Labour must avoid Gove’s trap

9th January, 2012 1:10 pm

Michael Gove’s childish nonsense in calling his critics “Ideologues happy with failure” has forced me back into the blogosphere.

A useful rule of thumb in politics is that the more a politician feels they are under pressure the shriller they become. And for Gove to accuse someone like David Lammy, who knows more about social mobility that the Secretary of State ever will, of being ‘happy with failure’ is as ridiculous as it is insulting.

Why would Gove feel under pressure? He is determined that all school become academies and but primary schools – the vast majority of schools in the country – are resisting his charms. The Local Government Intelligence Unit says that, to date, less than two percent of primary schools have converted to academy status and the rate of applications is slowing dramatically. At this rate it will take almost seventy years before he achieves his aim of every school becoming an academy.

Gove weakens his argument by deliberately conflating the two separate academies programmes he is pursuing.

The first, and much smaller in size, is to continue Labour’s policy of converting schools believed to be consistently under-performing into ‘sponsored academies’. This policy has, in the main, achieved its objectives of improving some inner-city schools; although I would argue that this is more down to the massive investment and new leadership that went with conversion rather than something inherent about the change of status itself. But this programme clearly isn’t the priority for Gove because only a small proportion of schools that have become academies since the last election have done so with a sponsor.

The vast majority of converters are part of the Government’s separate programme to persuade all other schools to convert without the extra help or investment that a sponsor might bring. I’m not aware of any compelling evidence that simply changing the status of an already good or outstanding school will further improve it, yet Gove is throwing hundreds of millions of pounds of scarce public money at this project.

And anyone who questions this is apparently an “ideologue”.

This begs the question of who really is the ideologue here. Gove can point to no tangible results at all from his main programme of converting already good schools at great cost (each school thinking of converting gets £25,000 to spend on the exercise as well as, in many cases, more generous funding after conversion).

So why is he doing it?

It’s because of his deeply ideological belief that unleashing market forces will improve schools. Gove believes that Councils managing a school system (local authorities haven’t actually controlled the operations of schools themselves for at least 20 years) restricts the free operation of the market because we do things like plan school places, try to stop schools poaching the pupils that are easiest to teach and ensuring vulnerable children aren’t forgotten.

Therefore the removal of these restraints on competition is central to his ideologically driven programme to unleash market forces into the school system. And after all, unrestrained market forces proved so helpful in improving the banking sector.

Even those who are supportive of the academies programme think that the removal of the ‘middle tier’ of institutions that regulate and monitor the school system is a mistake.

Sir Michael Wilshaw, the former Head teacher of the excellent Mossbourne academy recently appointed by Gove to be head of Ofsted, recently said: “We need some sort of intermediary bodies which can detect when things aren’t going well [with a school], look at the data and have their ear very close to the ground to determine when there is a certain issue.”

Hear, hear! However, such ‘intermediary bodies’ seem to be exactly the things that the Secretary of State is busy trying to make redundant (although, in all fairness, I should point out that Sir Michael was calling for a new schools inspectorate not a role for Local Authorities).

The other countries on which Gove has based his market revolution in schooling – Sweden, the USA and Chile – have experienced mixed results. Because, as night follows day, the introduction of a free market leads to winners and losers. I have no problem with, say, kebab shops on my local high street competing against each other because it doesn’t really matter if one of them going out of business. However, if a school fails in the same way then hundreds of children will have had their life chances snatched from them in a way that will affect the rest of their lives.

Some things are too important to be left to fail. Schools are one of those things.

So what should Labour’s response be? First, we shouldn’t allow ourselves to be caught in a Tory trap of defending the indefensible. Where school standards are not high enough we should – at every level of the party from Labour appointed school governors, to councillors and our leaders – be working to improve children’s education.

But we should also try to break out of the frame for debate that Michael Gove is trying to establish – those that support me support success and those that don’t support failure – by coming up with our own set of school polices driven by our values. Stephen Twigg made speech this week that was bold, thought-provoking and wonderfully free of the obsession with a school’s governance arrangements shown by the current Secretary of State. I’m going to write more about this shortly.

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  • And yet all of the main parties are against grammar schools, one of the best ways to give bright children from poor backgrounds an educational ‘leg up’. How is being an apologist for some children getting worse grades than others not being happy with failure? Failure is not allowing every child to do as well as is reasonably possible.

    • Grammar schools condemned 2/3rds of pupils to second class status based on a single exam at the age of 11.

      That’s what was wrong with them.

      • Or… Grammar schools rewarded 1/3 of pupils who demonstrated academic gifts into specialist education which would allow them to make the most of their talents, regardless of parental income.

        That’s what was right with them.

      • Peter Barnard

        @ Paul Halsall,
        Indeed, Paul (on grammar schools).
        From Peter Hennessy’s “Having It So Good” :
        “ … in comparison to the 1930s, the relative position of working-class children *‘actually deteriorated after 1944 … the relative beneficiaries of the 1944 Act were the sons and daughters of professionals and business men. The proportion of their children competitively successful rose everywhere ; and often more than doubled. Denied the right to buy places at grammar school by the 1944 Act, they won them instead by examination and at no cost.’*
        McKibbin has calculated that by 1950 around 60 per cent of the children of professionals and businessmen could expect to win grammar school places compared with 10 per cent of children from the 75 per cent of the population who lived in working-class homes. The position was made worse by the relative difficulties experienced by working-class children in staying the course (lack of privacy and a quiet room at home for homework ; relative scarcity in the grammar schools of their local peer group).”
        To which I would add, sheer financial pressure at home for children from poorer homes to leave as soon as possible and contribute to the family income.
        * from Ross McKibbin, “Classes and Cultures : England 1918 – 1951”
        Therein lies the reason for the middle-class defence of grammar schools ; it has nothing to do with “the chances it gives bright children from working-class homes” (which is a logical nonsense, when you think about it – why would the middle classes favour something that is of great benefit to the working-class?) but everything to do with loading the dice in their favour.
        Gillian Shephard (Secretary of State for Education in the early 1990s, if my memory serves me correctly) acknowledges (in a conversation with Hennessy in 2003) “the perpetuation of class-based attitudes in education that we still have.”
        Now, who am I to argue with a Conservative ex-Secretary of State for Education about “class-based attitudes in education?”

        • Bill Lockhart

          “(which is a logical nonsense, when you think about it – why would the
          middle classes favour something that is of great benefit to the

          Perhaps because they are not at war with the working class, as you would like them to be. Perhaps becaus they perceive that working class participation in the grammar school system is of benefit not only to those working class children but to society as a whole. Can you possibly conceive of middle class people (other than yourself , of course- you’re a *progressive*)having such a degree of empathy?

          The logical nonsense is yours, as it was when you first posted this pretty much word for word some time ago. Copying and pasting yourself is pretty poor.

        • GuyM

          Yep I defend Grammars as it is good for my children, clearly that is the case given the better grades and behavioural records in these schools.

          By all means seek to improve the school children who can’t get into grammars go to, but I can’t see your argument that pupils who are capable of grammar educations should be forced into a less successful outcome simply to help lift up non grammar pupils.

          Set a few grammars up in working class areas if that is your only argument against them.

          But in the end my children and my wife and I as parents are not resources to be used by the likes of you to improve the lot of working class kids.

          • Anonymous

            “working class kids.”

            How many writers and famous public figures came from WC backgrounds through excellent education and a stable family background/community?

            Education is the key to social mobility- for all.

          • GuyM

            Then you won’t agree or like the middle class habit of moving into middle class enclaves and sending their children to middle class dominated schools.

            I remember my time from school, the middle class kids from the large houses in the area were friends and didn’t really mix with the working class kids from the local estates. I can’t remember ever going around to a friends house or nowadays another parents house that isn’t in a “good” area.

            Middle class and working class cultural ,habits, values and actions are different at the macro level. That is why they tend to seperate locationally, career and educationally. That’s a reality whether you like it or not.

          • derek

            Yes, It’a a very real and evident split but doesn’t mean it’s correct, division by wealth, what will the historians say in another hundred years? 

          • GuyM

            Why is it not correct? It has always been that way and will likely stay that way going forward.

            The only way around it is for the working class and underclass to adopt middle class habits and values. They might very rightly say “we’re happy as we are”.

            If that’s the case though (and I strongly suspect it is) why would the middle classes want to mix with social groups not sharing their values?

          • derek

            Jeez! Guy, so many openings there? where to start and finish? lets just say that the differentials between the “have’s” and Have not’s” is a divide rather than a shared value, so how do we close the loop and start the process of shared values? 

          • GuyM

            I’m not in the slightest bit interested Derek.

            My point was simply that the social groups have differing values and interests.

            So why should the middle class change? If te working classes wish to match the academic achievements then they can match the outlooks and values…. if not then it is not the middle classes obligation to engage.

          • Anonymous

            Guy, you are making sweeping statements about a complex subject.

            Some societies are more class ridden than others, for a whole variety of factors- and those need to be examined.

            Where there are less barriers and division, creates happier societies and opportunity for all, not just the priveleged few.

            I don’t have time to answer all of your comments today, but thanks anyway.

            Could I just ask, please stop framing this as
            middle class=better; WC=bottom of the pile?

            People are people in my experience; all shaped by enviroment; certainly education is a major determining factor to social mobility.

            What needs to improve is enviroment, structural support, attitudes, access and opportunities to name a few.

            Class division and structural inequalities are partially at the root of problem; also a deeply entrenched 2 tier education system.


          • GuyM

            I’m framing it in terms of “I’m middle class and I believe middle class traits are “better” for my children”.

            Given that middle class enclaves are rahter numerous I’m not the only one thinking that way.

            As to social mobility, as I’ve said elsewhere, middle class actions are invariably carried out to lesson social mobility not increase it.

          • Anonymous

            I don’t understand your last paragraph.

          • GuyM

            Middle class actions are often done to promote their childs success.

            Provision of resources or use of social capital only for ones children, with the aim of getting them “ahead”.

            If you get your child “ahead” (I pay for tuition for GCSes and A levels in addition to the Grammar education) then youa re seeking advantage, entrenching it in reality.

            That is in conflict with social mobility as it reinforces social priviledge. The middle classes are engaged in keeping their offspring ahead…. that isn’t going to change.

          • Anonymous

            Guy, as I’m sure you realise, most parents want to do all they can to boost their child’s well being, life chances and happiness.
            “Class” and money does not guarantee happiness, it simply makes things easier and more comfortable.
            “Class” is elusive anyway, and not fixed.
            Are you also saying that only one group in society is entitled to certain “privileges?”
            No one is denying the existence of some people having advantages over others, but there is no intrinsic “worth” attached to that.

            Every person on this planet has equal worth, regardless of wealth or privileged circumstances.

            But to build a more equal society that is less ridden by division and entrenchment,
            equal acess to the best there is available in areas like education and life skills- moving on into the world of work and society should apply to all.

            This would lead to a flourishing of talent, ambition, and a more fulfilled society as a whole, and a better place for young people to be growing up in.

            Probably with a more articulate and skilled population too- less crime, less dropping out of society in all its forms; less abuse and mental illness; btter health; greater life chances by every measure.


          • GuyM

            I’ve said nothing at all about “entitlement” to priviledge.

            I’ve said those with some sort of advantage invariably use that advantage “capital” to entrench advantage, especially with reagard to their children.

            Hence the middle classes actively work in opposition to social mobility.

          • derek
      • GuyM

        “Second class status”?

        Yes they are second class academically. You can have that seen through different schools or through different sets within schools, but either way children know where they are.

        Also it isn’t just an exam at 11, my daughter’s Grammar has further places for entrance at 14 and 16 for late developers.

        The school itself is n the top 20 state schools across the country and now for the first time is going to be able to expand to meet local demand.

        If my daughters where clever enough for selective education their chances should not be limited in order to be “educational aids” to less bright children.

        In the same way middle class parents should not be seen as a resourse to mix with parents less commited to their children’s education. The only responsibility one has is to your own children, no one is responsible for some other child’s education.

        • Anonymous

          My parents were secondary school teachers in a wealthy suburb, many millionaire parents.They chose not to send their kids to private or grammar schools, and many were not particularly motivated or interested
          in being involved. It was a source of frustration to teachers.

          Conversely we live in a very mixed area socially, and it is a very mixed picture of parenting and level of motivation.

          I know people from different social backgrounds, and the vast majority do all they can to support their children- some of who are exceptionally bright.

          I don’t like hearing phrases like “good enough” or “clever enough”
          like there is some sort of hierarchy; every child has potential and ability. especially with teaching and an enviroment that brings out the best;
          not all are lucky enough to have access to that where they live.

          I want to see the best possible available to all, and not just measured by academic acheivement.

          • GuyM

            Whereas you’ll find most parents of children at Grammar schol are “involved” not least as they had to ensure the child passed the 11+.

            But how do you define “invovled”? My wife and I are involved in ensuring our daughters get a good education, but we are not “involved” with the school in anyway, nor want to either.

            In terms of “clever enough” etc. some are clever enough to ge grade A, others are not. Some are clever enough for Oxbridge, some are not. Some are clever enough for top jobs, some are not. There is no use pretending all are equally able, they are not.

            Your last point of course is your choice, for my wife and I “academic achievement” was the TOP marker we wanted to see from a school.

            I’m sure there are some very well rounded, touchy feely products of “let the children find themselves” type of schools…. a pity they are not so likely to succeed in the world of work.

          • Anonymous

            That point about parental involvement with a school is a good one.  

            If the school is doing its job then the parents have no need to be ‘involved’.  They will, of course, be involved with their own children’s educational progress by encouraging interests, helping with homework, providing materials, etc,.. as all good parents do.

          • Anonymous

            I think education is much more meaningful if school and home are both involved; although from a practical point of view in large schools, feedback is generally very poor.
            The obvious example is homework;
            but I do think communication between home and school is vital for the child’s well being.

          • GuyM

            Exactly and from that point of view a leading Grammar was a better bet than a standard comprehensive.

          • But a secondary modern was anything but, and that’s where the majority attended

          • GuyM

            Then make the equivalent to secondary moderns better…

            or are you saying it was only the presence of grammar school standard pupils that made the difference?

        • The only responsibility one has is to your own children,”

          I don’t have any children.  Why should I care about how your children do?  Should I even care if they starve?

          Of course I do.

          You meanwhile seem to position yourself somewhere below a traditional Tory, who at least has some awareness of common social obligation.

          • GuyM

            You have a common social obligation by providing state services, but that is a national and depersonal provision.

            In terms of caring specifically about my children, you have no responsibility at all and are not involved in any way as to decisions about their education, lifestyle or help offered them.

            The same as I am not involved or interested in the education of a family in say Birmingham, beyond the payment of tax to fund a state education service.

            Therefore selective education being the best option for my daughters, it is not your concern to deny that option out of some form of social engineering.

          • My interest is in an equitable, equal, and decent society.

          • GuyM

            A statement which actually means nothing at all in practice. It is vague ill defined and as such perfect for a socialist party to debate ad finitum in opposition.

          • Anonymous

            Actually it means a great deal Guy,
            and does exist in systems of society such as the Nordic and Scandinavian countries.

            It’s living proof that more equal society and investment into education for all, and public services produces greater happiness, more social cohesion, and low crime.

            They manage their economies, but prioritize “people” first as the greatest resource.

          • GuyM

            No it means absolutely nothing.

            It is no policy, no nothing,  just a meaningless statement.

            From a personal point of view neither you nor Paul know my daughters, hel them, aid them, encourage them, act as role models or anything. Your sole contribution is to pay tax and obey the law.

            In other words no more contribution to my daughtesr than I make to anybody elses.

            So my views match reality when I say my sole aim is to set my children up, you and Paul live in banal generalities.

          • Anonymous

            So “living proof” means absoloutely nothing?

            Values and principles based on real life experiences past present and future are meaningless?

            I think not.

            What you describe sounds a very limited outlook and landscape Guy- but that is your choice, as is other people’s.

            I don’t think anyone has the right to assume superiority; personally or intellectually.

            They are just different mindsets and ways of seeing the world; ideologies, cultural constructions.

            That’s why I say it’s vital to connect all parts of what makes us human
            and what exists out there as social beings in the world.None of us are islands, although one could choose to live apart or alone.But that doesn’t mean the rest of the world is less important.

            Anyway, it’s been a good discussion Guy- but I’m aware this is veering somewhat away from original article, so will probably stop here.

            Hope there is more of an understanding now as to where others might be coming from.

            Could I please just suggest you spend some time in the future talking more widely with people, not just in your immediate confines?
            You might be pleasantly surprised.

            Thanks, Jo.

          • GuyM

            I’d rather not widen my conversations Jo, I have limited time left in life and I prefer to use it carefully.

          • Anonymous

            Sorry Guy, I got the impression it was you who had posted many responses initially, so I’m responding in
            Also I noticed you had written a lot elsewhere today so assumed

            I do hope your health is OK; I was not aware you may be suffering a serious condition?

            I’m simply respondi
            ng to the many points you made earlier, and which I have received via my disqus messages.
            If this is all rather energy sapping
            Guy, would it be worth posting less, and just concentrating on the main points of article perhaps?
            We are all guilty of going off topic at times- it seems to be part of the nature of blogging…

            Anyway, hopefully
            reached a clearer point of understanding.

            Thanks Guy- and keep well.


          • GuyM

            I meant in terms of talking to peopoel in real life, not hacing a net debate.

          • Anonymous

            What about society’s response to issues like child protection and abuse, which affects the whole of society?

            What about issues like education/information for parenting, especially in areas with gross social deprivation and children growing up with difficult issues/mental health problems?

            These are just some examples of the knock on effect between people and across communities.

            Analysis of the “riots” is another case in point;
            factors such as social alienation cannot be ignored.

            A whole societal approach is the only effective and humane way to address the very real needs out there;
            and education is pivotal- including for adults.

          • GuyM

            I have no view, interest or involvement in “child protection and abuse”. I pay tax for someone else to deal with it. It has played no part in my life as an issue ever, nor will it.

            I have never had “advice” as a parent, nor sought it, nor needed it. The state playing the role of surrogate parent is offensive to me.

            “Social alienation”??? Those rioters (75% had criminal records) were knicking trainers and tvs… they were shopping, not showing social alientation.

            But you feel free doing whatever you wish to do, I need nor wish for involvement with society or community beyond paying taxes.

            You in turn do nothing to support my family or daughters other than paying tax and obeying the law. Therefore your touchy feely views are actually doing nothing beyond what I do already whilst being disengaged.

          • Hamish

            GuyM, referring to the rioters, I think you mean nickers not knickers.
            Like Jo, I get the impression you are a wind-up merchant in the vein of Jeremy Clarkson.

          • Anonymous

            OK Guy, well I believe in collective reponsibility and community; connecting with other people around us is essential for well being and mental health, also in times of crisis, such as disasters- what pulls people through.

            Look at the community efforts during the war, and how that was a protective mechanism?
            The formation of the “welfare state” post war when high levels of poverty and need for overarching health and social care. 
            Individuals alone with no support would not survive these times of hardship,
            collectively- far more strength.

            Also having a conscience and awareness of what is going on around us on our doorsteps and the world; it’s about beliefs and principles.

            It’s not a case of what people always wish to do, it’s what needs to be done that can make a difference to people lives who may be having difficulties or have specific needs.

            You say you value the NHS, education and some public services; I’m assuming the police also? Well that has to be a
            co ordinated and well organized body of people, working collectively, going well beyond the “call of duty” at times.

            If they took the attitude of “I’m alight Jack, never mind about the next person,” what would be the effects on society with depleted services and people not willing to help? What if there were no charities, churches and community organizations?
            Who would meet the needs of vulnerable people, except families- if they are lucky
            to be supported?

            Paying taxes is also a collective pot to meet the needs of society; each person making a contribution for the wider “good.”

            Issues like child abuse cannot be ignored by anyone;it is a societal problem.
            Also prevention of crime is more effective when a community response and people working together.
            Social care for the elderly may also become more of a burgeoning issue; need for collective taxes may be the most practical way to share responsibility and provide for all, much like the NHS.
            There are many examples.

            Those Nordic countries I mentioned I think are renowned for being “civilized”
             in that resources are prioritized in areas like education and parts of the welfare state- also high quality;there is higher
            well being and far less crime; far more social cohesion; a far more pleasant and healthy place to bring up children, often with traditional values.But this is for all, not the few- that is the difference, and a reality for those people.

            I believe it to be a question of choice
            and degree of factors.


      • GuyM

        Not going to university condemns 2/3rds of pupils to a second class education (in that it finishes before others)….. should we have 100% on degree courses?

        Competition, relative placing, success and failur are part of life and either you get children used to that or they get an almighty shock the first time they fail a job interview etc.

        • I went to a not very distinguished Scottish comprehensive school in Ardrossan (oddly enough called an “academy”).  

          We were streamed, but (unlike in other areas of Scotland) there were no local private schools getting many of the good pupils.  Looking back, I wouldn’t rate any but my chemistry and English teachers as excellent.   But around 20-25% of us went to university (this was 1978 – Scotland then had higher university admission rates, not least because teaching was already an all graduate profession).

          I admit that I was lacking some “sheen” for a while at university,  compared to those who had gone to the schools of the Scottish middle class, such as George Heriot or Dollar, and certainly compared to the English public school Oxbridge rejects who cam to Edinburgh.

          But I did fine – and hey, went on to do a Ph.D.  (in Byzantine history!).

          There is no way the state can provide an “all elite” education (by definition), but I suggest quite seriously that under the LEA model it should have been possible to provide a decent education, catering to different interests, to all.

          • GuyM

            I agree that state education shold be able to provide a decent education for all, but it manifestly fails at that and has done for decades.

            As a result if you are a parent of a gifted child (we have two daughters who were in NAGTY – National Academy for Gifted and Talented youth), what’s the best thing to do for their futures?

            Send them to a selective school with a good academic record


            Send them to a bog standard comprehensive with a number of pupils with behavioural issues, poor discipline and a not very good record of getting pupils into good universities.

            Plus the perhaps unpalatable truth is, it is better for my children to mix with more with the children of doctors, dentists, accountants, bankers, company exectuives and the like, than with mainly children of benefit claimants, manual labourers and admin assistants etc.

            If the sole concern is doing the best for academically bright children, then private or selective education are the best options. Until you change that a lot of middle class families are going to unashamedly do many do now.

          • “(we have two daughters who were in NAGTY – National Academy for Gifted and Talented youth”

            Do you have the bumper sticker?

            Are you pushing them for Mensa?

          • GuyM

            I don’t intend pushing them for anthing. other than ensuring no “weak” A levels are taken.

            We didn’t suggest NAGTY membership, the Grammar school put them forward and it was entirely up to the girls whether they joined or not.

          • Anonymous

            Guy, with regard to your paragraph about dentists and accountants etc- that is astounding you could actually believe this.

            Is this deliberately a wind up?

            Has it ever occurred to you that children also need to be prepared to mix in the real world out there, and that learning about society being made up of all backgrounds
            is extremely healthy and boosts confidence and maturity?

            I’m not against people choosing private schools; we’ve thought about it ourselves. But there are also disadvantages, for example many travel in from outside area and will not get to know friends locally over time, not rooted in community.
            Also- a limited social circle can limit social skills
            or a wider perspective.

            Most people do not have the choice of attending private schools anyway; the costs are exhorbitant.

            I know of many excellent local state schools,
            so your depiction is innacurate.
            They do vary, but many also do go on to uni and acheive extremely well.In fact, I heard the ones from state schools are considered more rounded and able to learn quickly.

            I don’t think this should be a divisive issue.

          • GuyM

            My daughters are not going to be postmen, bakers, cleaners or shop assistants.

            Therefore if they can oly have a limited number of friends, better they get exposure to potential professions and careers that might be relevant to them.

            The grammar schools runs a regular spot for parents and local businesses to come in and present to intereted pupils about their careers and what is needed to get into them. Looking through the lists, it very much is docters, dentists, accoutants, lawyers, vets, consultants, engineers, surveyors etc. there.

            There is little use in providing careers advice to a straight a grade girl on hairdressing, plumbing, car mechanics or the like.

            I see no need for my kids to hang about with the prodgeny of esates, benefit families and the like unless those children are also fixed on academic success.

            There are many “good” state schools, but the top ones for attainment are the selectives.

          • derek

            Maybe the argument could expand to? there’s little use for a privileged person who can’t cook or sew and wouldn’t know the difference from a spark plug or a brush handle. 

          • GuyM

            So learn through life experience as many do (including myself).

            Teaching me cooking, needlework or the like at school would have been a collosal waste of my time.

          • derek

            I’d reckon teaching cooking and healthy eating would be a prelude to less health care issues? preventative action? Wow! did I come up with that.

          • GuyM

            Which I learnt as an undergraduate from having to cater for myself.

            Sometimes people do need to do thin gs on their own without the state wiping their arses all the time.

          • jaime taurosangastre candelas

            @ GuyM,

            whatever minuscule keyboard you are typing on, you need to download a spellchecker.  That post above is a horror.  You could even inadvertently type an A when you intended an O.

          • GuyM

            I was trying to watch football, write the post and also eat dinner at the same time.

            The mistakes are more typos than anything else and I’m not that bothered by them given the audience and importance of the medium.

            I’m certainly not going to waste time on spell checking posts.

      • Anonymous

        I think it’s very wrong to test at 11 Paul, when so much depends on it.

        I think it’s much more realistic at 13-14, especially for boys, who sometimes develop a bit slower in some areas.

        Personally I thought the grammars were excellent- but I don’t approve
        of that level of quality education not being available to all.

        Also the 2 tier private education system is completely unjust
        and in some ways abhorrent.

        Some parents who are able to afford this may choose to do so if
        local comp of low standard, sadly.

        But it varies enormously.

        I think we need to look to areas like Scotland, which I think has had an excellent track record and investment- available to ALL.

        Also, I believe education is far more than just learning the 3 R’s-
        it’s meant to inspire, and provide a whole range of skill, including
        practical and hands on learning- so important for life!


  • GuyM

    My daughters are at grammar school.

    It ensures they get taught with other bright children who are willing to learn and not disrupt lessons.

    By all means sort out the schools for those who aren’t good enough to get into a grammar, but don’t assume that by holding the brightest back you do any favours to anyone.

    • Anonymous

      God mate you really should have that medal from Tory home by now.

      • GuyM

        For a long time Tory policy was anti Grammars, one of many of their policies I disagree with.

        I’ve said many times I often don’t even vote in elections.

    • Anonymous

      Bright children exist everywhere; not all respond well to prescribed testing at a young age; it is also not an holistic assessment.

      Post 14 is probably a better time.

      Excellence in education should apply to all.

      • GuyM

        Then provide educational excellence for all, just don’t prevent those children who will benefit from selective educational environment at 11 onwards from getting it

        Or are you saying that having a set of children at a grammar school negates “educational excellence” at a state comprehensive down the road?

        • Anonymous

          No, I’m saying there wouldn’t be need for a 2 tier system if all schools came up to the standard, for example, grammar schools.

          But as said, education goes much wider than just the 3 R’s;
          that is just a part of it, and concentration for more academic learning
          can come later when developmentally able to cope.

          I think a much more varied, rich curriculum with many aspects to learning, such as hands on practical skills and making things;
          also more emphasis on social skills would provide a more rounded
          education and experience.

          It’s possible to have a range of areas running alongside each other,
          including an an element of academia; but just prescriptive stuff all day long in a classroom doesn’t suit every child, including the bright ones;
          I would say, especially boys.

          So yes, excellence for all- but in a very broad sense; every child is different; there is no one size fits all approach.

          • GuyM

            Business want the academically bright to study academic subjects.

            The UK already is slipping down the academic table for reading, maths and science.

            We have a skills shortage that leads to high skilled immigration being needed.

            There is not time for the academically bright to do pottery, bricklaying or empathy courses.

            My daughters will be better set up to deal with the need to get jobs and support themselves due to a good academic education. Long term that is most use to them and the taxpayer.

          • Anonymous

            This is partially true Guy; but employers want specific skills and topics taught so I hear. Some Uni’s are combining work placements with studying, some courses sponsored by private companies.

            There need to be far more of these courses and opportunities available for young people to take up.

            Please don’t be so insulting about “hands on” learning; there are many examples of this- such as agriculture, craft, art and design; working outside building structures.
            Learning technical skills such as DIY- all life skills.
            Far too much of this is lacking in traditional curriculum.

            This enhances academic learning, and is not instead of.

            Children need multi faceted forms of learning, it builds confidence and skills, far more rounded individuals geared up for real life.

            I wish you luck with your daughters- school sounds excellent; but please don’t assume about what exists elsewhere also.

            Signing off now, thanks.


          • GuyM

            And I’ll say again vocational courses in bricklaying, plumbing, mechanics etc. are vital, but not for the academic students set for university.

            Business is involved with university undergrads, especially in sandwich courses to provide business related work experience, not teach manual trades or arts and crafts.

            Not all children are academic, hence the value of academic focused schools i.e. Grammars and then those with more vocational or trade options to cater for the less academically focused students.


            “And I’ll say again vocational courses in bricklaying, plumbing, mechanics etc. are vital, but not for the academic students set for university.”
            and they also rarely appear in the curriculum of comprehensive schools, sadlym this sort of distinction generally becomes available at 1, with a few exceptions. You really are out of touch, I fear.
            I wonder what Churchill would think of your denigration of the noble art of brick laying. I reckon many of the skills presented in certain ways could be equally as challenging and useful for business as any specifically academic skills, or do you seriously expect me to believe that businesses are desperate for student’s who can factorise quadratics and quote shakespeare. These are merely the medium by which other skills can be taught. Teaching student’s to do certain ‘academic’ skills (as measured through examination) is worthless unless they are grasping an understanding of something else, this could be done through a so called ‘vocational’ topic as for an academic topic.
            Our current system is in danger of drifting in a asiatic confuscian system of education, whcih will mean we lose the very edge that our traditional strengths gave us.
            This countries success was founded on the innovations of the industrial revolution and the PRACTICAL application of knowledge. For as many discoveries by ‘gentlemen’ scientists there were breakthroughs by men raised in balcksmith’s forges and the like.

          • GuyM

            Academic skills teach rational analysis, investigation and problem solving.

            I have no need for a brickie in my consultancy teams thanks. They are great for bricklaying but no good for business analysis.

            But we are not going to agree, I place academic education over vocational for careers in my area, you don’t.

            I’ll like the rest of business will go on recruiting people with good academics, not vocationals, you can go on telling us we are all wrong.

          • Anonymous

            I think what you suggest is a very limited view and false dichotomy.
            There are different forms of knowledge and learning that can reinforce and complement each other.
            Also different disciplines that can enhance learning in specific areas, eg maths with music;
            art and science(realm of ideas and creativity.)
            It’s about connecting up different parts of the
            brain, mind and body; also the intellect with emotion.
            We are whole beings, not monotons!

          • GuyM

            I’ll simply repeat, I don’t need bricklayers in my team, I need graduates with good numeracy skills.

            Therefore not all educational routes are valid for every career and vocational just doesn’t cut it for me.

            It is often very noticeable the difference between graduates and non graduates in my area of work.

          • Anonymous

            There are many routes to educational and practical experience- an integrated approach is far more effective.
            Business leaders for example often complain high powered graduates
             enter the
            e ill equipped for role due to lack of practical skills and work experience.
             Box now shrinking, run out of space.


            We would not be talking about bricklayers, we would be talking about people trained to solve problems and think through a number of scenarios with many variables to achieve a goal. Plus the need for precision, patience and determination. All are possible. Alternatively some kid who has learnt by rote the essays required to gain the desired grade in a history exam.

          • Anonymous

            Agreed- well said.


            Thanks for the examples.


            Why do business want them to study academic subjects? Surely it is simply that academic measures provide a crude way of distinguishing between individuals. It often reminds me of the methods for selecting lilliputian ministers in gulliver’s travels

          • GuyM

            Because academic studies teach someone to think, rationalise and problem solve, whereas vocational by their nature teach vocational skills.

            If recruiting a consultant at age 25 it is of more use to me that they have had a good academic education that if they studied car maintenance for 2 years to 18.

            Most mangerial roles require academic type skills of intellectual analysis and reasoning, not the sort of thing boosted by most vocational training (and I say that having a NVQ in management)


            I’m just suggesting that academic/vocational is more about the style than the content. Those skills you talk about could be taught through ‘vocational subjects’ as well as academic and I ahve plenty of experience of exam pressure leading to those skills failing to be properly developed in ‘academic subjects’.

          • Anonymous

            Great comments

            I think constant pressure of testing, especially at a young age is totally counterproductive; the SATS tests for example can take up a whole year and dominiate the whole experience of school to the detriment of everything else.
            (Eg years 6, 7 and 9.)
            Also, it’s pretty superficial learning; much is forgotten within months, but puts a whole load of kids off school in my view.

            When did this crazy notion come about?!



          Who will benefit from this selective educational environment? Surely everyone would benefit from a selective educational environment based upon my individual needs. I really think this whole grammar school stuff is a throwback to some non-existent golden age. If the comprehensive down the road was offering the same academic subjects but with better teachers (if that could ever be properly assessed) would you still send them to the selective school?
          Or seriously reading some of your other posts, is it about trying to maintain some kind of social purity for your children, I can’t quite work out, if it is an educational motivation or some kind of segregationist agenda you have in place?

          • GuyM

            The point is a comprehensive invariably can’t offer the same academic options as it has to cater for all standards.

            As I wrote elsewhere on this thread one of my daughters is able to chose two A levels at her grammar school not offered at our local comprehensives or college.

            You cant do everything if you cater for all abilities.

            Plus I believe a bright child will be more likely to reach their potential if surrounded by other bright children in an environment not disrupted by badly behaving kids who don’t wish to learn or behave.

            Selective education works, as shown by results.


            But how many bright kids do they need to be surrrounded by, and what about kids brighter than your daughter, will they have to subjected to havig to be taught alongside her. The 11+ is just a single hurdle, the gap between students in that gap is huge, meaning that brighter childen are probably suffering from having to be schooled alongside children who are relatively a lot less clever than kids . Where would you have the cut off? Or would you go for a percentage approach which would be pretty hair splitting if it fell much beyond 20% (bell shaped curve effect). I see no reason why comprehensives could not offer the same academic options, if we were willing to accept more resources going directly to keeping class sizes smaller allowing for such flexibility. Instead the scrabble for bums on seats see successful schools squeezing as many students (often of a suitable desirable quality) leaving the sink schools, to struggle with weaker or more problemmatic students, with far fewer resources relatively speaking. The pupil premium is unlikely to be sufficient to shift this problem. One thing comps if they were really comps could have allowed would have been economy of scale to allow all this to happen. For some reason the way we fund education seems to have seen more drain out of classrooms, and gone I’m not sure where.

    • Happy Fish

      Where there heck does this piece call for that? There remains no reason for any specific school structure to ‘hold’ bright students back, comps, grammar or academy, the structure is not the issue, the quality of leadership and resources to match needs are the key issues. That and moving away from an obsession with one narrow form of assessment.


      What have grammar schools got to do with this article? There is no reason why the ‘structure’ or type of school should hold back any student. It is merely the quality of leadership, allocation of resources to provide what is needed and inadequate support fro staff development which prevents this from happening. That an obssession with a very narrow view of assessment of ability due to above all its relative cheapness. Grammar schools, comprehensives, academies etc etc can all provide for all their students, the money is also there to achieve this in general, sadly not enough of it finds itself where it is most needed: reducing class sizes and focussing on staff development.

      • GuyM

        ….and yet even with higher levels of funding some comprehensives do horribly badly compared to others and all do worse than Grammars.

        If a percentage of children don’t want to learn or behave and their parents have no commitment to ensuring they do then why force other children who wish to secure their futures to mix with them?


          I don;t think comprehensive education needs to be like that. I will agree with you that comprehensive education has turned into a bit of a pigs ear and would not let my children near some of the schools I have taught in. That is as much to do with the system (what and how you are taught) as the kids who went there, plus how we have allowed schools cultures to be controlled by anti-learning cultures amongst the students. However what I would argue is that comprehensive education could still be the answer to our general educational needs, if we went back and rediscovered it. People could mix in an educational environment, in whcih students could study a broad range of vocational/academic subjects that suited their interests and abilities. This would have massive social benefits and would break down entrenched beliefs about people from different back grounds. However  I acknowledge that they would have to be places where children like your daughters would be able to flourish and pursue strongly academic subjects successfully. I’d also suggest that technology could help ensuring all students have access to very best education irrespective of where they lived. 

  • Jacqui

    Gah, how depressing  that the comments under this article are stuck on the Grammar school debate rather than this pressing and urgent matter. 

    It’s quite right to say Gove is launching an ideological revolution to marketise education, remove any kind of oversight on a local level which has the potential to lead to Southern Cross x100 based on a model from the US which is at best inconclusive in its results and at worst a failure ( Mossbourne is always pointed to, but as Ravitch points out, in these cases it is always scalability that is the concern. Noone is advocating supporting low standards but I’m yet to see one bit of evidence that academies or free schools systematically do better. There are excellent Academies, Charter Schools and KIPP schools but also equally excellent LEA schools (still the majority, though you wouldn’t know it from the DFE) as well as terrible versions of all of the above. This ideological obsession with the market actually hinders the process of improving our schools by providing yet more upheaval with no benefit for studetnsDownhills School public meeting this evening, 7pm.

  • Anonymous

    Of course this misses on point, this is England not Scotland NI or Wales….

  • GuyM

    I was a school governor a few years back, a political appointee by the local council.

    At the time I thought it bonkers that a political body shoud appoint school governors nor that LEAs (political bodies at the best of times) involve themselves in running schools to the extent they do.

    Political oversight is fine, political involvement to push certain social engineering objectives is not fine, sadly LEAs have been far too involved in the latter over the years.

    • Jacqui

      I don’t disagree that party political interference in schools is to be avoided, that is quite different from LEAs staffed by officers having an oversight over the local area and fail to see how this is social engineering (chance would be a fine thing if you mean to create a more level playing field for our most deprived youngsters.) 

      I’m a local authority governor myself, but was recruited via the School Governor One Stop Shop set up to widen the pool of governors and I sit alongside parents, teachers and community figures. This is in stark contrast to the profoundly non-democratic nature of academies which pose as representative of the local community but are nothing of the sort. 

      Gove poses as being localist whilst his educational reforms are actually the most centralist seen in years. His actions are also profoundly ideological. I disagree with the content but also with the manner in which they are being carried out, that is to say in an intellectually dishonest way. 

      • GuyM

        I gave up being a governor about the time I gave up politics. Far too many not very clever people in both areas pushing their political views down peoples throats.

        The problem I have with creating a “level playing field” is that the reason it is not level is largely down to parents and home life. So forcing clever kids into school with not so clever kids does nothing to change matters (not least as they invariably are streamed apart anyway) and nor does forcing middle class kids into school with badly behaved working class kids.

        Gove’s reform provide parents with more freedom and more choice i.e. my daughters Grammar will now expand to meet local demand.

        I often find that left wing activits in education actually believe my people like my wife and I and our children ought to be used in schools to help “civilise” and engage with other families. Ny experience as a governor and from like minded friends is that those sorts of people are not interested.

        Both my wife and I are graduate scientists, both with post grad and professionals and both holding down senior management roles. THe benefit of that sort of exposure in the home, with homework, extra curriculor activity, work experience, undergraduate applications etc. is immense over those who have none. But that experience is only used for our children, we have no desire to spread it further.

        Grammars give bright kids a chance to reach their potential, good parents give bright kids a chance to reach their potential, no one should seek to reduce the former and expect the latter to engage…. they should be left alone to do what good they can and people like yourself should concentrate on imrpoving other schools with other parents.

  • M Cannon

    This piece would be hilarious if the subject were not so serious.  The disagreement between the excellent Mr Gove and Mr Lammy is about Downshill Primary School.  I quote from the most recent (2011) OFSTED report about that school:
    “In accordance with section 13 (3) of the Education Act 2005, Her Majesty’s Chief Inspector is of the opinion that this school requires significant improvement, because it is performing significantly less well than in all the circumstances it could be reasonably be expected to perform. The school is therefore given a notice to improve. Significant improvement is required in relation to attainment in English and mathematics.
    Attainment has been consistently low in the school for many years and there is evidence of underachievement in the past. Standards in English and mathematics are well below average in Year 6 and pupils’ writing has been a particular weakness. Although there have been improvements since the previous inspection, for example in the quality of teaching, improvement is taking time to embed. The quality of teaching is satisfactory and this is leading to improvements in pupils’ learning and progress. However, there are inconsistencies in teaching. This means there is not enough good teaching to ensure that all pupils make the good progress they need to improve their attainment sufficiently. The academic guidance provided for pupils is variable. Pupils are not always given work that is appropriate to their level of understanding. Consequently, they can find their work either too easy or too hard. More-able pupils are especially affected by this. Not all teachers follow the school’s agreed policy and so their marking does not consistently help pupils to improve their work….” Mr Watts refers to “Labour’s policy of converting schools believed to be consistently under-performing into ‘sponsored academies'”.  Hssyas that “This policy has, in the main, achieved its objectives of improving some inner-city schools; although I would argue that this is more down to the massive investment and new leadership that went with conversion rather than something inherent about the change of status itself. ” Well, what is Downshill Primary School if not an under-achieving school?  And, before you respond by reference to the large number of its pupils for whom English is a second language and/or who receive free school meals, the OFSTED report takes those factors into account..# Mr Gove is serious about improving education for all.  Mr Watts is just defending the status quo, a status quo which is failing the children whom it is supposed to educate. 

    • I think all your comment shows is that you haven’t read the article.

  • Anonymous

    And for Gove to accuse someone like David Lammy, who knows more about social mobility that the Secretary of State ever will, of being ‘happy with failure’ is as ridiculous as it is insulting.

    Mr Lammy may know everything in the world about social mobility.

    But as he is a member of a party which when in power significantly reduced social mobility , how much Mr Lammy knows is an utter irrelevance as his knowledge was wasted.

    This article basically ignores the abject failure of the education system – which results in c 50% of youth leaving school being effectively unemployable,and  falling classes for science and maths   – subjects essential for work in a high tech society.

    But we should also try to break out of the frame for debate that Michael Gove is trying to establish – those that support me support success and those that don’t support failure – by coming up with our own set of school polices driven by our values

    Sorry sunshine : you had 13 years to do that. So you failed.. and you still have no plan? Risible if it was not the future of our kids.

    And you wonder why parents who can afford to so so, educate their kids privately?

    This article says it all: no idea, failures and incompetent without addressing the real issues and facts..

    • GuyM

      As Gove was adopted at age 4 months by parents who ran a fish processing business (father) and was a University lab technician (mother) in Aberdeen and has since risen to become Secretary of State, I’d say he probably knows as much as most other people about social mobility.

      Of course Labour’s view is unless you were ethnic minority, adopted by gay parents, living in social housing and atttending the worst school in the country it is impossible to understand social mobility….. which rules out their entire shadow cabinet as well.

      • Yet your solution to social mobility can be found in your previously declared enthusiasm for class warfare.

        As a free-loading sociopath the only thing you have yet to declare is your idiocy…  but no need to bother, that’s already apparent to all.

        • GuyM

          I’m not in favour of pushing social mobility to the level some politicians gliby state, partly due to the basic societal resistance that will ineviably occur.

          For social mobility to function at 100%, as someone rises another has to fall. As those falling will inevitably have parents and families who spendeir financial, emotional, educational and professional capital in order to either prevent the fall or mitigage it, full social mobility is an impossibility unless you remove any family, parental or social circle influences.

          Therefore aiming at it as a all consumng goal is a futile aim for politicians looking for sound bites.

          Personally my wife and I are all for using our social capital to ensure our children do as well as possible, that capital will not be used for others and it will be used to gain our daughters advantage where feasible.

          Therefore, yes it is a form of “class warfare”, generaically a middle class family using it’s capital to ensure their middle class children stay near the top and are not replaced by working class children of other families.

          Natural as night and day, has always been the case and isn’t going to be changed in the future.

          I don’t remember stating I had a solution to social mobility, let alone agreed with it as an aim, my point was about understanding it. You can understand something without fully agreeing with it…..

          • You’re arguing with the straw men you previously erected.

            Just how many comments do you have to post on here to qualify for an internship at Conservative Central Office?

          • GuyM

            Hardly a strawman, do you disagree the vary nature of social mobilit will tend to lead to those at the top resisting it?

            Do you disagree those at the top have more “social capital” and that they tend to use it to support their own offspring?

            If you don’t disagree with those two points then please explain how social mobility is ever going to make massive headway?

          • Which definition of ‘social capital’ are you applying?
            And what are the networks through which it can deliver advantage for one section of the population and not another?

          • GuyM

            Examples of social capital:

            Parents who are wealthy in the sense of being able to provide additional opporutnity and resource

            Parents who are graduates

            Parents who hold professional or mangement/executive careers

            Parents who expose children to travel, culture, music, arts and sports

            Environments where peer groups can reinforce the above traits.

            and lastly environments where academic learning and excellence is fostered not just at school but in the home as well.

            As for networks, you can work it out. For instance my wife and I offer work experience to our children in our professional environments, we don’t offer that to others.

            Trips to the RAH, Wembley, Brixton Academy, Lords, Twickenham, NT Properties etc. as well as abroad frequently all add up to increased experience and growth.

            Micing with family friends who also have good careers and hold the same values… advice over university degrees and careers through those networks.

            You can’t mimic those networks via state services and as such equality of opportunity is always going to be a pipedream, as is full social mobility.

            As with all things in life, some have more than others and in turn less than others as well.

          • Yawn…

          • GuyM

            You asked, you were told.

            If you don’t like reality not to worry you can stay with socialist ideology, perfectly safe and pointless.

          • Another strawman: ‘socialist ideology’. Got anymore in the cupboard?

          • GuyM

            Again not a strawman, you deal in socialist idea and ideals, I see them as both irrelevant and uninteresting, hence I’m happy to leave you with them.

          • GuyM

            LMAO, so you change the post to switch the point of the question because you can’t handle the answer?

            You asked about what “social capital” was and networks…. if you are going to rewrite things, best do the whole lot else you look stupid.

          • Anonymous

            I think you are incredibly out of touch with what most people are doing Guy. None of us live in a bubble; life is not prescriptive, and usually a mix of factors.

            Our son attends state secondary school, we are both ex graduates and professionals, and we do a whole range of things outside school, as most parents we know do also, whatever their means.
            Some of the best parents I’ve met through work or personally live on very low incomes but have very stable family backgrounds.

          • GuyM

            So a simple come back to you is, if parental “social capital” is equally spread about then there is no issue with parenting being a cause of problems at the lower end then?

            There is no issue with parents like myself organising work placements and the like only for our kids as parents with less “social capital” will find a way?

            Internships don’t matter?

            Having two graduate parents as compared to two non graduates makes no differene?

            Having a family with income sufficient to travel and experience cultures and the like makes no difference as compared to a family limited to benefit payments?

            I’m sorry but clearly you are wrong on this point. Social cappital boosts the life chances and opportunities of children of those families with it, over those who don’t have access to it.

            And there is little you can do to mitigate that reality.

          • Anonymous

            I’ve not come across this phrase “social capital” before.
            If it only applies to people with existing financial wealth and privilege I see no great merit, other than seeking yet more “advantage” over about 99%of the population.
            What’s needed are equal life chances and opportunities to benefit the whole of society, not a tiny niche.
            I do not begrudge your efforts and ambitions in any way Guy- but
            all young people should be afforded the same access to life chances on principle.
            That brings out all the talents and brain power for future innovation- not just the few.

            We are suffering a massive skills shortage and rising unemployment- that is just one justification for reforming the system, let alone the human costs of consigning large groups of society to the “scrap heap.”


          • GuyM

            You can’t afford equal life chances jo, it’s an impossiblility.

            If I pay a few htousand for my daughters to travel to a new country, can you do that for everyone else?

            If I pay a few thousand on tuition, can you do that for everyone else?

            If i provide good work experience at my company for my daughters, can you do that for everyone else?

            Life isn ‘t equal or fair and it never will be.


            I do not believe in social mobility as it presumes some kind of ‘layered’ society is required. My hope is that the ‘differences’ between our roles, and the articificial status afforded in an endless attempt to compare ‘job importance’ comes to an end, or is at least heavily reduced. What you may like to hear is that I believe so called middle class values (although I’d suggest they are little different to working class values) are to be championed, while middle class privilege is not.

          • GuyM

            Amazing, someone gets it regarding middle class “values”.

            I have to say though you are fighting a losoing battle if you think an office cleaner will ever be valued the same (especially pay wise) as a company executive or senior manager.

            It just isn’t going to happen and nor should it.

            The simplest way to see how jobs are valued is through economic worth. John Lewis Partnership pays “market rates” for staff and applies yearly bonus in proportion to pay as it sees pay as a marker for “economic contribution”.

            Now if that paragon of “partnership” JLP works in that way, what chance do you have of moving things further?


            It is not something I’d believe to be done overnight, or even in my lifetime, but if we do not seek to at least move things in that direction, we will be trapped in ‘calss warfare’ for want of a better word. With society creating ‘winners’ and ‘losers’ at the cost of human diginty and self respect. I don’t expect everyone to get paid the same, but I’d like people to stop trying to play moral games around the relative ‘worth’ of an individuals role, and equate this to something as crude as wealth.

          • Anonymous

            No he’s after medal for long term comments on a labour site, look these people are on all sites labour home  was once a larger site they had two who were obviously from Tory office.

      • Happy Fish

        Except he went to a private a school and I’m pretty sure as a small business man his father was hardly impoverished or would he be considered too nouveau riche for your tastes guy?

    • Sorry to have to insert some basic facts into your rant but:

       1) actually social mobility improved under Labour, who reversed a long-term trend to achieve this – see the definitive study:

      2) in Islington private school applications are falling dramatically as parents’ confidence in our (much improved) schools grows.

      My article on what we should do instead is coming next week – be sure to look out for it.

      • Anonymous

        Richard Watts

        The study you quote concludes by saying”It appears that the decline in social mobility may well have flattened out.

        1. I may be very dumb.. but that is not  “improved” or “reversed”.

        2.  So Islington mirrors the UK? And financial austerity has no impact?

        I will read your artcile with interest.. I hope you have some decent analysis rather than the flaky stuff you present above.

      • Anonymous

        Well you will have to give the Tories a term to see if they can improve that, I do not know what England will do with all these academies  but hell the Tories are now in power and have the right to do as they please as labour did.

  • Anonymous

    Excellent Richard, thoroughly enjoyed- more please!

    I have many thoughts generally on the current state of education,
    for us, above all it’s the incessant testing culture via CATS and SATS etc
    which is taking up far too much time and energy; also sapping autonomy
    for teachers and making pupils in some years very miserable!

    As for the “all or nothing” approach to converting state schools
    to academies etc and breaking up local authorities and networks;
    it seems far too top down and authoritarian imposed.

    I thought MG was in favour of giving teachers and headteachers
    control and autonomy? How does this tie in with major cuts
    to some parts of curriculum, an imposed curriculum, and being forced
    to convert to academy status?

    I wish to God health and education would stop being treated  like
    a political football, it’s very damaging over time.

    This debate should be led by teachers and the public,
    not politicians, especially with ideological intent.

    It may be there are some good things potentially that come out
    of reform in education, but clearly, this top down heckling
    sort of approach will only get people’s backs up.

    Thanks, Jo.

    • M Cannon

      Dear Jo,

      Academies (and, even better, Free Schools) do give power to teachers and head teachers and, of course, parents.

      Getting schools to teach the subjects which are needed to get decent jobs or into decent universities is all about ensuring that children achieve their potential and we as a society reverse the decline in social mobility which has occured since the 1970s (whehter because of the introduction of Comprehensive Schools or for some other reason).

      It is worth trying to read what Mr Gove is saying on the basis that he means what he says rather than on the basis that he is an evil-minded Tory who is deliberately wrecking the state education system.

      • Anonymous

        Thankyou, is it Mark?

        I am flexible and open to ideas in some respects;
        I would like to see some element of choice.
        But that seems to have come about because of previous
        low standards or inconsistency for many many years.

        What I’d like above all else is excellent standards
        and a varied holistic curriculum for all children,
        regardless of social/economic background or geographical area.

        I do not favour a system based on market principles
        or private profit. Or fragmentationof provision.

        We do need extensive funding and resources,
        continuation of excellent teaching, and far more autonomy-
        eg less testing, and a more varied curriculum.

        I am willing to believe there is good intention there, and
        probably some good ideas in the mix, but I dislike the way
        this appears to be being imposed top down, and teachers treated.

        It sounds like we have some common ground here though,
        thanks Mark.

        PS I’ve not yet read all comments on thread; will get around to doing so later.



        They do not give power to teachers, from what I have learnt from many teachers in academies, there job becomes micromanaged/overseen by managers desperate for results, but with only one strategu namely to pressure staff to put in ever increasing time and effort.

      • Jacqui

        I was at the Downhills public meeting last night. 600 + people, mainly parents who don’t want an academy and are happy with their community school and its road to improvement.

        The Gove form of localism is to impose an academy and a sponsor on a local community that doesn’t want it, how is that giving power to parents and teachers?

        I have to say I stood through the meeting and left inspired by the passion and care on offer but thoroughly depressed as it looks like these parents (as opposed to, to pick a random name out of the air, Toby Young) will not be listened to because Whitehall has decided that it knows better. 

        Sadly, it doesn’t as highlighted above there is no systematic evidence that academies and free schools do better. 

        • Anonymous

          Really useful to hear Jacqui, sorry I haven’t been following this closely as got a bit caught up elsewhere on thread!

          I think it’s really important to share experiences like these to build up a more realistic picture.

          Thanks, Jo.

  • Anonymous

    Totally agree Jacqui!


    • Anonymous

      So having Tesco run an academy was OK because it was Labour, now the Tories are doing the same labour moans.

      • Anonymous

        I didn’t say that robert, but thanks anyway.

        Could you explain please?


  • jaime taurosangastre candelas

    Why cannot all schools not be grammar schools, if they are so much better?  I write in this case from a position of some ignorance not having been schooled in the UK, so please forgive the possibly odd question.

    I am a firm supporter of the streaming of children by academic ability to pursue the same curriculum, but also with teaching methods adapted with sympathy for each grouping.  It is no point in teaching people in mixed groups, as pupils at either end of the academic spectrum underachieve which does not help either them or our society.  I also believe that among the life lessons schools should teach is that once you are an adult, it is a harsh and often tough world in which personal diligence and application is necessary to succeed.

    • Because grammar schools are, by definition, selective. They cream off the most academically able. So all schools cannot be grammar as those occupied by those non-elected will have s lower academic intake

      • jaime taurosangastre candelas

        Thank you Mike.  However, what I mean is possibly not clear.  Cannot you select within a school?  The most academically similar study together and the teacher adjusts the style of teaching to suit.  The curriculum is the same for all and is set by the Government, but normally the highest classes take the exams earlier and then study further material.  Each year based on results in classes and tests, the groupings are adjusted, and it was always a celebration to be moved up a class.  I was amazed to find that in my daughter’s school, this is not seen as a good idea.  It is standard in Chile, and when you are 15, you do a set of exams and practical tests that put you into either humanities or sciences for your last 3 years before matriculation, again with academic distinctions (normally 3 and not 5 which is for the younger children).

        • Anonymous

          NO streaming, selection allowed in ‘non Grammar’ schools. All must be equal, all must have prizes.

          A lot then have no qualities employers want – good stuff eh?

          • Happy Fish

            Absolute nonsense. Nothing else to add really.

            Good eh?


            This is just complete nonsense.

            Enough said eh?

          • Absolutely nuts. Of course there is streaming in Comprehensive schools.

            Comps were meant to be “grammar schools for all”.

            While I  acknowledge problems in implementation, that is still the goal.

          • GuyM

            Which of course means having to cater for all students course wise, which means less breadth in subjects.

            My daughters choices at A level would have been unavailable at a comprehensive.

            Further if you regard it as advantageous for clever children to be taught together then do it properly with selective schools.

            Comprehensives always seem to be a method for left wingers to placate the less bright kids by making them feel the “same” as Grammar school quality children simply by having them in the same building, even if in completely seperate classes.

            Selective educatin produces the better results in terms of attainment close to potential, thus blocking Grammar as an option simply lessens the chances of bright children.

            As always the left are less concerned over quality and achievement than they are over ideological views on “inclusivity”.

          • Anonymous

            Have you had any experience of comprehensives or the state system to know this Guy?

        • Virtually all schools already have either streaming or banding systems in many subjects. Its rare to find mixed ability classes. However, I’m not convinced about hothousing because it ends up with seventeen year old University students and whilst they may be educationally ready, its unusual for someone to be socially ready at that age

      • Anonymous

        So are my local RC school and the Church of England now renamed the Church of Wales school ,so is of course thee Muslim school, they all select from what they can get, Muslim of course only take Muslims, RC has to take 10% from out side of the faith, Church of Wales is demanding the 11 plus be done.

        SO it seems the best bet is to get a  good job become a Muslim or Catholic or Church of Wales , your going to get a good school.

    • GuyM

      Because not all schools can provide all courses and qualifications etc.

      For example one of my daughters has chosen for her A levels, Philosophy and Ethics, Classical Civilisation and 2 sciences. Those first two subjects are not on offer at the two local comprehensive 6th forms, nor at the nearby 6th Form College.

      The comprehensives and college have to provide other courses including vocationals, BTECs and some “weak” A levels.

      So if my daughter had been at one of the alternatives, she would have been unable to select those subjects because of the choices needed to be made in terms of supply/demand.

      Having the most academically gifted all together in one school means you can focus much less on vocational courses and widen the academic options. A girl wanting to go into Health and Beauty GNVQ is unlikely to want to study Classics at A level, equally the 6th Form College can cover vocational courses that would be of no interest to the Grammar school intake i.e. vocational studies in Hairdressing.

      Forcing all types and standards of pupils into “comprehensive” education simply reduces options, decreases specialisation and enforces a drab uniformity across varying educational needs.

      • Not that I want to be snide, and I admire your daughter’s choice of subjects, but “Classical Civilisation” is a duff subject.  I actually have an MA in Classical Civ from the University of London/Birkbeck, but it is not a real serious subject without Latin and Greek.

        • GuyM

          It’s regarded as a “strong” A level by Oxbridge, LSE and the Russell Group, which meant it was an option. She liked history but history A level has been horribly pc’d by the lefties since I took it. She also liked literature but Eng Lit was too fullon for her. Therefore Classics was an acceptable compromise, although I agree a background in Latin ought to be part of the course.

          But it was her “relax” option of the four, with the Biology, Psychology and Phislosophy and Ethics the mainstay along with the A/S in critical thinking (although that seems pretty worthless to me).

          The main point though is that subject mix was only available at the Grammar, because it is obviously heavy on the academic educational side of things.

          • I agree on the lax offerings at some schools.

            My Scottish high school (back in 1978) appears in no tables of  great schools, but offerred French, German, Latin, with the possibility of Ancient Greek.  As well as Physics, Chemistry, and various higher Maths courses.There is no reason a comprehensive school cannot offer good education in demanding subjects.


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