Saturday, May 26, 2007

Johnson's Independent School gaff

Alan Johnson currently the Education Secretary and deputy leadership candidate gave an interview to the Telegraph which ended up with the headline "Private Schools must share teaching "expertise".

For example novelist (and leftwinger) John O'Farrell, who chairs the governors of Lambeth Academy in South London, seemed to be upset at the implication that teachers in the independent sector are better teachers than those in the private sector.

As usual the headline has obscured some interesting ideas to sell the story both in the Telegraph and indeed other media that has carried the story.

I am not sure if lending teachers is a good idea.For a start I can see it causing even more morale problems in the state sector. Alan Johnson seems concerned about the fact that the independent sector does have enough maths, music, science and language teachers that the state sector seems to lack. That to some extent is true, but the reasons for that are varied. For a start we are not getting the graduates in these subjects in the first place which is a result of science and the like being undervalued in schools in the first place. The reason for that is in essence the way that school league tables work. You get bonus points for pupils passing exams at grade 'C' or above but no reference made to the type of subject. As a result whilst the number of pupils who get 5 GCSE's is up, the number who get 5 good ones is down since 1997, good ones being defined as including Maths, a science and a language. Then of course the independent sector can and does pay what it likes to teachers and can pay more to get a science or maths teacher if they need to.

Universities are being told they have to get more students in and indeed through, again without reference to whether the course studied are useful. The net result is that science and engineering departments are withering and dying in may places. This is a problem because if we are to build the knowledge economy we do need people with technical knowledge.

We clearly need to go back and think about this. There are a number of problems to solve in schools but there are also things which need to be done in our university system.

The next thing that Alan Johnson wants to do is to get the independent sector to share their science labs. Why has the state sector not got science labs? Why is there a problem with teaching sciences in state schools?

Firstly it is not a universal problem. Many state schools can and do have the facilities and teachers. Secondly where there is a problem it is because either the facilities have not been built or more likely they have now been used for other things. There is also a lack of teachers (discussed above). Also the way that risk assessments work make it hard to teach science as well. As a practical subject it needs experiments. There is nothing quite so dull as a theory only science course as there is nothing quite so dull as lumping all the sciences in together so you don't get at the meat of any of them.

There are some good ideas though, for example getting independent schools to set up city academies. This will only work of course if they can apply their own discipline. This tends to be one of the big separators of state and private education, along with class sizes.

The BBC also has this.


erik said...

We clearly need to go back and think about this. There are a number of problems to solve in schools but there are also things which need to be done in our university system.

Would you care to elaborate?
What are your views?

erik said...

Seems like an old story thats being re used just for self promotion by a fool.
try this

Benedict White said...

Erik bashing independent schools one way or another is something Labour politicians do all the time. There is nothing new in that.

As for new thinking in schools I am still thinking about that :)

Firstly the system seems to now to skewed towards results regardless of what they are in. One way of tackling that would be to alter the league tables.

Then on Universities you could reduce fees and or increase grants for certain subjects.

However I am still thinking about that.