It seems Conservative Central Office forgot to check the date of Primary schools “offer week” in England. With immaculate timing the Conservative party’s election manifesto was published this week, with its first statement on education as follows: “We will ensure a good primary school place for your child, with zero tolerance for failure”. So that’s a fail.
There’s a national shortage of Primary school places and 13% of parents failed get their first choice of primary school.
So much for “Parent Power”.
Zero tolerance is an interesting idea in the context of individual children and young people. What does it actually mean? Will schools refuse to teach children who “fail”? Will schools be closed and teachers sacked in droves if 99% of their young people achieve examination “success”?
It’s preposterous but it’s indicative of the Conservatives’ inability to see children and young people as individuals and not as commodities in a scoring game which is so central to their party’s education pledges.
The three other headline statements in the manifesto are,
- Turn every failing and coasting school into an academy . . . and deliver free schools for parents and communities that want them
- Help teachers to make Britain the best country . . . for developing maths, engineering, science and computing skills
- Create 3 million new apprenticeships . . . and have no cap for university places
Three brief comments on each of these:
- What do they suggest happens to the failing and coasting academies and free schools?
- What about making Britain the ‘best’ country for the humanities, the arts, creativity, innovation, sport, etc?
- Do they intend to offer apprenticeships to young people as part of their zero tolerance for failing tests policy?
Any increase in apprenticeships is to be applauded, but in all seriousness it’s rather late in the day to highlight the needs of those who aren’t academically successful or who choose a skill-based vocation. The entire education policy of the coalition has been driven by the “standards agenda” with no real reference to the entire range of learning needs of children – an agenda imposed to the detriment of young peoples’ wellbeing.
Other key points from the Tory education manifesto:
- Continue with reforms
- Introduce tough new standards for literacy and numeracy
- Every 11 year old to know their times tables off by heart
- Read a book and write a short story using correct spelling, grammar and punctuation
- Resitting of SATs in Y7 if they fail to “reach the standard” in Y6
- All pupils to take EBACC. Failure to do so would prevent schools being judged as “outstanding”
- Expand National Leaders of Education programme
- Open 500 new free schools
- Introduce new powers to “force” coasting schools to accept new leadership
- Any school judged by Ofsted “requiring improvement” will be taken over
- Protect existing funding and continue Pupil Premium
- Not allow state schools to make a profit
- Reduce teacher time spent on paperwork
- Increase number of teachers who can teach Mandarin
- Support an independent College of Teaching
- Train an extra 17,500 maths and physics teachers over 5 years
- Continue to tackle bullying and stop exposure to harmful sexualised content online
- Ensure there’s a “University Technical College” in reach of every city
- Continue to improve Further Education through a network of National Colleges
- Remove cap on higher education student numbers
- Introduce national post-graduate loan system for “taught” masters and PhD courses
To read the education manifesto in full, click here and scroll to page 33.
The changes to education policy and practice between 2010 and 2015 were arguably the most radical component of the coalition government – and in our opinion not for the better. Michael Gove was able to increase the range and scope of his powers as Secretary of State, to build his empire and create a powerbase for future Secretaries of State for Education on foundations laid by New Labour.
The reason there’s little that’s worthy of comment in this Conservative education manifesto is that the Tories have already done so much to affect the real purpose of education. Within days of them securing power in 2010 the word in the education department was that “Every Child Matters” was never to be mentioned again, ever – and so it came to be.
We’ve already published our views on the test and test again policy, and on the high-stakes testing regime that’s so dominant in the education system in England. Yet this zero tolerance mentality takes us to a point of astonishment. Disregarding individual children’s rates of progress (and suggesting there’s a causal link between results at KS2 and GCSE) is dangerous, divisive and damaging to children’s educational attainment and wellbeing.
Primary school teachers work hard every day to enable children to “read a book and write a short story using correct spelling, grammar and punctuation”. It’s what we do. We won’t do it any better or more willingly if it’s mentioned in an election manifesto.
500 new free schools? Sweden is doing everything it can to reverse this failed policy.
“Introduce new powers to force coasting schools to accept new leadership” and “Any school judged by Ofsted requiring improvement will be taken over”. What’s new about these?
Thanks to Mr Gove these powers already exist. Coercion from the band of brothers that are the Regional Schools Commissioners is already felt in many schools that “require improvement” according to the narrow judgements on academic success imposed by Ofsted.
And you can forget collaboration when one uses words such as “force”. How does that fit with a policy of autonomy?
Once they’ve found all those Mandarin speakers to teach in English schools are they going to find specialists in Cantonese too – the language of Hong Kong? We’re all for learning new languages, including those of Asian countries, but if you’re thinking of this in economic terms, why single out Mandarin? The other BRIC countries don’t speak Mandarin. Why not Portuguese, Russian or one of the many languages of India?
As we’ve already seen, the Tory commitment to “reducing paperwork” has led to no action whatsoever, other than an acknowledgement that the bureaucracy is unmanageable. But heigh ho . . . c’est la vie.
IF you want more of the same, then this manifesto is for you. If you want a progressive reinvention of education in England to make it fit for purpose in the 21st Century, then there’s nothing here for you.
We need to briefly mention the UKIP education manifesto.
If elected, UKIP would
- Ease teachers’ workload by cutting down on assessments, data collection and appraisals
- Scrap teachers’ Performance Related Pay
- Abolish KS1 SATs
- End sex education for primary school children
- Bring back grammar schools
- Waive tuition fees for STEM subjects
- Make First Aid part of a National Curriculum
For the full version, click here and scroll to page 28.
On a positive note, we like their opening statement that “Education must be responsive to individual needs”, which goes on to say “Children have widely different aptitudes and capabilities and, crucially, they develop at different rates. Our school system and our whole approach to education should be more flexible than it is now.”
They introduce their manifesto by saying that “good teachers are paramount” but stop short of saying all teachers should have QTS. They comment on the “importance of primary education” – “when the pattern for learning is laid down and when literacy and good social skills are established.” We like some of their other policies, such as reversing the closure of special schools.
The statement they make about KS1 SATs is equally pertinent to KS2 SATs – “these tests have destructive, unintended consequences: they encourage ‘teaching to the test,’ they narrow the curriculum and, often, they put pressure on teachers to concentrate disproportionate resources and time on borderline pupils. Worst of all, these tests create anxiety for everyone – children, teachers, parents, school governors – at exactly the time when children should be learning to learn, to enjoy the experience and to think of school as a fun and rewarding place to be.”
As it happens, formal high-stakes KS1 tests were discontinued years ago, though published SATs tests are used at the discretion of individual schools as a means of moderating their own KS1 teacher assessment. If UKIP are referring to the formal Year 1 phonics tests then we’d agree with removing those.
We disagree with their comments about sex education, and they begin to come into their own with their views on elitist grammar schools. Whilst we welcome their commitment to vocational education, when placed in conjunction with their commitment to grammar schools one has a strong sense of a return to the 1950s with all the problems of a divided system of secondary education.
We don’t agree with their views on International Students and the proposed abolition of the fee loans for students born within EU countries.
One has to give them credit, though, for at least listening to educators throughout the country, though they can obviously afford to offer some positive pledges as a party that won’t be in government.