The Week

10th December 2010 at 00:00

Some years ago, when millions took to the streets to protest the planned invasion of Iraq, a group of educationalists pointed out that the widespread involvement of teenagers could well be related to the teaching of citizenship in England's schools. Pupils, they suggested, now understood their rights and had been positively encouraged to make their voices heard. Seven years later, pupils are again on the streets, this time over the introduction of super-tuition fees and the abolition of school sports partnerships - both deeply embarrassing to the coalition. Fascinating that school-age children, fully aware of their rights, are at the core of both movements. Also fascinating, then, that the government is widely rumoured to be considering canning compulsory citizenship lessons...

One wonders whether these engaged, interested, activist pupils would recognise the portrayal this week by Her Majesty's Fourth Estate of our schools as "plunging". These headlines, of course, were generated in the aftermath of the 2010 Pisa results, the international comparison of different education systems. To a certain kind of edu-geek, these league tables are the World Cup of school performances. England did, it is fair to say, have relatively unremarkable results (floating around mid-table) and Finland (regular favourites, a bit like Italy) were, as usual, very high performers. Perhaps the two most shocking outcomes were the drastic decline of Sweden (once great, now collapsing - think France) and the desperate state of Wales (think, um, Wales).

Michael Gove, of course, jumped on the bandwagon. He blamed England's supposed underperformance on Labour and then used the findings to bolster his case for reform (academies etc etc). What he chose not to reference was Sweden's aforementioned collapsing league table position. This is the same Sweden that was namechecked in just about every education speech by a Tory politician until recently as the inspiration for their reform agenda. The free schools policy (Toby Young, take note) was heavily lifted from the supposed Scandinavian paradise, not as the Conservatives would now have you believe, exclusively from the charter school movement in the US, a nation with a rather better Pisa than one might have expected. Again, a bit like the last World Cup ...

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