Chalk Talk: Why can't all children be top of the class?


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The Independent Online

To the House of Commons for a seminar on a new book by former national curriculum boss Professor Mick Waters, Thinking Allowed on Schooling.

Professor Waters recounted being grilled by MPs on the Commons Select Committee on Education while he was head of curriculum at the now defunct Qualifications and Curriculum Authority. He was talking about national curriculum test results when one MP earnestly asked him: "Tell me: after so many years concentrating on literacy and numeracy standards, why are 25 per cent of children still in the bottom quartile?"

It reminds me of the rows that started up when SATs were introduced, with level four the level expected of an average 11-year-old. It was soon interpreted as the level below which any child was considered illiterate or innumerate. I remember one teacher telling me of a meeting with a government adviser in which she was asked: "Why can't every child reach at least the average?" Answers on a postcard, please.

Much ado about Michael Gove's announced desire to extend the school working day and cut short the summer holidays. Coming as it did just a day after he had written to the teachers' pay review body suggesting scrapping their present workforce agreement, it was sure to arouse the unions' wrath. Nigel de Gruchy, former general secretary of the National Association of Schoolmasters Union of Women Teachers, once described the summer holidays as "the last perk of the teaching profession" when he defended calls for strike action against attempts to introduce shorter breaks.

But Mr Gove's plan might not be as innovative as at first thought. I recall Estelle Morris when she was Education Secretary wistfully acknowledging that there might not be enough time in the current school day to introduce all the reforms the Government would like.