Report reveals inertia on schools reform

Thanks to Pete for drawing attention to the report on area based planning for secondary education which in a rational world should form the manual for taking us into a new era from 2013. This is a very pale version indeed of what’s really needed. At this rate, transformation due in less than four years won’t even have begun. The lack of a workable policy even among its potential supporters (apart from an undisclosed number of exceptions) is exposed. Aside from the unpublished evidence in the questionnaires, the recommendations could have been written any time in the past 10 years. Bending over backwards to be fair and amid the bland and hortatory prose, Adeline Dinsmore, chairperson of the exercise delivers some deadly messages : Few areas and schools have done anything at all lining up with Costello’s Entitlement Framework of a maximum of 28 available subjects.

Few schools have done much to create parity of esteem between general ( i.e. academic) and vocational subjects. Some of the subjects taught aren’t even in the curriculum while others don’t line up with what’s on offer in FE colleges. ( Oh well done, area boards – what a great legacy..)

In answering the questionnaires some schools simply refused to report their defects and tried to divert by talking up their aspirations. (Why should they bother after a decade of inertia)?In an end note, Adleine quotes Thomas Hobbes, the creator of the Leviathian necessary, he believed, for good government:

“For in a way beset with those that contend, on the one side for too great Liberty,
and on the other side for too much Authority, ‘tis hard to passe between the points
of both unwounded.

You’re safe enough there Adeline; You ducked. No doubt you would say you fulfilled your brief. If you do, put the cap on where it belongs.

On the report’s omissions:

The starting point of the exercise is age 14, thereby avoiding the toxic 11 plus issue.

Nothing is said about how the entire system would have to be organised for “election at 14” rather than selection at 11.

Nothing is quantified, no one school is named and shamed, no one is blamed, offence is not caused.

Beyond exhortation, no measures for compliance are suggested.

If a broader, better curriculum is supposed to be the selling point for defusing the 11 plus row, they’ll have to be specific, area by area, school by school. Only then might aspirant parents be mollified and the cross-community grammar schools rebellion called off.

And the way ahead? Parents etc should be involved, but how?

The report is full of the usual managementspeak like “ accountability”. (God save us from bullet points, incidentally. It allows report writers to make lists and avoid the proper analysis which you are impelled to do when you join sentences up). I have banged on about launching a big programme of local consultations for which options for each area and each school are drawn up. Only when people can see how local schools might be organised to offer a better service will “reform” mean anything at all. Call it “transparency”. Anything less is useless. It stays in the hands of bureaucrats and nothing gets done because it’s “ up to the politicians” And we know what state they’re in. They and the bureaucrats fear that control would fall from their palsied hands. The Bel Tel’s vox pop of notables is short of fresh ideas and long on hand wringing. One note of consolation perhaps is that moves may be afoot to plump for election at 14. It won’t solve the 11 plus deadlock at a stroke but it should get the debate going. If anyone actually cares.

  • Pace Parent

    Brian,
    As usual a few questions arise from your polemic. Tell us all what subjects are academic/general or vocational/applied? A short list will do but it will be significantly better than the DENI’s list of zero. Then give us an origin and explanation for the choice of 24/27 subjects that form the Entitlement Framework. Finally explain how Tony Gallagher provided research to the DENI in 1998 suggesting that selection at 14 would disadvantage the least able pupils but now suggests that it is the answer to the unregulated transfer system.
    PACE parents love to receive advice from experts.

  • Brian Walker

    As usual pace parent, with your self-satisfied sarcasm, you do not see the wood for the trees. I’m not a protagonist for anything except the satisfactory end of selection at 11 which bearing in mind that it has been achieved in all other UK jurisdictions is possible. I suggest open consultation on options for schools reform to ease pressures on schools, parents and children alike. For all I know, 27 subjects is too many. I have urged all parties to accept the present reality of strong support for grammar schools and take it from there. I’m not an educational expert but then you’ll dismiss most of them anyway, so that’s not a disadvantage. The distinction between general and vocational is orthodox and I simply quote the report on that. I wouldn’t say this is a polemic; it’s more of a lament that yet suggests a glimmer of light over 14+ at the end of the tunnel. Why don’t you try making your point in a way that might win agreement or at least respect? It sometimes works.

  • PACE Parent

    The light at the end of your tunnel Brian is the headlight of the oncoming train of parental/ voter anger over the deregulation of academic selection at 11. To paraphrase a Churchill quotation; “where is the compromise between the arsonist and the firefighter?”. Using scientific evidence certainly does not work with ideologues, double-speaking superannuated socialists employed in the education sector nor lazy journalists content to parrot the DENI and CCEA line for fear of losing the advertising/supplements revenues generated by the education sector.
    The plea made yesterday by the education chiefs over the “vital” nature of the ESA is a case in point. Gavin Boyd and his coterie of Yes people know that this is the real “high stakes” test. ESA will not come into being prior to January 2010. Gavin Boyd will still be paid over one hundred thousand pounds a year for operating a non-existent entity. Remember he was the man responsible for the revised curriculum and recommending the failed computer system Incas that has become mandatory in primary schools.
    You must understand Brian that you are entitled to your view on academic selection and transfer at 14 but you cannot impose those views upon others. The minister and her officials have found out likewise.
    As ever, you use the ambiguous language of those who pretend to offer plurality. I am not in the business of politics or of playing word games. I want an education system that works for the benefit of children not the self-satisfied insiders.