BBC BLOGS - Nick Robinson's Newslog
« Previous | Main | Next »

Culture of education

Nick Robinson | 09:29 UK time, Wednesday, 31 October 2007

Poverty of aspiration. That, Gordon Brown will argue today, lies at the heart of the failure of the British education system to be world beating. The prime minister has, once again, put on his thinking hat for what promises to be another densely argued speech. He believes that the educational debate in this country since the war has been damaged by an obsession either with state-only solutions or market-only solutions. In fact, he will argue neither can provide the complete answer when the real problem lies with the culture of education in this country.

Poverty of aspiration has been driven, he argues, by an elitist equation that more education must equal less quality and that there is limited room at the top. This pessimistic view is, in any event, outdated, he will argue, by globalisation. The competition is, in other words, no longer to be in the elite with A grades or places at Oxbridge but for a place in highly skilled, highly paid workforce of the global economy.

What does this mean in practice? There he is somewhat more vague.

He's setting a new target to eliminate within the next five years what are now dubbed failing schools. All schools, he'll say, should meet the target of getting at least 30% of their pupils achieving 5 A*-C grades at GCSE including English and Maths. To achieve this he'll urge councils to use both market and state solutions - turning failing schools into academies or bringing in private sector support or simply closing them down.

He will pledge to do more to recruit the brightest and the best to be teachers and to increase the level of parental engagement and interest in a child’s learning.

Whilst pledging to raise the aspiration of the school system Mr Brown will argue that every child should aspire to an apprenticeship if not to higher education. There will, he will promise, be up to £15,000 to compensate employers for the costs of that training.

Like his speech on liberty last week this is a scene setter for next week's Queen's Speech which will include a bill to extend the effective school leaving age to 18.

UPDATE, 01:00PM: Some are concerned about my reference to the "British education system". Britain, of course, has three education systems and the UK has four. Whilst the specific policy of closing failing schools or turning them into city academies does not apply outside England, the Brown critique about "poverty of aspiration" clearly does apply to all.

Brown's speech (which you can read here) makes an interesting contrast to Michael Gove - the Tory education spokesman's article in today's Telegraph. The Tories are manning the barricades in defence of the A-level "gold standard" as once they did over the dilution of excellence in our universities. Labour is claiming that this is an old fashioned and elitist defence of educational privilege for a few.

Here is the full text of Gordon Brown's speech on education and targetting failing schools, on 31 October 2007:

My school motto was ‘I will try my utmost’. The motto of the school in the next-door town was ‘rise to the light’. And as I have travelled around the country I have seen just how aspirational and inspirational school mottos can be:

‘No goal is beyond our reach’ is the motto of the Business Academy Bexley.
‘The best in everyone’ of Paddington Academy.
‘Achievement beyond expectation’ of Banksome School in Darlington.
‘Excellence through endeavour’ of the Kennet School Newbury.
‘To strive and achieve is to succeed’ of the Howard School Medway.

And all these mottos - though they tell us something profound about the spirit of the age in which they were written - are not simply mementos of the past... And they are not just enduring statements of shared beliefs across our communities about the possibilities of progress…They are a declaration of faith in the future - that education makes it possible for young people to bridge the gap between what they are and what they have it in themselves to become.

So these mottos are a promise and a summons; they embody ideals and aspiration; they speak to a guiding belief that every child has talent, every child can learn, and so we must nurture and fulfil the potential of all.

I was fortunate. I went to a school that aimed high. A school that had an ethos of striving, hard work and achievement. And that is what I want for every child in this country.

Education is my passion. Britain is full of talented people.

I believe that each young person has talent and potential. Each some gift to develop. Each something to give to the good of the community.

And the Britain I strive for is a Britain with no cap on ambition, no ceiling on hope, no limit to where your potential will take you and how far you can rise: a Britain where the talents of each contribute to the well being and prosperity of all.

The excellence in education that we need for this is not just a noble ideal - the search for knowledge, the pursuit of wisdom and the fulfilment of human potential - but an economic imperative too.

In the past those who had the raw material - the coal, the oil and the basic commodities, or the infrastructure - the ports and communications - were the ones that had competitive advantage.

Today what matters is who has the ideas, the insights, the skills and the creativity.

The countries that will succeed are those who do more than unlock some of the talents of some of their young people: they will strive to unlock all the talents of all of their people.

And in the last ten years we have moved our education system from below average to above average.

But we have to do more than that.

Our ambition must be nothing less than to be world class in education and to move to the top of the global education league.

And so it is time to say: not just that we will aim high, but that we can no longer tolerate failure, that no longer will it be acceptable for any child to fall behind, no longer acceptable for any school to fail its pupils, no longer acceptable for young people to drop out of education without good qualifications without us acting.

No more toleration of second best for Britain.

And to achieve this we must confront and defeat three assertions that have held our country back for too long.

The first is that there is only limited room at the top: that there is no point in educating everyone as far as their talents will take them because the economy needs only a few trained for the top.

The fast-changing world economy has decisively defeated that argument.

Even if in the past there may have been limited ‘national room at the top’, now there is clearly ‘global room at the top’.

Indeed, today there are millions more skilled jobs and opportunities in our country and all over the world for people with skills and qualifications.

The young people we educate can, and often do, work anywhere in any part of the world. There is a virtually unlimited global demand for new talent.

And the real challenge we face is not ‘no room at the top’, but ‘no room at the bottom.’

Unskilled jobs are disappearing. We have 6 million unskilled workers today. We will need only half a million in 2020 - five and a half million fewer.

And this disappearing demand for low skills and rising demand for high skills explains why no young person can now afford to leave school without skills.

Britain is also held back by a second often-heard assertion that ‘more means worse’: that to educate more and more young people is wasteful because they do not have the talent.

Instead of talking of a ‘pool of untapped talent’ some even talk of a ‘pool of tapped untalent’.

And each year, even as more young people achieve GCSEs and A-levels, and as university and college opportunities are expanded, we hear echoes of this ‘more means worse’ dogma: that only some can achieve high standards and that high achievement in education is by definition limited and exclusive.

This self imposed limit on the development of talent has been the historic curse of the British education system and goes a long way to explain where too often we fall short of other countries.

Take university access. Other countries are already above 50 per cent for young people going into higher education - indeed Australia has a graduation rate of 59 per cent. Yet many in Britain say that to even consider going up to 50 per cent is a recipe for ‘dumbing down’.

And the result is that while we have some of the best world-class schools and world-class universities, still too many people still do not get an excellent education.

And in Britain just 10 per cent of unskilled workers’ sons and daughters reach university, an attainment gap that has to be bridged.

If these notions that ‘more means worse’ are wrong, so too is the related view - a fatalist one that springs from the denial of aspiration - that there will always be schools that do badly and pupils who will never do well, or even adequately.

When combined with an equally defeatist left-of-centre assertion that poor children can never overcome their disadvantage at school, it acquiesces in low expectations and it puts up with coasting and failing schools.

So my argument today is that it is time for Britain to leave behind, once and for all, this culture of pessimism, any acquiescence in defeatism, the acceptance of low aspirations that holds us back.

The poverty of aspiration is as damaging as the poverty of opportunity and it is time to replace a culture of low expectations for too many with a culture of high standards for all.

Now in the summer, we created a new Department for Children, Schools and Families because we wanted for the first time to be able to support children in the round. Because we all know that there are many other influences on our children’s development beyond their school - and that our education strategy must look at the whole picture.

And since then, the Secretary of State has been laying the foundations for the next stage in the transformation of education: how we will focus on classroom standards and ensure that we monitor exam standards rigorously, reform the qualifications system, and mobilise universities and businesses behind school improvement.
Building on these changes, I want today to spell out what world-class education means in the 21st century for Britain.

And I also want to show something more: that only by tackling old prejudices and engrained cultures of low expectations, and by raising our sights, can we make a reality of equality of opportunity for all children in our country.

In other words we need not just education reform but culture change.

Equality and a culture of aspiration

Why do I say this?

For most of the 20th century, the fundamental political divide was between a Left that believed that the extension of state action, and its command and control structures, could solve social problems and reduce inequality - and a

Right that believed the state had to be rolled back for market forces, and market incentives and rewards, to be unleashed.

In the social democratic tradition, the state simply supplied services to people. It built schools, hospitals and houses, and provided the funding to run services.

But it paid less attention to how people used those services, and the capabilities people need to make the most of the opportunities available to them. It trusted professionals to deliver services and the public to accept them. People were treated more as passive subjects than as participants in change. And the system was content to limit participation in the shaping and direction of public services to voting at election times.

In the words of the historian Peter Clarke, it was about mechanical reform - social change from above, not below.

For its part, the Conservative tradition viewed government as an obstacle to market forces. Indeed, it still does. It reduces human motivation to self-seeking calculations in the market place and relies on civic virtue for charity in areas from where the state is withdrawn.

But today we can see that both of these positions are inadequate. We need both strong public services and a dynamic market economy in order to be a fair and prosperous society.

Of course arguments about the size of the state and the funding of public services mark important political dividing lines. And investment in public services is critical. But we no longer believe in a zero sum game in which there is only one winner between the state and market forces. In advanced economies, each has its place and prosperity results from drawing upon the best strengths in each of them.

But that is not the end of the matter. For what those who placed their faith in either state or market too often ignored is culture: the motivations, values and habits that influence us all in our daily lives, in our families and communities.

The values we share, the aspirations we have, the boundaries we set between what is acceptable and unacceptable.

We can now see that culture change is critical to achieving success in reforming public services.

And this is true in almost every area of public policy - from preventive public health to social care, from community policing to tackling climate change - where we can see that equality of opportunity can work to best effect when people want to, and believe they can, improve things for themselves and are aspirational about what they want to achieve.

And services can no longer simply be delivered to people, without their engagement. Whether we aim to reduce carbon emissions, or to tackle obesity, or empower people receiving social care, change will be most effective if people participate and play their part.

So the bad news for old thinking on both Left and Right is that culture matters. The good news is that culture can change.

And it is by promoting this cultural change that we will ensure the values we share come alive in the 21st century.
So our goal must be simultaneously:
· to expand opportunity - not one chance but second, third, fourth and lifelong chances;
· to raise the aspirations people have to grasp those opportunities - the key to unlocking talents;
· and to develop people’s capabilities to participate in shaping the future, so that services are personal to each and shaped by all.

On its own equality of opportunity can never be enough.

Opportunities are only meaningful if people have the capabilities, resources and the aspirations to make the most of them. So inequalities in aspiration and capability must be tackled.

Without doing so, fairer outcomes - the fairness which will shape the opportunities of the generations to come - will never be achieved.

If we can expand opportunity, aspiration and participation together, then the outcomes for pupils, patients, parents and citizens will be fair - the result of the choices we make, the hard work and effort we put in - not imposed by the accident of birth or the brute luck of circumstance.

And in this way we will create a stronger, fairer society, with excellence within the reach of everyone, not just the few. Talent nurtured, effort rewarded. The merit of each in the service of all.

Aspirations and participation in education
So what does this mean for our schools and for education?

Aspirations matter in every aspect of education:
· the aspirations of parents, for their children, from the very earliest years onwards;
· of young people, seizing the opportunities available to them;
· of teachers, schools and local government setting high expectations for achievement;
· of society, placing the highest possible cultural value upon learning;
· and of government, setting long term ambitions and matching those with the investment necessary to realise them.

Just consider the evidence.

We know the level of parental engagement in learning is more important in determining a child’s educational achievement than their social class background, size of family or the parent’s own educational attainment.

And a child with a stimulating home environment does better on all the scores of early childhood development.

Conversely, we know that teenage pregnancy is significantly more likely amongst girls whose mothers have low expectations for their education, even after controlling for socio-economic factors.

So aspirations matter.

But we have barely set out on the journey of involving parents in the education of their children and encouraging high aspirations as an explicit, central goal of policy.

And let me say that I know parents are worried about discipline and bullying, about schools where their children’s lessons are disrupted, and where there is not enough of a school ethos for learning to flourish and all children to succeed.

I share all of these concerns. And if we ask parents to get more involved in the education of their children, and in the lives of their schools, we have to respond to these concerns - just as parents for their part need to reinforce the expectations for good discipline and the boundaries of acceptable behaviour set by head-teachers for their schools.

So let us now involve and engage parents at every stage of the journey of their children’s education, spreading the best practice of the best schools.

More regular, ‘real time’ feedback about their children’s progress; regular emails, regular meetings.

And more parents sessions at schools - to share information and set goals - at key transition points for their children.

It is not just parental involvement that matters. Young people’s aspirations matter too.

The great failure is not the child who doesn’t reach the stars, but the child who has no stars to reach for.

And as every teacher knows, you cannot educate those who you cannot motivate.

But we know sometimes that helping boys in particular to aspire and aim higher comes up against boredom, distraction and disaffection. A sense that the classroom isn’t for them. And the downward pull of peer pressure.

So we have also to raise boys’ aspirations: provide education that can enthuse and engage; provide different opportunities for vocational learning as young people prepare for the transition to the world of work.

And the very idea of personalising learning is about helping children become more aspirational: that we identify talent, we shape education around the unique needs and aspirations of the child, and we engage pupils in their own learning - giving them a thirst for education and knowledge that will stay with them long after they have left school.

We will be expanding our Gifted & Talented Programme - giving 1 million of our most talented children the opportunity to benefit from special, stretching tuition.

We are boosting activity in those areas which can unlock so many different forms of talent: sports, music, the arts and culture, and enterprise.

We will continue to increase the number of student ambassadors from universities working in schools from 4,500 in 2003 to 7,200 now - helping promote the benefits of higher education to younger pupils.

And we will build on our ‘Aim Higher’ programme so that we increase the aspiration to go to university --- just as universities themselves reach down into schools and colleges and hold summer schools to help lift young people’s sights towards higher education.

And because raising aspirations is at the heart of raising standards, I can today announce that we will ask the National Council for Educational Excellence - working with schools and universities, the Sutton Trust and other organisations - to report to us on how we can increase applications to universities from comprehensives in disadvantaged areas.

World class standards in education

So raising both aspiration and participation is at the heart of our approach. But direct action to raise standards - and to address failure - is fundamental.

We have come a long way in the last decade.

Ten years ago, there were no Sure Start Children’s Centres or nursery places for three year olds. No literacy hour in our primary schools. No guaranteed sports, arts and modern languages. No extended schools. No trust or specialist or academy schools in every area.

No Education Maintenance Allowances so that young people could stay on in education beyond 16.

And few new school buildings - which now stand as beacons of aspiration in deprived communities.

All of this and more has been achieved.

But now, as we develop our 10 year Children’s Plan, we need to move to the next stage in the transformation of education in Britain: rising to the challenge of world class excellence.

Across the globe, education standards are rising. Other countries aren't standing still - instead they are pushing forward the frontiers, showing what a 21st century education system can offer:
· in Canada, Finland and Hong Kong, almost all children achieve the required standard of literacy by age 11;
· in Finland, every teacher has a Masters degree and 10 people apply for each place on a teacher training course;
- in South Korea only the very brightest and the best are selected to enter the teaching profession;
· in Chicago, Boston and New York, education leaders take a systematic and relentless approach to tackling failing schools.

So the world is moving at a restless and rapid pace to transform education. Indeed, what appears world class now will be second class in ten or twenty years time. And that means that the strategic choices we make today are critical to our future prosperity.

So I want us to learn all the lessons of excellence from around the world:
· that the very best education systems start with high quality, affordable day care and early learning. In Scandinavia, children start school ready to learn because they have had excellent and highly professional pre-school care and development;
· that, as Sir Michael Barber has shown, the best education systems recruit the best people into teaching - the top 5 per cent in South Korea, the top 10 per cent in Finland, the top 30 per cent in Singapore and Hong Kong;
· that in excellent schools, the teachers receive continuous training and professional development which updates their skills and expertise - and there is strong leadership from good head-teachers who have autonomy to lead their schools;
· that world class education services achieve high standards for 100 per cent of the children, with systems of accountability, funding and pupil tracking that leave no child behind; personalised learning tailored to the unique potential of every child; and one to one tutoring and support;
· that world class excellence depends on a systematic intolerance of failure and a preparedness of public authorities both to intervene and to innovate to eradicate it;
· and that in leading economies, participation in training or education is near universal up to age 18, skills investment is high and rising, and entry to universities rapidly increasing.

New ambitions

So we must renew our ambitions.

First, we will build on the improvements we have made in the early years by extending entitlements to free nursery education and improving the quality of childcare and early learning. In the long term, we should aspire to match the excellence of the Scandinavian countries in early learning and day care.

Second, we will raise still further the status and standards of teaching.

Everybody remembers an inspirational teacher. And everybody knows that a good teacher makes all the difference.

And that’s just personal experience. Research is absolutely conclusive about teaching standards. If you take a group of fifty teachers, a child taught by one of the best ten will learn at twice the speed of the child taught by one of the worst ten. Teaching quality is that important.

OFSTED say we now have the best teachers ever in our schools today. They should be valued and applauded for their work.

Now our goal should be even bolder: to have a world-class teaching profession for all our pupils within a generation.

We will do more to raise the quality of recruits into teaching training, and expand routes into teaching for talented people in mid and late career, with ‘Teach First’ and now ‘Teach Next’.

We will build on these reforms with the aim of raising still further the status of teaching in Britain and matching the rigorous selection of the brightest and best into teacher training that other countries have achieved.

And we will promote greater opportunities for teachers to undertake professional training and development, linked to performance assessment.

This is my belief: that world-class performance comes from consistent brilliance from teachers in every classroom; professionals who seek continuous improvement, who teach better lessons tomorrow than they did yesterday because they are learning all the time; who when a pupil falls behind don't assume it is a lack of ability but instead ask - “how could I teach that material better to enable my pupil to master it?”

This is the challenge for teachers. We will assist them in rising to it.

Third, our guiding principle - social justice for all - means that no child should be left out or should lose out; that as we raise standards we also narrow social class achievement gaps in education, and that every child should progress as far and as fast as they can.

We have improved standards in schools in disadvantaged areas. But we have not made enough progress in closing the gaps between individual pupils from different backgrounds.

A ‘no child left out’ education system must work for 100 per cent of the pupils, 100 per cent of the time: a major undertaking for this generation.

So accountability frameworks and progress targets must prioritise success for all.
In primary education, every child should reach the expected level in literacy and numeracy. If the best in the world can do it, so can we.

To those who say this is not possible, I say visit West Dunbartonshire, one of the most disadvantaged parts of Scotland.

Ten years ago it took the decision to eradicate illiteracy in primary schools. In 2001 almost 1 in 3 left primary school functionally illiterate. Last year only 6 per cent did so. Through sustained ambition and intensive interventions at every level, it is on track to wipe out pupil illiteracy this year. A decade of raising standards for children.

If West Dunbartonshire can do it, so can the rest of the country.

It means one to one catch up in the ‘3 Rs’ as of right to every pupil who needs it, with early intervention through ‘Every Child a Reader’, ‘Every Child Counts’ and the new programme, ‘Every Child a Writer’.

And it means better school-based social and behavioural support for children with extra needs - building on our ‘Every Child Matters’ agenda.

For secondary education, it means all pupils making good progress with setting by ability and stronger classroom discipline.

And it means real commitment to personalised learning, with more one to one tuition, small group teaching, a personal studies tutor for secondary school pupils, and more support for innovative teaching and learning strategies.

We know that the best schools already achieve superb results with personalisation. The best schools are well led, with innovative ideas, and they increasingly operate in networks that link schools together, spreading best practice from school to school.

Our goal must be an education service that has the capacity and the space to innovate and to personalise learning.
And as we start to move to personalised testing, we must keep assessment under review to ensure that it supports learning and achievement and does not dominate teaching.

Every child is entitled to a decent school and a good education.

So, fourth, we will put an end to failure.

We’ve cut the number of failing schools dramatically in the last decade.

In 1997, over 600 secondary schools had less than 25 per cent of children getting 5 or more good GCSEs.
Now only 26 do.

But the latest figures show that there are still 670 schools where less than 30 per cent of pupils get 5 ‘A star’ to ‘C’ grades at GCSE including English and Maths - down from 1600 in 1997, but still much to do.

So we must go further to end failure. The Secretary of State for Children, Schools and Families has challenged local authorities to use their new powers. This is a critical strategic role and challenge for local government.

In the next five years, we will work to get all schools above 30 per cent ‘A star’ to ‘C’ grades at GCSE, including in English and Maths.

Let me be clear. Many of the schools below this threshold are improving, with strong and determined leadership. Many face the toughest challenges in our education system.

So we will use the right mix of intervention and support to raise standards.

We will put in place a systematic plan of ever tougher measures for eradicating failure starting with:
· annual improvement targets for all schools that fall below the threshold;
· new incentives for the best teachers to teach in toughest schools - including expanding ‘Teach First’ and ‘Teach

Next’ to have the best possible teacher intake;
· good schools brought in to help poorer schools under improvement networks run ‘by schools, for schools’, as the Specialist Schools and Academies Trust motto puts it;
· warning notices to trigger intervention powers, including new interim executive boards to take over the school management;
· complete closure or takeover by a successful neighbouring school in a trust or federation, or transfer to academy status, including the option of take over by an independent school.

There will be 150 more academies in the next three years, on route to our target of 400. More universities working with us to set up academies. More local authorities doing what Manchester, Birmingham, Oldham and others are doing - putting academies at the heart of their local school improvement plans. And more independent schools setting up academies to take over failing schools.

This is a determined and systematic agenda to end failure. We will see it through. We will not flinch from the task.

Our final goal for world-class education will be 100 per cent success for young people making the transition from school to college, university and skilled work.

Every young person should know that they have something to aim for in their education. So at age 18 or 19, each should graduate from school, college or an apprenticeship with good qualifications or an apprenticeship certificate.

We have set out a new vision for diplomas, designed with universities and businesses to meet the needs of the new century. And alongside the diplomas, we plan a radical overhaul of apprenticeships with:
· a new UCAS-style matching service, so that young people in any area can be matched up with businesses offering apprenticeships in every area;
· a widening of the numbers of employers who join the apprenticeship programme, building on the 130,000 signed up today;
· making the public sector a better partner in apprenticeships including in Whitehall itself;
· a legal duty on the learning and skills council to provide sufficient apprenticeship places in every area, so that we end the situation in which there can be only 95 apprenticeship completions in Hackney but over 2500 in Hampshire.

And to drive aspirations up, we will ensure that all those reaching 18 or 19 who want to go onto an advanced apprenticeship or further education and training have the resources they need.

So just as two thirds of university students will be able to apply for grants of up to £3,000, so advanced apprentices will have a credit of at least £3,000 though a Skills Account to pay towards their costs.

And from this year, we are paying the college fees of young people up to the age of 25 studying the equivalent of A-levels, and giving access to an adult learning grant of £30 a week.
All of this is possible against the backdrop of the legislation to extend training or education to the age 18 by 2015, to bring us in line with the best in the world. We will offer financial support those who could not otherwise afford to stay in education. But we will not insist that young people stay in the classroom. They will be able to choose from clear pathways into the future: further study at school or college, an apprenticeship or work with time off for training.

And in the coming weeks, the Secretary for Children, Schools and Families will bring forward an action plan to ensure that all young people are in education, jobs or training. We will offer new rights matched by new duties.

Because we cannot afford to leave any young person behind outside work or study. Because we owe it to our young people to equip them for the world they are growing up into.

I make no apology for saying that education is the best economic policy.

And I make no apology for wanting every child to be able to read, write and add up.

But education has always been about more than exams, more than the basics, vital as they are.

To educate is to form character, to shape values, and to liberate the imagination. It is to pass human wisdom,
knowledge and ingenuity from one generation to the next. It is a duty and a calling.

As Plutarch said, the mind is not a vessel to be filled but a fire to be kindled.

And that is why we have such high ambitions. Not just because education is a matter of national prosperity, although it is certainly that.

It is because education is the greatest liberator mankind has ever known, the greatest force for social progress.

And that is why it is my passion.

So I want to see a Britain where every child can go to a world class school, supported by high aspirations, surrounded by excellent opportunities.

Where every family has the right to participate in the education of their child, and every chance to do so.

Where every young person can see ahead of them a goal in life, and the support they need to get there.

A Britain where effort is rewarded, ambition fulfilled, potential realised.

A Britain of high aspirations.

A Britain of all the talents.

And I ask all of you to enlist in this cause.

Thank you.


This announcment really sums up Brown and the New Labour project after 10 years in power. Lots of fancy words and philosophical posturing, but very little radical answers to the questions before us.
Close failing schools. It's not exactly ground breaking stuff.

  • 2.
  • At 10:09 AM on 31 Oct 2007,
  • paul perrin wrote:

If schools had something to offer, people would stay on by choice.

What can the state teach in 12 years of compulsory education that they cant teach in 10?

Schools are failing because for many there is already too much time spent there with not enough to learn/keep them occupied.

Forcing people to stay at school longer than they would choose to is the usual socialist habit of bashing people into moulds that are not fit for purpose.

Improve the schools and people will stay (for good schools (private) they already pay tens of thousands of pound over and above their compusory taxes) - no need to force them. The middle classes have always wanted their childre to stay on through (real) university education.

Improve public transport and people will use it - no need to force them (via car/road taxes etc).

Improve the convenience of rubbish/recycling collection and people will cheerfully use it - no need to force them.

etc... etc... etc...

Will this foolish man, and his foolish party never learn?

  • 3.
  • At 10:09 AM on 31 Oct 2007,
  • Ben Slight wrote:

Nick, the real problem is that education in this country is geared to one aim: getting 50% of young people into university.

GCSE and A Levels are fine for those who are academic, but do little for those who want a more vocational system. It is forgotten that the GCSE replaced two existing qualifications: the 'old' O Level and the CSE. Often the latter were taken by those who did not want the same depth to their education as those who took the former and were targeted at those who would take apprenticeships rather than continuing with education.

There is nothing like that today. Unfortunately, all that we have is a 'one-size fits all' approach whereby the 'value' of a GCSE or an A Level is overlooked, and used instead as a stepping stone to a degree. This solves few problems and merely transfers them to other institutions.

Raising the leaving age to 18 is just silly. You'll disrupt those who want to work at school and have a mass truancy epidemic...

  • 4.
  • At 10:22 AM on 31 Oct 2007,
  • E Welshman wrote:

Why set the scene for Grabber Gordon?

Why can't we be allowed to wait for his speech and make our own minds up about it without you telling us in advance all about it?

Is he so bereft of meaningful dialogue with the public ?

  • 5.
  • At 10:25 AM on 31 Oct 2007,
  • Romanus Renatus wrote:

Education, education, education. Where have I heard that before?

  • 6.
  • At 10:38 AM on 31 Oct 2007,
  • Krishn Shah wrote:

Another five year plan, more targets and vague promises.

Promotion of excellence in English and Maths is all that's required in my view. Schools should be judged soley on these subjects.

"Poverty of aspiration"? Who does he think's been in charge for the last decade?!

  • 8.
  • At 11:12 AM on 31 Oct 2007,
  • The view from here wrote:

This feels like yet another example of the current administration treating the british people as just a tool or resource to be used to further their BIG BROTHER agenda. I would like to know what happened to Government as the SERVANT of the people, listening to public demand, and providing the freedom and opportunity for us to live and control our own lives?

  • 9.
  • At 11:13 AM on 31 Oct 2007,
  • Tony Warner wrote:

If we are serious about vocational education we need to put both thought and money in to it. Just apeing Oxbridge courses is not appropriate, nor is writing essays and fact based courses. Being able to do things and understanding why they are done in a variety of ways is far more important. Also we need to raise the status of the skilled trades partly through the provision of large numbers of apprenticeships across the board. A 'time served' apprentice has both skills and status. For this we need money into the FE sector, which still has a majority of the 16-25 age group and a minority of the money.

  • 10.
  • At 11:25 AM on 31 Oct 2007,
  • Barry James wrote:

He recognises that parental involvement is the single biggest determinant in a child's educational success. The middle classes have known this for years, and their success in perpetuating middle class status for their offspring is evidence of this.

The BIG mistake is for the liberals/left, over recent decades, to argue that educational problems can be solved by system restructuring (e.g. Comprehensive education) and increased funding (tax-and-spend policies).

They despise the middle classes, yet the evidence is that the middle classes hold the key to consistent academic success.

Time for a radical re-think, not just the tired old lefty ideas.

  • 11.
  • At 11:28 AM on 31 Oct 2007,
  • Simon wrote:

Nick - this is just a lazy puff for GB. You seem to have been very much towing the Labour line recently. What about the immigration fiasco - surely genuine evidence of incompetence.

They've had 10 years to sort eduction out. Far too many people go to 'study' at university, which for most is a waste of time. No country serious about competition would allow such an expensive and inefficient means of education. It is no coincidence that foreign second generation immingrant students do better than us in results. Symptomatic of a lazy, decadent society.

  • 12.
  • At 11:29 AM on 31 Oct 2007,
  • Ubi wrote:

Education, education, education. Poverty of aspiration.

How would we escape from such a poverty when it is endemic in the activists' culture of jealousy ?

It is well known that there is a substantial body of opinion in the country that would rather we produced uniform mediocrity than expose an "elitist" hierarchy of ability.

Gordon Brown knows this full well because his heartlands are the biggest enemies of achievement. Though he himself was exempted from it, naturally.

So how is he going to remove a culture in which aspiration is viewed as being synonymous with witchery ?

  • 13.
  • At 11:30 AM on 31 Oct 2007,
  • Phil wrote:

The issue Mr Brown conspicuously fails to address is that it is not the schools that are failing, it is the parents of the pupils that they serve.

School which serve middle-class areas with parents who value education very very rarely fail. I'm not sure I'd quite put money on "never" but I'd bet it's close. Whereas I'd equally bet almost every one that does serves a poor area.

It's not the schools or some elitist cabal which have "poverty of aspiration". It's the parents.

Which I why the cynic in me expect more Labour emphasis on "equal access" and bussing across town. Because if they can split those failing (parent's) kids over enough schools then meeting his "target" only means getting 30% of kids to do so. Not much of a pledge put that way, is it?

  • 14.
  • At 11:30 AM on 31 Oct 2007,
  • Graham wrote:

I was a school governor for 8 years until earlier this year. I think that is a great sentiment for Mr Brown to say he wants to raise the status of teachers but where is the funding to come from? Sorry but let's face facts a primary school teacher after several years of experience will still be lucky to be making £30,000. How is that going to attract the best in the world? I know it's not all about money but isn't that the basic reflection of value to our society what we are prepared to fund to pay them?

Also the reason I finally resigned as a governor was that I became fed up being involved in discussions about "wrap around care" including how to make it a "profit centre" and again trying to explain to teachers the value of cascaded goals in performance management.

Get a bunch of good administrators in to run the schools people with really good man and team management skills, increase teachers pay dramatically and let them teach.

  • 15.
  • At 11:32 AM on 31 Oct 2007,
  • John Delaney wrote:

Same old tory mob on here wot have you lot got on education a big fat nothing so shut up

  • 16.
  • At 11:38 AM on 31 Oct 2007,
  • Jim Brant wrote:

One aspiration I hope he doesn't have is to return to the disasterous situation in 1997. It would be easy to achieve - just cut spending per student by 50%, cut teacher salaries so that it becomes difficult to recruit people into teacher training, let the building stock crumble by not doing any maintenance or new build, and spend far less on books and equipment. Maybe then he could match the proposal to spend £2bn or so on the richest 3% of the population. Anybody with any connection with education, and old enough to remember the 80's and 90's, knows very well that education has been transformed for the better in the past 10 years; and of course the benefits will appear gradually over the next decade or so. My only regret is that Brown, like his predecessor, persists in supporting the brainwashing of our children in so-called 'faith' schools.

All this hype will only put us further behind Europe. Targets and 'one size fits all' are nothing to do with the preparation of tne next generation for the workplace.
Vocational schools whic put the emphasis on skills, combined with good basic education, will save the country having to import plumbers, and other skilled workers.
Why cannot the Government look at the Fachhochule system in Germany, and maybe then we could challenge in the skills as well as the service industries.

  • 18.
  • At 11:47 AM on 31 Oct 2007,
  • jill clayton wrote:

Tony Warner is absolutely right about the need for more money in FE. For many youngsters, FE spells a feeling of being grown-up. They grumble that at school they are treated like children. Several schools operate partnership schemes with FE while pupils are still at school. Used constructively with work experience it can transform a student's attitude to school and save them from the stigma of exclusion.
I DO NOT work in FE. Until retired, I worked in special needs and re-integration (Pupils out of school)

  • 19.
  • At 11:51 AM on 31 Oct 2007,
  • John R Jones wrote:

The offer of £15,000 towards apprenticeships shows Gordon Brown is getting desperate over the skill shortage and using taxpayers’ money to bribe young people into doing better in order to distort the true trend. His party claims to help the disadvantaged – most categories of people it helps are not the most disadvantaged those who don’t get as far as they could due to laziness, incompetence and is therefore not circumstantial. But because they are within his clique of supporters he is really using it as an excuse to give them preferential treatment over those who are more inclined to do well but from a more disadvantaged background.

Money cannot buy intelligence. Discrimination destroys potential.

  • 20.
  • At 11:55 AM on 31 Oct 2007,
  • Max Sceptic wrote:

Where has Brown been for the past decade?

  • 21.
  • At 11:55 AM on 31 Oct 2007,
  • Andrew A wrote:

Our sub-Prime Minister hasn't got a bloody clue.

The worrying thing is the amount of people in the media who think he's worth listening to. Try this next time you attend one of his briefings - stick your fingers in your ears and sing 'la, la, la' when he starts to drone on.

Go on, give us all a laugh. We need some light relief after the trauma of the last ten years.

  • 22.
  • At 11:59 AM on 31 Oct 2007,
  • Robbie wrote:

Why is decent education/health/roads/enough houses/employment perpetually 5 or 10 years in the future?

Is this your vision thingy, Gordon?

Let me have a crack at being PM for a month. I will do it for free. I promise no flam or soundbites or vision. Just action and improvements.

  • 23.
  • At 12:03 PM on 31 Oct 2007,
  • Lawrence wrote:

What a gift Mr Brown has for grating rhetoric - " more toleration of second best for Britain". It's as patronising as "British jobs for British workers".

I'd applaud any sensible efforts to get high flyers into teaching - and looking at the Education success stories around the "global economy" should tell us this doesn't just mean higher salaries. With the understandably socialist focus on those pupils least able to help themselves, let's hope the bright and conscientious kids will still be given the opportunity to shine alongside their global neighbours.

  • 24.
  • At 12:08 PM on 31 Oct 2007,
  • grania davy wrote:

What have this government been doing over the past 11years? If it is all so fantastically improved as J Brant says, how come most people do not agree? including Mr Brown by the sound of it, who will no doubt deliver news abour new ideas that are equally badly thought out as the previous ones, or we would not have Mr Brown talking about the up-coming improvements. Words are meant to be a means to communicate, to convey ideas, logic and strategy, this government have invented a method of talking for hours and leaving us totally uninformed of anything. Is it any wonder our educational system is a mess. If the population are unable to read, write, absorb ideas form all the mediums available, and process what they need, then we are lost.

  • 25.
  • At 12:11 PM on 31 Oct 2007,
  • Penny wrote:

Engage parents - an excellent idea and one which all teachers would applaud. But hang on a minute, isn't this is the government that wants everyone to go out to work and so provides childcare grants, and insists all primary schools where possible provide wrap around care till 6pm? These parents have very little time to engage with their children, let alone the school.

  • 26.
  • At 12:24 PM on 31 Oct 2007,
  • Oliver Chettle wrote:

New Labour still doesn't understand that centralisation is the problem, not the solution. Good people will only be attracted into a field - such as state schooling - in sufficient numbers if they know that they will be able to work as independent professionals able to employ their own judgment, and to innovate. What the government should be doing, is pushing up the standards of academic rigour implied by the examination system, which is currently an endorsement of mediocrity.

  • 27.
  • At 12:25 PM on 31 Oct 2007,
  • Romanus Renatus wrote:

I am not and have never been a Tory. I think they are as big a bunch of snakes in the grass, snouts in the trough and stab in the backs as the so-called Labour party. I'm not convinced that the political parties in the UK actually WANT a well educated population: Micro-chips and soap operas keep 'em quiet and indoors and quite suit people who've never learnt how to think for themselves.

  • 28.
  • At 12:46 PM on 31 Oct 2007,
  • Andy Platt wrote:

I'd like to echo comments from Mr James and Phil.

I appreciate Mr Brown has made a nod towards parental involvement in the 'success' or otherwise in education, but (and I hate to use the buzz-phrase) parents' engagement in the education of their offspring seems to me the real 'elephant in the room' in this debate.

In primary education, exactly how are schools 'failing' their pupils when time after time children return to school without having completed their homework, or reading? Staff in our school have had to purchase swimming outfits on their own time and from their own pockets (from charity shops for less than a pound, so I don't accept the argument that parents cannot afford it) for pupils whose parents have failed to do so. This isn't a 'partnership' any more, schools are being expected to take the place of parents and the government are re-enforcing this expectation.

I think the unpalatable truth here is that since our government cannot possibly admit that the electorate bear a crucial responsibility in the education of their own children, schools are doomed to remain the scapegoat. I notice that while politicians are quick to label schools as 'failing', there is only a ‘need for greater parental engagement’.

When will anyone admit that parents (voters) are ‘failing’ their children?

  • 29.
  • At 12:48 PM on 31 Oct 2007,
  • mike owen wrote:

Under Brown's new education system will schools be treated like centres of tractor production, with suitable exhortations from the dear leader to raise the quality of offside mudguards, and nearside axle covers, or passes in English and Maths?

  • 30.
  • At 12:48 PM on 31 Oct 2007,
  • Tony wrote:

I work in an inner city school that consistently fails to reach Mr Brown's 30% A-C cut off (but I do not teach.)
There are a plethora of reasons for this "failure"- many external to the school's influence. Mr Brown's threat will dissuade those strong teachers from setting foot in such schools. If they are to be judged on a simplistic measure of the whole school's performance, rather than their own, they will opt for a safer option - be it a school with a higher pass rate or a different, more secure career that provides them with the same type of satisfaction.
Mr Brown will consequently subject a generation of pupils, in these schools, to a poorer education as they will have a poorer quality, transient set of teachers. Their behaviour will suffer as will the quality of life for everyone in their communities. He is pushing these schools to failure rather than towards improvement.
Why do we waste time in producing and publicising the measure of a school's contextualised added value if we are not going to use it for judging a school? (This looks at how a pupil has improved between joining and leaving a school) Mr Brown's gravitation towards the simplicity of the A-C % measure can only be seen a socially and educationally costly political posturing.

  • 31.
  • At 12:48 PM on 31 Oct 2007,
  • Ray B wrote:

Mr Brown pledges to raise the aspiration of the school system and threatens failing schools, after ten years of Labour's promise to make 'education, education, education' a top priority.

That Gordon 'ee is ded 'ard, man. Wicked. Innit.

  • 32.
  • At 12:56 PM on 31 Oct 2007,
  • John Wood wrote:

The problem with education is that the children are running the schools and teachers find it hard to impose the discipline (latin discipulus - pupil) necessary to learn. In the private sector such discipline is imposed - and results show it.

Improving the pass rate of a*-C to 30% won't be hard - just get QCA to dumb down the syllabus a bit more. Is the syllabus dumbed down? Last night I asked a child with A level maths about working an addition in base 8 (see Tom Lehrer - New Math) - and he hadn't a clue. I learnt that at the age of 11 in Primary - many years ago.

So perhaps we do need to keep pupils on till 18 (This is presumably for GCSE work still!) as we don't want to teach them by 16.

There are answers - the problem is that they are so contra to socialist/ liberal/ BBC ideology that this Government won't consider them.

  • 33.
  • At 12:58 PM on 31 Oct 2007,
  • John wrote:

As I write, I am sat in an office at the sharp end of extended remedial education. Some people in here are over 40 and they are unable to read or write properly. The purpose of the course is for them (including myself) to gain employment. The general attitude of people is that they really don't want to be here; the staff are put upon, the jobcentre forces others on to the scheme, resulting in a glut of people being dumped here, not being placed on work experience or full time employment. The cart is well and truly before the horse. I suspect Mr Brown and his clunking great fist and towering intellect seem to be creating more problems than solving them.

  • 34.
  • At 01:00 PM on 31 Oct 2007,
  • Steven Brice wrote:

So at last politicians realise that success in education has something to do with culture - many of us have known that for a long time. Didn't New Labour set our to change our culture ? Yes, perhaps to a booze culture but not successfully to one of achievement. If throwing money at schools works then do they have an answer to how Ridings school has still failed?

  • 35.
  • At 01:02 PM on 31 Oct 2007,
  • Geoff wrote:

I applaud Gordon Brown for wanting to take action. The root cause of our failing eduction system is not the government but the teachers, who are quite happy to enjoy their salaries, long holidays and early retirement, heaven forbid they should take any responsibility. The sonner we get rid of poor teachers the better. Going by the many of the posts above our current education system can only produce a bunch of moaners - get over yourselves if you want change - take action

  • 36.
  • At 01:09 PM on 31 Oct 2007,
  • David Ginsberg wrote:

I left the educational system as Labour came to power on bandwagon of reforming education. For the last 10 years there has been a constant tikering with the educational system by sucession of here today gone tomorrow politicians without any discernable improvement in educational standards. It is a national scandal that children still leave primary school without being able to read or write. There appear to be raft of eye catching initiatives that singularly fail to tackle intrinsict failures in the system.

I was educated in England but within the French state system with it's much admired baccalaureat. However the sucess of the French education system is down to a rigid set of criteria each pupil must achieve before they can move up to the next class. This ensures that you are ready and able to learn at each stage. When I was 11 for instance my written french was not up to standard affecting all my subjects I was made to repeat a year. No shame in that, it is common place in the French system. It allowed me to re-learn the basics and allowed me to succeed academically all the way through to university.

Somehow I doubt the current government would attempt something as truly radical but extremely affective as this. Just too many votes to be lost from disgruntled parents. Why take a long term view when the short term fudged stopgaps have served you so well.

This talk of aspiration is all very well, but what happens when a school aspires to excellence and succeeds?

Labour-controlled Derbyshire County Council is intent on closing down Combs Infant School.

The school was declared by Ofsted to be 'outstanding value for money'. Ofsted rated it as 'outstanding' in every category evaluated, which puts it in the top 13% of infant schools in the country.

Read more on the campaign web site.

  • 38.
  • At 01:36 PM on 31 Oct 2007,
  • P Johnson wrote:

This is more meaningless rubbish from a politician without ideas. As a teacher I haven't come across any school that doesn't want the best from their pupils - of course they do, as everyone is trying to meet government targets already.

He needs to realise that there are parents out there who have children in secondary school who have never worked, never had a job or earned their own money. These people do not have high aspirations because they are doing fine as they are - their aim is to live on benefits, and that is all their children know.

The parents do not care about education. They have never had to use it, or felt bad because of their lack of education. Indeed, they actively discourage their children from paying attention and taking opportunities.

Finally - newsflash - not everyone can be a high flyer. Life is unfair, get used to it.

It is pretty clear that a lot of the contributors above have not been into schools in the last few years. I have and they are much better places than in the early 1990s and they deliver significantly better outcomes for their students.

Gordon is being canny today. Most of the powers he mentions already exist but the thing that will significantly help these schools to improve their results is the development of the vocational curriculum. The new diplomas are only part of this. More important is the freeing up (or the disapplying as it is known) of the requirements of the old 1988 curriculum.

Encouraging headteachers to develop more appropriate courses for their students will drive up results and is quite likely to make this policy successful. It also means that young people will enjoy their education more and get more from it and that is a desirable outcome as well.

  • 40.
  • At 01:39 PM on 31 Oct 2007,
  • Justin wrote:

What is closing down schools going to achieve? It's not the buildings fault that a school's failing - it's the people within those buildings.

What this nation needs (and desperatley lacks) is discipline. Education is the key to everything. But parents and teachers need to discipline students.

Nothing annoys me more than hearing parents in distress saying "ooh! I just can't control him. He's out of control. It's not my fault he's a little toerag." Nonsense. If you can't control your children, you shouldn't have had kids. But now that you've got kids, you have an obligation to that child and to society to ensure that they grow up to be as model a citizen as possible.

People need to be disciplined and learn to take responsibility for their actions.

But of course, because Britain is now a morally bankrupt nation of morons, the situation is now out of control. We need to discipline our people and fast...

  • 41.
  • At 01:50 PM on 31 Oct 2007,
  • Victor wrote:

Gordon Brown quotes Plutarch, but I severely doubt many of children, who have come through this Labour government's education system would have a clue who he is talking about. Labour have sought at every opportunity to undermine the teaching of Classics, and the traditional analytical rigour that it brings, helping "et alia" not just in learning foreign languages, but also teaching English grammar too.

  • 42.
  • At 01:51 PM on 31 Oct 2007,
  • bill wrote:

Brown is always holding up his old school as a shining example of a successful institution. For him it was, but as a highly selective school and guess what stream he was in. Surprise,surprise, not just the top stream but an experimental "E" stream which was accelerated and that was the reason why he was the youngest student at Edinburgh Uni. More schools of this type would do just fine Gordon.They are called Grammar Schools but Academies are a worthwhile start, even the Tories appreciate this.

  • 43.
  • At 01:57 PM on 31 Oct 2007,
  • Phil wrote:

"There is no point in training everyone as far as their talents will take them because there is only limited room at the top"

Out of curiousity, has anyone *ever* claimed this? Or at least anyone since the days of feudal landlords and peasant farmers? Or is this just Brown spinning a straw-man to demolish in order to make the second much dodgier point easier to sell.

And Mr Brown - if we've got to 50% by teaching a lot of silly degrees, then the fact that other countries have got to more than 50% doesn't prove anything unless you've checked whether they're doing the very same thing we are in terms of silly subjects only more so!

  • 44.
  • At 02:11 PM on 31 Oct 2007,
  • Nigel Wheatcroft wrote:

Poverty of Aspiration is what Gordon talks about.Strange that parents who have aspirations for their children and want to push them on to do better have had that chance stifled because of Labours adherence to Comprehensive education.
Where you do have Grammer Schools you should see the queues of aspiring parents taking their children in for the limited number of places.

  • 45.
  • At 02:23 PM on 31 Oct 2007,
  • Phil wrote:

Does the foolishness of Brown know no bounds - compulsary education till 18, what utter, utter, nonsense. This is New Labour personified, if something fails (secondary education)then lets just have more of the same

Brown, and in fact most politicians in the UK, are rather behind the times here.

One of the arguments for personal success in the States is that as a culture they are more tuned to the idea of success being an end in itself. Consequently even Pizza Delivery people can be enthusiastic at times.

The UK has suffered for many generations from "It's not fair" from the lower classes to "success is our inheritance" from the upper.

Browns goal can be reached under any educational system. All that is required if for the kids themselves to demand the education they need. If they don't neither building new targets or promoting elitism from the Tories will achieve anything.

It is the reason why Grammar schools tend to work. It is not that they are special, it is because a large majority of the kids come from background where success is encouraged.

  • 47.
  • At 02:53 PM on 31 Oct 2007,
  • Mike wrote:

In May next year Labour will have been in power for 11 years.
This pitiful statement by Brown just about sums up their absolute failure in Education.
Poverty of aspiration is surely defined as "getting at least 30% of their pupils achieving 5 A*-C grades at GCSE including English and Maths."
Is that it? Is this Brown's big vision for education?
Are things so bad, that getting slightly less that a third of pupils through five of Labour's dumbed down GCSEs (including English and Maths) is counted as a success?
If things really are that bad, then Labour (after those 11 long years) should be held accountable.

  • 48.
  • At 03:10 PM on 31 Oct 2007,
  • John Galpin wrote:

In last years Treasury spending review a certain G Brown was trumpeting the fact that we now spend about £5,500 per secondary pupil per year. What he failed to mention is that barely £2,500 of this reaches the headmaster to run the school and the rest is spent on running the LEA.

Until we spend most of the money directly in the schools there is little chance of success and provision of stimulating opportunities for all.

Just imagine this government was doing your grocery shopping. For every pound you spent you would be getting 40p worth of goods and a 60p admin and delivery charge. How happy would you be with that?

What Mr Brown needs to understand is why all English-speaking countries find it impossible to reduce their level of functional illiteracy to less than 20 per cent.

This is due entirely to the irregularity of English spelling which makes learning to read English proficiently impossible for the bottom end of the ability range. Roughly one in three children find learning to read English very difficult. With a great deal of individual help, a third of those can be helped to achieve a basic level of proficiency, but not the rest.

Children with limited brainpower cannot cope, for example, with the letter o spelling quite different sounds in ‘on, only, once, other, woman, women’. They can cope with regular phonics, as in ‘got off from hot spot’, but flounder as they meet more and more words in which some letters fail to behave as they expect. Every remedial teacher knows that children at the lower end of the ability range are less good at coping with unpredictability. English spelling is simply too unpredictable for roughly one child in every five.

That’s why you get far less reading failure in languages with more regular spelling systems, like Spanish, Italian, Finnish, Korean and Swedish, even though they spend far less on literacy teaching, and why all English-speaking countries have high levels of it, despite spending vast sums. Our educational difficulties will persist for as long as we refuse to improve English spelling.

Masha Bell
Author of 'Understanding English Spelling' and

  • 50.
  • At 03:37 PM on 31 Oct 2007,
  • Gary Barton wrote:

This is just further evidence of Brown copying the conservatives. Only a month ago David Cameron stood up and spoke about aspiration and now, lo and behold, aspiration has reached the Brownian dictionary. Only yet again we see a twisted vision that betrays both socialism and conservatism, encompassing a 'one size doesn't fit all' approach, backed up with more Communist style targets. I just wait for the day that Gordon announces targets on how many exercise books each pupil is to fill per term.
If the Prime Minister truly wants aspiration, perhaps he should first stop throttling the life out of the public sector through over regulation and desist with the constant stream of half baked policy announcements that are almost exactly the opposite of the government's previous 'vision' for health, education, etc...

  • 51.
  • At 04:20 PM on 31 Oct 2007,
  • Anonymous wrote:

g.davy opined that:
"If it is all so fantastically improved as J Brant says, how come most people do not agree?"

That's easy. Most people believe what the commentators tell them is the case, without looking at the actuality for themselves. Since so far as the media is concerned only bad news is newsworthy, we are constantly presented with a distorted view of the situation. The same applies to health. But if you are in a position to remember what the situation was like in 1997, you only have to visit any school or hospital to see the very considerable improvement. Of course, a vast improvement from a very low base still leaves us a long way from my (and the PM's) aspirations.

"If the population are unable to read, write, absorb ideas form all the mediums available, and process what they need, then we are lost."

But those members of the current population who are unable to read or understand statistics, or to process informaion logically, received all or almost all their education before 1997. The children who have benefitted most from this government's policies (those at primary and pre-school levels) won't be leaving school for some years yet. Education takes time, and improving its outcomes takes even longer.

  • 52.
  • At 04:46 PM on 31 Oct 2007,
  • Max Sceptic wrote:

Brown's speech: By golly it's sick-making. Did he use the same ghostwriter who wrote 'his' Courage book?

  • 53.
  • At 04:47 PM on 31 Oct 2007,
  • Sally C wrote:

Geoff ,
Some are trying to take action. 40,000 parents have taken very real action since Labour came to power; they have taken their children out of the state system and now educate them privately.

  • 54.
  • At 04:51 PM on 31 Oct 2007,
  • Will Burton wrote:

I've never read so much and learnt so little.

  • 55.
  • At 04:59 PM on 31 Oct 2007,
  • HF wrote:

I have read your Update Nick but it is really time that journalists like you picked him up on talking about areas that he HAS NO RESPONSIBILITY for.

He cannot raise the leaving age of children outside England. Nor can he increase the target for % GCSE type passes outside England. He is only responsible for English based children. Not British. Yes I know Brown wants to keep implying he is running all of Britain but he is not.

It is just like the "NHS" which is not National it is English and should be called the EHS.

  • 56.
  • At 05:04 PM on 31 Oct 2007,
  • Jamie Lotinga wrote:

When we are young children we are arrested in fascination with the world around us as we find it an incredibly captivating and exciting place to discover. The problem with our education system is that instead of harnessing and nurturing this natural instinct for learning and discovery, we force-feed knowledge down the knecks of our young people for five hours a day for the best part of twelve years and leave most of them reeling. They simply cannot stomach it and there is no wonder that they have lost their hunger by the time they are meant to be peaking. Instead of drawing out interest, wonder and natural curiosity in the many subjects worthy of study, we force ourselves on their young minds and overload most of them beyond their natural temperament and abilities. Something drastic needs to change in this respect if Mr Brown wishes to turn around the problems that we have with poverty of aspiration.

  • 57.
  • At 05:10 PM on 31 Oct 2007,
  • Nigel Wheatcroft wrote:

So if he can close down failing schools,why does'nt he close down his failing government and return.
By the way you can now vote on the Number 10 website for Assistant Commissioner Yate for a peerage,could be interesting.....

  • 58.
  • At 05:12 PM on 31 Oct 2007,
  • John Harvey wrote:

I wonder how much spare capacity there is within the school system, such that 'failing' schools can simply be closed?

With the Governments woeful inability to accurately know the number of immigrants (some of whom will need their children to be educated here), I guess it would be difficult to simply close a school as that would put undue pressure on class sizes in surrounding schools resulting in a likely drop in standards there (I'm sure the parents of children in those schools would 'welcome' the influx of pupils from the 'failed' schools, won't they?)

Shallow thinking by Brown on this one, yet again chasing headlines whilst not thinking through the policies.

And one last point (probably mentioned many times before) but why, after ten years in power and billions of extra pounds pumped in, has Labours education system failed so many children?

Poverty of aspiration !! It is interesting to note that once more it is the failure of the individual that is to blame rather than the ramshackle mess of 'choices' that we have the nerve to call society and social framework. Once upon a time there were aprenticeships and other formal routes into a job that would last (yes we had careers in those days)now whenever a child or young adult fails to become what we as a society would perhaps call a sucess we say its because they made the wrong choices or did not try hard enough. Perhaps the real poverty is the poverty of leadership from teachers, wider society and polititians to provide a sound base from which a child can grow academicly and socially into an adult with ability and purpose. Perhaps strange shift patterns, cheap alchol, poor standards of teaching, lack of a voice and lack of political leadership would be a better place to start looking to make improvements ? The ragbag of inefective meddlers (not just in government)that control our lives at the moment would apear to have a lot to answer for, but its easier to blame someone else isnt it.

  • 60.
  • At 05:20 PM on 31 Oct 2007,
  • Ted wrote:


The use of the term British and references to Britain are in no way correct. Gordon Brown has chosen to have no responsibility for the education of the children of his constituents and any comments he makes regarding their "poverty of aspiration etc." are just hot air - he can do nothing about how Scotland deals with the issue.

It is yet again an acceptance by journalists of spin and obfuscation. The speech should have been about English education and its issues as that is all that the UK government has responsibility for.

Health, education and transport are English only matters controlled by the UK Government and if Mr Brown accepts the devolutionary settlement he and Blair supported then let him be honest. Or is he scared of that too?

  • 61.
  • At 05:41 PM on 31 Oct 2007,
  • Mike Walker wrote:

How can we trust a leader when the previous one said "education" and failed?

How can we trust a leader when what he propses will not be applied in his home constituency but only in England?

How can we trust a leader whose party has screwed up an dchange dthe English education system time an dtime again?
How can we trust a Leader whose constituents get free University education while those in England do not?

Answer: I can't.

  • 62.
  • At 05:46 PM on 31 Oct 2007,
  • Jon Musker wrote:

Many of the aspirations laid down in this speech are worthy, but are undermined by other aspects, particularly the threat to "punish" schools with closure if their exam results do not meet a certain standard.

Kirk Brown, Ph.D and Prof. Richard Ryan wrote about this topic in some detail in the essay "High-Stakes Testing Policies and Their Relations with Psychological Theories and Research". This is published in the book "The Handbook of Competence and Motivation" published in July this year. Although the research is based in the US, they specifically cite Britain as a country undergoing similar policy changes.

They label one trend in educational policy High-Stakes Testing (HST), and define it as; "...increased testing to gauge how students, teachers and schools are performing relative to each other, and relative to the standards that government agencies determine all students should meet..." and "...the attainment of high standards is motivated or enforced by High Stakes in the form of rewards and punishments such as financial incentives and job security for educators...". I think this clearly describes the policy announcements today and indeed the policies pursued by this goverment over the last decade.

In the essay, they demonstrate that current motivational and educational theories actually predict that such approaches will be at best ineffective, and at worst will have negative effects on actual education of pupils at all levels. Those most disadvantaged by such approaches will be those currently most vulnerable - for example those from poor backgrounds or from racial minorities.

"While the massive educational experiment called HST is still in progress, it is clear that what is driving national and state education policy is not sound educational theory or research, but a blend of political expediency and naive faith in the efficacy of rewards and punishments. Research that has accumulated points to complex, and often negative, effects that may not be willingly received by politicians who, in many instances, may 'have already decided' that HST is an effective approach"

"An important take-home point is that the introduction of high stakes behind test scores distorts the validity of tests as an indicator of true excellence in the classroom, or of school quality"

They demonstrate that as there is not yet a large body of empirical evidence for such policies, this constitutes a gigantic experiment in educational psychology - an experiment that flies in the face of all modern theoretical thinking on the topic.

They examine what empirical evidence is available from American States that have adopted such strategies, and show that in line with the theoretical predictions they reliably display a number of negative effects, including;

- a rise in the number of students dropping out, particularly from disadvanted backgrounds (ie, those who are supposed to be targetted by this strategy)

- a rise in teaching "to the test" and a consequent narrowing of the curriculum

- evidence that increases in test results induced in this way do not correlate to increases in any other measure of skills or aptitude such as ACT (SAT, NAEP and AP) (in one study, two thirds of states implementing High-Stakes Testing policies showed a decrease in ACT performance)

- increased time spent teaching the skill of test-taking itself, to the detriment of the actual curriculum

I urge anyone interested in educational policy to study this essay and its conclusions, as well as looking at the work of the field's leaders, Prof. Carol Dweck and Prof. Andrew Elliott. There is now more than thirty years of solid empirical science and broad agreement on the theories behind motivation in education, and some of it directly contradicts some aspects of current British educational policy.

Jon Musker

  • 63.
  • At 05:55 PM on 31 Oct 2007,
  • Peter Blackburn wrote:

I like the idea of not tolerating failure in English schools, failing (Engliah) schools should be exported to Scotland. :)

  • 64.
  • At 06:09 PM on 31 Oct 2007,
  • Retired teacher wrote:

@ anonymous message 50

I finished teaching in July and I'm glad I'm out of it. Pupils who were in year 1 in 1997 are in yr 10/11 now. They know less, can do less and take easier exams than equivalent students in 1997. And those achieved less than their equivalents in 1987. And much much less than pupils in 1977. Teachers have stopped being teachers and have become target watchers and data munchers. They talk of upper quartiles, lower quartiles and data sets. Lesson structure, lesson plans, schemes of work, syllabuses are dictated from above with every current fad added in, from 5 a day to Al Gore's video. And contrast Brown's speech with his plan to claw back money saved in school budgets for long term projects. It's been hot air and froth since Blair and 'education, education, education'. Is Brown saying that the past 10 years have been a failure?

  • 65.
  • At 06:18 PM on 31 Oct 2007,
  • Retired Teacher wrote:

Ooops! I see there's now been a U turn on the plan to claw back from schools' underspend at the end of each year. Consistency in educational policy. That would be new.

  • 66.
  • At 06:54 PM on 31 Oct 2007,
  • Jonathan S wrote:

I think Jim Swetman #38 can't be living in the same country. The outcomes are certainly not better, in some respects they are significantly worse: too many new undergraduates arrive at University unable to write essays, take lecture notes or even sit three hour exams. All of these skills may be considered pretty normal for further education, but they are not now being taught sufficiently well in secondary education. It is now the case that special coaching has to be given to some undergraduates arrive. Another startling triumph for 10 years of New labour!

  • 67.
  • At 07:04 PM on 31 Oct 2007,
  • nick grant wrote:

What humbug from Mr. Brown! Since 1997 Labour has presided over an annual increase in the gap between rich and poor in the UK, and now has the cheek to blame teachers for not bridging this widening gap!

Brown's ideals for education prioritise the same market forces which daily exacerbate the poverty gap rather than starting with the real needs of families and children.

For example, instead of vague bluster about "personalised learning" why doesn't he set a legal maximum class size limit of 20. This could be funded if Brown stopped wasting millions on the hordes of fat consultants who delight in telling everybody what to do.

Instead of talking about better in-service training for teachers why not train them properly in the first place; most beginning teachers are thrown straight in the deep-end without a life-belt and have to learn on the job.

Much as we might try teachers cannot be expected to achieve social cohesion in an era of increased inequality.

  • 68.
  • At 07:42 PM on 31 Oct 2007,
  • grumpy old man wrote:

This announcement of Browns is just another piece of spin. LEA's have had the power to close or amalgamate failing schools for some time. Unfortunately the main evidence comes from HMI and Ofsted inspections, which thanks to government cuts and the ferocious opposition of the unions have been cut to a couple of days for 2 staff instead of up to a week for up to a dozen. While the "all must have prizes" idealogues remain in control of the educational system, this countries' children will never have the education that should be their birthright.

  • 69.
  • At 07:54 PM on 31 Oct 2007,
  • Paul wrote:

What hope for education when the Prime Minister doesn't know who he represents.

The Prime Minister of the United Kingdom repeatedly refers to 'British' people as the focus of his attentions, a term which you would expect him to know has excluded the people of Northern Ireland since 1801.

Perhaps a first in History at Edinburgh University isn't all it's cracked up to be.

  • 70.
  • At 07:55 PM on 31 Oct 2007,
  • A Teacher wrote:

Everyone within the teaching profession knows the techniques used to turn around failing schools. One of the main techniques is to offer 'new' qualifications in easy subjects that are (on paper) equivalent to one or more GCSEs. In my own area, schools which had been achieving pass rates of less than 5% have, within one year, been achieving pass rates of 30% or more.
They portray this as a massive improvement but this is misleading. The figure for the second year is not comparable with the figure for the first year because it includes passes for new qualifications. When you look at the figures for five A-C passes, including English and Maths, you see the pass rates plummeting back to 5% or less. In other words, there may have been no real improvement at all.
Needless to say, some individuals advance their careers and do well financially by engaging in this subterfuge. The government is keen to portray that standards are rising and so, they aren't in the business of questioning the figures. The massive superstructure of education is all government-funded and so they don't rock the boat by pointing out that the King has no clothes. Meanwhile, the public are utterly bemused.
Sadly, the problem isn't confined to failing schools. The problem for other schools is that these bogus improvements are then used to pressurize not-failing schools into changing their curriculum and producing equally bogus improvements. At the end of the day, all they are doing is improving the exam results by introducing new qualifications which are easier to pass. By rating these as equivalent to GCSE they allow dramatic, but utterly bogus, improvements in their statistics.
The answer to all of this is not simple and is politically unpalatable. You have to remove the massive superstructure that has built up on top of education over the last forty years. 90% of the money for education should be going into the schools. This would rid the system of many of the failed crackpots who got out of the classroom at the earliest opportunity and now spend their lives telling others how to teach. You have to get discipline back into the classrooms and you can only do this by backing teachers up to the hilt. This means getting rid of OFSTED and investing in systems to support teachers rather than attack them. Finally, you have to accept that success is a relative term. For some to succeed, others must fail. Those who failed in the past will often tell you that failure laid the grounds for future success. By all means offer alternative qualifications for those who cannot pass the GCSE, but stop pretending that these qualifications are equivalent.

Typical Brown - his only practical aspiration is to impose another target. If he really wants to promote success, and provide centres of educational apsiration in every town, he should try grammar schools. Now there's a political idea in need of an owner these days!

  • 72.
  • At 08:10 PM on 31 Oct 2007,
  • Kris wrote:

What Mr Brown needs to take a look at is not so much teaching standards, closing down schools, and whatever other fancy policy he appears to have come up with. He needs to take a look at the mentality of the children that are being taught. GCSE's are very very easy exams, no more than 1% of pupils should get less than 5 A*-C grades.
So why don't they? Because people aren't educated properly, i took GCSE's a year ago at what would be classed at aaverage comprehensive school, and i was amazed by the attitude of some kids.
The majority of them weren't stupid, and yet they failed to get 5A*-C grades. Why was this? Because they had the wrong attitude. Some would only revise the night before the exam, others wouldn't revise at all. Realistically how can people be expected to pass exams if they don't put any effort in.
Realistically how can you blame the teachers or teaching standards, when the kid's themselves couldn't be bothered.
Brown needs to work upon telling people how much exams like GCSE's matter before they go and fail them.
Brown needs to find a way of making it so children are more concerned about what grade they've got in the latest test than what they are doing after school. And that, i'm afraid, is a huge challenge, but one that if mounted would make his educational statistics of an A* standard...

  • 73.
  • At 08:25 PM on 31 Oct 2007,
  • A Teacher wrote:

At last - a politician who dares to say that parents have a part to play in raising achievement!
I teach in a school where fewer than 50% of year 11s parents will bother to turn up to parents evenings. There are some dreadful teachers and there are some harebrained senior managers but there are also an awful lot of dreadful parents who don't teach their kids the basic social skills that they need to make the most of education which is a right in this country.
The media is often happy enough to blame teachers for society's ills but rarely has the guts to tackle the dreadful parenting that I am witness to everyday.
I totally support Gordon Brown's speech. Education is improving and needs to make further progress and we do live in a culture where for a lot of kids (especially boys) academic achievement is not cool. Schools will benefit from the support of outside agencies - even if in the bluntest terms it just means more money. More money gives access to theatre trips, books and other experences that middle class kids in affluent areas get from their parents but that few working class kids in areas of deprivation have access to. Fine by me.
The problem i have is that the quality of student teachers that I see has deminished since they were paid to train so I feel sceptical about how the brightest and best will be attracted into the classroom. I think it's also worth thinking about the difference in different subject areas. Subjects like English and History often do attract the brightest and best 9as there aren't a lot of well paid jobs for graduates of that discispline and you need very high A level grades to get onto a university course to study these subjects). Graduates of Maths and Sciences easily earn more money in industry so truly gifted graduates in these areas are less likely to enter teaching.
I don't know how you fix that.

  • 74.
  • At 09:25 PM on 31 Oct 2007,
  • ceeb wrote:

As a teacher in a 'failing school' where less than 25% of students get 5 or more A to Cs including Maths and English I offer the following.

-Many of our youngsters arrive from primary with poor literacy and numeracy skills (i.e about 25% have reading ages below 7 at the age of 11).
-Based upon their prior attainment at least 50% of our students have PREDICTED grades at GCSE of grade D or below in English and Maths. I work harrd with student who desperately want to do well but don't know how to , don't have parents who don't know how to help them and have an innate ability which makes obtaining a grade C in academic subjects extremely unlikely. If I manage to move them from a predicted grade of F to an outcome of D (as I have done in the past) I have apprently failed and so has the child - thanks a bundle , I won't bother then (but I will for the kids)
-Much of my professional skill is in helping those with little self esteem and poor numeracy/literacy to behave in an acceptable way in class and to feel they have succeeded by the end of th lesson . I do have a Masters degree in Education but no amount of first class honours degrees or Uni education will help those who don't have that ability in helping young people to succeed at their own level .

  • 75.
  • At 09:51 PM on 31 Oct 2007,
  • Charles E Hardwidge wrote:

This is a sound plan from the Prime Minister. There's room for improvement in attitude and investment but he's set the shape and when it begins to get traction more people should get on board. A more positive grip on aspirations and employer involvement, along with existing policy to firm discipline and broaden sociability nit together well. It's a no-brainer to guess that the Prime Minister has my unqualified support, for what it's worth.

If there is to be a revolution in the British psyche to get over the dominant contrary and uncooperative approach which is responsible for mass economic failure and social breakdown, this is it. By developing interest and flexibility, calm, and purpose, the Prime Minister is laying out a philosophical and practical framework that will turn Britain from a failing nation and into a shining example of what is possible. One staggers at its simplicity and brilliance.

And I ask all of you to enlist in this cause? Aiieee. Such Bushido spirit from blessed leader!

  • 76.
  • At 10:18 PM on 31 Oct 2007,
  • dan wrote:

It might be nice if a highly respected blog such as this one could refrain from summing up political speeches/developments in a 3-4 word phrase.

That is what this blog has been doing with increasing frequency. It starts off a neat little phrase and then builds a narrative around it.

I can understand the need to use this tactic in a main news feature, where space is limited, but surely a blog should be free to analyse without recourse to tidy little phrases. I am sure the author of this one in particular realises that there is a lot going on in any political speech/development than can be summed up in 3 words - whatever his remit may be for main news features and bulletins. Blogs are still an extra feature - people come to them for insight, not more of the same.

  • 77.
  • At 10:36 PM on 31 Oct 2007,
  • Tony R wrote:

As usual the Labour Government talk as if they had just come into power. All the hand wringing and promises to improve education might have been believable in 1997, but they have had 10 years in power. This Labour government has always been incompetent but now they haven't even got the the excuse that they are having to sort out a previous governments mess.

  • 78.
  • At 12:13 AM on 01 Nov 2007,
  • Neil Small wrote:

Why raise the leaving age to 18? It smacks the same as the grants paid to students to stay on at scchool.

Many people have left school at 16 and managed to be successfully employed.

I'd rather see the effort being made to get children to read, write and count correctly.

Once again it is all down to targets, ignoring the massive long term damage to the country.

  • 79.
  • At 12:26 AM on 01 Nov 2007,
  • McKay wrote:

Can this be the same government that is encouraging single parents into work, offering creches, and providing pre and post school clubs ? I ask because some of us believe that children will only interact with their parents and involve them in their education if they actually see their parents. Or is this just an attempt to turn our educational establishments into baby-sitting services to enable their parents to work in minimum wage jobs to meet the next raft of taxes ?

  • 80.
  • At 12:45 AM on 01 Nov 2007,
  • ed corbett wrote:

It doesn't matter what Gordon Brown says ,intelligence is not equally distributed throughout the school population.Some children are very intelligent ,some are not.There is a Bell Curve that will show the spread.Similarly there are some children who work hard and learn quickly there are others who do not.There is no chance of all children getting 5 GCE 's at A-C including Maths and English.If we were being honest there is likewise no chance of 50% of children getting into University based on academic ability.
Or are we all as clever as Gordon Brown,perhaps we are since Gordon is not making a good job of being the PM.
Ed Corbett

  • 81.
  • At 01:35 AM on 01 Nov 2007,
  • George Faux wrote:


Gordon Brown thinks that schools should be able to get less than one in three children to a basic English and Maths standard.

Poverty of Asperation?


  • 82.
  • At 09:07 AM on 01 Nov 2007,
  • J D Asher wrote:

Education is a devolved issue - when he says "Britain", "our country" or "the country" he actually means "England", "England" and you guessed it - "England".

Why can't he just be honest and say the word?

  • 83.
  • At 09:17 AM on 01 Nov 2007,
  • Jane wrote:

I am worried by the number of people who seem to think that what Gordon Brown is proposing is socialist or 'lefty'. I am a socialist and I agree with very little that Brown is proposing, nor do many of my friends who are also socialist.

Raising the school leaving age to 18 and forcing people to stay on in a one size fits all education system is not the way to go. We need to create a culture where people enjoy learning and the only way to do this is for teachers, pupils and parents to work together and create a curriculum that is both engaging and educational.

  • 84.
  • At 09:33 AM on 01 Nov 2007,
  • E Welshman wrote:

I remember one BBC reporter who ridiculed George Osborne in his use of the word 'aspiration' in his speech at the Conservative conference.

Grabber Gordon is so devoid of ideas that he has now stolen that word also, and you have not picked him up on it.

Where has he been in the last ten years ? If Teflon Tone was that bad, Grabber should have been doing all he could to depose him long ago, rather than trying to wash his hands of him now that he has departed of his own accord.

Grabber can't fool us by regurgitating old failed NuLab policies and stealing the better Conservative policies and presenting them as his own. The electorate are not that thick (I hope).

  • 85.
  • At 09:55 AM on 01 Nov 2007,
  • Dee wrote:

The problem with Gordon Brown's education policy is that it is having to educate the results of his social policy.
During his time as Chancellor he encouraged (forced) middle class families to have 2 full time workers and thereby reduce the size of their families, while at the same time rewarding the feckless to breed like rabbits.

  • 86.
  • At 10:07 AM on 01 Nov 2007,
  • John, Devon wrote:

Forget this talk about aspiration. It is political spin and froth.

Educational research shows that there are two statistically significant factors in educational attainment (exam passes):

1. Wealth of the child's parents.

2. Spending per pupil.

The Government know this. They have been in control 10 years.

A good head teacher and a fresh start can help kick-start a school but has little impact in the long term.

Acadamies succeed because they have huge capital investment, spend more money per pupil, and cream off a more affluent intake than the so-called "Failing" schools they replace.

  • 87.
  • At 11:22 AM on 01 Nov 2007,
  • John Constable wrote:

I offer you an anecdote.

On a commuter train one morning a couple of years ago, I (unusually) fell in conversation with the rotund gentleman sitting opposite.

As the conversation progressed, I enquired as to his profession.

He told me that he had been an educationalist for a few decades.

I innocently asked what impact the Government had ... but before I could even finish the sentence, this gentleman literally exploded into a full-blown rant about how the Government policies had completely ruined education in this country.

The carriage fell into shocked silence as this fellow continued.

Eventually, he stopped because the train pulled into a station, and he realised he had to get off.

Another chap sitting next to me said "He felt strongly about that, did'nt he!".

I replied, "Unlike most of us, he probably had an informed opinion".

I personally think that the taxpayer gets appalling value for money in education, as elsewhere such as health 'provided' by the State.

The sooner that English people regain real choice over their childrens education, the better it will be in the long run.

PS. For the tiny number of waverers who still believe politicians blandishments about education, just checkout the quality of the posts on a website such as Friends Reunited, where in English, at least, one can clearly see the decline in quality from the 1950's through to date.

Gordon Brown says "We can no longer tolerate failure". Isn't that a shocking statement from a politician, less alone a Prime Minister in a civilized society?

Failure is part of life and the human experience. How would we judge 'success' without 'failure'?

Mr Brown is again showing he's not up to the job - we've gone from good cop, Blair (apart from Iraq) to bad cop, Brown, the authoritarian.

  • 89.
  • At 02:41 PM on 01 Nov 2007,
  • G Herridge wrote:

Why is it that schools that have below 30% of pupils attaining five good GCSEs are considered to be failing? Oh, of course we have to blame the staff not the pupils. Yes, if a child is not making the predicted progress it must be because the teacher is giving uninspired lessons rather than the child being lazy. Neither? Oh well, it must be the fault of the parents. Yes I am being cynical, but it’s time to face up to reality: schools are trying to educate hordes of bone idle (usually boys) kids who don’t want to be there. Who can blame them in a way? Schools are very much a customer driven environment now days, and of course the customer is always right. It’s just that the government hasn’t quite caught up, with its continued compulsory education agenda. Having taught in what was described as the fourth best comprehensive secondary in England a couple of years ago (100% gaining five good GCSEs), you might be interested in the secret of its success. The best teachers you say? Well we did have the average amount I would say. More like ruthless senior management that massaged the intake surreptitiously until it reached a critical mass such that the school became the primary choice of professional parents. Cognitive tests on each intake eventually produced results that would be expected from a grammar school intake. The point of relating this is that simply closing down a school because less than 30% of its pupils are deemed to be achieving is too simplistic and coarse. Very often that school will be attempting to educate children that other schools would rather not have because it may damage their position in the league tables.

  • 90.
  • At 02:51 PM on 01 Nov 2007,
  • Tom wrote:

30% of pupils at all schools should get five decent GCSEs. It's a pretty low place to set the bar, isn't it, especially when Government's aim is for half of young people to go on to university.

Anyway thanks for posting the full text of the speech.

  • 91.
  • At 03:06 PM on 01 Nov 2007,
  • Damian wrote:

have you got the message yet, Nick?

It appears that the vast majority of you correspondents have seen straight through the Brown (blurred) vision.

Where has he been for the past ten years? making a mess of the education system while 'hard working families' made sure their children had their aspirations met in the private sector.

Same old Brown same old answers...more money, more control, more state control and more social justice aka idealogical dogma.

Put it to the vote! Oops, you bottled that.

  • 92.
  • At 03:30 PM on 01 Nov 2007,
  • Tom wrote:

A five year plan. Who does that remind you of?

  • 93.
  • At 04:18 PM on 01 Nov 2007,
  • Malcolm wrote:

Gordon Brown is on safe ground talking about education. The people who elected him in Kircaldy couldn't care less what he does or says on the subject - it won't affect them or their children.

  • 94.
  • At 07:19 PM on 01 Nov 2007,
  • Rhys Jaggar wrote:

What use is geography 'A' level in teaching you to eat healthily? (4, 3 hint: a more vernacular version of 'not a lot')

What use is knowledge of a Wheatstone Bridge in managing your adolescent emotions? (5, 5, 5 - hint: SFA)

What use is 3 years in Hall at Oxbridge in learning to find suitable accommodation at a fair price? (10, 4, 10 - hint: ANW)

How many people would benefit from eating healthily, managing adolescent emotions and finding suitable accommodation at a fair price? (10, 7, 9 - hint: ABE)

So why are we so obsessed with A Levels and so neglectful of the learning the necessities of life? (4, 5, 4 - hint: FKM)

Please note the crossword clues to comply with house rules!

  • 95.
  • At 08:49 PM on 01 Nov 2007,
  • Clive wrote:

Mike Tomlinson's thorough, well researched and innovative report's recommendations should have been adopted without delay. It was only the government's pre-election jitters, about how the ditching of the 'gold standard A-level', beloved out of no more than nostalgia, would play with the average Daily Mail reader, that prevented it. Equivocating Ed Balls still clearly doesn't have the balls to face down the Mail and its readers. A-levels were appropriate for the 50s and 60s but they are no longer fit for the purpose of training and selecting people to fit our economy's requirements.

  • 96.
  • At 08:44 AM on 02 Nov 2007,
  • Ianathome wrote:

Nick, is there a BBC rule that you are not allowed to question the Prime Minister's statements amy more? I am just a bit surprised that you could have written quite so much on this without raising an obvious question: after 10 years of target-driven policies, which appear not to have improved matters very much at all, is the way forward really a further - and seemingly very draconian - target?

  • 97.
  • At 02:08 PM on 02 Nov 2007,
  • Mad Max wrote:

QUOTE OF THE DAY. Courtesy of the BBC.

"No more toleration of second best in Britain - no more toleration of second best for Britain" Gordon Brown on his aims for education (in England)

An anagram of 'Second Best' is 'Decent Boss'. Freudian slip?

When is Gordon Brown going to allow the electorate to choose one?

  • 98.
  • At 09:47 AM on 03 Nov 2007,
  • Ben wrote:

(1) The exams need to be outside the UK governments control - the gov has a tendency to dumb down exams to make the results 'fit'. The result being exams worth exactly nothing. Introduce the IB as the UK's exam.

(2) Reintroduce apprenticeships - not everyone is suited to academic progress and some people are better suited to this sort of learning.

This was my first read of Nick's Blog and apart from the very rare illiterate contribution, I really enjoyed reading so many people's passionately held, clearly well informed views on education. Having taught for nineteen years, and working right now at the heart of some of the key educational changes New Labour is attempting, I will contribute just one, I hope objective thought. His support for Teach First is a terrific idea because what they do is simple, and it works. I worked for them in their first year and saw it day after day. They put some of the UK's most academically able and talented graduates into schools weighed down with children whose parents have burdened them with little or no interest in education. That alone is a real, visible and effective improvement. But just to give people a flavour of the challenge such a graduate can face in reality. I watched an extremely clever, gifted young Teach First Maths teacher spend an entire lesson trying to teach a small group of impeccably behaved but mathematically weak 16 year olds, how to plot a single point on a graph. They hung on his every word. They did everything he asked them, but they simply couldn't do it. None of them. It had nothing to do with his ability to teach and everything to do with an inability to cope with Maths (and possibly much more) they had inherited long before they were fortunate enough to enter his classroom.

  • 100.
  • At 01:16 PM on 06 Nov 2007,
  • A Nichol wrote:

Possible future scenario: you’re now 16. Vote and procreate by all means, but make sure you’re not late for school (with no drink or smokes) for the next 2 years

As a secondary school teacher turned sixth form teacher, I have dealt with pupils from both ends of the academic spectrum. The compulsory education until 18 policy seems to come from a 'provide and they shall receive' philosophy. Which is fine for a few.
School leavers fit broadly into a few categories: the successful, the unsuccessful due to personal circumstances (bullying, regular movement of schools, closed schools), the unsuccessful due to a lack of academic ability, and the unsuccessful due to a lack of engagement.
The first three here will benefit from post 16 education. Largely, they already do so. So a revolution in the state of the country's skill set will not be forthcoming here.

The latter category is a persistent and evident group of young people in this country for whom education holds no value. Forcing them to stay after 16 will have no effect other than to plague post 16 teachers with more disinterested/disengaged pupils (and no doubt the onus will lie on such teachers to track, monitor and encourage such pupils at the expense of the time spent with the motivated and engaged). These pupils have already spent ten years in education. If in that time they have not engaged with any part of the system, how is an extra 2 years supposed to help? Courses that would suit these children already exist, but these children don't partake. Forcing them to join one (so they no longer appear as NEET on the stats) will not mean that they will partake. And the government will be funding empty course places and an increased truancy tackling system and necessary administration. Neither of which would be needed without the extension.

So they gains are few, and there are some costs. Lost teacher time on the engaged has been mentioned, as have the obvious financial implications. Some pupils have a last surge of effort in Y11 ad the exams loom. Give them an extra 2 years and watch this surge die and watch them waste the next 18 months as well. I’m not being cynical here; I was successful at school but left everything to the last moment.

There is not a dearth of opportunity in this country, but a lack of interest from some quarters. The government can provide all it likes, but it cannot force people to engage with a process they have no respect for. Nor can it protect people from themselves (despite many efforts over the last 10 years). Instead, the government should be happy to be let off the hook for a change. They cannot change the hearts and minds of people, so are not responsible for this ill in society.

Lots of moaning, but no alternative offered. Try this then:
*Fund FE (academic and vocational) well enough to fully appeal to those who want to learn (if you can pay to make it mandatory for everyone, you can pay for it to be great for the engaged)
*Introduce vocational training to secondary level schools and ditch the (5+ GCSE snobbery). Also providing pupils with the opportunity to study vocational courses without feeling like the ‘dim’ class
*Teachers currently fill too many roles in schools (teacher, mentor, tutor, social worker, truancy administrator, pseudo-parent). Let teachers teach and bring in other professionals to support the social wellbeing of the pupils.
*(controversially) remove school league tables so that schools no longer ‘teach the exam’. Ofstead can then comment on the standard of teaching performed by a school (so parent’s know what their children would/do receive) and teachers are free to pursue avenues of interest to their pupils (hence improving engagement and rates of continuation)

A parting thought: Some children don’t achieve by 16. Some still won’t achieve by 18. Is the next step to keep everyone in education until 21 so they all have the same duration as HE students?

  • 101.
  • At 11:51 AM on 07 Nov 2007,
  • Quietzapple wrote:

Training and/or education will be lifelong for most of those now at school.

That has been made clear before, so why is this new bill so much of a surprise?

I suppsoe Tony Blair was wasting his breath telling the tories about the global market?

Mrs Thatcher looked for people with solutions, the :"Can Do!" attitude.

Long dead in the Tory Party, let us hope the NUT etc wise up and don't play silly bs with the future of our children.

  • 102.
  • At 02:17 PM on 07 Nov 2007,
  • John Nutt wrote:

I am no longer a teacher because I couldn't manage the self deception that the job had become. Life is too short to lie to yourself! There is nothing in this speech that says anything new - just the same old damage to the state education system with extra bullying. Over the past twenty years teachers were systematically de-skilled by removing every trace of initiative from their function, they were terrorized by Ofsted (there are a lot of 50-70 year old casualties out there) and they were loaded with accountabilty. All in the name of failed progress.

The biggest educational lie is that anyone in political life is capable of facing up to the endemic weaknesses of certain sectors of the community. There have always been sectors of society who are antipathetic and unteachable, who hate and buck the system on principle and who reject education for negative emotional reasons. They are often victims of the gross in-adequacies in society, whose lives are too damaged to enable them to manage their children's learning - It is not for no reason that public schools board pupils!
The strategy now is to amuse them with ICT so we have schools that engage with computer games and ICT gurus who tell us we don't know anything about the future. Thank god for Susan green field and the Oxford institute for the mind - they at least are aware of the moral and cultural inadequates schooling is now creating! What's needed is a little more humanity in schools and not more of the same old threats!

  • 103.
  • At 06:56 PM on 07 Nov 2007,
  • Matthew James Wills wrote:

As a first year student at Leeds Metropolitan University after recently completing my A-levels, I personally question the statement made by Gordon Brown when he states that by 2010, he aims to achieve 50% of young people in higher education. Is this really a reachable objective?

It has been shown that last year the number of university entrants went down, I believe that the recent top-up fee’s are to be blamed for this decrease. As surely it has to make prospective students think more closely about contemplating ever going to university. I know from experience that it was something I questioned when I was applying to universities last year, such a big factor which resulted me accepting a place at Leeds Metropolitan University where they do not have top-up fee’s in place. Now the introduction of top-up fee’s are in place and already highlighting the number of entrants declining, how is it still possible that this target can be achieved? Would it not be wise to banish top-up fee’s making it a more appealing option for young people to say in education?

As for the issue of raising the current school leavers age to 18, I feel would not be wise, as those who wish to leave school at 16, if told they had to stay until they where 18 years old would not do well because frankly they don’t want to be there. It would create a distraction for those who are there to do well and could likely affect there grades.

  • 104.
  • At 04:10 PM on 08 Nov 2007,
  • Patrick Hadley wrote:

I apologise for joining this thread rather late, but I have only just read the speech. I am amazed that nobody, anywhere at all as far as I can see, has commented on the most amazing statistic Mr Brown quoted.

"Unskilled jobs are disappearing. We have 6 million unskilled workers today. We will need only half a million in 2020 - five and a half million fewer."

That would be the most ridiculous statement ever made. If Mr Brown really believes it then he is too stupid to be Prime Minister. He cannot really believe than in just 13 years over 90% of all unskilled jobs will disappear. Please tell me this is a misprint.

The need for unskilled workers has been steadily increasing in many areas of the economy for years. While there is certainly an increasing need for specialist highly skilled workers, new technology has meant that there is less demand for those classified as skilled workers.

Unskilled and low skilled workers will be needed at least as much as ever, if not more, in retail, service industries, cleaning, tourism, light manufacturing and assembly work, delivery driving, couriers, call centres, agriculture etc. Where on earth did Mr Brown get the idea that we will be able to do with five and half million less people doing those jobs?

Over the last fifty years the skills needed to do many jobs have been reduced by the introduction of mechanisation. Skilled workers from shorthand typists to car mechanics - have been replaced by semi-skilled and quickly trained workers who can do the job far more efficiently thanks to computers. Indeed ever since the industrial revolution the story of employment in this country has been of craftsmen being replaced by people with far less skill using machines to produced far more goods.

The skills shortage in this country is by and large for highly skilled people with degrees or the equivalent in specialised areas such as medicine or engineering. There is no shortage at all in the sort of skills that the NEETS could learn on day release, or even full time, at college. They are already well qualified for jobs in shops, burger bars, warehouses, etc: indeed for just about any jobs for which they have the aptitude.

  • 105.
  • At 11:30 AM on 13 Nov 2007,
  • Quietzapple wrote:

Most people in the NEET category are quite unsuited to shop work.

Anyone who thinks otherwise must shop in very expensive shops, or employ a professional shopper surely?

This post is closed to new comments.

BBC © 2014 The BBC is not responsible for the content of external sites. Read more.

This page is best viewed in an up-to-date web browser with style sheets (CSS) enabled. While you will be able to view the content of this page in your current browser, you will not be able to get the full visual experience. Please consider upgrading your browser software or enabling style sheets (CSS) if you are able to do so.