English education not worth emulating

30th October 2009 at 00:00

A moral panic is being stirred up about high spending and low standards (TESS October 16). Economist John McLaren's claims that Scotland is overspending on schools to little advantage must be music to the ears of politicians who want to make swingeing cuts, but his research is deeply flawed.

There are many reasons average spending per pupil is higher in Scotland than England: it is more sparsely populated (smaller schools and classes); pupils here generally stay on in schools post-16 but largely attend colleges in England; there have been important initiatives to reduce class size by employing more teachers, not just unqualified assistants as in England. McLaren first acknowledges some of these but then sweeps them aside to assert that pound;680 million can be cut without damage.

Claims about England's rising academic standards are equally false. The Government there has used a scam to claim that GCSE results have dramatically improved. They count a GNVQ as equal to four GCSEs at A-C grades. This means that pupils with one GNVQ and a single grade C count statistically as five A-Cs "or equivalent"!

McLaren also misuses data from international tests. He ignores the fact that the average age of Scottish pupils tested in Timss and Pirls is much lower than England and other countries with higher scores.

Let's not be complacent about Scottish education, or fail to learn from good practice internationally. We have some serious issues to face, especially underachievement linked to poverty. But education in England is in a parlous state; it is the last place we should look for guidance.

Terry Wrigley, senior lecturer, Moray House School of Education, University of Edinburgh.

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