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School's Out

I'm not convinced that Schools Secretary, Ed Balls and I share the same planet. After watching his interview on BBC Breakfast this morning, I'm even more concerned that he's 'lost the plot' in a fog of well-meaning and wide-eyed socialist zeal.



To cut a very long story short, Ed, like everyone else, wants the best possible education for all our children to give them the best possible start in society and to deliver the best possible skills to the economy of tomorrow. It's a laudable aspiration shared by every politician regardless of party.

The Schools Secretary however believes that he can legislate for such success, increasing the education budget and guaranteeing parents that if their child falls behind, then one-to-one teaching will be made available. It's a little more detailed than this of course but I think you will grasp the broad picture.

Strangely enough, even his BBC interviewer appeared a little incredulous. After all, you may throw large amounts of money at the growing problem of educational failure but where are the teachers going to come from among other pressing and important questions. The answer appears to involve political magic of some form because as a politician of the first order, Ed avoided answering any of the questions directly.

What concerns me more about this interview is the implication that schools and teachers are responsible for failure and that Government can somehow legislate to bring every child up to the same standard, regardless of environment, background, social class and more. Instead, Mr Balls and the Government should be asking what social conditions are leading to chronic illiteracy and failing numeracy among well-identified social groups and communities? Children are not like Personal Computers, simply waiting to have the appropriate software installed and then to perform in an identical manner. They are not clones. Human history tells as this as does the familiar bell-shaped curve of intelligence and achievement within any group. Enshrining 'success' in law is not going to make little Johnny a model student if he's truanting from school, has a young single mother and lives on crisps and cola.

Perhaps, Ed Balls, should spend some time observing in schools and in particular classes where a high percentage of children have educational statements of one form or another. For the teacher, simply getting through the hour and remaining sane, with even the most modest learning objective achievement for the majority is a success.

Tinkering with education, the curriculum and schools in not going to solve a much broader problem in our society which has to be dealt with first. And to do this, Ed Balls and Gordon Brown and others need to accept that money is not a magic wand and that education must be as driven and supported as equally hard from the home environment as from the school.

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