A little over a week ago I was present to hear Conservative MP & Shadow Minister for Schools Nick Gibb address an invited audience – largely made up of Head teachers, Chairs of Governors, and others with an involvement in schools, at Glaziers Hall, in London, courtesty of solicitors Winckworth Sherwood Winckworth Sherwood – Tories aim to boost ‘prestige and esteem’ of teaching
He presented a short outline of future plans for “Schools under the Conservatives”.
His talk focussed on structure and standards, with some of the key points arising being:
- the introduction of new “not-for-profit” providers who will establish schools using the academy model; plans are already under way under the New Schools Network;
- the extension of academy status to other schools who wish to obtain it;
- planning laws are to be altered to facilitate the establishment of new schools;
- school heads are to be given more freedom, with powers being devolved to them; the right to appeal against exclusions to the local independent appeal panel is to be abolished;
- there will be no “voucher” system and there are no plans to curtail the admissions current code;
- BSF schemes which have reached financial close will be guaranteed but there could be no guarantee for other schemes given the current national budget situation.
(abstract e-mailed to me by Winckworth Sherwood)
Now I’m no Tory – and it’s perhaps to be expected that I wasn’t overly impressed, but having mulled this over for a while, I started to come round to thinking that what was lacking from these proposals was not so much content, as a little bit of enthusiasm. There is actually plenty in there to make voters sit up and think – if only it was presented more enticingly.
It’s not about chucking out the progress that Labour has made; and it does promise a fairly radical expansion of the academies scheme – which although many on the left oppose, is seen by a large number of voters as a positive development.
It also puts paid to the voucher system – thus demonstrating that there’s no lurch to the right, and that if independent providers want to educate pupils from the state sector then they’ll need to run state schools – again a fair bit of “progressive” thinking- especially considering that this is the Conservative Party
Whether you like those ideas or not, there should be plenty there to sell to the electorate.
I do think the abandonment of BSF would be a disaster – and feel that this could possibly be challenged in law – but to be fair, I’m not exactly part of the Tories’ core vote strategy – and this policy is in line with their plans for radical spending cuts sooner rather than later. No matter how I disagree with them, there’s clearly a consistency with their wider aims there.
Of course since then there have been all kinds of hiccups for the Conservatives – criticism of the campaign, narrowing poll leads, the furore over Lord Ashcroft’s tax status etc.
I was nevertheless shocked to read Michael Gove’s proposals for education on the Times website today Gove unveils Tory plan for return to ‘traditional’ school lessons – Times Online – coming a mere 10 days after I’d heard Nick Gibb spell out a very different picture.
Now Michael Gove – Shadow Secretary of State for Children – says they’re going to :
- Instruct children to learn poetry by heart , in a return to a “traditionalist” education, with children sitting in rows, learning the kings and queens of England, the great works of literature, proper mental arithmetic, algebra by the age of 11, and modern foreign languages.
- Rewrite the national curriculum to restore past methods of teaching history, English, maths and science
- Teach History “in order” – as a narrative
- Put more emphasis on the classics in English classes
Mr Gove says that Teachers entering the profession “don’t love abstract thinking skills”, but that “what draws people into teaching is that they love history or physics, and they want to communicate that love“
He goes on “A lot of the ‘great tradition’ is locked in a cupboard marked ‘too difficult’ and that’s quite wrong. I’ve been talking to the RSC about bringing Shakespeare into primary schools,”
Mr Gove asserts that “Most parents would rather their children had a traditional education, with children sitting in rows, learning the kings and queens of England”
I don’t know how he knows this – certainly it’s not what I want as a parent, not that anyone’s ever asked me.
It does all rather remind me though of another chapter in Conservative education. A period between 1992 and 1994 in which the then Education Secretary John Patten wrote to all teachers in state schools extolling the virtues of formal “traditional” teaching – sitting in rows, as researched by one Neville Bennett in his work ” Teaching Styles and Pupil Progress blissfully unaware that most if not all qualified teachers had studied Bennett’s work – and also knew of his later work in which he cast doubt over his original findings.
It was a difficult time for the Conservatives – the approach to education being part of the wider “Back to Basics” campaign. There’s lots of stuff out there on the Internet to read about it - make a start with the Wikipedia entry Back to Basics – Wikipedia, the free encyclopedia which commences thus :
“Back to Basics was an ill-fated attempt to relaunch the government of British Prime Minister John Major in 1993…
… the initiative was intended to focus on issues of law and order, education and public probity (especially single mothers) … was widely interpreted as a moral campaign, and hence was ridiculed by political opponents”
So – when the going gets tough, it would appear that the Tories lurch to the right, and go back to the tried and tested. Except that when it was tested – it failed miserably and disastrously.
If this is Michael Gove’s honest approach to Education policy, then it is sadly misguided, and frankly more than a little stupid.
The Tories election campaign is rapidly becoming a train wreck