Comment ; How Appropriate Is It for Governments to Treat Learning as an Industrial Process?
Smithers, Alan, The Independent (London, England)
THE GOVERNMENT'S approach to education is distinctively managerial. It seems to regard itself as the head of English Education plc. Rejecting the tradition that Government should restrict itself to legislation and levying taxes, leaving implementation to Local Education Authorities (LEAs) and schools, it seems intent on controlling every aspect of our learning.
The Department for Education and Employment now has a mission statement which is translated into three objectives and eight national learning targets. In its Targets Action Plan, LEAs are treated as middle managers and schools as producers. The LEAs have been required to submit Education Development Plans and the schools to set targets. Progress towards the targets is monitored through the test and examination results at the end of primary and secondary schooling.
Beyond school, there is to be a Learning and Skills Council to set a strategy for achieving post-16 targets. This will operate through some 50 Local Learning and Skills Councils which will liaise with government, Regional Development Agencies, local authorities and Local Learning Partnerships. Progress towards the targets is to be monitored through Labour Force surveys.
The justification for this dramatic shift is that nothing else has worked. Compared with other countries, our children seemed not to be getting a good start in life. There have been worrying gaps in educational performance associated with family income, gender and race. We have not been developing the skills to compete on world markets.
The politicians have recently been claiming some notable successes for this approach. The latest test results for 11-year- olds show that about 70 per cent are reaching the expected standard for their age in English and maths compared to less than 50 per cent in 1995. The exam results at 16 are improving and well on course to meet the targets for 2002.
Yet when I presented these results to recent conferences of headteachers and governors, I detected a marked ambivalence in the response. Various examples have been given of the ways in which the numbers had been manipulated upwards with targets in mind. There were a lot of complaints about paperwork and dissatisfaction at the way money was going into the management process rather than the classroom and being held back to support specific schemes.
The Government would, I suspect, dismiss these complaints as the usual carping of educationists. …