Real parental choice could replace academic selection

Anybody in NI seriously interested in improving schools’ performance at the bottom end, should pay attention to the reforms for England, heralded by the Conservative education spokesman Michael Gove. First thing to note is that his ideas for a big expansion of self-governing academies and technical colleges share a good deal of common ground with Labour. So ignore the party heat over this; the main English parties are not too far apart. And secondly, note well that Gove spurns any suggestion of treating his reforms as code for a return to academic selection. “It’s the quality of teaching not the intake that counts,” he says. In his speech to the conference this morning he declares :“We will give parents control over the money which is spent on their children’s education. Parents will be able to take the five thousand pounds the state spends on their children to the school of their choice. And we will give the parents of poorer children more money.” NI’s almost universal state system delivers well for a sizeable majority but leaves a long tail lagging behind. Just how long I find it impossible to discover as the stats are not clear about this. If anybody can post a proper analysis of the comparative results of grammar and secondary schools and secondaries’ actual performance, it would be great to read it. The trend elsewhere is to break up the sort of bureaucratic monopoly that prevails in Northern Ireland. Beyond the State, we have the weakening grip of the churches and the integrated schools sector. Are there any community groups, businesses or lobbies out there able and willing to take up the Gove challenge and set up academies? Real parental choice by the schools is an obvious weapon for cutting the Gordian knot of the schools selection problem. Gove speech extracts below. POOR COMPREHENSIVE PERFORMANCE
This year more than half the children leaving comprehensives failed to get the basic requirement of five decent GCSE passes – and they were overwhelmingly children from poorer families.
This year there were hundreds of schools which entered no children for either A level history, or geography, or physics, or chemistry or biology – and the children in those schools were from poorer families.

POOR PRIMARY PERFORMANCE
The biggest failure of our education system is the failure to teach children the most important skill of all – the ability to read.
Every year more than 100,000 children – one in five – leave primary school unable to read properly.
Two thirds of working class boys at the age of fourteen have a reading age of seven or below.
One in five – after going through the school system – do not have the language skills to be able to find a plumber under P in the Yellow Pages.

PARENTAL CHOICE
Those children who cannot read are imprisoned in ignorance all their lives.
We will give parents control over the money which is spent on their children’s education. Parents will be able to take the five thousand pounds the state spends on their children to the school of their choice. And we will give the parents of poorer children more money.
Because nobody cares more about a child’s education than their parents. And no parents need our help more than the poorest.
state school could have the chance to free itself from bureaucratic control – and get the extra money, freedom and flexibility which schools like Mossbourne have used to dramatically lift standards.
Let me be clear – that means a fundamental change in the role of local authorities – instead of telling parents who’re unhappy with local schools to like it or lump it, local bureaucrats will be on notice to justify their position, their power and their performance. Because we need money where it makes a difference – not on a bureaucrat’s desk but in the classroom.
And because we want to ensure that the benefits of academy status are delivered most quickly where they’re most needed a Conservative Government will act on day one to help those children who’ve been let down most comprehensively.

REVIVE TECHNICAL SCHOOLS
We will create new technical schools in our major cities to ensure children who need it get the sort of hands-on, practical, vocational education you need in the world of work. These schools will be in the vanguard of providing what our economy desperately needs now – thousands more proper, real-world, apprenticeships.
And we won’t stop there.
We will – in our first hundred days – identify the very worst schools – the sink schools which have desperately failed their children – and put them in rapidly into the hands of heads with a proven track record of success.
We will remove the managements which have failed

  • Barnshee

    It’s the quality of teaching not the intake that counts,”

    There speaks somone who has never taught -the we are all equal– its tho old syndrome —get jonny into a grammsr and he will some how catch intelligence from other pupils.
    crap

  • kensei

    We will give parents control over the money which is spent on their children’s education. Parents will be able to take the five thousand pounds the state spends on their children to the school of their choice. An

    Private school subsidy. Great for upper middle and upper class. Everyone else shafted. I hate Tories with a passion.

  • fair_deal

    Here’s a notion, abolish the department of education in northern ireland and the education boards. That should save a pretty penny or two.

    Replace them with a beefed up school registration and inspectorate system and give every parent a voucher for their child’s education.

    There are six issues that need to be recognised on top of the general voucher. The first four are obvious pupils – with educational under-achievement, with special needs, with english as a second language, live in rural communities, educational excellence – this creates financial incentive to take such children, would encourage some to specialise, and recognises both the need to invest underachievement and reward educational success.

    I’d suggest a sixth local minority communities. In a number of areas there won’t be much of a shared future as there won’t be much of a minority community left to share it with and school provision is a key part of their sustainability – apply to say communities were the minority is less than 20-25% of the school age population.

    For those politicians who baulk at this step, I’ll make offer the self-interest argument. School closures need to happen in Northern Ireland because of over-provision but no one wants to touch the issue. Under this system it won’t be politicians deciding what goes and what stays but parents.

  • michael

    fair_deal

    I presume academic selection plays no part in your suggestion. A surprise considering your party preferences!

    Does this ‘choice’ policy not still suffer from the same problems that those who oppose the removal of academic selection claim. I.e. postcode lottery, wealthy parents living near the best schools, proliferation of two-tier education system, etc.

  • Brit

    What Kensei said (except that in London, at least, even quite a few of the upper m/cs cant afford a private education).

    English state education is not good. Religious state schools are a disgrace and “choice” is not at all the answer. I want my local state school to have a decent eductional standard, not too many crack dealers and a genuine social and ethnic/religious mix. The inner London comp. that I went to just about met this criterion but the options for my son are looking pretty awful unless I suddenly get (or pretend to get) the God delusion.

  • fair_deal

    Michael

    Thanks for enagaging with the idea. I won’t ptetend it’s perfected but I like just occassionally not looking at a system and tinkering but imagining something more radical.

    I am open to change in the system as long as it doesn’t undermine academic success – the present proposals look too much to me like dumbing down hence I reject them. However I am pretty fed up with the debate about education here being solely selection good or bad. The 11plus did work for me as an academically minded working class kid and others like me but in my work when I see a high proportion of kids leaving school unable to read write and count then there are other problems that need addressed as well.

    Secondary level schools would be free to set their entrance criteria and use academic selection if they wish. As I said the system could encourage specialism so some schools could focus on those who achieve excellence – what grammar schools are supposed to be not the grab alls they have become.

    The financial incentives/top-up payments could undermine the post-code lottery element. Also there is a clear incentive for good schools to expand when faced with increased demand without having to go through the adminstrative hoops that presently exist. Competition should act as a driver for general improvement – because if schools aren’t good they’ll close as parents walk and take their vouchers with them. The extra investment in underachievement and need should also prevent a two tier system.

  • donscotus

    Comprehensive education has been a disaster in England, Wales and Scotland. Selection has its problems but the NI Grammar school system delivers far better results than the mainland comps do. NI would be mad to give up on selective education, which is not to say one cannot modify the selection process. The dogmatic tone of SF on this issue reminds me of Tony Crossland’s and Shirley William’s equally misplaced attacks on grammar schools and claims for the benefits of comps. all comprehensive education does is condemn the majority of pupils at state schools to a mediocre to awful education(except for the luck few who live in a posh area) and benefits the private schools who get all the refugees from the state system. Music schools and sports teams pick on merit, why should not schools?

  • Reader

    kensei: Great for upper middle and upper class. Everyone else shafted.
    Do you think the poor can’t handle vouchers? Or do you think the private sector can’t do better than the state for the same money? Then would you prefer to get your food from a Government Commissary?

  • Brian Walker

    Kensei, You clipped Gove’s quote. He added: ” And we will give the parents of poorer children more money.” I think he should be tested on this with an open mind. Rather than the passivity of reflexive class arguments, it would be good to have a real debate on specialism in schools to raise standards.There is promise in both the technical colleges and academies even if they are not privately run. Let’s get away from the boring old deadlock.

  • kensei

    Reader

    No, but I know who has more money and how supply and demand works

    Brian

    Chances of it making up the difference: zip. Chances of people just above any threshold being shafted: insanely high. Rather than dismissing the argument,try putting something anything up against it. It’s tough, because it’s a good argument.

    Specialisation does not require vouchers.

  • Reader

    kensei: No, but I know who has more money and how supply and demand works
    Supply and demand is already operating in the sector. A voucher system is an option for an improvement across the board, because it makes every single school care how it is perceived by parents across a range of contributions – discipline, pastoral care, academic record, vocational skills, life skills.
    And is a virtual voucher system like the per-capita fee structure in the south a recipe for disaster?
    And – looking at it from another angle – the maintained sector here looks like, and acts like, a voucher system compared with the controlled sector.

  • willis

    Reader

    “And – looking at it from another angle – the maintained sector here looks like, and acts like, a voucher system compared with the controlled sector. ”

    Interesting quote, could you expand on it?

  • seniorhas

    Brian,
    At the moment, if one wants statistics for school performance then you have to get it from the individual schools, eg in their prospectuses. The Department may,if you ask them kindly enough, produce some overall statistics, but ever since the publication of the yearly statistics was stopped, it has been difficult to obtain detailed data, such as you require. DENI came very late to requiring and using such data. I used to provide it to the Inspectorate based on my own information gathering and research.

    Very little, if any, research has been done in Northern Ireland on admissions data, the reasons for parental choices compared with England. My own work, based on the annual statistics for one of the Boards over 10 years ago, suggested that over 90% of children obtain a place in a school of their parents first preference. What is needed is some detailed work to be done. Typically, it hasn’t even been considered.

    My only comment, for the moment, on earlier contributions is that parents already make their decisions based on a range of factors but probably they normally would like their children to go to their local school if it presses most of the right buttons. As for specialist schools, academies run by private bodies and other institutions, parent run schools a la Sweden,I can only say that where the schools are well run and the teaching is good then the results are good, eg St Cecilia’s and St Mary’s in Derry/Londonderry. However, it is not only the schools that count – other factors, outside the control of schools, are just as important and we need much more joined up policies.

  • Pigeon Toes

    “Those children who cannot read are imprisoned in ignorance all their lives.
    We will give parents control over the money which is spent on their children’s education. Parents will be able to take the five thousand pounds the state spends on their children to the school of their choice. And we will give the parents of poorer children more money.
    Because nobody cares more about a child’s education than their parents. And no parents need our help more than the poorest.
    state school could have the chance to free itself from bureaucratic control – and get the extra money, freedom and flexibility which schools like Mossbourne have used to dramatically lift standards.”

    Well wouldn’t that further depend on the socio economic background of the parents?

    Again bolloxogly (sic)

  • Pace Parent

    Brian Walker promotes Michael Gove’s proposals. Has he ever looked at the results for their vaunted academies? It was two years ago that the Conservatives abandoned any pretence of support for grammar schools. Silence from them on the issue since despite increasing demand for places. The Conservatives, via pseudo rebels, claimed to be Friends of Grammar Schools but secretly invested their support in grammar school heads who were willing to federate with local secondaries i.e. converting into comprehensives. Most of these heads had a massive increase in their salary mimicking MPs and their expenses.
    Check out the position of the NGSA
    http://www.ngsa.org.uk/news01.php

    “In the run up to the Election, the N.G.S.A. intends to significantly increase its public profile in support of the maintenance of the existing grammar schools, and the creation of new ones in areas where there is an absence of such and a patent parental demand for their provision. The N.G.S.A. is anxious to ascertain the Conservative Party’s position and its likely manifesto on both the principle of differentiated education based on selection and the future of grammar school education.”

  • willis

    Pace

    So the NGSA sent Bob McCartney to tell the Tories how things should be done. That will have worked well.

  • Mack

    Kensei –

    Private school subsidy. Great for upper middle and upper class. Everyone else shafted. I hate Tories with a passion.

    AFAIK, their scheme is based on the Swedish model (yep, the darlings of the progressive left), but they’ve curtailed some of the more free market elements (because of fear of how the electorate would react). I was thinking of blogging this at some point. The idea is not to subsidise private schools but to allow a market for educational services to emerge. Bad schools to fail etc. The Swedes seem to be able to deliver great public services and thus levy high taxes to fund them because they are structured to deliver real value to the public (rather than protect workers within those services). Publicly run schools can fail, and close. Teachers on public salaries can thus loose their jobs and weaker teachers can forced into alternative careers. The unions support the system, as their members prefer working in high quality schools (whether publicly run or privately run). Will blog this once I get time. But we always seem to focus only on the socialist elements of the Scandivian economies – without giving equal attention to the pro-market elements that enable the provision of high-quality public services (the difference between Sweden and the USSR!)…

  • otto

    We already have a “top-up” like arrangement for our voluntary grammars in Northern Ireland. That’s why fees at Campbell are only £2090 a year.

    http://www.campbellcollege.co.uk/boarding/boarding_fees.htm

  • kensei

    Mack

    The idea is not to subsidise private schools but to allow a market for educational services to emerge. Bad schools to fail etc.

    I’m okay with allowing bad schools to fail but right now in England, this is a driect subsidy to private schools. The money will run straight out of the state system right into it. If there is any mechanism to prevent this, I’d love to hear it.

    This was pushed the last election too. Tory is as Tory does.

  • Reader

    willis: Interesting quote, could you expand on it?
    The CCMS, not the education boards, decide when and whether to open and close, shrink and expand, maintained schools. The governors and the CCMS set recruitment parameters for all staff, and the CCMS has maintained a veto on any part of the curriculum that is to apply to their schools.
    To go with the voucher metaphor for the moment – the maintained sector keeps its eligibility to receive vouchers, then it recruits children into the schools.

  • Reader

    kensei: The money will run straight out of the state system right into it. If there is any mechanism to prevent this, I’d love to hear it.
    It won’t cost the state any more to educate a rich child than a poor one – less, in fact, under the detailed proposals. That seems fair. Can you explain your objection?
    As a parallel – most people could live on benefits, but actually work to top-up their lifestyle. Is that wrong?

  • Pace Parent

    Willis
    Worked out well for whom? Rest assured that the NGSA chairman is no advocate of a privatised transfer system operated by double-jobbing teachers and recently retired senior civil servants and grammar heads. McCartney and his colleagues undoubtedly warned Mr Gove on the dangers over how things should not be done by attempting to sell academies as anything other than comprehensives.

    This would resonate with similar advice given to the DUP leader which for his own reasons he too chose to ignore. Isn’t the Stormont Executive and Assembly just the model parliament Willis? Their handling of the education issue should be an exemplar of good government mimicked around the world. Is that ironic enough?

  • Since shadow education secretary Michael Gove’s speech at yesterdays’ Conservative conference, shrewd commentators have been saying that the Conservatives have moved on to Labour’s ground on education, especially over academies. But academies have to be comprehensive. What choice is that for parents, especially when the comprehensive experiment in England has been failing its pupils for the last 30 years. How will that help less wealthy families?
    Neither Cameron nor Gove will say so, but it now seems clear they are prepared to sacrifice and Northern Ireland’s 69 grammar schools and England’s 164 for self-interested political reasons.
    (I say this as a disgusted, lifelong Conservative.) People need to wake or Northern Ireland’s education system will driven down to the same level as England’s.

  • Reader

    Disgusted Conservative: Neither Cameron nor Gove will say so, but it now seems clear they are prepared to sacrifice and Northern Ireland’s 69 grammar schools…
    How? Education is a devolved matter. We run it for ourselves.

  • Pace Parent

    The betrayal of non-denominational grammar schools will be at the hands of the UU/Conservative alliance. Basil McCrea proposed the use of the Pupil Profile in his Private Members debate last week. This after detailed warnings over the useless social selection instrument. Given that the Roman Catholic bishops have already conceded on academic selection that will leave about 34 grammar schools left for McCrea and Co to sell off to the highest bidder.
    “Education is a devolved matter. We run it for ourselves.” Reader must be a fan of incompetence.