What curriculum do young people need?



For the last 30 years, the school curriculum in England has been imposed on teachers top-down. Teachers were not regarded as knowledgeable and were simply expected to “deliver” what politicians decided.

The current version, launched by Michael Gove in 2013, is easily the worst. Gove set up a panel of just four chosen experts then three of them fell out with him. The current national curriculum consists of a collection of content decided by Gove himself and the schools minister Nick Gibb, who is still in charge.

It became notorious even while still in formation, when the open letter signed by 100 education experts in universities made front page news.

“The lists of spellings, facts and rules will not develop children’s ability to think or encourage critical understanding and creativity. It takes no account of children’s age and will place pressure on teachers to rely on rote learning without understanding. Inappropriate demands will lead to failure and demoralisation.”

The history curriculum was denounced by historian Simon Sharma as nationalistic and imperialist.

In 1918, Mary Bousted, joint General Secretary of the NEU, argued against its backwardness, narrow view of skills, and reactionary nationalism.

Gove’s curriculum tries to silence students. By age 11, they have to write to a set pattern with the approved surface features (semi colons, frontal adverbials etc.). Children’s experiences and ideas, and their creativity in expressing them, count for nothing. This continues to age 16, when they are discouraged from expressing themselves through Design and Technology, dance, drama, art or music.

Gove finger

Gove’s national curriculum was a clear usurpation of power. At last there are signs of teachers actively reasserting themselves. Three teachers from the Celebrating Education project, all active members of the National Education Union, have launched an initiative to collect the ideas of teachers.

Their questionnaire asks

  • what should be the broad aims of the curriculum, and what should be its main features at different stages
  • how school learning should relate to their community needs and experiences
  • what knowledge and skills young people need to engage critically and meaningfully with the world.

It asks teachers how their thinking about curriculum has been affected by events of the last few months, particularly Covid19 and Black Lives Matter.

The questionnaire can be found here and is open to teachers of any age group, as well as other education staff, parents, governors, students and others.

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School reopening? top scientists say not yet

“It is clear from the evidence we have collected that 1 June is simply too early to go back. By going ahead with this dangerous decision, the government is further risking the health of our communities and the likelihood of a second spike.” (Sir David King, Independent SAGE Group)

david king

Because of misleading advice and data issued by Downing Street, renowned medical scientists decided to set up an Independent SAGE group. They have already published a general report and recommendations  and begun to look at the question of reopening schools. This could help guide educators to find the right time and the best way to move forward.

In a crisis, hide the bodies

The Coronavirus crisis in England has been marked by false data and various attempts to make the risks seem minimal.

Initially, official figures only included hospital deaths. This was exposed by the Financial Times comparison of total deaths with seasonal averages in previous years. The EuroMOMO database shows that deaths in England remain very high and have not sunk to the same extent as other Western European countries (see our earlier post).


Now, it seems, only people tested in hospitals are appearing in local and regional statistics of new infections. This is creating the impression that there are very few new infections in specific regions.  For example, official tables of geographical distribution showed around 50 new cases in London or the North East each day last week. But when you add all the English regions together, the total doesn’t come anywhere near the UK-wide figure on the summary page. Around three quarters of cases are missing from the local and regional figures. This is because the regional figures don’t include the commercial labs which process tests from the local test centres outside of hospitals. This means that infections among nurses, care assistants and other high-risk workers aren’t counted in the local and regional figures. It is not surprising that some major newspapers are suggesting the crisis is over.

The picture that emerges from more complete data supplied to the World Health Organisation (WHO) shows the crisis is far from over. The WHO is showing around 3000 new cases a day for the UK. Since England has 84% of the total UK population, this suggests around 2500 new confirmed cases across England every day.

Should schools reopen on 1 June?

school fence

The medical experts in Independent SAGE called a meeting on Friday 22 May to discuss this question with interested parties such as parents and trade unions. Their draft report was supplemented by advice from experienced education researchers.

Professor David King concluded that there is almost zero chance of conditions being reached for a safe reopening of schools on 1 June. The report makes clear that decisions on school opening should depend on low levels of infections in the community and the capacity to respond quickly to new infections through a local test, track and isolate strategy.

“There is no clear evidence that these conditions are met. Until they are it is not safe to open schools on June 1.” 

Although children are less likely to get ill than adults, they could still infect others. Even the DfE advice is cautious:

“Some studies suggest younger children may transmit less, but this evidence is mixed and provides a low degree of confidence at best.”

So a child carrying the infection but not showing symptoms could spread it unnoticed to other children and staff, and it could then reach family members with existing medical problems as well as older relatives.

Much of the discussion was about disadvantage. The report stresses the need to ensure parents and children are well fed. “Provision of midday meals for vulnerable children out of school and during the summer months is essential.” Rather than rushing to reopen schools, it suggests better provision of computer equipment and distance learning, as well as summer activity schemes including educational “catch up”. (Infection is far less likely out of doors.)


Putting children first

The education researchers point out the need to take a rounded view of children’s needs, not just getting children back behind desks.

Prime are children’s social, emotional and wider development needs. One could imagine a completely social distancing school that ends up creating an environment that could be emotionally harmful for children. Stories of nurseries and reception classes removing all toys prior to re-opening are unlikely to create a rich learning environment and might otherwise create harm.

Careful thought has to be given to the main purpose of re-opening.

The needs of the child should be at the centre of concern. This could mean, for example, that physical activity, exploring the natural environment, dance or drama has higher priority than academic learning. The facility for children to play and learn with a small group of friends may outweigh the desirability of strict physical distancing.

The Government instruction to get the youngest children back first was questioned:

Children of this age are too young to sit at desks and be lectured from the front of the class, and the practice would be unsuitable and quite alien to them… The unsuitability of the practice is such that it would be better for the children’s mental health to continue to remain at home. It should also be remembered that, in most nations in the world, the school starting age is 6 or 7 so very few children of this age are actually in school. As such, it seems highly illogical to insist that there is a greater urgency for them to return to school than for older age groups.

child with mask

The particular difficulties of English secondary schools were highlighted, including movement of children to different sets and subject options. In this respect, English secondary schools are worse placed than in many European countries where there is less setting or streaming and a common curriculum to age 16.

In secondary schools, different curricular arrangements may be needed to keep children within the same group of 10-15 throughout the week rather than shuffling between multiple teachers and classes. For example, a week’s curriculum (perhaps mornings only) could be focused on a single major subject or an interdisciplinary project, complemented by distance learning provided by other subject specialists.

Also, classes are larger in primary and secondary schools than many European countries. It is no easy matter to find enough teachers for classes of 10-15 pupils, and a mix of school attendance and home learning is almost inevitable.

Other suggestions include:

    • When engaged in academic learning, it will be crucial to engage children’s interest and avoid undue pressures. National testing should be halted to prevent that pressure filtering down to individual teachers and their pupils.
    • Children in need of tutorial support should receive that help, and additional advice and support should be given to parents.

These discussions will continue over coming weeks and months to find ways forward which keep people safe and benefit children socially and educationally.

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Sending England back to work and back to school?


England is still in crisis, and its government are in denial. It is very clear from Boris Johnson’s ‘address to the nation‘ last night (Sunday 10 May) that the government are trying to wish their way out of this crisis and that their top priority is the economy, not human life. There are clear differences in the attitudes of the UK government, applying directly to England, and the governments of other parts of the UK.

From the start, the Scottish and Welsh first ministers had to force the issue of closing schools; England then followed. Despite opposition from the London Mayor, people in England were told to go to work if they couldn’t work from home; in Scotland, people were, and are, forbidden to go in to non-essential work.


The situation in all parts of the UK has been bad, due to high levels of poverty, a run-down NHS and social care sector, and a shortage of PPE. The indifference and incompetence of Johnson’s government is leading England to disaster.

New data on extra deaths

There is some dispute about how Coronavirus deaths should be counted. In England until recently, only hospital deaths were counted. It is still not clear that official figures – though the worst in Europe – include all relevant deaths. The best way round this is to compare all deaths in a week with the seasonal averages in other years.

The EuroMOMO website does just that, for 24 European countries including the different sections of the UK. It was established to detect and measure excess deaths related to seasonal influenza, pandemics and other public health threats. It presents data in a clear visual form, as maps and graphs with adjustable timelines.

To make a fair comparison in countries of different sizes, the national comparisons are presented in z-scores rather than raw numbers (a statistic based on standard deviations).

England is still in crisis

The first message from this data is that England’s peak figures are higher than the peak for any European country: a z-score of 43, compared with 29 for Belgium, 21 France, 22 Italy, 24 Netherlands, and 34 Spain. In each case, the peak  was week 14 or 15.

The second message is that England has had least success in reducing these figures. The z-score for week 18 is 31 in England,  compared with 4 or lower in all the other countries. (In some it is below 0, i.e. fewer deaths than the seasonal average.)

Compare these graphs for England and Spain:



The failure to deal with the crisis is illustrated dramatically in these maps. There was a widespread crisis across much of Western Europe in week 14.


By week 18, the crisis had been largely contained…  everywhere except England.



Excess deaths among working-age adults

The EuroMOMO website also allows us to study particular age groups. The vast majority of deaths have been among over 65s, with very few among children. What stands out, however, is deaths among 15-64 year olds in England.

In the peak week (15), England’s z-score for this age group was 28. The peak score was 5 or lower in Scotland, Wales and Northern Ireland, and between 5 and 10 in the worst affected parts of mainly Europe. Spain was the highest, at 10 in week 13.

England has still got a substantial problem. In week 18, England’s z-score was 15. The highest for other parts of the UK was 2 (Wales) and the highest in mainly Europe was 1.5 (Netherlands). These are the graphs for England and Spain.


To get an idea of the scale of this in real numbers: in week 17 2687 15-64 years olds died in England and Wales, compared with 1480 the previous year. That’s over 1200 additional deaths. (Source: Office for National Statistics)

What is the reason for excess deaths?

Firstly, there are geographical reasons for the high number of deaths in England. It has a dense population, with some very large conurbations. Large numbers of people have to commute to work because housing is unaffordable, especially in London. Given these factors, it was lethal to keep non-essential workplaces open.

Second is the high level of severe poverty. The greatest number of deaths are in the poorest areas. (This is true in Scotland as well, but the Scottish Government compensated for some of the hardships brought about by Westminster’s punitive policies.)

Thirdly, the health service has been run down for years and entered this crisis with too few beds, intensive care units, equipment or protective clothing.

Perhaps the biggest factor distinguishing England from the rest of the UK has been the attitude of Johnson’s government towards attendance at work. Across the UK, people have been encouraged to work from home if possible. But what about people who can’t? That is a key difference. Scottish workers have been forbidden to attend work in non-essential jobs, and still are. The government in England have insisted on opening building sites and other non-essential work. Last night’s speech, with its ‘encouragement to attend work‘  and its reckless push to reopen schools, has only added fuel to the fire.


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Too early to reopen schools : look at Europe

learning at home

Some European countries have started reopening schools as part of a relaxation of the Coronavirus lockdown. Not surprisingly, there are some calls to do the same here so maybe it’s worth making some comparisons.

Firstly, Britain is one of the most damaged countries in Europe. Although London avoided the extreme situation of Madrid or Milan and hospitals just about coped, the death rate is very high. Data from John Hopkins University (29 April) shows deaths per 100,000 of population for major Western European countries as:

Spain 52
Italy 46
UK 39
France 36
Germany 8

The figure for the UK is based on 26,166 deaths and includes care homes, but it is undoubtedly an underestimate; when we compare deaths during recent weeks with averages for this time of year, the number of ‘surplus’ deaths is far higher. An estimate by the Financial Times (22 April) suggests 41,000 more people have died than normally happens.

Some countries which had a lot of Coronavirus cases were much better prepared. Germany has had only 6288 deaths; it entered the crisis with three times as many hospital beds and five times as many intensive care beds as Britain. There was no shortage of protective clothing, ventilators or tests. Even now the German government is showing far more respect for front-line workers than here: it has just agreed a 1000 euro bonus for full-time care home staff.

Schools reopening

schools closed

The first countries to start reopening schools were Denmark and Norway. Denmark has had only 443 deaths and Norway 207. The re-opening was cautious and partial, involving only some pupils and strict regulations. The Norwegian government, reopening Year 1-4 (6-10 year olds) from the 27 April, permitted no more than 15 pupils per room. (Source: Dagsrevyen television news, 21 April) The teacher union made clear that this would require some teachers from higher years, so those older pupils wouldn’t be able to return. The guidelines were:

  • make sure there are good handwashing routines
  • let pupils learn outdoors as much as possible
  • have fixed places to sit and good distancing
  • different break times
  • limit distribution of equipment
  • limit the use of collective transport

It is hard to imagine English schools being able to do the same. For a start, many classes have 35 pupils, and we don’t have a strong tradition of outdoor learning.

In Germany, the first region to try to re-open primary schools was Hessen. It was decided that Year 4 (the final year of German primary schools) should attend. Parents took the regional government to court to stop this, and won.

Next came Nord-Rhein Westfalen (NRW), the biggest and most urban region. NRW chose to bring back only the final years of secondary and primary schools. Classes would be divided between different rooms, and attend on alternate days. There would be strict distancing, and no PE or music. Older pupils protested, arguing that their relatives’ health should not be jeopardised by them sitting final exams and that teacher grades should be used instead.


The federal education minister (ZDF television news, 28 April) has just announced that all pupils should be back at school by the summer holidays, but this would depend on decisions by each regional government and would probably be only part-time with classes alternating daily or weekly. There would be strict distancing, and a maximum of 15 per class. The teacher unions and parent organisations are up in arms because they believe it isn’t safe.

As explained earlier, Germany is only able to do this due to the strength of its health provision, and the very effective way it has dealt with the crisis. The UK has had four times as many deaths as Germany, even by our government’s limited statistics.

The countries with the highest death rates are very reluctant to reopen schools. France will start reopening in June. Italy will not reopen until September. Spain has just announced that most pupils will be off till September, though with some exceptions

  • nursery children under 6 whose parents are at work can return
  • pupils studying for university entrance can return if they wish

and only if conditions are right for a particular region to move to phase 2 of de-escalation. That may take some time: so far, only four very small islands are moving on to phase 1.

Pushing for schools to reopen?

When these comparisons are considered, it seems foolish to push for an early start. The UK government is by no means getting on top of the crisis.

Of course, the usual appeals to social justice are being made. Ofsted have warned that online schoolwork could cause even bigger achievement gaps. The Education Endowment Foundation (EEF) argue that poorer households are being hit because of a lack of wifi, space and parental skills. They say extending the lockdown could risk “reversing” all the gains made in narrowing the attainment gap. Reversing the gains? The EPI research which EEF cite says that, at the government’s current pace, it will take 560 years to close the gap!

Sadly, opposition leader Keir Starmer is also pressing the government to reopen schools soon.  This must not be rushed. It would make more sense to insist that that every child is well fed, that their parents have enough money to pay the bills, and that pupils who fall behind are provided with individual tutorial support.

empty classroom

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Ofsted : unreliable, destructive, beyond repair

Ofsted is clearly beyond repair, and the Election provides an opportunity to close it for good. This will help to stop the mass exodus of teachers from England’s schools. It will help schools concentrate on what really matters: children’s education and wellbeing.

Understandably there are public concerns at Labour’s promise to close Ofsted. Many parents still believe they can judge a school from a Good or Outstanding banner draped along the fence. This is far from true.

1) Nearly 800 schools badged “Outstanding” have not been inspected for over ten years. When some were eventually revisited, serious problems were found: pupils feeling unsafe and frightened, high levels of exclusions, poor provision for pupils with special needs. Each year, thousands more schools are declared ‘still good’ on the basis of a one-day visit by a single inspector – most of it inside the head’s office.

2) Ofsted have failed to notice major problems until they have become a national scandal:

  • financial scandals in academy chains
  • gaming through the use of spurious qualifications
  • damage to children’s mental health through the use of isolation booths
  • “offrolling” – removing lower achievers.

Hiding the truth

Ofsted never admits its mistakes. There are hundreds of formal complaints (5% of all inspections) but Ofsted has not changed a single grade. However, survey by the National Audit Office showed that most dissatisfied heads didn’t bother to complain because they didn’t trust the process.

In 2015 Ofsted reviewed nearly 3000 ‘additional inspectors’ and found 1 in 3 inadequate. However there has been no attempt to review their judgements, however flawed. In fact, Ofsted’s spokesperson simply declared: “We stand by the inspections that we have done in the last few years.”

The big problems remain

Despite a consultation which attracted comments from 15,000 teachers, parents and organisations, most of the old problems remain:

  • the hit-and-run approach whereby a small group of inspectors (often just one or two) have to reach a definitive public judgement in just two days
  • variable quality of inspectors
  • a ‘naming and shaming’ approach to quality control
  • the chronic anxiety and the need to be permanently ‘Ofsted ready’ resulting from just half a day’s notice that an inspection is about to start
  • Ofsted’s extreme power and the fear that this generates – despite the courtesy of many individual inspectors.

Ofsted’s long shadow

Conservative politicians need to take seriously the damage to teacher morale. The long shadow of Ofsted creates a tendency to play safe, a tendency towards a servile unthinking conformity. Too much of teachers’ and heads’ energy is devoted to second-guessing what Ofsted want. Headteachers imitating Ofsted surveillance methods are a major reason why thousands of experienced teachers have left.

Kicking the wounded

Schools with children struggling through poverty are likely to have the lowest results. Teachers are trying to do the best for these children, educationally and by plugging the holes in a crumbling welfare state. Ofsted simply reinforces the problem with its “Requires Improvement” and “Inadequate” labels. It’s like kicking a wounded man when he’s down.

Ofsted’s own data confirms the problem. Schools in the poorest and richest fifth of England, when judged by levels of poverty among ‘white British’ pupils, received very different grades: only 4% of the most disadvantaged schools were judged Outstanding, compared with 58% of the most affluent. This is a ratio of 15 to 1.

As Blackpool headteacher Stephen Tierney rightly points out:

“Your intake dictates your Ofsted outcome. Ofsted are damaging schools who are already most fragile, serving the most disadvantaged communities.”

As York headteacher Trevor Burton put it: “If you want an Outstanding, choose the right pupils.”

There are far better alternatives

There are far better ways of protecting children’s education. It is time to consider these principles:

  1. The purpose of quality assurance is improvement, not a marketing banner on the school gate.
  2. Quality review should be an ongoing process, not a hurried one-off visit. This needs a review team which understands the local area, and can help bring about sustained improvement.
  3. The evaluation process should focus on issues which are most in need of scrutiny at any particular time, to collect reliable evidence and make a clear diagnosis of the underlying causes.
  4. Quality review should actively involve teachers and others working in a school. Methods of ‘self-evaluation’ are an essential part of the process.
  5. Evidence collection should include the different perspectives and experiences of the whole school community and the community at large. Well tried toolkits are available for that process.
  6. External support from ‘critical friends’ is essential: for example, an experienced head from another school, a teacher with recognised expertise, a local authority representative. Critical friends will appreciate the circumstances, but notice problems which insiders might take for granted.
  7. Local authorities have an essential part to play. They need the capacity and expertise to supervise the evaluation process, provide training in methods of self-review, and keep an eye on schools which are facing difficulties. The local authority is the only body capable of linking quality assurance to improvement.
  8. Parents are often the first to notice emerging issues but are nervous about approaching the school directly. Local authorities must set up channels of communication for concerned parents, so that problems are examined in a supportive but timely manner.

Ofsted is too distant and too toxic to do these things. It is beyond repair.


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PISA: no victory for Michael Gove

Michael Gove was Education secretary when the 2012 PISA results came out. He expressed alarm that England seemed to be falling behind Shanghai and Singapore, South Korea and Hong Kong. He wanted to make England a future “winner” in the “global race”. He insisted that academies, harder exams, performance pay for teachers and school-based teacher training would enable England to catch up with the “best-performing school systems in the world”.

There are of course deep problems with this narrow-minded, ultra competitive way of forming education policy, as if education was about nothing more than a test in reading, maths and science. Surely education has more serious global concerns, including the very future of planet Earth. But let us look at the consequences.

Gove and the National Curriculum

Gove had already set about altering the National Curriculum, setting impossibly demanding targets with no regard for each child’s age or readiness.

He rejected a public warning, in an open letter signed by a hundred leading education experts, that his “endless lists of spellings, facts and rules” would lead to “rote learning without understanding.” The professors and researchers warned that:

“This mountain of data will not develop children’s ability to think – including problem-solving, critical understanding and creativity.”

One of the letter‘s coordinators, Michael Bassey, commented to the press that pupils would “memorise just enough detail to get over the hurdle of the tests”. The other, Terry Wrigley, added: “I think if these reforms go ahead it will be miserable for the children.”

Gove’s response was simply to lambast the education experts as the “blob”, the “enemy of promise

Sacrificing young people

The 2018 PISA results, just published (Dec 2019), vindicate the education experts’ concerns.

Firstly, they confirm that Gove has made children’s life a misery. This reinforces earlier studies raising alarm at stress and mental health. According to the official report, pupils in England were

“less satisfied with their lives than pupils across the OECD countries. They were also more likely to feel miserable and worried and less likely to agree that their life has a clear meaning.”

Secondly, a narrow high-pressure curriculum was teaching lists of facts at the expense of real education. Compared with other countries, young people in England expressed negative attitudes to reading, and fewer said they read for pleasure. 53% ticked the statement “I read only if I have to” (compared with 41% in a previous PISA study). 56% said “I read only to get information I need” and 30% said “For me, reading is a waste of time.”

Gove and his Conservative successors have sacrificed children’s education and wellbeing to “winning a global race”.

But did it work?

Despite this terrible sacrifice, the gains have been… well, not exactly earth-shattering.

  • In Science, England scored 9 points less than in 2012.
  • In Reading, it scored 5 points more.
  • In Maths, it went up 9 points.

This is a very modest improvement, given that the gap between England and Singapore, for example, is 44 points in Reading and in Science, and 65 points in Maths.

Even this evidence of improvement is unreliable. As John Jerrim, of the Institute of Education (University College London) and Education Datalab, points out, there are serious problems with the sampling in the case of England.

Nearly a third of the schools chosen by OECD as its sample failed to take part, and in addition nearly a fifth of pupils chosen were somehow absent or unavailable or unwilling. Compounding these factors, the English survey used only 60% of the original sample compared with 80% in Scotland. No explanation has been given and it is quite possible that this has artificially inflated England’s score.

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Every learner matters and matters equally

by Mel Ainscow

‘Fixed-term exclusions in the most deprived areas of England have gone up by over 70% in the last four years.’

‘Where did all the GCSE pupils go – and why has no one noticed?’

‘Councils report rise in number of home-educated children with complex needs.’

These disturbing media headlines confirm that many of our young people are being marginalised by the English education system. Despite the efforts of successive governments over the last 20 years, what is clear is that home background is still the best predictor of success. What is even more worrying is the way more and more students are being excluded from educational opportunities.

Since the election of the Conservative-led coalition government in 2010, followed by the Conservative government in 2015, the market-place has become the basis of education policy. This has led to a range of barriers in respect to the education system’s capacity to respond to learner diversity.

Matters related to the curriculum are one concern, particularly the narrowing of the educational ‘diet’, which is limiting opportunities for some learners. There is also concern about the growing trend of students from disadvantaged backgrounds being marginalised through grouping arrangements based on notions of ability, despite the massive research evidence which points to the problems associated with such approaches.

There are worries, too, about the increasing number of students being excluded from schools, through both formal and informal means – such as parents being coerced by schools into “home educating” their children, often before GCSE exams – and the increased numbers being placed in special or alternative provision away from their peers.

There is a particular challenge in relation to the education of disabled children. The importance of including them is stressed in the United Nations’ Convention on the Rights of Persons with Disabilities, which commits to ending segregation by ensuring inclusive classroom teaching in accessible learning environments with appropriate support. However, when the UK government ratified this Convention in June 2009 it placed restrictions on its obligations. The first of these restrictions stated that the definition of a ‘general education system’ would include segregated provision.

The UK is one of only two countries in the world to place such restrictions (the other being Mauritius). In September 2016 the UN Disability Committee published a statement setting out how governments can move towards greater inclusion. Again, the UK has ignored this and remains out of step with the rest of the world.

These disturbing trends are occurring at a time when the rest of the world is attempting to move towards policies that are informed by the principles of inclusion and equity. These efforts are guided by the United Nations’ Education 2030 Framework for Action, which emphasizes inclusion and equity as laying the foundations for quality education. In this way, the international policy agenda is clear, as summed up by the motto used in recent UNESCO guidance: ‘Every learner matters and matters equally’.

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No joke – a brutal class war

johnson2rough sleeper

The extreme social divisions in today’s Britain are not just a case of unfair distribution. They are the consequence of a brutal class war conducted by the superrich on the working class.

The rhetoric since 2010 has been about Austerity – the need to cut public spending to balance the national budget after the financial crash. The reality has been a process of robbing the poor while the rich get richer. A glaring example is that the 1000 richest people – those on the Sunday Times ‘rich list’ – doubled their wealth in just five years.

Meanwhile the Health Service has been brought to its knees, and local councils have been unable to sustain the most basic levels of care. The only ‘growth industry’ since 2010 has been food banks.

As we pointed out in an earlier post, this is having a devastating impact on children’s welfare and education.

None of this is accidental. Conservative government since 2010 has been driven by representatives of the superrich, many of them Eton educated. Etonian families do not tighten their belts: the fees are now £42,501 a year. The pupil-teacher ratio is 8:1 and the facilities are amazing. Above all else, it instils the habits of Britain’s ruling elite: a third of Britain’s prime ministers attended this one school !


The Bullingdon Club epitomises the culture of Old Etonians at Oxford, and aspiring to political power. Founded in 1780 as a hunting and cricket club, its name has always been synonymous with excessive drinking and a competitive destructiveness. (And that according to the Daily Mail!) Both David Cameron and Boris Johnson were active members. It must have been a home from home for Johnson, whose nickname at Eton was ‘the Berserker’.

The brutal politics of Conservative rule are summed up in a brilliant new song from Madness. The Bullingdon Boys video (with the tagline ‘Don’t get bullied by the Bully Boys’) captures their selfish ambition and casual destructiveness in images from Clockwork Orange, pirate ships and slave galleys alternating with Eton boys, evening dress and caning.

The lyrics sharply capture the viciousness of this gang:

We are the chancers’ brigade
We’ll have you flogged and flayed
Move along back to your sweatshops

and their imperialist delusions:

We’re making England great again
Make way for the bag-men
And when everything’s been sold and bought
We’ll soon be off the life support.
Won’t we?

Share it far and wide. Put Johnson in the dustbin of history.

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Child poverty – Conservative rule


Britain is one of the richest countries in the world, but with scandalous levels of poverty. Child poverty has grown massively since the Conservative-led government took over in 2010, and is set to increase even more.

According to the Child Poverty Action Group and the Joseph Rowntree Foundation, 4.1 million children are in poverty – 500,000 more than five years ago – and expected to grow to 5.2 million by 2022. One in four children living in two-parent families are affected, and nearly a half of children in single parent families.

An even more desperate situation is described as ‘destitution’, for example sleeping rough, having less than two meals a day, or no heating or lighting. 365,000 children experienced destitution at some point during 2017, many because of government benefit policies such as Universal Credit.

Child poverty and education

Child poverty has a devastating effect on children’s happiness and security, and also their education. Students on Free School Meals in their GCSE year had an average Achievement 8 scores of 34, compared with 48 for other students (2018 data).

22% of students on free meals got the higher grades in English and Maths (grades 9-5 in the new system), compared with 46% of other students. Students who have been poor for most of their time at school are, on average, two years behind.

Since 2010, economic divisions in Britain have increased: while child poverty has increased, the superrich have got even richer. In 2014 the Sunday Times actually boasted that the 1000 richest people in Britain – those on its Rich List – had doubled their wealth in just five years of ‘Austerity’ government.

No wonder Conservative ministers prefer to focus on the achievement gap rather than the economic one. After all, blaming teachers is easier than accepting their own responsibility for poverty.

Government statisticians have invented a new formula which supposedly shows its policies are reducing the achievement gap. Far from it. Research by the Education Policy Institute shows it would take 560 years to close the gap. Indeed, the latest data shows it is getting wider.

Conservatives prefer referring to ‘social mobility’ than social justice. This is another diversion. It’s like trying to climb up a slippery ladder in a thunderstorm. Even if a few more children from Hartlepool could get into Oxford, this will do nothing to tackle poverty and its effects. We need to build a society in which all can flourish. That is why there has to be a change of government.

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Creative arts – a class issue


Michael Gove’s destruction of the creative and performing arts is an indelible stain on  this Government’s record.

Rich experiences in art, music, drama and media should be the entitlement of all young people. Creative subjects and activities provide an emotional satisfaction and social recognition which goes deeper than any test or exam scores. As education minister, Gove did his best to eliminate these opportunities.

Gove’s version of the National Curriculum has reduced children to cramming for SATs and the phonics test. Faced with impossible targets, teachers across England were driven towards fulfilling the tight technical demands of the tests, regardless of the lack of purpose or real meaning for their pupils. Conservative government has reduced education to drudgery. 

The creative arts (drama, music, etc), and practical subjects such as Design and Technology, were deliberately omitted from Gove’s “English Baccalaureate”. This has led to a steep decline in young people studying these subjects to GCSE. Altogether GCSE entries in creative arts and design and technology have gone down 38% from 2010 to 2019. A-level entries in these subjects sank by 29% in the same years.

Not surprisingly, there was protest from bodies representing arts professionals and from the ‘creative industries’ such as music and television. The CBI pointed out that “The creative industries are one of the fastest growing sectors in the UK economy, so the decline in creative subjects must be reversed.”


Suddenly, after nine years of narrow-minded neglect, the authors of the Conservative election manifesto appear to have woken up – but only marginally. In fact, the promise of extra funds hardly scratches the surface. Secondary schools have been promised an “arts premium” to fund “enriching activities for all pupils.” The budget amounts to a tokenistic £33 per student !

Let’s compare that with Boris Johnson’s old school. Eton does not skimp on the creative arts. Its website claims that “over 70 musicians come to Eton specifically to give music lessons”. Little impact of Gove’s EBacc there!

According to its website :

In recent years a very generous building programme has doubled the size and scope of the Music Schools. The new building consists of a purpose-built orchestral rehearsal room, recording studio, computer room with twelve PC workstations, a pre/post-production suite, rock band studio, electric guitar teaching room, and twelve other teaching and practice rooms. The old Music School has been rebuilt. It now consists of three floors of teaching, rehearsal and practice rooms, together with a 250-seater Concert Hall, academic teaching rooms, a library and an organ room.

Over 1000 music lessons are taught each week by seven full-time masters and over 70 visiting teachers; instruments range from sitar and tabla to the full range of orchestral and solo instruments. Senior boys put on their own concerts: orchestras, bands, choirs and music technology provide wide and varied musical opportunities. 

The drama facilities are equally stunning. A 400-seat theatre “is staffed by 5 full time theatre professionals led by an Artistic Director”, with all the latest equipment.

Old Etonians such as Boris Johnson can have little idea of life in state schools. They certainly don’t tolerate educational drudgery for their own children. We shouldn’t tolerate it for ours.


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