basic skills in reading and maths · BBC 2's Newsnight · Mrs Neville-Rolfe · Professor Dylan Wiliam · the Economist

Read my lips, LibLabCon: it’s the basics wot count!

Returning to my previous posting, a poll commissioned by the Newsnight programme was shocking in a number of ways. According to Newsnight, despite current spending reaching £86 billion a year – a 72% increase since 1977 -, two thirds of people ‘don’t think the government has invested our money on education in the most effective way’. The statistics taken from the international rankings would seem to support this: we have now slipped to seventeenth in the international tables in reading and to twenty-fourth in maths. This, as Professor Dylan Wiliam from the Institute of Education makes clear, is bad news because, as he says, ‘there’s an extraordinarily strong link between economic prosperity and educational achievement’.
And yet, half the schools inspected by Ofsted are not ‘providing up to a good standard’. This week’s Economist declares that ‘10% of the 2,140 schools it assessed in the four months to the end of December were inadequate, a category that might more accurately be termed “dire” ‘. At the same time, Lucy Neville Rolfe, director of corporate and legal affairs at TESCO, has also weighed into the debate about education by criticising ‘the standards of many school-leavers’. In an article in the Daily Mail, she claims that ‘growing numbers of British school-leavers have “attitude problems” and believe the world “owes them a living” ‘. This is exemplified by the fact that she says too many young people turn up late for work or for interviews, fail to dress appropriately for the occasion and are unable to work in teams. All this, as well as the fact that many can’t read and write or do basic maths.
With four hundred ‘no qualification’ jobs disappearing every day, the inability to raise achievement for the fifty percent of children leaving school each year with inadequate educational qualifications is a disgrace.
That said, you’d think the opposition parties would be knocking Labour into a cocked hat on the whole question of education. You’d be wrong! Since last year the Conservatives have slipped ten percentage points in polls asking people which party has the better educational policies, while Labour has increased from 25% to 27%. So, why, if Labour has been such a disaster have they now taken a slight lead over the Conservatives?
Andrew Hawkins, one of the pollsters, summarised it in stark terms. He said

“To talk about Swedish style free schools, it’s a mouthful. People don’t understand the concepts and the problem that … the Conservatives have got are that they’re in danger of complicating the issue. They need one or two high profile policies that are easy to communicate to people who are worried about their children’s education. And, it may be a great model to look at but it’s not been communicated that well to the public.”

A classic example of understatement!
All the focus at the moment seems to be on secondary schools and there is, it’s true, a huge problem with indiscipline and with fewer than fifty percent of children achieving five good GCSEs including maths and English. The fact is that unless whoever governs the country after the next election sorts out the underachievement at primary level, which is being masked by the ridiculous and discredited SATs tests, problems at secondary level will continue unabated.
Read my lips: Boost the benchmark in the three Rs!