt "a more rigorous and targeted inspection regime, reporting on performance only in the core areas related to teaching and learning" is most welcome - but, given the importance of safeguarding in education, I'll believe this when it happens.

David Cameron's Speech launching the Education Manifesto

Tories plan literacy league tables for six year olds BBC Website 18/01/10

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