Monday, September 03, 2007

Educashun, educashun, educashun

At long last, the Tories are beginning to think of some policies. Their education ideas are being floated at the moment and include two ideas worth thinking about. I'm not sure whether they will be useful or even desirable, but I was tickled by the the other parties' reaction.

The first idea is that kids at 11 who are under-performing would not be allowed automatically to proceed to secondary school. (Here's the BBC report. And here is the Tories' own version of the story.) They may be kept back at primary school until their level of achievement is up to the move. I suppose the idea is that this is an incentive not to be kept back, because of the possible stigma that might bring, and also that it might help secondary schools by removing the need for extensive remedial work with incoming pupils. Well, maybe. But here is what David Laws, the Lib-Dem spokesperson, had to say:
"Like the old 11-plus, proposals for what the Tories have called a remedial year would stigmatise the very children who need extra help. They would also increase class sizes and make it impossible for teachers and parents to plan ahead."
The first point is perhaps true but is presumably in part the point of the exercise. Whether in the long term it is overall to the educational and general social benefit or detriment of the pupil concerned is something I really have no idea about. So this might turn out to be a very bad idea, all told. But Laws' second point, though, is surely not quite right. Holding back pupils will increase class size, he says. Well, yes. But surely it will also decrease class sizes. For every extra pupil still in primary school there will be one fewer in secondary school. Or can we now manufacture pupils e nihilo? Sure, there may be an extra burden on some schools, but this is hardly an absolute increase in class sizes... The Tories certainly will need to say something about what they are going to do to help the primary schools to accommodate any such people. But they are even at present being put somewhere...

The second idea was apparently less worthy of the other parties' immediate comment. Here is the Torygraph report. But it seems to me not a bad idea to explore:
"The sixth form experience of many young people is now dominated from year one by the examination system and teachers tell us that the opportunity to explore young people's curiosity and enthusiasm in pursuit of academic byways has been almost totally removed," says a panel of experts, led by a former cabinet minister, Stephen Dorrell, and ex-vice-chancellor Baroness Pauline Perry.
That does sound like something worth taking seriously. And that has left me with a very disconcerting thought. Am I really thinking that the Tories have some potentially useful ideas in their education policies? Help! Either I am getting old and cranky -- and, please no, might even end up reading the Daily Mail... -- or British politics has finally gone completely topsy-turvy.

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