Confessions of a Political Animal

September 8, 2008

Education – first, some good news

Filed under: Education,Labour Party,Media — Political Animal @ 12:05 pm
Tags: , , , , ,
Roedean School, Brighton

Roedean School, Brighton

I am working on a post about secondary school diversity (upcoming pretty map alert!) which is making for rather depressing going, so it was good to see two slightly happier pieces of news for the education sector.

Firstly, from today’s Evening Standard we learn that:

Rodean [sic!] [Now corrected by Standard] Roedean head slams Brown for ‘hostility’ to fee-paying

Not that I’d noticed. After all, no-one can accuse Brown of following the Kinnock line that under a Labour government people who wanted to buy an education would be welcome to do so, as long as it was overseas. But no, apparently Brown’s government is pursuing a dangerous socialist plan to destroy private education:

Mrs King [head of Roedean] said: “I sense that he [Gordon Brown] has got a very clear political agenda within which independent schools do not really feature … He is coming from a clear Left approach that is about redistribution of wealth.” The logical conclusion of his position would be to ban private schools, she added.

Excellent. Does she have a date when we can expect the White Paper? It would be very odd after all if a government which wanted to improve educational standards for the most disadvantaged in society saw much of a role for a tiny part of the school sector which catered almost exclusively for pupils from the wealthiest families. Although in fact, last time I checked, the government were very clear that they felt the independent sector had a role in the education sector, particularly in setting up academies.

Of course, reading the full article, we learn that this outbreak of red baiting from Mrs King relates to something far more minor than her totally imagined impending abolition of the independent sector.

New charity laws now require private schools to prove they operate for the wider “public benefit” to justify their £ 100 million- per- year tax breaks. Mrs King said she hoped the Charity Commission would not adopt a bureaucratic approach to the laws. At a local state school, she said, “the child might have been bullied – at my school people are proud to achieve”.

Answers on a postcard as to what on earth that last quote means, please. What she is whinging about is that what are effectively commercial institutions are going to have to pass some stringent tests as to whether they should be allowed the tax advantages of being a charity. And they are obviously worried that proving a public benefit from elitist education might be a bit tricky.

Sadly, it is very hard for us mere mortals to make any kind of judgment as to the benefits that individual independent schools provide. Unlike the state sector, they don’t have to provide us with much information about their intake. But a quick look at the Independent School Inspectorate’s report on a random school – oh look, it’s Roedean – gives us a few pointers.

Pupils’ families are in business or the professions. 

Well strike me down with a feather.

Most pupils entering Year 7 are from preparatory schools and local maintained primary schools.  At 13, a significant number of pupils join from preparatory schools.

Goodness me.

 No pupil has a statement of special educational needs, but the school has identified 71 pupils in need of learning support for learning difficulties or difficulties which include dyslexia, dyspraxia and problems of retention and planning.

That’s out of a total of 766 pupils. The nearest community school to Roedean, Longhill High, has 27% of its GCSE pupils statemented as having special educational needs. So, nice to see that Roedean is so representative of the communities it serves. As far as I can see, Mrs King’s justification for charity status for her school is that (and I paraphrase), posh kids who would get bullied at the comp won’t be here. Meanwhile, if she can point me towards her socialist utopia where Gordon Brown is about to abolish private education, I’d be grateful.

And the second piece of good news: the BBC is reporting that Ed Balls is considering dropping Sats tests from next year. Of course, I’m not really expecting it to happen – so much is trailed by this government and then forgotten about that I have few expectations left – but it is encouraging that the fiasco of this years Sats marking is leading to a wider re-think. Not only do Sats encourage an unimaginative and uninspiring teaching-to-test, which does nothing to prevent pupils from becoming bored and disillusioned with mainstream education and use up valuable teaching time – there is also a severe danger of the exams effectively becoming a new 11+ in disguise. With selection creeping back into the state secondary system, based on the highly nebulous principle of aptitude, primary school Sats results could easily become a backdoor, unofficial (and illegal) method for secondary schools to weed out ‘difficult’ pupils.

So Ed, as far as The Animal is concerned, the abolition or sweeping reform of Sats can’t come soon enough. My age means I missed out on all but one tranche of the tests, but that was enough to convince me of their absolute pointlessness and the waste of teaching time that went with them.






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