(Sir) Michael Barber is an appalling New Labourite who worked hand in glove with David Blunkett, Tony Blair (as head of Blair’s ‘policy unit’ in Downing Street) and Chris Woodhead to ‘drive up standards’ in education through putting in place a nasty regime of league tables, targets, Ofsted bullying and micromanagement of teaching and learning. He then went on to write a book arguing for Prime Ministers to be given even greater powers to ‘drive through’ whatever crackpot policies s/he might come up with around the kitchen table with a group of unelected cronies, eg Barber and Woodhead.
So why on earth does the Guardian still give Barber opportunities to write his useless thoughts on its opinion pages? Yesterday he was at it again.
Lessons From Singapore
We know that the education secretary, Michael Gove, is impressed by Singapore’s education system, and there is indeed much to admire. In Singapore, 15-year-olds are 10 months ahead of those in the UK in English. They are 20 months ahead in maths. South Korea, Japan, Hong Kong and Shanghai match Singapore’s performance. So we most definitely have something to learn from Pacific Asia. The question is what?
At the very moment when Gove is looking east, the east is looking west. Leaders in Pacific Asia are realising that what worked in the last 50 years is not what will be required in the next 50. They have come to the conclusion that their economies need to become more innovative and their schools more creative.
People understand too that while exams are important, the obsession with them among parents can be dangerous.
The man is breathtaking in his hypocrisy. More than anyone else he made a mechanistic approach to teaching English more or less compulsory through the National Literacy Strategy. More than anyone else he made the achievement of arbitrary test and exam scores the be-all and end-all in our schools. He was right behind all the moves to judge schools entirely on the basis of their position in the league tables. Yet here he is telling us that we ought to be educating kids to be creative and innovative.
The Guardian’s strapline on Barber’s article is also utter crap –
Michael Gove is rightly impressed with Pacific Asia’s education system. But he should remember they’re learning from us too
None of the successful East Asian countries give a toss about the British, or rather English, system of education. They have taken their cue from the success of Finland in producing children whose success in the OECD PISA tests is a by-product of their achieving high levels in all of their intelligences, and thereby becoming independent learners and creative and innovative thinkers who know how to apply their knowledge in the real world. This focus on Finland is how Singapore came to develop its “Teach Less, Learn More” strategy for education.
Wake up and take note, Sir Michael.
The Guardian’s letters page today is worth reading.
League-table success based on jumping through hoops
What do these grades actually mean? What do they stand for? To quote one of our children, who got her results yesterday: “You’re given the syllabus and that’s what you learn.” Is this really an education? This hoop-jumping culture is all down to that freedom-crushing behemoth, the league table. Academic league tables push for all young people to learn and perform in a certain way to meet a certain model of success. Young people find little opportunity to grow their own skills and interests, to find their own strengths and values. Thinking for yourself and knowing what you believe and what you’re good at is just as important as passing exams. This knowledge brings confidence, clarity and motivation, which in turn helps young people flourish at work when they leave school or university.
So instead of ranking our schools by the number of A grades they churn out, we think it is time to measure them by their ability to produce self-aware, well-rounded young people capable of independent thought and able to make a positive contribution to society and the world of work, no matter what letters are printed on that results slip.
Richard Addis Founder, The Day, Tom Hickman Founder, The Bridge, Sarah Wrixon Founder, uni’s not for me
Michael Barber (Lessons from Singapore, 23 August) doesn’t mention the role of local education authorities in supporting schools to raise standards. But the coalition, through its free schools and academies programme, has drained so much funding away from councils that local education departments are now being squeezed out of existence. Solihull LEA, for example, shed a further 25 advisory teachers at the end of the summer term, leaving a tiny core – a shadow of a once proud and effective team.
Teachers will now be working without the dispassionate and continuous support of experienced experts whose role was to make trustworthy and productive professional relationships with teachers and managers; to organise subject and management conferences; to lead regular subject, heads of department and management meetings; to identify and disseminate best teaching practice; to identify and work to remedy problem areas of education, such as links between junior and secondary schools; to build national networks with other schools, LEAs and researchers; to provide training in curriculum initiatives; to help develop teaching skills alongside teachers in the classroom; and to offer support in times of school or personal crisis.
Michael Gove is already making the argument that if standards fall, it is because of a more challenging examination regime. In reality it will be because Gove is dismantling schools’ traditional means of advice and support.
Solihull, West Midlands
That GCSE results are down this year should surprise no one. Michael Gove intended that to happen. His declared intention is to have all schools in England contracted to him as academies. Bribing them to become, in effect, government schools is proving increasingly expensive. Force is far cheaper. The way to exert that is to pull some minimum GCSE standard out of the air and require all schools that do not reach it to become an academy. The way to increase the number of schools failing to reach that standard is to make it more difficult to reach. Hence the lower results this year.
Pickering, North Yorkshire
[Peter Newsam is a former Chief Education Officer of the ILEA]