Friday, May 25, 2007

Schools, Schools and More Schools

Just got back to Kent after doing a short discussion interview for GMTV's Sunday programme with Fraser Nelson on the fallout from the grammar school debate. Apart from an interview with my little Chipmunk (who I sadly missed in the lift) the whole programme seemed to be concentrating on this with interviews with Alan Duncan and John Bercow. Bercow was fairly trenchant in his language on the core vote, as this excerpt shows.
I think we shouldn’t be overly preoccupied with what particular view the core
Conservative Supporters take. I’ve been saying for years and I reiterate that I
think what we’ve got to do is show a great deal more interest in what is thought
and wanted by people who are not currently voting Conservative than what is
thought and wanted by those who are currently voting Conservative because with
that core vote we didn’t win last time, or the time before, or the time before
that so frankly I don’t have much patience with those who simply say, ‘ooh! You
can’t upset the base! You mustn’t say anything that will offend the traditional
Conservative supporter.’ We know from the experience of Tony Blair taking Labour
from impotence to government that the challenge in British politics is to reach
out way beyond your base and to attract a whole new generation of voters to
rally to your standard. And it’s because David Cameron recognises that and is
determined to pursue a modernising approach appealing to the centre ground that
I believe he deserves support and will succeed.

Fraser Nelson has written a good piece on education policy in the Spectator this week. I especially liked this idea about vouchers and the creation of new schools...
Mr Cameron appears inclined toward a version of the voucher system that
transformed Swedish education when it was introduced in 1992. The dynamics are
as simple as they are powerful. Any qualified teachers can set up a school, as
long as they prove there is a demand and meet minimum standards. The state pays
them a fixed amount per pupil: about £5,000 per year. State education would be
open to any school, or community, that wanted to participate. And that’s

It didn’t sound like much of a policy when introduced in Sweden. Even the
ministers who proposed it expected little uptake. But to their astonishment,
they were inundated with school proposals by church groups, Montessori
organisations and villages tired of having to bus children miles to the nearest
school. New schools now comprise seven per cent of the total: a tipping point.
Once existing schools realised they would lose pupils if they did not shape up,
the entire system was galvanised.

This fits perfectly within Mr Cameron’s philosophical framework. The state
pays the fees, but organises nothing. Civil society is invited to step in, run
schools and take over in areas where the state fails appallingly. Nor is this an
obscure Scandinavian theory. School choice is being used in the Netherlands,
Chile, Canada and charter schools in the United States. Reams of data have now
been assembled, proving that the choice works for the taxpayer, and promotes
equality and social mobility.

THE GMTV Sunday programme is broadcast on ITV between 6am and 7.30am on Sunday.


Anonymous said...

I do so enjoy being taken for granted, Mr Bercow. We may have nowhere else to go, but voting isn't (yet) mandatory.

Anonymous said...

Bring back Approved Schools.

Anonymous said...


We should not take lessons from a man who has been fed with a silver spoon all his life. What the hell does Cameron know about comprehensive schooling or grammar schools? He and Three brains will not be in charge within eighteen months mark my words.

Praguetory said...

I liked Fraser's article, too. Whilst there is of course a tremendously strong economic argument for state subsidy of education, the economic argument for state provision of education is risible.

Praguetory said...

Why isn't Bercow on the front bench?

Anonymous said...

Love the sound of it.

The Swedes might seem over interested in drinking and sex but they do know the difference between a socialist and a liberal. Unlike far too many British people and their media, these days.

David Cameron once said he is basically a libertarian. If only I completly believed him my whole world would suddenly become a place of hope instead of dispair.

Iain could you put a little word in Davids shell like and tell him that it is the whole reason why he got elected leader in the first place.

The youth and the heart of the Conservative party would follow him to the ends of the earth if he starts talking like a REAL modern British Conservative. The members in general still cant and dont believe that he is or has suddenly become a socialist. However sometimes David Cameron frightens the living day lights out of them and me.

Good stuff, I look forward to seeing much more of this type of thing in the future.

Newmania said...

I would be very interested in finding out more about the experience of other countries and the evidence that supposedly exists to support the voucher idea. I am unable to locate any

Anonymous said...

i spy strangers said... 2:09 PM

Bercow clearly has not heard of UKIP. I suspect that now it is only committed Europhiles who are not seriously considering UKIP. Cameron may consider them 'fruitcakes' etc, but when it comes to policies, their's are on firmer ground than many of his.

Man in a Shed said...

The top brass need to remember the Bromley bye-election. John Bercow is wrong and should stop trying to define the core vote as being the problem.

The problem is that the Cameron Conservatives have lined themselves up directly against the future hopes of aspiring peoples children (working and middle classes).

We can afford private education for out children they shout - guess what ? Yet another half baked educational experiment for yours !

Vote for us because you have no choice - and we will do with your children's futures what ever we think is appropriate.

That's electoral suicide.

Anonymous said...

Iain, did you by chance read the comments on dear old Bill Deedes rather wayward commentary ?

Try this one..

I partly agree with you about grammar schools. I was educated in a comprehensive and I found that my education was all right.

But what positively alarms me is the current thinking about what a school is supposed to be for. I see an Orwellian world in the making, if it hasn't already arrived.

If you had said that grammar schools are not necessarily part of the solution and had stopped there, I might have agreed. But when you start saying that schools have a duty to turn out responsible, emotionally well balanced citizens, I begin to get very alarmed, particularly when taken together with other articles that appeared in The Telegraph this week.

Anthony Seldon's article yesterday, where he actually seemed to be thinking that school children should be taught happiness, eventually leads to brainwashing by educationalists, who devise a curriculum which will (if a party of social democratic inclinations is in power) try to brainwash the kids into becoming good social democrats.

There were other very alarming things in Seldon's article yesterday; 'Pupils learn how to manage their own bodies, minds and emotions'
Ultimately, this leads to pupils actually being taught that fornication and promiscuity; in short, sex before marriage, is actually all right, it is not unethical and, in fact, it is necessary for a balanced sense of well being.

I have seen the alarming downside of the Seldon approach to education in action, since I work in a university in Sweden, where they seem to have swallowed the ideas he was advocating hook, line and sinker. I like the quality of the students I am teaching; they are bright and easy to interact with. But over the years I have seen that they come to us in an ever greater state of ignorance, because their schools are letting them down very badly.

Of course, they have all been brainwashed into becoming charming Swedish citizens; much time and effort has been spent doing that, to the expense of the academic subjects.

I also see something of the programmes to educate teachers. A huge amount of emphasis is being placed on 'pedagogics', to the expense of the subject that is actually being taught. They learn how to teach, but they don't know what to teach.

The 'pedagogic' side of school teaching, teaching the kids to become 'good citizens' is nothing but brainwashing, and in a very ugly way, because it is utterly contrary to any Christian ethos, or any Christian values. Either you have the modern psychologist's view of self-esteem, or else you have the Christian view that we are nothing in and of ourselves; we are only something in and through Christ and his work in the crucifixion and resurrection. There is no concept of *self* esteem in Christianity; it is the antithesis of Christianity.

In Sweden, the teacher's course is a separate course, the teacher students are taught separately, and their course is dumbed down. We have to dumb it down, because if our failure rates are too high, then the pedagogics course co-ordinator simply cuts down the amount mathematics required for a mathematics teacher and increases the amount of pedagogics they have to learn.

Fortunately, we had a change of administration back in September, and the new prime minster seems to have understood that there is a problem and he is threatening to do something about it.

I was also struck by Simon Heffer's piece this week, in a similar vein, where he actually imagined that enjoying the music of Elgar was something that could be taught.

The whole philosophy of education and the part that the school is supposed to play in it is becoming deeply alarming.
Posted by sven on May 25, 2007 5:25 AM

He seems to have a view of Swedish education that might make Britain's demise more certain

Anonymous said...

Bercow clearly has not heard of UKIP

Bercow attended the University of Essex during the 1980s. He graduated with First Class Honours in Government. During this period, he was a member of the Monday Club, becoming the secretary of its immigration and repatriation section. At the age of twenty he left the organisation, citing the extremism of many of the Monday Club's members as his reason.

At the age of 20 he entered the world to devote himself to new forms of fanaticism but never found time to join the Labour married into it instead

Anonymous said...

Wouldn't the chipmunk and bercow make a wonderful double act for the Christmas party?
Clearly the answer is to cut up your membership card in order to gain influence.Brilliant strategy.
Can't think why it's never been thought of it before.However,tricky if your about to launch a membership drive.

Anonymous said...

Anon. 3.00.
Slogan-Join the Party and be ignored.

Anonymous said...

I would certainly consider launching a school under these circumstances.... Now that would increase diversity.

Newmania said...

Gary Powell - Like your attitude I feel similiarly braced but what excactly do you mean by this

Sackerson said...

I've attended grammar and public schools, and taught in grammars and comprehensives since 1975. I've seen good schools (including grammars) go bad, and bad schools (including multi-ethnic inner-city comps) become good. So I don't think it's specifically to do with the grammar vs comprehensive debatelet.

What makes a school good?

1. The leadership, especially the head. If this isn't right, all else goes wrong.

2. As part of 1 above: discipline, with full management support for every teacher against the anarchy of pupils, the bolshieness of governors and the special pleading and threats of parents.

3. Competition and striving for success. Even comprehensives can achieve this with banding, setting and streaming. All can't have prizes, but everyone can compete against those nearest to them. We accept it in sport - why not in learning?

4. A curriculum that isn't changing every five minutes, and which focuses more on agreed knowledge than on social and health messages, important though the latter may be. Precision and rigour are important, when we're competing in a world that relies for its prosperity on engineers and mathematicians.

There's no end of anecdotes from grammar school teachers about how awful it was when they were merged with secondary moderns. But that had two roots:

(a) a lack of aspiration to success among the incomers - remember that there was a time when the majority of children didn't get entered for formal examionations;

(b)the grammar school teachers hadn't been trained to deal with the population average. By and large, they had previously been able to assume fairly good behaviour and keenness to learn. Although these more academic teachers were experts in their subject, some were not fully-rounded experts in the skills of imparting knowledge to the hoi polloi. I have met not a few teacher-training-college-educated teachers who had more flair and flexibility qua teachers, even though they might not always have been top brains.

Commentators and politicians tend to shudder at the standards in education, but that is partly to do with their unrepresentative backgrounds. For a long time, my grammar-school-educated wife looked at the work I was bringing home to mark and couldn't get her head round what "average" really means. "Thickos" who left school with only a handful of O-levels are not average.

A lot is being done in schools to raise standards. Many of the problems we have as teachers are not educational, but social in origin - children acting out because of broken families and an increasing national trend towards crap parenting, believe me. If we didn't have to fight against this we could achieve far more - and retain more of the workforce, many of whom plan to retire, or simply leave, in the next few years.

I have no objection to grammar school and think there should be more of them. But essentially, it's about competition and aiming for excellence, at every level.

If the country is willing to let schools stick to their knitting, rather than continue the class war or whatever, we'll get the job done.

Anonymous said...

gxdpxNo-one can legitimately go through such a radical philosophical change as Bercow claims to have. Either he still belives what he previously claimed, but doesn't admit it for personal gain; or he always believed what he now claims but again said something different beacuse it was advantageous.

Either way, he's not to be trusted.

Machiavelli's Understudy said...

David Cameron once said he is basically a libertarian.

The man really isn't acquainted with the English language, is he?

I think I want to cry.

Anonymous said...

Why to traditionalist Tories (and Labour for that matter) always moan about being taken for granted when they so trenchantly support an electoral system that demands that any serious party ignores them?

Go on - admit it! You all like being 'ignored' so you can sit back and whinge about it rather than having to actually engage with the real world.

Anonymous said...

Hey Dave, yes it's wise not to have a fight on two front's ,but remember the front now your fighting is actually on your side ,how about using it to help kick Labour out of power ,then you can be as concieted and arrogant as you want ,and even believe in your own PR, otherwise Davey boy hell will freeze over before your chance comes again.

Newmania said...

Rolf you obviously have some experience here. Would you be happy to send your own children to an inner City multi ethnic comp from which all the middleclass children had been saved by moving paying and otherwise manipulating the system.?
Would you accept that these schools are for social reasons exceedingly difficult to improve and part of the answer must be with a fair intake.

What do you make of the Lottery idea . It strikes me as a good one.

Anonymous said...


If see one more blog post on grammar schools I am going to explode!

hatfield girl said...

It's hard to be sure but the impression given by the commenters is that none of them are of school age.

Thinking of the passionate involvement of continental school pupils in the debates about content and methods of teaching, access to different kinds of schools, and the worth of years of study being theirs not to determine but certainly to assess, it would be interesting and encouraging to hear from those at school here.

David Anthony said...

Just a note, don't you mean 6:00am to 7:30am.

Old BE said...

DC has been incredibly clever with this one - he has pacified the "left" by saying that he doesn't support selection at 11, and also satisfied the "right" that he supports some sort of voucher scheme which the "right" have been calling for for years.

He is right to ignore those who call themselves "traditional Tories" because many of those believe that Conservatism only exists to try and re-create the supposed harmony of the 1950s or possibly even the Victorian era. They forget why people rejected those ideas so comprehensively.

I don't see how Newmania's scheme would solve any of the problems in the inner cities - after all if the middle class kids ended up in schools the parents didn't want them to go to they would move to a new area or go private - which is exactly what they do now!

Man in a Shed said...

"He is right to ignore those who call themselves "traditional Tories" because many of those believe that Conservatism only exists to try and re-create the supposed harmony of the 1950s or possibly even the Victorian era. They forget why people rejected those ideas so comprehensively."

No Ed - people aren't asking for that. Its just spin and smoke being blown in your eyes. What people are asking for is a good education for their children. Let me quote you from an email from one of my relatives on this ( who is a nurse and I suspect votes Labour ):

Since ---- got into grammar school he has been stretched for the first time ever. It is the first school that has shown any interest in him achieving his potential rather than hitting some very average targets. I am very cross.

Elliott said...

"Mr Cameron appears inclined toward a version of the voucher system that
transformed Swedish education when it was introduced in 1992" ... "New schools now comprise 7 percent of the total" ...

15 years. 7 percent. At best, a qualified success.

Old BE said...


You can create as many Grammars as you like but what do you do with the 75% who don't get into Grammars? Secondary Moderns? They were a success weren't they!

Cameron is NOT suggesting keeping the status quo which evidently doesn't work but he's also saying that we can't go back to the 1950s. To coin a phrase "forward not back".

We need to move things forward not hark back to a golden age that never existed.

Re 7% a qualified success - the quantity of new schools is not the primary issue - it's that existing schools know that they must buck up their ideas or lose pupils. It's called competition and it works in every other industry so why not education???

Sackerson said...

Dear "Newmania" (by the way, I'm also an insurance broker, like yourself):

All schools can fall to bits with bad or exhausted leadership, or if carefully targeted and undermined by malign local authorities with a bee in their bonnets about the "privilege" of grammar schools. I can't name names here.

Equally, I believe all bad schools can be turned around, though going up a mountain is much harder than coming down. I taught for a while in a school in Lozells, very shortly pre-Handsworth riots, and you could see the riots coming in the children's behaviour. (By the way, riots are as much for sinister fun and criminal profit as for political motives, whatever the deprivation apologists may say. Participants in the event came from all over, not just within the area. All evil requires is to be unchecked.)

Some deputies hid in a converted stock cupboard (with kettle) and only opened the door a crack to take written messages. A hand would come out (Tales From The Crypt-like), grab the sheet and then the door would close. Lessons took 20 minutes to start, with some children leaving the room as others arrived. Telling off a child resulted in casual accusations of racism. Few expected any good to be achieved, though even in this disaster zone there were brilliant exceptions.

But the year I left, a new head arrived, and consistently cracked the whip with staff and pupils alike. The school transformed. Then he moved on, and it slid again. Now, many years later, it's doing really well - in fact, it's among the top 2% in the country for improvement between Key Stage 2 results (end of junior school) and Key Stage 3.

None of this series of changes had much to do with the presence or absence of middle-class children. Where do people get the idea that middle-class children are instinctively good? They just enjoy the support and encouragement (and tough love) of their parents. It's the orientation that counts.

But it's not only the white middle class that wants the best for their offspring. At another weakly-managed comp a few years ago, I knew a black teacher who was putting up with the working conditions there, to earn the money to pay fees for her 3 children to go to private school. Poor people from ethnic minorities don't want bad education for their children any more than they are happier about the crime they (disproportionately) have to endure in their area.

Roughly, I would say that 5% of children are troublemakers, 20% will go with the flow, and 75% want to get on with learning. If the system expects and assists the teacher to dominate the 5%, the 20% will knuckle under. Radical transformation is possible and there should be no excuses. But it starts with leadership.

I don't have children, but if I did, I'd want to send them to a well-disciplined school with high expectations, wherever it was. Maybe even an African school, wher they value education and where we sent so many containerloads of first-class textbooks in the 60s and 70s. The child who was allowed to be a thug in Lozells would not be tolerated in a Caribbean school. Get the quality of management and teaching right, and you'll get the custom.

I'm not pessimistic about children - their nature is savage and only partially formed, whatever their class. It's political will that counts. What we've got at the moment is a shilly-shallying between selection and its reverse, with many parents opting out of the mess in any way they can - grammars, fee-paying schools or (for the poor) home education. And education is now expected to be such a donkey, carrying all the burdens that others should bear - including parenting and feeding. The system is directed hither and thither, heavily misused and abused. No wonder it doesn't work properly and doesn't seem to be getting anywhere.

Anonymous said...


I dont need evidence that people make better educational establishments then governments. I take that fact completly for granted.

I do think that some out there do not understand how technology has changed not only how imformation is learned but also how it is now used in industry and sociaty.

You dont now need to be a genious anymore to either learn your subject or use your knowledge productivly.

However being able to think for yourself gain and keep ambition, an independant spirit of investigation and a pleasent rounded personality is being stifled by a state Trades Union dominated educational establishment.

Which does not have the will or the ability to change along with the rapidly changing world it now exsists in.

Small is good and even smaller is best of all.

We have now more power and learning potential in one small PC then all the universities in the whole world put together. Inspite of this all our educationists can get excited about is class sizes and the amount of useless politically bias and inspired teachers the government employs for life.

Individual thinking is the way forward for the British people. Let the Chinese do their collective thing its what they are and always have been good at anyway.

I produce 5 times more with a tenth of the staff I had 20 years ago. I get richer quicker and my customers get better value for money. This is because I think for myself and have every incentive so to do. I therefore stay ahead of the game instead of going bust like nearly all my British competition has.

Unfortuately for socialist despotic and other useless or dangerous governments a PC cant vote or indoctrinate young minds.

Anonymous said...

Conservatism only exists to try and re-create the supposed harmony of the 1950s or possibly even the Victorian era.

Funny but that is how I think of Cameron & Co, trying to recreate Edwardian England withtheir secret societies and gentleman's clubs and masonic handshakes while having a good snigger about the lower middle class and its pretensions

Anonymous said...

I suppose if daddy is bunging £1,200 or more for frock coat you do tend to have different thought patterns.

Anonymous said...

Bercow is the sort of burke who's going to prosper in the New Tory Partuy.

Anonymous said...

When Mr Bercow, Mr Cameron and their like finally alienate the last traditional Tory supporter, as they seem set upon doing, who will work in their constituencies to drum up support for them at the next General Election? Will it be these others whom Mr Bercow prefers, the people who are not currently voting Conservative?

This begins to look like hubris, the overweening pride and arrogance with which the Gods madden those who they would destroy.

Newmania said...

Rolf ( salutations fellow sufferer). All very interesting and I have no doubt that all you say is true . The problem is this "Will" will not happen. I have a young son and he will not be attending the schools local to me . We will be leaving London and very many in our position do.
I think you have to address the intake and that was why I suggested the Lottery ( for academic not class homogeneity ),. The fact that failing teachers remain in the system is also a problem that afflicts schools I know .

GaryP- I am certainly coming round to the views you express. I have always been sceptical of introducing the market into education knowing well how irrational and inconstant a market can be. Iains Post is a bit of an eye opener though and I begin to feel perhaps a voucher system is the way forward after all. Setting and good practice of the sort Rolf discusses have got to part of the story as well.

Encouraging to a see a new angle of attack opening up for the Right

Sackerson said...

Dear "Newmania"

I agree that it will not happen, at least not soon.

I was talking about a voucher system to friends and colleagues years ago, before the politicians even started to talk about it. It could have its own problems - in America private schools haven't always provided high-quality education. I think vouchers are not just to spare the middle class the cost of school fees, but so that economically poor parents can have a real choice. The talent needs a leg up and the country needs the talent.

As to leaving London, white flight's been going on for quite some time. I have noted a class of what I call "M4 refugees" migrating along that motorway towards Bath. This includes a number in the media. Good luck, Dad.