Education in the UK has been a political football for years. Both Labour and Conservatives have attacked each other's education policies while in opposition, while making what appear to be sweeping changes when in power. Whether it's Tony Blair with his "Education, education, education" mantra, or John Major with his "Back to Basics" campaign, all politicians with an interest in education declare their intention to sort out the problems they see in Britain's schools once and for all. It has been a recurring theme at Tory and Labour Party conferences for decades. And yet, in today's Daily Mail, we read:
"Despite a doubling of spending on education since 2000, from £35.8billion to £71billion, Britain has plummeted down world rankings, according to the respected Organisation for Economic Co-operation and Development.
During this period the UK slipped from eighth to 28th in maths, from seventh to 25th in reading and from fourth to 16th in science. It is now behind relatively poor nations such as Estonia, Poland and Slovakia."
Read more (if you can stand it) at: http://www.dailymail.co.uk/news/article-1374636/School-leavers-unfit-work-Firms-spend-billions-remedial-training.html#ixzz1J47GMjjT
As a teacher for 30 years, I am gripped by a sense of dejavu yet again. Back in the 1980s, before the Thatcher Government introduced the first ponderous (and horrendous) National Curriculum, the Government was quoting statistics that proved British children to be performing poorly in science tests compared to Japanese children. The National Curriculum that followed was an expensive, unworkable flop, with about 14 folders on every subject. They were later replaced by a single folder, but that did not prevent many hard-working and dedicated teachers ruining their health in trying to make Mrs Thatcher's folly work.
The Major years saw the creation (some would say "job creation") of OFSTED, which was supposed to be the instrument to galvanise schools into raising their standards. It certainly led to a good deal of pressure upon schools to do well in OFSTED inspections. For some teachers, as I have said before, the pressure was so intense that they committed suicide.
There have been many initiatives since, such as the Numeracy and Literacy Hours, the introduction and (optional) abolition of SATs testing and "Every Child Matters". All these schemes were usually preceded by a barrage of statistics such as the ones given above. So, there is nothing new about the "worrying" statistics in today's "Mail"; it is probably a sign that the ConDems are planning another "initiative". In the film "Apocalypse Now", the Martin Sheen character says:
"In Viet-Nam, the bullshit piled up so fast, you needed wings to stay above it".
Although we would put it in more restrained (and constrained) language, that sums up the view of many who work at the chalk face in education.
I have no access to statistics by way of confirmation, but I believe these observations of mine to be true:
1. British primary school children are not as good at Kendo as their counterparts in Japan.
2. London schoolchildren are years behind in the learning of French compared to school students in Paris.
3. Italian children are better at making pasta than British OFSTED inspectors.
4. British politicians are as adept and unscrupulous in their use of statistics as politicians everywhere else.
I was once described as an "old cynic" by a Headteacher. Let my answer to that person be my last words here:
"There's only one thing wrong in being a cynic about education - I'm always right".