Letter: Fighting back against Britain's 'anti-education culture'

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The Independent Online
Sir: Bryan Appleyard (7 March) is right to identify an "educational nihilism" which is holding too many of our youngsters back from reaching their potential in school. The Chief Inspector of Schools, Chris Woodhead, was also right to identify a particular problem affecting working-class boys and what he describes as "anti-educational cultures".

Both of these issues have been a serious concern of mine since taking over responsibility for Labour's education policy. The 10-point gap between boys and girls in GCSE results nationally is widened considerably in inner city areas like my own Sheffield constituency. We clearly need further research into the problem and how to deal with it.

Mentoring schemes are one important way of giving boys role models and a sense of what they can achieve. When exam performance for schools in inner London was broken down ethnically by the Ilea in the 1980s, children from West Indian families also significantly under-performed, and the importance of such mentoring is increasingly recognised within that community.

The second issue is the "anti-educational cultures", or what I have described as "the culture of complacency". Parental expectations are very often too low, and so too are those of teachers for working-class boys. If a child is expected to perform badly, it can too often become a self-fulfilling prophecy. We need to involve parents much more in taking responsibility with teachers for their children's education, and our proposed home-school contracts will help.

Above all, Bryan Appleyard is right to identify the "profound disbelief in ... achievement" as the key issue which must be challenged.

David Blunkett MP

(Sheffield Brightside, Lab)

House of Commons

London SW1

The writer is Labour education spokesman