Y9 still on the Nazis? Data mad ministers want yet more

14th October 2011 at 01:00
The Government would like to know exactly what's being taught

One of the key mantras of Michael Gove's department since forming the Coalition has been liberating the country's schools from bureaucracy and putting an end to meddling from ministers.

But the Department for Education has been criticised this week for "contradicting" that stance by urging schools to publish more detailed information about what they are teaching.

The DfE has already started to make public increasing amounts of data on schools, from what grades pupils are achieving to how budgets are spent. Now ministers want schools to reveal detailed information about what is being covered in the curriculum.

Speaking at a Conservative party conference fringe event in Manchester last week, schools minister Nick Gibb called for as much data as possible to be published to help parents choose the right school for their child.

"My feeling is that schools need to put much more information out into the (public) domain," Mr Gibb said. "I would like to see information being put out on schools' curriculum, which shows what they teach in their schools.

"It would show whether they are still teaching the Nazis in history or have they decided to look at another area? Or it could show what kind of reading schemes primary schools are using."

The decision has been met with staunch criticism from classroom unions, which called for ministers to "end the charade" that they are giving teachers more freedom.

ATL general secretary Mary Bousted described the move as "yet another example of the deep contradictions in Government policy".

"This Government talks about autonomy, but it doesn't practise it. They are taking more centralised control over school structures than ever before," Dr Bousted said.

"I have nothing against publishing more information on schools, but it's generally bewildering for parents and they do not have the time to wade through it all. But above all, it betrays how little real trust they have for teachers."

NASUWT general secretary Chris Keates demanded that the Government told the public "the truth" over its claims that it is freeing up the curriculum.

"The reality is that schools are free to teach what they want, providing that the ministers approve," Ms Keates said. "This is resulting in increasing bureaucracy and workload as ministers think of more and more ways that they can check that schools are doing what they want them to.

"It's time the Coalition ended this charade and pretence of curriculum freedom and owned up to the fact that they want schools to teach subjects and topics which meet ministers' preferences and prejudices."

Headteachers were less critical of the move, however. Russell Hobby, general secretary of heads' union the NAHT, said that concerns over contradictions in policy were misguided.

"It is more likely to be qualitative data than quantitative, so if a parent wants to know what is being taught in the classroom then it should be made available and I think most schools would be happy to show them," Mr Hobby said.

Ministers would struggle to use information on the curriculum to hold schools to account, he added, but questioned whether parents wanted that level of detail. "I think Mr Gibb overestimates the appetite parents have for so much data," Mr Hobby said.

Right-of-centre think-tank Policy Exchange, which has strong links with education secretary Michael Gove, welcomed the move in principle, but also raised concerns about workload for teachers.

"Nick Gibb is not saying what teachers should be teaching; he is just saying they should make people aware of what they are teaching," said James Groves, the organisation's head of education. "It gives a parent the chance to base their decisions on something else, on whether their child is in to a certain subject."

However, he added: "Who will be asked to collate this data at a school level may not be entirely thought through. Will it be a member of staff? If so, how will this affect their workload? Or will a school have to outsource it to another company?"

TOPSY-TURVY TABLE

The Government fell foul of some schools when it published its league table on how they spend their budgets.

The spending tables were championed by the Department for Education as a new era of transparency that would allow parents to see if their school is offering value for money.

But the data led to one primary school, Perry Common Junior and Infants in Birmingham, to come bottom of the list for apparently spending #163;4,168 per pupil on back-office administration - 47 times the national average. In fact, the money was being held by the school for an on-site private daycare centre and extended-schools scheme.

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