Tories attack progressive education establishment

5th October 2007 at 01:00
THE CONSERVATIVES have declared war on the progressive "education establishment", which they believe to be at the root of under- performance in schools. It is not Labour or Conservative ideology at fault, but that of academics, central and local government and exam regulators, according to David Cameron's team.

In Blackpool this week, they described their success in pushing the Labour party to adopt synthetic phonics in primary schools as the first "skirmish" in the battle against the establishment.

The Conservatives are considering countering this ideology with an independent institute to research educational policy, similar to that introduced under the US No Child Left Behind programme.

The Tory leader told the conference that the establishment had prevented well intentioned Labour ministers from delivering on the standards they had promised.

"I don't think Labour ever got to grips with the educational establishment, some of whom still think it's wrong to say children have got something wrong because that will brand them as failures; who still seem to think that all must win prizes; who still seem to think we have to treat all children the same," Mr Cameron said.

"So we need to be courageous on standards, to insist that children are taught using synthetic phonics, so that they learn to read properly."

The Conservatives said they would take a "what works" approach, subjecting future policy to independent evaluation.

Nick Gibb, shadow schools minister who led the synthetic phonics campaign, dated establishment ideology back to the early-20th century theories of US academic John Dewey. Mr Gibb said such ideas damaged the prospects of the most disadvantaged. He cited the new key stage 3 curriculum, which he said emphasised skills over a traditional subject-based approach.

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