No child should be left behind

In education, the slogan should be: innovation, innovation, innovation
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The Independent Online

This newspaper supports diversity in schools. We want many more different kinds of school, experimenting with different approaches to education, because the typical education on offer in this country does not allow many pupils to reach their potential. The typical primary school, with its early start on formal reading and writing, is not suited to some children, especially boys. The average secondary school, with nearly 1,000 pupils and an emphasis on traditional academic exams, does not get the best out of a large minority.

For that reason, The Independent on Sunday is cautiously supportive of free schools. In particular, we celebrated the opening this year of a secondary school dedicated to autistic children; a technical school linked to the motor racing industry at Silverstone; a school specialising in the creative arts associated with Elstree film studios; a non-denominational secondary school in Oldham, where existing schools are divided on racial and religious lines; and new units for pupils who have been excluded from conventional schools.

That is also why we support diversity of provision in further and higher education too. We report today on the popularity of new night-school degrees at Birkbeck, University of London, which allow students to work full time rather than to take a traditional three-year course away from home. In education, the slogan should be: innovation, innovation, innovation.

So far, we agree with Dominic Cummings, Michael Gove's departing special adviser, whose erudite and complex views on education were leaked yesterday. He thinks English schools are not as good as they could be, that they have failed to innovate or to think ambitiously enough about the teaching of maths and science in particular.

So far, however, but no further. The guiding principle has to be that we want diversity of educational approaches, to give everyone the best chance of finding the right kind of education for them. That means no child should be written off; no child should be regarded as unteachable. There are only children for whom the right way of making the best of their talents has not yet been found. That means, for example, that we share the doubts about the Al-Madinah free school in Derby, if girls were required to sit behind boys, which the acting principal disputes.

And it means that we find Mr Cummings's views on the heritability of school performance worrying. In his long paper "Some Thoughts on Education and Political Priorities", he suggests that 40-60 per cent of performance in exams can be explained by inherited ability, rising to 70 per cent for maths. These are deep waters. All we will say is that, if Mr Cummings wants to run a free school, as has been reported, he should consider his suitability for such a venture if he thinks that schooling has so small a part to play in exam performance.

It is not clear why Mr Cummings is leaving the Department for Education, but we wonder if Michael Gove, the Secretary of State, has realised that there is a contradiction between his special adviser's views on genetics and his own belief that there should be no excuses for teachers to expect anything but the best of any pupil.

If that is the cause of Mr Cummings's departure, we are bound to say that we are glad he is going, and that we hope Mr Gove will live up to his promise that no child should be left behind.