Nicky Morgan’s speech to Policy Exchange is an exceptionally clear statement of Conservative values and policies. While the Left continually alleges that we don’t care about large sections of the country and want to grind down the poor, Nicky Morgan makes it clear that our aim is to do the opposite, by injecting good teaching to those areas of the country that find it hard to recruit highly-qualified teachers, and by extending educational opportunity to children who don’t have it.
Labour’s “cadre of pseudo-qualifications,” was, she said, introduced out of “kindness.”
“But it was kindness driven by tacit snobbery. By a fatalistic lack of confidence in human potential. By a world view that certain kids – and let’s be honest, ‘kids like these’ always meant kids from poorer homes – could never succeed academically. And so we shouldn’t even try.”
She might have cited Mr Corbyn’s communications chief, the terrorism apologist Seamus Milne, who favoured the Tiffin grammar schools for his children. I’d love to ask him if he had them tutored for the entrance exam.
Conservative successes to date included the 120,000 additional six year-olds who last year reached the expected standard in phonics, giving them a foundation for learning to read, and the 29,000 who reached the expected standard in maths and English at 11. This benchmark is important, as only seven per cent of children who do not reach it go on to achieve five good GCSEs.
The proportion of children achieving Ebacc (English, Maths, two sciences, a language and history or geography) at 16 had risen to 39 per cent, but was as low as 20 per cent in some areas. This was not the fault of teachers or parents, but of governments over the years who had “lacked the courage to do what was necessary to turn our education system around.” Nicky Morgan wants every child who is capable of reaching Ebacc to do so. We will see whether her goal of 90 per cent is realistic, but we can certainly do better than 39 per cent, and Knowsley should have at least one pupil achieving AAB grades at A level, which it did not this year. As an example of what she’s up against, I looked at the website of a secondary school last week that proclaimed that it had “successful learners, achieving their full potential.” Its Ebacc success rate was 10 per cent.
There were several announcements. The first was that there should be a proper and fair assessment of seven year olds, to provide a genuine starting point for gauging later progress. Children who did not meet the expected standards at 11 would be tested again at the end of their first year in secondary school, in my view an excellent innovation that might cut down the time they waste in mixed ability classes that don’t meet their needs. A National Teaching Service – for which Teach First has acted as a precedent and perhaps even a prototype – would deploy teachers of high calibre to areas that could not otherwise recruit them.
Two current examples show how Teach First is beginning to do this.
Three years ago, First Class Honours graduate A was looking around for a job in September and a parent noticed an ad from a top public school. Let’s say one of the top three. She went for an interview and was, unsurprisingly, appointed. The school runs its own training, and she began teaching straight away, very successfully.
First Class Honours graduate B joined Teach First and went to a tough comprehensive in London, which her mother describes as “quite unlike any school she’s ever attended”. She was promoted at the end of her first year, and is now looking to be a head of department. This was the young lady who was told by our opponent, Dylan Wiliam (who boasted that he had a Third), that “we don’t want bright young things with Firsts coming along to sort things out.”
Teacher A shows the way the system has always worked. Teacher B represents real change, getting at least some of the best and brightest to where they are most needed.
Grants of £5m to five academy chains to take over schools in the North are more controversial. The academies programme has had great successes, but embarrassing failures too, some involving corruption as well as extremism. I know of one that regularly offers 30 places fewer than it has available, and then uses its appeals procedure to admit the 30 highest attaining pupils that apply. It would be illegal if anyone could prove it. It is certainly dishonest. The evidence is in applications made by identical twins, one highly academic and the other not. All other factors were equal, and the academy suggested to the parents that they might like to split the twins up, a step they did not feel they could take.
Local authorities were not delivering the goods, and even Labour had lost confidence in them to the extent of proposing commissioners with powers more extensive than those given to our own regional commissioners. It is not acceptable, however, for academy chains to pay huge amounts of money to companies controlled by their officers and associates, and highly demoralising to teachers when they see officers paid plutocratic salaries while their own pay is frozen. Academies may well be the only viable alternative to local authorities, but some of them sail far too close to the wind.