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EDITIONS
Thursday, 11 April, 2002, 16:27 GMT 17:27 UK
Education chief attacks test regime
children taking tests
The "testing season" is about to start
As children prepare to sit this year's national curriculum tests, the head of education in one of the UK's biggest cities has condemned the way the system labels so many as failures from an early age.

Tim Brighouse, highly-regarded director of education in Birmingham, and a government adviser, denounced the national curriculum as "Stalinist".

Prof Brighouse said the focus on literacy, numeracy, computers and science in primary schools was right.

But he said schools needed to rethink their use of time "so that children whose different talents are developing at different speeds have experiences which will boost their confidence and give them a taste of success - rather than seeing themselves labelled as comparative failures in the 'three Rs'."

Otherwise children could be "switched off" education before they even reached secondary school, he told an audience at the Royal Society of Arts.

Family backgrounds

He said 11 year olds needed a great deal or resilience to stay optimistic when they were still being labelled Level 1 or 2 - the level expected for seven year olds - when most of their fellow pupils were Level 4 or 5 in the tests.

Tim Brighouse
Tim Brighouse: "Outstanding" leader
This and the publication of primary school league tables were "severely damaging" to pupils having trouble with literacy and numeracy - probably about a quarter of the total.

This was especially so when they came from what are known as "challenged" families, as almost all of them did.

"This last group, especially if they are in urban areas, frequently do not make a satisfactory transition - or in some cases any transition at all - from primary to secondary education," he said.

Drugs and crime

"They become the majority of that group - one in 10 of the age group - who are frequently excluded, do not achieve at 16, are over-represented in persistent drug users, are responsible for youth crime and disproportionately liable to homelessness. "


Our national curriculum ... is more nationally prescriptive than any other state and is more so than the Stalinist regimes of the USSR

He said the problems worsened in secondary schools in part because of the way they were able largely to run their own affairs.

This had led to "a self-perpetuating pecking order of schools which leaves a substantial minority of schools and pupils cast adrift from the benefits which have led to improved attainments by the majority."

One way this continued was "the disgraceful practice" where head teachers "proposition and poach" good teachers from other schools.

He said this was "a kind of beggar-my-neighbour 'passing of the parcel', where when the music stops there is no teacher available for usually the worse-placed pupils and schools."

Collective working

His answer was collegiate schools - groups of five or six schools which would be funded and assessed collectively.

Funding would depend in part on the performance of the weakest - to encourage them to work together.

Prof Brighouse also denounced the way teachers were treated, as being another aspect of the problem afflicting education.

"Their treatment is based on complete mistrust," he said.

"Of course they should be accountable, but to spend 500m each year on Ofsted inspections and external examinations is 10 times more than any other country feels it necessary to spend on measures which, at their root, are checking up on teacher honesty and competence.

Trust

"Our national curriculum of 1988, even as it has been modified, is more nationally prescriptive than any other state and is more so than the Stalinist regimes of the USSR."

And he was highly critical of performance-related pay.

"To have a system which sets out to reward some and not others, where teacher is pitched against teacher, is to plant the seeds of the school's destruction."

The test of the Labour government would be whether it tackled these issues or had "lost its nerve".

Prof Brighouse, who has just announced his intention to retire in the autumn, is a highly respected figure in the education world and has an excellent record of achievement in Birmingham.

Example

On Wednesday, Ofsted described him as "outstanding".

Inspectors said Birmingham stood as "an example to all authorities of what can be done, even in the most demanding urban environments".

This had been achieved by "above all, the energising and inspirational example set by the chief education officer".

A spokesman for the Department for Education said Prof Brighouse's views were respected.

But he said teachers were being trained now to bring on pupils at their own pace and testing was an important part of that process.

The national curriculum was broadly-based and schools had flexibility in the way it was taught.

See also:

11 Apr 02 | UK Education
10 Apr 02 | N Ireland
31 Mar 02 | UK Education
30 Nov 01 | UK Education
03 Sep 01 | UK Education
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