Thursday, January 14, 2010

Education: Big vs Little 'E'

The school league tables were released yesterday and this morning's Metro has a story - Private schools rated 'zero' (p16) - first seen in the Standard last night, but now with a reply from an unnamed official.

Dr Martin Stephen, high master of St Paul's, is quoted as saying:
You need to ask how can we be the highest performing school in the country by every measure except by the government one?

He's absolutely right, of course. Metro has a reply from "a spokesman" from "the Department for Education" - would that be DfES (abolished 2007) or the Department for Children, Schools and Families? This anonymous commenter says it is:
a 'fatuous' argument as 'iGCSEs' did not meet National Curriculum requirements
Which seems to be rather circular logic: an education is only an education if the "Department for Education" says it's an Education?

Public Schools are abandoning GCSEs precisely because of the National Curriculum requirements - which the schools don't feel are stringent enough.

I'm not in a position to say whether or not the requirements, and the resulting exams, are being "dumbed down" - but I am inclined to believe that when pass rates go up and the exams are then publically abandoned by schools with centuries of tradition that standards have, quite possibly, slipped.

I'm rather more concerned by the centralised and centralising bureaucracy that the "fatuous" comment implies, however. Why is a non-specialist minister, or a civil servant (perhaps on an 18-month rotation), making policy (or policy administration, or administration policy) decisions about the - only - curriculum which constitutes an Education? Shouldn't the masters of Eton (founded 1440), Harrow (1572), Charterhouse (1611), St Paul's (1509), Winchester (1382) or Rugby (1567) have some say in what they teach? Aren't they the experts? After all, generations of parents have trusted those schools to provide a good all-round education, wheras the National Curriculum is barely 20 years old!

An education is not the same thing as a state-certified Education and, like with healthcare, it's possible (and even desirable) to support the former without accepting every wart and misfeature of the latter.

What makes Ed Balls think that he knows better than a school paid £10k/term by parents who clearly think that represents value for money?

- KoW

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Blogger Angry Walrus said...

Most public schools cost a lot more than £10k a term. Those you mentioned will be quite a bit more than that, before boarding fees!

I covered this briefly yesterday (in the midst of a longer peice looking at how the Government defines school sucess actually leads to lower attainment) here:

I basically get to the same point as you though. If the best schools abandon the government's qualifications, maybe the qualifications are at fault, not the school.

Angry Walrus

1/14/2010 11:56:00 am  
Blogger The King of Wrong said...

Yeah, I saw (and agreed with) your post just after I wrote this one...

Actually, I checked the fees for Eton before posting: £9617/term (plus a few hundred quid of extras)

Some of the others might be more, but then again it costs the taxpayer something like £5k/pupil for state education.

1/14/2010 07:52:00 pm  
Blogger Angry Walrus said...

Appologies, that's my bad.

I had a figure of £10k/year in mind (for minor public schools), but knew that these were much more than that.

But yes, some people clearly think that's value for money.


1/14/2010 07:57:00 pm  
Blogger The King of Wrong said...

No need to apologise! I'd no clue how much they cost until I looked. I've seen that various figures get mentioned and very quickly dropped whenever MPs' own educations are discussed, but never paid attention to the actual numbers.

£10k/term (even £10k/year) seems very pricey to me, and I'm not sure I'd personally consider it value-for-money even if I could afford it, but I can't argue with the results. The quality of education, and even more so the opportunities, that my privately-educated friends have had, is amazing.

On that basis alone, I'm inclined to think that the schools know what they're doing...

1/14/2010 08:38:00 pm  

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