John Bald is a former Ofsted inspector and has written two books on the history of writing and spelling.
This week, some real people for whom education isn’t working, and the changes we need in order to make it work for them.
Pupil A is 11, of well above average ability, intellectually adventurous and independent. Her parents removed her and her sister from school because they were being bullied. After half a dozen lessons on French, over the internet, she and her sister were delighted to start work on Le Petit Prince, and could write simple and accurate sentences about themselves and their interests. In English, they read Animal Farm and Thomas Moore’s Utopia, and wrote essays comparing their view of society that a senior teacher at a leading public school described as “gifted.” The children’s mother described the work as “a life-changing breakthrough,” and said the children were “ecstatic” about their progress.
Why, then, were these bright and co-operative children not receiving the education they needed in school? Why were they being bullied for being bright? Why, in short, were they not attending a school in which their talents would be welcomed, celebrated and developed? They live in Scotland, but could equally live in any other part of the country in which mixed ability teaching is maintained as a goal, irrespective of the damage it does. Every comprehensive school’s inspection report needs to include scrutiny of its provision for the most able pupils, particularly in what Sir Michael Wilshaw has described as the “wasted years” of 11-14. And where comprehensive schools refuse to bring out the best in them, grammar schools should be established or extended to fill the gap.
Pupils B and C are sixteen and seventeen respectively. One left an “outstanding” school last year, and the other is in his last few weeks at a school rated “good”, despite an identified weakness in maths. This pupil has been fortunate in his English teacher, who, following an assessment of dyslexia, adjusted his teaching, so that the pupil now writes well, spells accurately, and is on track for a good pass at GCSE. The other was not so lucky, and has had to start to learn to read and write at the age of 17. The teaching both had received in maths was so bad that I had to start with basic calculation, including the 2x table. Their good and outstanding schools were being judged almost exclusively on the basis of point scores in GCSE, largely based on the faked assessments that are ending this year. Neither pupil would be a grammar school candidate, and yet neither has received the education they need from the comprehensive system.
Pupil D benefited from a Conservative innovation, the phonics check for six year olds, by getting nowhere near the expected level. In our opponents’ terms, he “failed” it. In reality, the result triggered action. The child was rubbing his eyes, looked down, and hated even to look at a book. The usual suspects duly appeared – “Attention deficit hyperactivity disorder…” “Asperger’s syndrome…” “Autism…” Bunkum. A check with the Institute of Optometry’s screening kit showed a high level of sensitivity to light, particularly fluorescent light. A lime green overlay provided some relief, and he began to use it at school. A full test with the Institute’s colorimeter at a local Specsavers confirmed the choice of colour, but the eye examination that went with it showed a much more serious problem with the optic nerve that required an emergency hospital appointment. This is still under investigation, but the message for SEND support is very clear – assessments need to be fully informed, and should include analysis of visual factors. Leave them out, and you can waste tens of thousands of pounds.
If we are successful on June 8th, Justine Greening will have an opportunity to reorientate the education service to meet real needs such as these. Labour’s quangos have gone, and their fakery will end this year. The examinations and tests can now be modified to provide an opportunity for all pupils to show what they can do, without any threat to standards. There are, for example, too many examination papers, and pupil B is having to take three papers for foundation level maths, two of them with a calculator. Cutting this to two would save money and stress.
Subjects in crisis, such as modern languages, can be revived using the approach trialled in the Shanghai maths and Mandarin projects. Ofsted can be restored to its proper function of investigating and reporting on what is actually going on, rather than number-crunching from a distance. Pupil D’s school has not had a full inspection since 2003, and pupil C’s is rated outstanding, despite leaving a perfectly intelligent young man unable to read and with handwriting that would embarrass a six year old.
This gets us to the heart of the matter. Since the sixties, our education service has been diverted its proper purposes in order to promote the leftist and progressive goal of moulding society. We need to complete the task of reversing this process.