Whither that old personal touch?

1st April 2005 at 01:00
If a week is a long time for politicians, then three months is an age for their jargon.

Last year, before the departures of Charles Clarke and David Miliband from the Department for Education and Skills, "personalised learning" was the cream on top of New Labour's educational alphabet soup.

The Government's five-year strategy, published last August, put it alongside "independent specialist schools" and "foundation partnerships", at the heart of the drive to raise standards. Every ministerial speech seemed to be peppered with references to an imminent educational utopia.

But the DfES's latest 52-page document setting out its "new relationship with schools" does not mention the term. Rather than the blue-skies vision of personalised learning, it keeps its feet on the ground with a single mention of "tailored curriculum and learning methods".

So, have we witnessed the death of personalised learning?

December's ministerial merry-go-round deprived the idea of its main backer, David Miliband, the former school standards minister. But its demise may also be down to the confusion it caused.

Is it one-to-one tuition? Or computer-based distance learning? Greater curriculum choice? And how does it relate to individualised learning? Even those close to Mr Miliband were unsure.

One policy wonk joked privately that the confusion was so great that the Government should wait a few years, then claim credit for implementing the policy without anyone being any the wiser.

It seems Education Secretary Ruth Kelly agrees. In her first major speech, she said the phrase was "jargon", and has limited its use to comments about new technology. And for once, the National Union of Teachers would be sorry to see a government initiative bite the dust. It fears that, despite Tony Blair's promise earlier this month of small-group tuition for state school pupils, the Government is shying away from the cost.

John Bangs, NUT head of education, said: "If personalised learning means smaller classes and one-to-one tuition, then this is one piece of jargon we would be glad to welcome back."

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