Tory votes drive Labour agenda;Letter

15th May 1998 at 01:00
ALAN PARKER (Letters, TES, May 1) is just as bad as the two Labour MPs he (rightly) criticises. Having stated that genuinely comprehensive schools promote "overall achievement" and that they "level up" he goes on to suggest that "organisation has only a marginal impact on quality".

These two propositions are mutually contradictory and much as the Government would like to ignore the truth, it is the first of the two that is upheld by research.

This is because, contrary to Mr Parker's assertion, "educational outcomes" do not "depend primarily upon the quality of teaching and learning in schools" but upon the motivation of the pupils and their willingness to identify with the goals of the school.

The most important determinants of such willingness are the social and economic expectations of pupils and their families. In order to achieve the "levelling up" to which Mr Parker refers, a school needs a critical mass - around 20 per cent - of able pupils from advantaged backgrounds. Such pupils identify with a school's goals and encourage others to do so. They form the nuclei of sports teams, choirs, orchestras and drama groups, to which others are then attracted, with the result that the school enjoys a rich extra-curricular life. Behaviour is good and the few pupils who have problems are more easily contained as staff are free to give time to their needs.

There are excellent comprehensives "levelling up" in exactly this way but Labour, obsessed by the need to retain the support of ex-Tory voters in the South-east, has ditched the comprehensive ideal and is introducing more selection.

To attempt to justify the continued promotion of privilege and unfairness the Government has resorted to the absurd slogan "standards not structures", from which we may gather that it does not matter if most pupils are on free meals, or 15 mother tongues are spoken in the school, or half of the families have no one in proper employment, or the roof leaks, or there aren't enough books.

As long as "the quality of teaching and learning" is good enough (and, if not, blame the wretched teachers) you will be just as well off as if you had gone to the Oratory or St Olave's. As a long-standing Labour supporter I wish I could share Alan Parker's view that Labour is slowly moving towards a more comprehensive approach. Sadly, I fear that it has invented a dishonest rationale for moving in the opposite direction.

Michael Pyke 9 Church Road Shenstone Lichfield, Staffordshire

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