The emerging nature of the education debate, notably being driven by the Conservative party among others, was revealed today in the Telegraph’s front-page, which shouted that teachers were failing to promote the brightest kids because they ‘fear promoting elitism’.
The Conservatives have been arguing for some time that schools are riddled with evidence of what they term ‘progressive ideology’. Cross-curricular themes and classrooms where children sit more often in groups rather than rows are two things they point to. The general thrust has been enthusiastically taken up by some, notably the Campaign for Real Education, also quoted in the Telegraph article.
So, in the quoted responses to an ACL report on the now defunct National Academy for Gifted and Talented Youth it is unsurprising to see the initial lack of uptake by schools spun as yet more evidence of institutions stocked with education professionals committed to ideologies which run counter to children’s success.
There are two problems with this reponse. The first is that that DCSF are able to point to greater uptake in recent years, particularly since the new Gifted and Talented scheme was put in place, now run by CfBT. 95% of secondary schools are, it is said, now engaged.
If this is truly a problem of entrenched ideology in schools’ staff, it hasn’t taken long to shift…
However, aren’t there other, perhaps more likely, effects at play? For example, our sytem of school based accountability and targets based on the achievement of 5 A-C GCSEs could easily be said to skew the picture. If I were running a school, with those targets and league tables in mind where would I put my effort? Would I put Gifted and Talented Students at the top of the list, or those students on course for getting D’s at GCSE who could perhaps be tipped over into the government’s definition of success…
This may be part of the explanation for the findings of a recent DCSF-commissioned piece of research that showed that amongst high-performing education systems, schools-based accountability is relatively rare. Most seem instead to favour monitoring approaches which enables comparison of performance between regions and internationally, while the performance of schools is understood based on their region and the profile of their intake. Notably those taking this approach include Sweden, much trumpeted by the Conservatives for its promotion of choice and school freedom.
Rather than looking for a debate about ideology, wouldn’t students be better served by a focus on what evidence means for policy and implementaton?