Education Quandary

What should we be making of the White Paper on education now? What does it add up to?
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The Independent Online

Hilary's advice

This reader says that he has got lost in the recent political twists and turns, but the only thing to know about the White Paper is that it started out as a dog's dinner and now looks more like a regurgitated one.

There are some good things there. And the desire to help all children achieve is truly laudable. But the essence of the proposed legislation, which is to make secondary schools independent and competitive in order to give parents more choice and - as Ruth Kelly so relentlessly parrots - "drive up standards", shows a fundamental lack of understanding of what parents want, how daily life works for families, and what actually improves schooling.

There may be gains in the short term. Schools tend to do better when new money is being thrown at them, and there's the excitement of a fresh start. But this often peters out over time and, anyway, however you rearrange the pieces on the chessboard, old problems and inequalities will always surface.

The only way to get long-lasting educational improvements is to directly address what happens in the classroom, with high-quality, well-trained teachers delivering the best possible lessons to children who arrive in school willing and able to learn. But the White Paper has relatively little to say about this. It's main intention seems to be to make the outgoing Prime Minister look as if he really did have a big vision for Education, Education, Education, no matter the consequences once he has left office.

Readers' advice

As a former chair of governors and a Labour branch chair, I have studied the paper's rambling 116 pages. The whole proposal is based on the false premise that Labour's earlier reforms and increased funding are not achieving sufficient improvement in schools. But no child has yet had the full benefit of the changes. Those who have had the literacy and numeracy hours from entering primary school have not even reached GCSE.

Furthermore, the main proposal for "trust schools" is at best unproven and at worst shown to be ineffective by the experience in Minnesota of similar schools. Also, it will transfer public assets to unelected bodies who will compete rather than co-operate. Verdict: unlikely to improve things!
David Bell, Hertfordshire

I have an eight-year-old with severe attention- deficit and hyperactivity disorder, who is very difficult to handle in the classroom. His primary school does a brilliant job, but which secondary school will want him once schools are all allowed to pick and choose pupils? Even if they say they won't be discriminating against this sort of child, parents know from experience that they will.
Lois Ash, Warwickshire

The Government says that it wants to put more resources into deprived schools where children are failing, but why can't it do this without having to tie it all up with partnership schemes involving evangelical church charities and socially ambitious entrepreneurs, all of whom are bound to have their own agenda?
Luke Williams, Buckinghamshire

Next week's quandary

Does anyone else out there think that children need more space and quiet in their school lives? If so, how can we introduce it? I teach a Year Four class and feel pressure to make my lessons more and more exciting, but I also see that children are getting jumpier, and feel that sometimes they need the opposite.

Send your letters or quandaries to Hilary Wilce by next Monday, at 'The Independent', Education Desk, Independent House, 191 Marsh Wall, London E14 9RS; or fax: 020-7005 2143; or e-mail: Please include your postal address. Readers whose letters are printed will receive a Berol Combi Pack containing a cartridge pen, handwriting pen and ink eraser