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The Education Forum

Labour Ministers and Private Education

John Simkin

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Ruth Kelly has been given an easy ride by the media over her decision to purchase educational provision from the private sector for her son who has special educational needs (dyslexia).

The media and most politicians, Labour and Conservative, have accepted her argument that she is only doing the “best for her child”. This statement only has any meaning if some parents do not want the best for their child.

Ruth Kelly was the educational secretary who helped to close down hundreds of British special schools. She claimed at the time that mainstream state schools could provide an adequate support system for these students. However, it seems she has changed her mind when she discovered that her child has special needs. State schools are not good enough for her child. Her answer is to send her child to an expensive private prep school.

As someone who is in the top 1% of income earners, paying the fees will not cause Ruth Kelly any problems. However, what about the other parents who cannot afford those fees? Does she think they don’t want the best for their children?

The government can quote figures that suggest that large sums of money is being put into special needs education in state schools. Research shows that most of this money is being used for this purpose. Instead, the competitive environment of league tables means that much of this money is being spent on those children whose marginal improvement in SATs will improve a school’s local standing.

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  • 2 weeks later...

I absolutely agree with you - it's just the same over here except we don't yet have SATS and all they bring with them, but our federal govt (a large number of whom send their children to private schools) are working very hard to ensure we do have them by 2008. I have just returned from the Union's national conference in Canberra and one of the keynote speakers was the President of NUT (Judy ?? - my memory fails me). I sat with her at dinner and heard about how most English schools cease all alternative activities for 6 weeks to swot and coach for the tests even though solid research shows that performance pay ultimately does nothing to keep teachers performing any better.

Australia does very well in the international tests for literacy and numeracy (not so good in science which is a real worry) and no amount of testing is going to improve those results much because the low end of the figures come from areas of poverty and indigenous populations.

I spent a lunch hour with Professor Alan Luke who was the architect of the new curriculums in Australia which stress cross-curricular, multi-disciplinary, authentic learning approaches. He is considered the leading authority on curriculum in Australia and has recently returned from 3 years working on curriculum in Singapore and he spends a lot of time in Canada and LA. I admire him because he allows his views to grow and develop and is not a fixed acolyte of any one method.

The difference between countries such as Canada and Finland where there is not the huge differential gap between the results of the poor and the middle class is what he calls a low definition curriculum coupled with high definition professional autonomy and freedom, supported by high level pre-service and in-service training.

His message to this conference was - stop playing "curriculum wars" about what should be taught, cut back on testing, train teachers better, provide better in-service PD, encourage teachers to be intellectuals, pay them more, and pay them in relation to better initial and post-graduate qualifications and in-school competencies (but not test results), provide paid sabbaticals and build the status of the profession. He also noted that all the evidence from the US shows that early intervention and early testing achieves nothing if pedagogy and curriculum isn't right in later years. The US NCLB program has shown this repeatedly. Early reading intervention does not have a hypodermic fix.

If only we could wave a magic wand!!!! However, we will be fighting for these things for as long as it takes.

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One mistake I think a lot of us make is to imagine that educational policy in the UK is actually driven by concerns about education … The provision of education is one of the heaviest costs on the state budget - if you can reduce the amount spent on it, you can spend more on cutting taxes, buying armaments, etc.

The problem is that so many of the voters have children - damn them! And these incredibly biased parents make unreasonable demands on politicians that education should actually work …

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