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Last Updated: Friday, 27 June, 2003, 11:31 GMT 12:31 UK
Education audit
Classroom
For the third of our four assessments of whether the government is living up to the promises it made in order to get our votes, we looked at education.

It had, it said, three priorities - education, education, education.

We asked Dennis Sewell to audit their performance.

TEACHER:
We can't fit square pegs into round holes. I think to some extent with the National Curriculum over the last few years, we have been trying to do that.

TEACHER 2:
I think the literacy and numeracy strategies have definitely had an impact on results of children leaving primary school. I don't think anyone can question that really.

TEACHER 3:
I'm very, very disappointed in what the Government have done this year. It just seems there isn't any joined up thinking, because there has been so many different areas of funding which have been pulled away from us.

DENNIS SEWELL:
When Labour first came into office, back in 1997, they put education right at the top of their list of priorities. By now, if their policies have worked, we should expect to see evidence of real improvement. We've come to North Tyneside to find out whether schools are significantly and manifestly better. We're asking, has the Government delivered on education? Shiremoor Primary School has about 400 boys and girls on its roll, aged from three to 11. According to its last Ofsted report, teaching is of a consistently high quality. Pupils behaviour is excellent. The management of the school, excellent too.

TEACHER:
Now to do the objective of our lesson, is to learn the features of newspaper reports...

DENNIS SEWELL:
Shiremoor is a good school. There have always been good schools and bad schools. In fact there must have been quite a number of bad schools, because in 1999, a commission chaired by Sir Claus Moser, uncovered England's secret shame, that one in five adults had been completely let down by the education system; left barely able to read, write or perform simple arithmetic.

TEACHER:
And what's this? It's not the headline any more. So what is this?

DENNIS SEWELL:
The Government has set targets for primary schools, focusing on literacy and numeracy.

TEACHER:
All you have to do, is find the things we have talked about.

BARBARA SLIDER:
(Shiremoor Primary)

Everything we do from September, onwards until the SATs, is driven by English, Maths and Science, and they take priority.

TEACHER:
I want us to practise using the percentage key, by finding the percentages of those same four numbers that we started with.

DENNIS SEWELL:
Primary schools are judged by their results in key stage 2 SATs, the tests children take at 11 and their relative performance is expressed in the league tables, drawn up by the media from data the Government publishes.

TEACHER:
What mathematical calculation are we going to do for discount? It is going to be a takeaway.

DENNIS SEWELL:
Shiremoor currently ranks 19th out of 47 local primaries in North Tyneside, on average points score, whatever that may imply.

HELEN CLEGG:
(Head Teacher, Shiremoor Primary)

I don't think we should have league tables. There's a lot of rhetoric about who requires them and how important they are, but I don't consider that they are of any importance at all. Parents need to know about how their children are performing in school and it's very reasonable that they should know how they're performing with the age range and against the cohort they are working in, but more importantly, I think, how they are performing individually. I think that having league tables is very divisive and it has not really reflected the kind of work that would be going on in a school like this.

Professor CAROL PROPPER:
(Bristol University)

What we know is that pupil attainment on those tests is based not only on what teachers do, but on also their backgrounds, the area they come from, how keen their parents are for them to learn, how much support they have at home.

TEACHER:
You need a harder push, come on, let's see if you can do it. Excellent.

DENNIS SEWELL:
Many teachers concur that the league tables tell you more about children's family life, or lack of it, than about the quality of teaching in the classroom. And many would, wouldn't they?

TEACHER:
Oh, just missed.

DENNIS SEWELL:
Not that Shiremoor Primary has anything to hide. Its scores in English, Maths and Science are all way above the national average. Like many primaries, this school believes its contributing to a renaissance in education and the public appears to buy that.

BEN PAGE:
(Director, MORI Social Research Unit)

Of all the education services that we get in this country, views of primary schools seem to have improved most over the last five years or so, and indeed initiatives like literacy hour seem to have really made a difference to parental expectations. If one looks at the public as a whole, what's interesting is of all the big four services we are looking at and talking about in your programmes, views of education are consistently the most positive and expectations of education in the future, so rather more people believe that education is going to improve in the future, than get worse, and if you compare that to other services like the NHS, or policing or public transport, consistently expectations on education are by far the most positive.

DENNIS SEWELL:
And it's those SATs upon which the despised league tables are based, that provide the most persuasive evidence that standards truly are on the up.

Professor JULIAN LE GRAND:
(London School of Economics)

Something is clearly going on in primary schools and something good. We now have the results from a whole range of tests, all these tests that the teachers' union keep complaining about. But what the tests show, and in some ways the teachers have done a very good job, because the results of these tests have showed a massive improvement in numeracy, literacy, English and science. In 1998, the percentage of pupils reaching level 4 in English was only 65. By 2000 it was up to 75, where it has stuck ever since. In maths, up from 59 in 1998 settling last year at 73. And science, up from 69, to 86 last year. A ten-point improvement in English, 14 in maths and 17 in science.

TEACHER:
Oh, oh, mud, thick, oozy mud.

DENNIS SEWELL:
Three gold stars for the Government then. Looked at another way, the very same figures show that even now a quarter of pupils leaving primary school have failed to reach the required standards in English.

TEACHER:
Splash, splosh, splash splosh.

DENNIS SEWELL:
And four to 11 are the crucial years. If children don't learn basic skills then, they can be hobbled for life.

TEACHER:
Can you go "oozy"?

DENNIS SEWELL:
The problems persist, despite famous literacy hour. This maths lesson has clearly been planned and structured. It is part of a prescriptive curriculum that sets out exactly what the class should learn.

BARBARA SLIDER:
(Shiremoor Primary)

Everything is objective driven, all the children have objectives on the board at the beginning of the lesson and those are made clear to the children, they are also made clear to parents when parents come into school to visit. I think that's important. It has come about because the strategy is objective driven and when teachers choose the objectives for their planning, then it is very clear what they are trying to teach and then they get that across with the children. Also with targets as well, having objectives makes it easier to reach the targets that you are trying to achieve.

DENNIS SEWELL:
There is a new grammar of pedagogy too. And successive Ofsted reports confirm that primary school teachers have raised their game.

MIKE TOMLINSON:
(Chair, Working Group on 14-19 Reform)

When Ofsted inspections first began, in primary schools, something of the order of 20% of teaching, one in five lessons, was considered less than satisfactory. Over the period since then, '93, right through to 2002, that has improved to the point, last year there were just a few lessons, less than 5% of lessons in primary schools that were less than satisfactory. So there has been an absolutely significant improvement in the quality of teaching.

DENNIS SEWELL:
At Shiremoor, teachers believe they have earned the right for autonomy, that it's time for the Government and the Local Education Authority to let them make their own decisions and set their own targets.

HELEN CLEGG:
I think the SATs are a farce. The school needs to be able to set the targets based on the assessments we have carried out, pupils' previous performance, and to be able to move it forward, really, on that level. An LEA or a Government saying that we need to achieve whatever percentage is a nonsense.

TEACHER:
Now we are entering one of the brand new parts of the building.

DENNIS SEWELL:
Shiremoor is a beacon school, paid to share its best practice.

TEACHER:
We have a key stage one library as part of the new refurbishment.

DENNIS SEWELL:
Teachers here may well know better than the man in Whitehall. But can teachers everywhere be granted the same latitude? Many resisted the introduction of Ofsted and the tests. The Government has now eased off, postponing the targets it set for 2004. But what if standards start to slide? Ministers have to ask, is the unexamined life worth paying for? And Labour has met its pledge to spend more on education, spending was 44.8 billion when Labour came in 1997, it's 58.6 billion this year and protected to reach 65.2 billion in 2006. Comparing the Conservatives and Labour, the average annual increase under John Major's Government was 2.3%. Under Tony Blair so far, it has been 4.3% and from now until 2006, it'll be running at 5.5%. In the end, that'll mean a rise of 1,000 per pupil, per year. When they leave Shiremoor Primary, most children come here to George Stevenson Community High School; the local comprehensive with over 1,000 pupils. So what happens between 11 and 14? Do the gains in achievement recorded at primary school set them off towards the next battery of tests, key stage 3?

MIKE TOMLINSON:
For a long time that momentum was being lost. The secondary schools were not picking up sufficiently quickly on what had already been achieved at primary and building on that. This has gone on for quite a while actually and it wasn't until the last two or three years when the Government decided to introduce the key stage 3 strategy and made a point about the need to improve teaching at key stage 3.

TEACHER:
Are you ready, gentlemen? We use these to show how developed a country is.

DENNIS SEWELL:
The new strategy requires teachers at secondary level to think hard how they interact with pupils at varying levels of ability.

TEACHER:
Read the answers. I give that to Lee, seeing as Stephen hit every single answer.

STEFAN McELWEE:
(George Stephenson High)

The biggest variety in teaching and learning styles we can bring into the classroom, the more likely we are to reach everybody within our classrooms. Many children learn in different ways. If every secondary school department, classroom and senior management team can encompass that ethos and really go to town on teaching at key stage 3, I think the results will then come through at key stage 4 and beyond. The key thing is, we have to help these kids not only use the low order thinking skills and knowledge and understanding, but we need to tackle the bigger skills.

DENNIS SEWELL:
It's still too soon to tell how well the new strategy is working. Some early reports suggest that the catch-up classes, for low achievers, aren't making much difference. Getting key stage 3 right, though, could supply a social bonus. 80% of those who continue their education in young offenders institutions, have a reading age of 11. The Government's main target in secondary education is at the next stage, GCSE. The percentage of pupils getting five or more passes at grades A to C. In 1992, the figure was only 38.3%. Last year it reached 51.5%.

ANNE WELSH:
(Head Teacher, George Stephenson High)

Whilst I abhor league tables, and I abhor the idea that we should concentrate on five A to Cs, I would have to admit that there is huge pressure on us to improve that particular figure, of course there is. As a consequence, again, in common with schools across the country, there tends to be a focus on students who are on the borderline, and time and effort goes into trying to ensure that these particular students get over that magic line, and become a C, rather than a D.

DENNIS SEWELL:
So are secondary schools, like primaries, performing dramatically better? And that 51.5% includes independent schools. There's also a significant difference between the achievements of pupils at selective schools and those at comprehensives and secondary moderns. At the typical grammar school, 98% of pupils will get five or more passes at grades A to C. At a non-selective school in a deprived area, where more than half the pupils qualify for free school meals, it's only 23% and here at George Stephenson Community high, it's 38%. Some vocational qualifications are also bundled in with the GCSE results, such as the GNVQ in information and communication technology.

SUE COWARD:
(George Stephenson High)

I feel very strongly about the benefits of this course because I think it opens itself to a wide range of students. We have year 10, students who will get distinctions and they will get the highest grade they possibly can and it is worth four GCSEs, so that's good going. Actually the standard of work is quite superb.

DENNIS SEWELL:
But because it counts as four GCSEs, critics say all you have to do is ICT and drama and bingo, you've met the Government's target. In some schools, as many as half the pupils are doing courses like this.

Professor CAROL PROPPER:
What has happened is there has been a rise in the number of pupils who are entered for NVQs. That may be because NVQs are more suited to those children, which is a good thing, but it also may be because schools on NVQs count towards the school's performance targets and it's easier for pupils do well on NVQs, in which case the rise in NVQs is not measuring a rise in educational outcomes.

DENNIS SEWELL:
But it does reflect the growing importance of IT for employability. There is a case for more vocational training in schools.

MIKE TOMLINSON:
I don't think anyone is arguing for an occupationally specific form of provision 14-16. What we are looking for is a sound general education with the beginnings of some broad vocational inputs that help young people to get some feel for broad vocational areas. That could come through the current introduction of vocational GCSEs, like engineering. Post-16, I think that specialist element, vocation, occupation, would increase in emphasis, as the young person moves through the system.

DENNIS SEWELL:
In the sixth form, the Government has tried to broaden pupils' education by getting them to study more subjects. But universities haven't shown much interest in AS-level so, pupils haven't been enthusiastic either. In the medium-term, the smart money is on England adopting something like the international baccalaureate.

MIKE TOMLINSON:
In the work we are doing, the idea that's been floated of a baccalaurate-style qualification, could well mean that to gain the baccalaureate, which would be the qualification, one would have some elements of breadth. The arguments that will come forward, soon, will be a question of how much breadth at the expense of how much depth? And how much choice at the price of compulsion?

DENNIS SEWELL:
Teachers we met in North Tyneside, said that they would have been much more positive about the Government's role in education if we'd come a couple of months earlier, before the clock struck 13. The schools funding fiasco throws up a fresh outrage every week. Budgets down, teachers laid off. Despite the stories about the money travelling north to Labour heartlands, North Tyneside has been hit too.

ANNE WELSH:
Last year we lost several standards funds, which have been, in theory, incorporated into the base budget. But as far as we are concerned they have simply disappeared. Now we were paying teachers with some of that money which has just disappeared.

DENNIS SEWELL:
Schools get their cash from up to 80 funding streams, Government schemes and wheezes with cheques attached. Here the Excellence In Cities Fund pays for self-esteem classes, but there's not enough money to buy a history textbook for every student.

ANNE WELSH:
The 125,000 Leadership Incentive Grant that my school can have has simply gone to decrease my deficit. Now that still leaves me with 160,000 deficit. But, without the extra 125,000, my deficit would be even greater. That money is intended for a particular purpose; to enhance the development of leadership within the school. It won't actually be used for that. it will be used simply to pay people's salaries.

DENNIS SEWELL:
These schools say from now on they want it manage their own budgets, but unless they get a stabilising cheque this summer, many of the gains of the past few years will be lost. Has Labour delivered on education? The answer either is, or isn't in the post.

This transcript was produced from the teletext subtitles that are generated live for Newsnight. It has been checked against the programme as broadcast, however Newsnight can accept no responsibility for any factual inaccuracies. We will be happy to correct serious errors.



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