Porkie pies given to you in 2002

3rd January 2003 at 00:00
Every new year starts off with great hopes that the worst of last year will be buried and everything will be fine now January has arrived. There were high and low points in 2002, but prospects for 2003 are clouded by some rather large clumps of dark satanic cumulus.

The high point for me in 2002 was all those remarkable children and teachers who raised more than pound;200,000 for The TES campaign, to provide education for their fellows in Afghanistan, after many bleak years when this fundamental human right was denied to most young people. It was a stunning example of global citizenship in action.

The low point was seeing the anguished face of a boy I had taught for GCSE in English who came into the school in August to collect his results. He had got a grade C in English, but everything else was D or E. In other circumstances it would have been a decent profile, but in our high stakes examination system, where we rightly celebrate success, he felt a complete loser. He is a good citizen nonetheless.

Biggest laugh of 2002 was Chris Woodhead's newspaper "advice" column. Every week questions conveniently came in about his prejudices. Mrs Nameandaddresswithheld, a regular contributor, even wrote a second letter about teacher training for her graduate daughter. Odd that mothers keep writing in about their apparently bereft, grown-up, fully graduated offspring, but the chap is lucky that the assiduous Mrs Nameandaddresswithheld shares his concerns.

Thick clouds for 2003 are gathering. The Government promises to cut bureaucracy, but there is still a plan for early years teachers to have to complete a 117-item profile on three to five-year-olds, with 3,510 tickboxes for a reception class of 30. Some idiotic local authorities have produced even bigger checklists. It is utterly disgraceful. Promises to reduce control and bureaucracy are nothing but rotten fibs.

The great argument over top-up fees for university students will resurface later this month. The debate has largely neglected one very important aspect: the devastating effect high fees would have on the recruitment of teachers.

Since I loathe the very idea of students being charged huge sums for what should be their birthright, I propose to labour the issue to death. The Prime Minister has hinted that the paper on university funding may address such matters as the future recruitment of graduates to the public services. Unless it does, it will be a grand waste of Norwegian trees.

If top-up fees really are introduced, then 22-year-olds will emerge from university with a debt of, I suspect, somewhere between pound;15,000 and pound;70,000, depending on what they study and where. So how many of them will be prepared to work in a job where their salary will be modest, but just enough to bring them into the band where they have to pay these sums back?

The biggest confidence trick of all was the announcement that graduates must pay for their studies because they will earn pound;400,000 extra as a result of getting a degree.

This is complete and utter cobblers. They will do nothing of the kind. More lies.

This highly suspect figure of pound;400,000 was estimated on the beneficiaries of a system when only 4 or 5 per cent went to university and many of these had attended public school, were well-connected, or could go into family businesses. It is no basis for a situation where half the population might graduate.

Nor do I believe the promise that the poor will not pay fees. It sits alongside the proposal that students be deemed independent of their parents, which in turn means they could be charged as potential beneficiaries. Yet more porkies.

It is interesting how the views of powerful politicians affect debates on education. When I interviewed James Callaghan for Radio 4 on the anniversary of his Ruskin College speech, he told me that he had passed the 11-plus, but did not attend grammar school, as his mother had no money for the bus fares. He never again wanted to see children prevented from gaining education because of the cost.

The present prime minister is a strong supporter of high top-up fees, but he is a wealthy and privileged man. For parents on big six-figure incomes university fees will be pocket money, but they would load a crippling burden on to ordinary folk. Were there a premium fee on science subjects, and sums as high as pound;15,000 a year have been suggested, it is even less likely that science graduates would enter teaching. I wonder if Mrs Nameandaddresswithheld will write to Wooders about the matter, because he says he is in favour of top-up fees. But then, so are Kenneth Baker, Stephen Byers and, I believe, Ethelred the Unready.

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