Wednesday, 13 August 2014

Good Intentions

The number of people on the Left who think George Osborne believing cutting the deficit would spur 'a strong enterprise led recovery' makes the lacklustre economic performance of the last five years any more acceptable is about the same as those on the Right who think Gordon Brown's aim of ending boom and bust vindicated his handling of the economy. Fewer still look back at those saying in 2003 'anytime ordinary people are given the chance to choose, the choice is the same: freedom...democracy...the rule of law' and thinks how great it was we dared to dream. In public policy good intentions are not enough, it's results that count.

The commitment of teachers to give every child, rich or poor, the same opportunity to succeed is beyond doubt. As a profession teachers are wounded and frustrated that it's fashionable to call it into question, despite them working long hours in a workplace whose challenges dwarf those faced by ones made up solely of adults. I don't doubt the sincerity of Michael Gove's belief that changing the funding arrangements of schools and tinkering with exams would help that spread of opportunity.

But here's the rub, it's the same policy prescription we've had since the National Curriculum was introduced in 1988 and it hasn't worked. Poverty is still a rocksolid predictor of academic failure. In today's Guardian there's an article about how the gap in university acceptance between pupils whoqualify for free school meals and those that don't has narrowed from30.5% to 29.8%. It's being touted as a special success because realistic fears higher fees would have caused it to grow proved unfounded. It would be funny if it weren't so serious, our tolerance for a society in which those born poor stay that way.

Why is it only in Education that good intentions are enough? If the aim is to make society fairer by expanding opportunity we're clearly not doing it right because we're travelling in the opposite direction. We're long overdue a policy that works.


  1. We blatantly haven't had the same policy prescription since 1988.

  2. Changing funding agreements and assessment criteria is a pretty good summary of the last twenty five years of education policy. You could spin academies as nothing like grant maintained schools, or say that the way we beat schools over the head with their exam results in 1992 is nothing like the way we do it now, but if those differences seem blatant isn't that because they're not contrasted with anything genuinely new?

    The basic rhythm of school, turn up, sit at a desk, do tasks designed to develop your academic skills, hasn't changed and neither has the link between coming from a poor family and leaving with a string of letters that say you failed.

  3. So what you are actually saying is that as schools still give students work and try to get them to learn then nothing has changed? That's a bit like saying that the creation of the NHS wasn't a change in health policy because doctors still treated the sick.

  4. What I'm saying is that they still give them the same type of work and get them to learn the same narrow curriculum. The result of this is that some students are great at everything, they are praised with high grades and as a result they work hard. For others the experience of school is the reverse; continually told they are worse than their peers these students are disengaged from and/or hostile to the process that supposedly has been designed to help them.

    The idea that academic instruction is to Education what treating the sick is to Medicine is baseless. The disadvantage of placing students in a hierarchy of achievement is the demotivation of the majority who have been labelled average or worse. What's the advantage?