Luddites at the School Gates; A Top Education Policy Maker Exposes the Zealots Blocking Classroom Reforms

The Mail on Sunday (London, England), March 14, 1999 | Go to article overview

Luddites at the School Gates; A Top Education Policy Maker Exposes the Zealots Blocking Classroom Reforms


Byline: ANONYMOUS

All week Tory Party bigwigs have been trying to guess the identity of Anonymous, the Conservative insider who wrote a devastaing account of life in William Hague's kindergarten cabinet for The Mail on Sunday Review .By concealing his - or

was it her? - identity the writer could tell the unvarnished tr uth, without f ear of retribution. Since the article appeared, a number of other key figures in Britain 's Establishment have contacted us to reveal what they really f eel a bout their colleagues. The first to take up Anonymous's pen is a top political power-broker working in the world of education.

Parents want their children to be taught the basics of reading, writing and arithmetic. They want them to leave school with a reasonable knowledge of history and of the literature of their country, together with mathematics and science. They want them to be taught how to behave and to present themselves well in the different situations they will meet in adult life.

These are simple goals and they ought to be easy to achieve. The political will is there. The resources are there. But the reality is that they are not being achieved.

Forty per cent of 11-year-olds leave primary school illiterate and innumerate to a greater or lesser extent.

Twenty per cent of 16-year-olds do not even manage to scrape a dismal Grade G in GCSE English and Mathematics.

What on earth is the problem? It is not, despite the ceaseless whingeing of the teacher unions, that teachers lack the resources to do the job. In fact, over the last 20 years, year on year, spending on education has increased in real terms.

The truth is that standards in schools remain abysmally low because there is a conflict within the educational system that is holding back the policies of both this Labour Government and its Tory predecessor.

The education establishment is positively Masonic in its secret webs of power: the private preserve of professors, administrators, union leaders and teacher trainers. It hates anything smacking of common sense.

Locked into half-baked, child-centred ideologies and desperate to defend its status and privileges, this establishment continues to do everything it can to frustrate any attempt to raise our schools from mediocrity.

Above all else, the union leaders and professors of education and chief education officers who have presided over decades of school failure dislike the idea that the performance of the education service should be opened up to scrutiny.

It is this general conflict within the system which could explain the relentless campaign of vilification against Chris Woodhead, the Chief Inspector who has done so much to expose the under-performance of schools and the intellectual shoddiness of teacher training.

Last month in his annual lecture, Woodhead spoke about how the educational establishment continues to reject any attempt to control its influence.

Whatever the initiative, their response is the same. Teachers are professionals; professionals must have freedom to determine what they do; any intrusion into their autonomy must therefore be resisted as an assault on their professionalism.

But what, apart from denying generations of children a good education, does this professionalism amount to?

It amounts first to melodramatic squealing from professors of education offended by the very idea that the Government might intervene in what is taught in schools or in teacher training.

When the National Curriculum was introduced, Professor Philip Gam-mage of the University of Nottingham announced with no shade of irony that the National Curriculum was the creation of the totalitarian state, obviously overlooking the fact that for years France has had one far more prescriptive than ours.

Another Marxist-influenced education 'guru', Professor Robin Alexander of Warwick University, has also described the present National Curriculum as 'unexamined, ideologically loaded and backward'. …

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