Improving Education Standards

Part of Business of the House – in the House of Commons at 12:38 pm on 29th November 2018.

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Photo of Mike Kane Mike Kane Shadow Minister (Education) (Schools) 12:38 pm, 29th November 2018

They certainly did, and much of the improvement came from 2010 when we identified resources for coasting schools before we left government. The Minister, who has no formal pedagogic training, has based today’s debate on the back of a ConservativeHome article from a couple of weeks ago. He does not want experts to advise him. He has resisted the experts. He does not want to hear from our world-class universities and teaching institutions, which our competitors in the PISA rankings use to improve their education.

The Minister tells us that success and attainment in the primary school curriculum have gone up, but let us deconstruct that. All the international evidence produced over the past 30 years shows that interventions in the curriculum—and the Minister has had a few—and testing produce disruption to teaching and learning whereby results initially start low, rapidly improve as teachers and students learn what they need to do in order to do well in the tests, then tail off and plateau as this artificial improvement stops. This is known as teaching to the test. He can produce the statistics, but even Ofqual has recognised this problem as the “sawtooth effect”. That is what happens when we change the curriculum.

The Minister talked about the primary test. It is one of the numerous directed tests placed on schools, and it is adding administrative burdens. He is trying to run 22,000 schools from Great Smith Street. Why? Artificially inflated test results say nothing about the real quality of teaching, learning and standards achieved. We are narrowing the curriculum to cramming for tests in maths and English. In examining terms, we are measuring the construct of test-taking rather than the real knowledge of maths and English, let alone all the other worthwhile school subjects such as music and drama that have been pulled out of the curriculum because of the narrowing of the focus of the curriculum in this country. This is happening because somebody without any pedagogical knowledge feels fit to direct schools in what they teach. Primary schools already teach multiplication, and we do not need more money to be wasted on testing it. We need more money to be spent on teaching it.

Let us address the Government’s academies expansion and their free school programme. The Minister cited no evidence that any of their reforms have genuinely improved standards in schools or outcomes for pupils. In fact, more than 100 free schools that opened only in the last couple of years have now closed, wasting hundreds of millions of pounds in this failed programme.