The Week

4th December 2009 at 00:00

Right-wing papers with screaming headlines about failing schools; unions shouting about banning Sats, league tables and teaching to the test; politicians bellowing about record results. Yes - it's that time of year again - the publication of key stage 2 league tables. Like watching a year of the English education circus in one day. Tuesday had everything.

Meanwhile, think-tanks also took turns putting the boot in. First, the Centre for Policy Studies, which said the underperformance of black pupils and working-class boys was the fault of teachers who were "suspicious of success", "equate talent with elitism and put their ideology over freedom of opportunity for their students". Yet the blindly dogmatic one seemed to be the report's author, who recommended more synthetic phonics (ignoring the fact it's been officially promoted by the primary national strategy for three years) and US-style charter schools (which fare no better than traditional schools according to recent US research). Then it was the turn of Reform, which called for all pupils to study English and maths, plus at least three other core subjects like science and geography at GCSE. Five GCSEs including English and maths? What a novel idea.

National newspaper journalists and complex statistical reports are two things better off not mixed - the concoction invariably results in often accidental mis-reporting. Thus a little incident on Tuesday when the Office for National Statistics issued an excruciatingly complicated report on productivity in the English education system. This document became - once chewed, masticated and spat out by Fleet Street - headlines such as "Extra billions fail to raise school standard" (The Times) and "Damning indictment for Labour's record on schools as grades barely improve despite spending being doubled" (Daily Mail). In fact, the report's conclusion seemed to be that improvement in GCSE results over the last 12 years pretty much correspond to the increased spending. So, well done everyone.

Also depressing were the weekend stories about Nicky Blair - the ex-PM's progeny and one of the fourth cohorts of Teach First - ditching his classroom career to set up as a football agent. Though it does seem apt. Classroom experience may not be such bad preparation: keeping petulant pro footballers - the likes of Ashley Cole, Lee Bowyer or Kieran Dyer - in some semblance of order would challenge all disciplinary and pedagogical approaches.

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