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Last Updated: Thursday, 10 May 2007, 08:25 GMT 09:25 UK
Blair's classroom: the verdict
A decade of education reforms has divided opinion. Here are some reflections from those engaged in the debate.


John Dunford
Extra funding has helped but "heads are initiatived out"

"In terms of highs, the top of the list must be funding and, in particular, the injection of capital funding to start to put right the serious neglect of school buildings over the previous 18 years.

"Second, the priority given to helping schools in challenging circumstances. Previously there had been little or no support for schools serving our most challenging communities - Excellence in Cities and other projects ensured that many (although not all) of those schools had the resources to tackle their very considerable problems.

"Another advance has been the very clear focus in the first term on raising standards of literacy and numeracy in primary schools.

"But in terms of lows, although it was good that Tony Blair put education (in triplicate) at the top of his priorities, this has led to incessant headline-grabbing initiatives which have often seemed to be more about politics than for the benefit of education. Heads are now 'initiatived out'.

"Another low has been the emphasis on testing for accountability instead of assessment for learning - and the failure to stem the growth in the examinations and testing industry on which schools and colleges are now spending a princely fortune.

"Also, there has been a failure to match the increased pressure on schools with a coherent framework of support when schools are in difficulty."


Mike Tomlinson
Schools are in good shape - but there are worries over scholarship

"More money has been put into education than ever before - and it's been a consistent increase.

"Schools are in a better state than they have ever been in my experience, they're very well resourced.

"If you just take information technology, we lead the world in the level of resourcing in our schools.

"The nursery and early years investment will have done an enormous amount of good, particularly for low-income families

"The education maintenance allowances have been positive - and there has been the recognition for teachers and head teachers in the honours system.

"There is no doubt that the attention given by the government to literacy and numeracy was the right thing to do - and no doubt that it did bring improvements in standards. But that has plateaued."

And Sir Mike says that the pupils from the most deprived areas "have benefited least from the overall progress made by pupils in general".

He also warns that there has been a negative impact for the most talented pupils from the shift towards modular courses, short-answer questions and coursework.

"Over the past 10 years, the most able pupils have been let down by the assessment system, particularly at GCSE, A and AS-level. I have a real worry that we are killing scholarship."

Sir Mike, who led a major inquiry into reforming the qualifications system for secondary schools, also expressed "grave fears" for the vocational Diplomas which are set to be introduced.

"We are outstandingly alone as a country not to have a first-class vocational offer for young people - most other successful economies have such a provision."

In organisational terms, he says city academies have been a "bold experiment" and he forecasts that local education authorities will no longer exist in 20 years.

There have also been social changes, he says. Schools have to pick up the pieces from parents who are unable or unwilling to teach their children how to behave. And there has been an "enormous increase in children with mental health problems".


Steve Sinnott
Reforms have threatened the "local family of schools"

"The Blair years have brought education substantial and much needed investment in our schools both in equipment and in buildings.

"They have also brought us universal nursery education which lays a crucial foundation for children's learning later in life as well as a limit on class sizes for five to seven year olds.

"Sadly there have been structural changes to the organisation of our education service which are not beneficial.

"In particular, trust schools and academies hand young people's minds over to groups, individuals or companies that will have their own agenda and take the schools out of the local family of schools which work together supporting each other's development."


David Willetts
Trust schools and academies are re-inventions of Conservative ideas

"Blair's most disastrous mistake was to undo Conservative reforms in education such as grant maintained schools and city technology colleges, only painfully to reinvent watered-down versions of them as trust schools and academies.

"Ambitious targets have been set in schools which have led them to 'teach to the test' rather than raise overall standards in the classroom. Whilst headline exam scores have risen, the proportion of pupils gaining five good GCSEs in the core subjects has actually fallen, truancy has risen, and we are facing a crisis in teacher recruitment and retention.

"Those teachers who remain in the profession are increasingly demoralised and fed up with having their professionalism undermined by the barrage of ill-conceived central guidance. It is that erosion of trust between government, teachers and parents which is perhaps the most damaging legacy of the last 10 years."


Barry Sheerman
Changes in education can take many years to make a difference

"People will look back on this as a golden age of investment in education.

"And there's no doubt that this vast commitment in spending will start to bear fruit - but it's about long-term change, it takes time.

"Early intervention is at the heart of breaking through the cycle of poverty and underachievement - but some of the big expensive programmes like Sure Start, free nursery places and children's centres, will take many years to work through.

"Have we found a formula for a systemic raising of standards in secondary? Time will only tell."

Mr Sheerman, who chairs the House of Commons Education Select Committee, says that too much debate about education is about expecting instant results - when the impact of change is often not seen within the lifetime of a government.

Will the Sure Start programme lead to more children staying on in education? That could take another 16 or 18 years to find out.

Such innovations - along with shaking up local control of schools and experiments such as city academies - have to be long-term "acts of faith", he says.

Will they succeed?

"The historians will have to tell us."

'Education, education, education'
10 May 07 |  Education

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