Richard Garner: Discipline not 'dumbing down' is the problem

Share
Related Topics

By any stretch of the imagination, it has been a bad week on education for the Government.

By any stretch of the imagination, it has been a bad week on education for the Government.

Yesterday's report from the Qualifications and Curriculum Authority criticising how several subjects are taught is just the latest in a series of criticisms voiced over the past few days.

According to the exams watchdog, children no longer have the concentration span to read books. This is because they are taught to focus only on certain passages so they pass their English tests. In history, they learn too much about Hitler and not enough on British heritage.

This comes after the chief schools inspector, David Bell, warned in his annual report of deteriorating discipline, of 2,000 schools - one in 10 - making "very poor" efforts to improve, and of ministers being in danger of pursuing the wrong remedies because of Tony Blair's insistence on hanging on to A-levels and GCSEs.

It also comes after the National Audit Office warned that spending £885,000 on measures to combat truancy had failed - and that truancy levels were as high as they had been when Labour came to power in 1997.

All in all, it was the kind of week that, if Estelle Morris had been Secretary of State for Education, she would have decided she was not up to the job and resigned - again.

A note of caution should be urged, though, before concluding that the Prime Minister's education policies have gone off the rails rather than delivering on the three promised priorities of "education, education and education".

True, discipline is worse - only 66 per cent of schools report good behaviour compared to 75 per cent five years ago - and the drip, drip of constant, low-level disruption in the classroom is getting on more and more teachers' nerves.

But Mr Bell did add that education was improving - particularly for the under-fives and in terms of exam results - and reserved some of his most trenchant criticisms for the traditionalist lobby who claim better results mean "dumbing down".

Indeed, he cited the growing number of failing schools this year - 213 as opposed to 160 last year - as evidence of this. Inspectors had "raised the barrier" for schools because they felt standards had improved and all schools should therefore be able to do better.

On truancy, the NAO report showed that - while a target of cutting truancy by a third between 1997 and 2002 remains a pipe dream - the measures taken have had some effect in persuading parents not to take children out of lessons in term time. The number of authorised absences has fallen.

In all, then, there may still be more questions unsolved than solved but the picture is more complex than some of the more damning headlines this week suggest.

React Now

iJobs Job Widget
iJobs General

Information Security Manager (ISO 27001, Accreditation, ITIL)

£70000 per annum: Harrington Starr: Information Security Manager (ISO 27001, A...

C# Developer (HTML5, JavaScript, ASP.NET, Mathematics, Entity)

£30000 - £45000 per annum + Benefits + Bonus: Harrington Starr: C# Developer (...

C# Integration Developer (.NET, Tibco EMS, SQL 2008/2012, XML)

£60000 - £80000 per annum + Benefits + Bonus: Harrington Starr: C# Integration...

Biztalk - outstanding opportunity

£75000 - £85000 per annum + ex bens: Deerfoot IT Resources Limited: Biztalk Te...

Day In a Page

Big deal: Changing what we eat must be a better option than cutting into people’s stomachs  

Gastric bands are as useful as a plaster on a severed artery

Zoë Harcombe
Iraq crisis: How Saudi Arabia helped Isis take over the north of the country

How Saudi Arabia helped Isis take over northern Iraq

A speech by an ex-MI6 boss hints at a plan going back over a decade. In some areas, being Shia is akin to being a Jew in Nazi Germany, says Patrick Cockburn
The evolution of Andy Serkis: First Gollum, then King Kong - now the actor is swinging through the trees in Dawn of the Planet of the Apes

The evolution of Andy Serkis

First Gollum, then King Kong - now the actor is swinging through the trees in Dawn of the Planet of the Apes
You thought 'Benefits Street' was controversial: Follow-up documentary 'Immigrant Street' has got locals worried

You thought 'Benefits Street' was controversial...

Follow-up documentary 'Immigrant Street' has got locals worried
Refugee children from Central America let down by Washington's high ideals

Refugee children let down by Washington's high ideals

Democrats and Republicans refuse to set aside their differences to cope with the influx of desperate Central Americas, says Rupert Cornwell
Children's books are too white, says Laureate

Children's books are too white, says Laureate

Malorie Blackman appeals for a better ethnic mix of authors and characters and the illustrator Quentin Blake comes to the rescue
Blackest is the new black: Scientists have developed a material so dark that you can't see it...

Blackest is the new black

Scientists have developed a material so dark that you can't see it...
Matthew Barzun: America's diplomatic dude

Matthew Barzun: America's diplomatic dude

The US Ambassador to London holds 'jeans and beer' gigs at his official residence – it's all part of the job, he tells Chris Green
Meet the Quantified Selfers: From heart rates to happiness, there is little this fast-growing, self-tracking community won't monitor

Meet the 'Quantified Selfers'

From heart rates to happiness, there is little this fast-growing, self-tracking community won't monitor
Madani Younis: Five-star reviews are just the opening act for British theatre's first non-white artistic director

Five-star reviews are just the opening act for British theatre's first non-white artistic director

Madani Younis wants the neighbourhood to follow his work as closely as his audiences do
Mrs Brown and her boys: are they having a laugh?

Mrs Brown and her boys: are they having a laugh?

When it comes to national stereotyping, the Irish – among others – know it can pay to play up to outsiders' expectations, says DJ Taylor
Gavin Maxwell's bitter legacy: Was the otter man the wildlife champion he appeared to be?

Otter man Gavin Maxwell's bitter legacy

The aristocrat's eccentric devotion to his pets inspired a generation. But our greatest living nature writer believes his legacy has been quite toxic
Joanna Rowsell: The World Champion cyclist on breaking her collarbone, shattering her teeth - and dealing with alopecia

Joanna Rowsell: 'I wear my wig to look normal'

The World Champion cyclist on breaking her collarbone, shattering her teeth - and dealing with alopecia
Bill Granger recipes: Our chef gives raw ingredients a lift with his quick marinades

Bill Granger's quick and delicious marinades

Our chef's marinades are great for weekend barbecuing, but are also a delicious way of injecting flavour into, and breaking the monotony of, weekday meals
Germany vs Argentina World Cup 2014 preview: Why Brazilians don't love their neighbours Argentina any more

Anyone but Argentina – why Brazilians don’t love their neighbours any more

The hosts will be supporting Germany in today's World Cup final, reports Alex Bellos
The Open 2014: Time again to ask that major question - can Lee Westwood win at last?

The Open 2014

Time again to ask that major question - can Lee Westwood win at last?