Tag Archives: David Cameron

Waging War on Mediocrity – The Education Plans

So, just in case people didn’t know, there’s an election coming up, and all the politicians we’ve all come to love or completely despise (yes looking at you here Mr Gove) all come up with their remarkable promises that pretty much every single time they don’t stick to (take the Lib Dems and university tuition fees).

So what’s been happening this time round? Well Mr Cameron promises that in a Conservative government, there will be no cuts to the schools budget in cash terms. He also promised that he would provide an additional £7bn for places for the rising number of pupils due to the baby boom we’ve had over the past few years. Well on the face of it, that sounds all rather nice, yay no cuts. But wait … hang on a minute. He said ‘in cash terms’, which means that it doesn’t increase in line with inflation, so in ‘real terms’ what he’s actually saying is that he is actually cutting the schools budget.

Another promise that came up concerned schools becoming academies. This was initially a Labour ideal but the Tories have brought it on further. Mr Cameron says he is ‘waging war on the mediocrity of our schools’ and he believes academies are the solution. What I find interesting about this is that Tristram Hunt, the Shadow Education Secretary, who represents the party that started this whole academy process off, suggested that this isn’t the only solution. Say what you like about academies, but for me there is genuinely not enough evidence to suggest that academies have been an effective way to solve our education issues. What Mr Cameron wants to do is make more schools that aren’t rated Good or Outstanding by Ofsted become academies in a bid to improve standards. But how reliable are Ofsted’s judgements? We constantly hear them come under fire from all directions from teachers to parents and unions. I personally have been a pupil and taught in several schools rated from what is now ‘requires improvement’ to ‘outstanding’ and in some cases have not seen a difference in ones that require improvement and outstanding schools, so begs the question of why the inconsistency. There are also schools out there, such as schools that specialise in SEN, where the progress targets are not so easy to meet.

Talking of Tristram Hunt and Labour, they also came under fire today with a pledge that has leaked out with regards to the tuition fees. I took a bit of a swipe in my intro at the Lib Dems putting the cost up to £9000 per year, well Labour want to do something about this by reducing the fees down to £6000 per year. Once again this sounds really good and will certainly ease the cost of higher education. However, if you work out the costings of all of that, it works out that over the next Parliament, Labour would have to find somewhere in the region of £12bn to pay for it, so the burning question in my mind is ‘how do you propose to pay for that?’ We all know the common answers: increase taxes, cut spending in other areas, or do a Gordon Brown and go on a borrowing binge. Why not get a loan of £12bn from Wonga? Not like we have a high national debt right?

I’ll be honest, what I’m getting from all of this is that we’re not going to see anything particularly positive with regards to our beloved education anytime soon no matter who we elect into our next Parliament. All the more reason for me to not really want to vote for anyone because noone is able to make a positive difference.

Charge of the Teach Brigade

With elections not too far away now, and important issues and pledges being made thick and fast in a mad rush to persuade voters, it is little surprise to see an education pledge appearing from the Tories, who in many respects are looking to move beyond just talking about Europe and immigration.

Prime Minister David Cameron has pledged that he will create an elite squad of high quality teachers in what he calls a National Teaching Service to go into what are described as ‘failing schools’, of which there are estimated to be around 500. These people will also be given the power to remove the schools’ leadership if it is deemed necessary. In order to do this, Mr Cameron says that he will be consulting a team of of ‘experts’ to help develop such a package.

It is the first initiative Cameron has undertaken with the new education secretary, Nicky Morgan, drafted into the cabinet to replace the unpopular Michael Gove. Morgan said that it had become necessary to “go further” and target schools where she said “failure has become ingrained”. She added: “We will not tolerate failure, and where we find it we will use tried and trusted interventions to turn things around in the interests of young people everywhere.”

The regional commissioners were largely developed by Gove as he realised the rapid extension of city academies meant the department for education was directly responsible for the oversight of thousands of academy and free schools in what was rapidly becoming an act of unwieldy centralisation.

Under the new model, the commissioners will be able to order immediate personnel changes to governing bodies, introduce standard punishment tariffs for bad behaviour, and bring in behaviour experts to implement new policies on classroom discipline, school uniform standards and homework. They would also have powers to make “immediate personnel changes to the governing body to improve the calibre of leadership and ensure they have the skills they need to improve”. Ofsted has largely been left to rate schools, but there was no systematic means of improving schools’ performance. It is not yet clear how the new commissioners would work with the under-fire Ofsted under the Conservative plans.

Last week it emerged that Gove had discussed how to remove Sir Michael Wilshaw as chief inspector of schools, but he responded on Friday, vowing to carry on in his position and claiming that he was a victim of “smear campaigns”.

The former education secretary David Blunkett, in a report in May to the current shadow education secretary, Tristram Hunt, had proposed a new, more democratic, middle-tier body to oversee improvement of local schools led by a new local Directors of School Standards. The proposal was largely modelled on the successful London Challenge responsible for improving school standards in the capital. Hunt, just back from studying the widely praised Singapore education system, added:“Ministers are now trying to play catch-up but the public will see that it is this government’s damaging schools policy that has failed pupils.”

So basically, Cameron’s idea is a Salvation Army of Teaching. Who are these so-called high quality teachers and what makes them stand out? If our education system is supposed to be of high quality, shouldn’t all of our teachers be qualified to be in this particular group? How is it going to feel if you have been consistently praised as an outstanding teacher for years on end, only to not even be considered for such a position? Am I the only one who thinks this has the potential for damaging the already battered and bruised morale of most of the teaching profession? If that happens, then there will be more and more people trying to leave the profession instead of joining it. We have a shortage enough, why make the situation worse? Ofsted are already under fire, so do we really want another mini Ofsted as well? I remain to be convinced of 1) how this is going to work and 2) where it fits into an already awkward system.

Super mum! An inspiring tale!

I wanted to bring you an inspiring story about a mother who had to deal with both of her sons suffering at the hands of school bullies. This mother didn’t just sit and watch, she took action. Now she has a nomination to be Tesco Mum of the Year.

Seeing her sons become victims at the hands of school bullies was more than Michele Fudge could bear. The constant physical and psychological abuse which saw the family forced to move house and her youngest son suffer an eating disorder at the age of ten and even consider suicide, made her determined to change the system.

She decided to take action, not just for her own sons but for all victims of bullying, by setting up Silent Voice in 2006, a charity which helps victims and their families but also campaigns for changes to legislation. Now she has been shortlisted for the Tesco Mum of the Year award, nominated by her youngest son Scott, now 24.

“Children are dying at the hands of children because of bullying and that has got to stop,” says the 53-year-old mother-of-three from Rotherham. The more she discovered about how the victims of bullying were being treated the more angry she became. Children are being given powerful drugs just to calm them down enough to get through the school gates and that is wrong. They are developing eating disorders, OCD, anxiety and being labelled as having mental health problems which can affect them for the rest of their lives, but no one is associating that with the fact they have been bullied.”

One of Michele’s major achievements, she says, has been to get the Government to change its No Blame policy when it comes to bullying. “I met David Cameron and Michael Gove when they were in opposition and asked them if they would get rid of the No Blame policy when they were in power and they agreed. And they have stuck to their word.”

A “no blame” policy means that victims and perpetrators of bullying were brought together and told that no one is to blame for what has happened but that they need to work it out.

“Bullies have to be held accountable for their actions. I would like to see a system where the parents of bullies are informed about what is happening and are made to work with the school to ensure it stops,” says Michele.

Steven was just seven when he was first bullied at a school. When the school failed to take action, the Fudges decided their only course of action was to move house so that Steven could attend a different school away from the bullies and their friends. But when Scott was a similar age he too became a victim of the bullies.

“I was bullied because of the colour of my hair to start with, but if I hadn’t been ginger it would have been something else,” says Scott. The physical and mental bullying became so bad, and Michele felt the school hadn’t taken enough action, that she took her son out of school.

“We didn’t have a choice,” she says. Scott was suffering from bulimia, the bullies had knocked his self-esteem and he became very low. He spent six months out of education, but Michele couldn’t get any funding to help educate Scott. “The money stays at the school even if the child isn’t there. I think that is wrong. It should follow the child and be given to charities that help educate them when they aren’t in school. It would also give an incentive for the schools to sort the problems 
out and get the bullied children back into school.”

Scott says the support of his mum and strong friendships have helped him come through the worst of the effects of bullying, but he still gets low if he thinks about what happened to him. “I think I am quite a strong person and I realised that it wasn’t my fault that I was being bullied, but it is hard when you are going through it to see light at the end of the tunnel. But what bullied people – it’s not just children – need to remember is their own sense of identity – they mustn’t let the bullies steal that. At one stage because I was bullied because I was ginger I dyed my hair black. But I soon realised how important it was for me to be me and that’s my advice to anyone who finds themselves a victim.”

Scott nominated his mum for the Tesco Mum of the Year Awards, not only because he felt she deserved it, but because he wanted to raise the profile of bullying. “Bullying, and the severe effects it can have on someone’s health, just aren’t talked about enough,” he says. “I want there to be open, frank and honest discussions in schools and with parents and at Government level about what is happening before more children take their own lives,” says Scott who, despite the bullies’ best attempts, has since gone on to gain an honours degree in Public Health Nutrition from Sheffield Hallam University.

Michele says she had no idea Scott had nominated her for the award which will be announced in the New Year. “When the lady rang me from Tesco I thought she was trying to sell me insurance or it was something to do with my Clubcard. But then she explained that I had been nominated for Mum of the Year and I couldn’t believe it. It would be lovely to win, but it isn’t just about me, it is about the victims of bullying and the action that must be taken to make due that children stop killing children.”

Michele also wants to see an end to parents being prosecuted because their children are truanting due to being bullied. “We’ve had parents outside courtrooms in Doncaster for truanting. Every single person was bullied. It was on their records,” says Michele. “Some families are hauled back into court time and time again. Legal aid was stopped by the last government for education cases like this and that means that children are once again being punished. ”

She says that the money spent on those prosecutions could be better used by charities such Lifewise or In2Change, a charity that helps the rehabilitation of ex-prisoners by involving them in running courses on all sorts of issues, including bullying.

She is a big fan of work that is being done by the Lifewise Centre in Hellaby, Rotherham and the Crucial Crew education programme that was set up by the police and fire services and other organisations. South Yorkshire schools can take children to the centre, which has life-sized street scenes in it used to enact scenarios, to learn about all aspects of safety. Online bullying can be tackled using the centre’s computer suite.

“I would like David Cameron to come up to South Yorkshire to see the work that is being done here. Any anti-bullying work needs to be undertaken by people the children, especially the bullies, relate to and will listen to. We need to take action and we need to take it quickly before more children are driven to take their own lives.”

Blackhurst: Bring Free Grammar Schools back!

Free Grammar Schools seem to be a thing of the past these days, what with all of them being converted into state comprehensive schools or being closed down. Well in the independent today, former editor Chris Blackhurst reminisces and believes that it is about high time that these schools came back from the dark ages and into the present day. Here is what he says;

When we were shown round Tiffin Girls School in Kingston, south-west London, our guide was a sixthformer who lived in Stockwell. To those who don’t know London, that is a lengthy commute, involving different trains and buses.
After my daughter later succeeded in winning a place at the school, one of her friends was from Shepherd’s Bush, a daily journey that also defies contemplation. Again, when the son of a friend sat the entrance exam for Tiffin Boys, his neighbour in the examination hall hailed from Kent – if he got in, the family was going to move.

For anyone familiar with any of our remaining 164 state grammar schools these tales are old hat. The fact is: parents will do anything they can to get their sons and daughters in. Private coaching? Absolutely, if they can afford it. Long daily trek? Certainly. Relocating the home? If needs be.

In Kingston, where I live, stories abound of the lengths and sacrifices people will make. There’s one that does the rounds of the boy who flew over from India to do the Tiffin exam. If he was successful, his parents and siblings were going to sell up and emigrate to London.

It’s easy to mock such behaviour as pushy parenting gone mad, as fathers and mothers who crave exam success for their children above everything else. There is, it is true, something objectionable about it. But dig a little deeper and it’s apparent they are chasing something more.

Yes, of course, they’re pursuing a bevy of excellent grades with the prospect of a good university on the end of them. But they’re also seeking a self-confidence, an ability to make career choices, to get on in life that they believe is shut off to their children elsewhere.

Except in the private schools. But they can’t or won’t pay for those, so they chase an elusive spot at a grammar school.

In his speech, the former Prime Minister Sir John Major said he was “outraged on behalf of the people abandoned when social mobility is lost.” The Prime Minister’s response to Major’s clear attack on the domination of public life by a private school elite was to say, “what counts is not where you come from but where you are going”.

For David Cameron, educated at Eton and Oxford, having a say in where that route takes him is a given. From birth he was always going to determine what he did – perhaps not the job of Prime Minister but one of a senior politician.

I’ve been similarly fortunate. I did not go to Eton but to a school that operated along equivalent lines, where the teachers wore gowns, we had a Latin option, and we regularly sent pupils to Oxbridge. I went to a boys’ grammar school, long since closed and turned into a comprehensive. For free, I had what amounted to a private education. We had all the trappings of a fee-paying school but without the fees.

My classmates came from all parts of the town, from all backgrounds. Pass the 11-plus and you were in, and on your way. It was a cruel system: failure, unless the child was fortunate enough to gain entry to the grammar school in the sixth form, could signal being consigned to the educational scrapheap. That was the reason why, when my grammar school was abolished, I actually welcomed it. I had witnessed at first hand the pain the 11-plus caused, to my sister and others, how divisive and unfair it was.

Getting rid of elite schools like mine, so ending the tyranny of the 11-plus, appeared to be the answer. But the government did only half the job. The grammars were axed because they were exclusive and the preserve of the affluent middle class (they were open to everyone but there’s no denying the preponderance of children from the better-heeled areas). However, ministers allowed another type of school, equally exclusive and even more of a preserve of the affluent middle class to remain.

It’s arguable, of course, whether the government has the power to terminate the independent schools. But while the fee-payers remained, there was always a need for institutions that could match them, that supplied their students with the same advantages and opportunities. There never was any threat towards the fee-payers, but by removing the free selective grammars an imbalance was created. The successor comps could not step into that vacated space, and the private schools grew ever stronger and pulled away.

The result, as Major highlighted, has been a damning and shaming lack of mobility. It was a mistake to imagine the grammars were all about exams. Indeed, Major, who obtained just three O-levels at his south-west London grammar (now a comprehensive) and went on to become Prime Minister is proof of that. He was able to rub shoulders with boys from Eton, Harrow and the like in the higher echelons of the Conservative Party precisely because he had been to a grammar school.

The other evening, three of us met for dinner in London’s West End. One has his own, hugely successful computer consultancy. The other is very high-up in one of our giant pharma groups. And there was me.

We talked about our home town, the grammar school we all attended, our class mates and how well many of them had done, and how far we’d come. We were, we agreed, extremely fortunate. We’d been able to compete on level terms with people that had gone to famous, posh, private schools. It did not cross our minds that we were somehow inferior – neither, crucially, did it cross the minds of those who awarded our university places or employed us.

There was nothing wrong with scrapping grammar schools. But it was wrong to allow the independent schools to continue. They should have shut both types of school or not at all. The feepayers are never going to disappear.

On that basis, the free grammar schools should be restored – otherwise, as Major rightly said, all we will be left with is a “Victorian divide between stagnation and aspiration”.

Goves policies based on his own educational experiences

Michael Gove’s policies are “entirely derived from his own educational experience” and wrongly assume that all children from poor backgrounds can “rise to the top”, according to former Conservative education secretary Lord Baker.

In outspoken comments, Lord Baker, who served as education secretary under Margaret Thatcher, also said that prime minister David Cameron was “not really all that interested in education” and that the views of all prime ministers on education were “irrelevant”.

“Michael Gove is a very dominant education secretary whose policies are entirely derived from his own educational experience,” Lord Baker said. “Michael Gove had a tough upbringing and he believes if he did it, anybody in the country could do what he did: whether they’re orphans, whether they’re poor, whether they’re impoverished, they can all rise to the top. Well that is not actually true, and that is dominating the attitude of a key minister in government.”

His comments, reported by Civil Service World, came in response to a lecture at the Cass Business School in London earlier this week.

In recent years, Lord Baker has spearheaded the opening of university technical colleges, which combine academic and vocational studies for 14 to 19 year-olds. “David Cameron, I like his views on education because he agrees with me, and he supports the technical school movement that I’ve launched in the last four or five years, but he is not really all that interested in education, frankly,” Lord Baker added on Tuesday.

“My experience of prime ministers and their views on education is that they’re not worth listening to, quite frankly,” he said. “They invariably extrapolate from their own experience, which is totally irrelevant.”

“Whether they’ve been to a state school or a public school, university or not, their views are totally out of date, in my experience,” he added.

Lady Thatcher had not talked about her own time as education secretary with him as “she was rather ashamed of it, because she signed the death of more grammar schools than any other secretary of state since the war,” Lord Baker said. “She was inveigled by her civil servants to support that, and regretted it immensely and wanted to try and reinvent the model.”

On appointing him education secretary, Lady Thatcher told Lord Baker to “please go away and work out some ideas, and come and see me in two months’ time,” he said.

“That was the brief I had from Margaret Thatcher. I had my own ideas, I put a few to her then, like schools in local authorities, more technical education. She said: ‘I like all that, work it all up, work it up’. She didn’t have an agenda for education, but she wanted something done because industry was complaining about the state of education in the country,” he said.

At last someone has finally come out and said exactly what I’ve been saying as soon as Gove came into power. I’m glad I’m not the only one who has noticed this …

‘Speakers for Schools’ returns!

Politicians, supermodels and sports stars will be blitzing state schools next week in the hope of passing on some of their tips for success to the next generation. This initiative marks the second anniversary of the founding of “Speakers for Schools” – set up by BBC economics editor Robert Peston as an attempt to provide young people in secondary schools across the UK with access to inspirational speakers.

The glittering array of the speakers will include Prime Minister David Cameron, his deputy Nick Clegg and Labour’s shadow Home Secretary Yvette Cooper, from the world of politics, as well as supermodel Lily Cole, Nicholas Hytner, the executive director of the National Theatre, the former director of MI5 Eliza Manningham-Buller, ex-England rugby player Will Greenwood and Wimbledon winner Andy Murray’s mother, Judy.

The week coincides with the launch of the i’s campaign to persuade more state schools to make use of inspirational alumni to inspire the current generation of young people in our schools.

“The more confident and ambitious our young people can become, the better placed Britain will be to meet the profound economic challenges ahead,” said Mr Peston.

Andrew Law, chairman of the charity’s board of trustees, who will return to his old school, Cheadle Hulme High in Manchester, added: “Young people today face many challenges and this research shows that, while remaining optimistic about their futures, many lack the confidence to aim high and unlock their full potential.”

The week-long series of visits also coincides with the results of a survey of 15 to 18-year-olds showing there is still optimism amongst those approaching the school leaving age about their prospects for the future.

While 69% were anxious about the future and 62% were not confident about finding jobs, 83% have faith that hard work will allow them to achieve in life. In addition, seven out of ten still want to go to university.

Can you imagine what would happen if Michael Gove went on this scheme! I wonder how much he would get heckled and that’s just when he walks through the door! I would imagine most schools wouldn’t even know who Nick Clegg is so I’m curious to know what top tips he has to share: ‘I’m the leader of a party noone turns to. To succeed in politics you need to break promises about tuition fees and join forces with a party that doesn’t support any of our policies.’

I definitely don’t agree with a supermodel being involved in all of this, especially given my post yesterday about body image. Why would you want someone who is involved in the very industry that causes teenage girls to lose self-esteem doing a speech that is supposed to be inspirational about their field? I guess I’m biased though …

David Cameron: Earn or Learn! No Handouts!

The under-25s will be stripped of their benefits to ensure they either ‘earn or learn’, David Cameron announced yesterday.

Unveiling a new crackdown on welfare, the Prime Minister said young people will no longer be able to ‘opt for a life on benefits’. The plans will mean that school leavers either have to take a job or an apprenticeship or remain in education or training. Those who refuse will face sanctions, including the loss of out-of-work benefits.

At the moment, those who refuse to take a job or an offer of a training place can lose their job seeker’s allowance (JSA), but the Tories plan to toughen that policy by also slashing or removing housing benefit payments if the under-25s refuse to co-operate.

Mr Cameron and Deputy Prime Minister Nick Clegg have asked Cabinet Secretary Sir Jeremy Heywood to draw up a report into training and education for the under-25s.

Under existing rules, young jobless people lose their benefits if they train for more than 16 hours a week. As a result, the system pays them if they are not in training – but stops supporting them when they do.

The Heywood review is looking at ways to support young people after they have started training programmes. Sir Jeremy will report back in the autumn.

I can see why the government want to cut back on welfare spending, when you consider it’s a significant chunk of government budget, but reducing benefits isn’t going to inspire people into work or training. Instead all it will do is drive more and more people below the poverty line. Take Spain as an example. They have a 26% unemployment rate, and half of that statistic are the 16-25 year olds. Do our government want to end up down the same route? Is this research into other economies a bit like the ‘research’ into other countries’ education systems that informed our new curriculum? I worry that this is another ploy to support the rich at the expense of the poor. Are we going to go back into the days of Robin Hood?