Threatening Schools Week

October 31, 2007 10:18 AM

Apparently it is Threatening Schools Week.  Yesterday the Charities Commission threatened to remove charitable status from private schools they didn't think were doing enough to help poorer students.  Today the Telegraph reports that Gordon Brown is threatening to close schools that don't reach a sufficient standard in GCSE results.


This is another in a long line of tired and obviously failing measures designed to try and beat schools into better performance from the centre.  It is supposed to complement the only other kind of measure this government understands - showering public services with taxpayers' money.  It won't work.


This creates an incentive to improve GCSE results but no direct incentive to improve educational standards.  If all we wanted was improved GCSE results all we'd need to do is further increase the pace of grade inflation.  What we're really after is a system where young people receive a broad and useful education.


Schools facing a powerful incentive to improve grades can focus on teaching to the test at the expense of improving the education of a broader range of students (those who will never pass and those who will pass anyway are pretty much irrelevant to GCSE pass rates) and providing a broader education and set of skills.  Politicians who don't want to make the hard choice to follow through on Brown's threats can lean on the notionally independent QCA to weaken exam standards.


There's nothing wrong with schools being held accountable and there may well be a need for bad schools to close.  However, instead of making schools still more accountable to politicians why can't we make them accountable to parents?  Why can't we make closing a school not a decision for politicians but the result of parents, having been given the freedom, choosing a more successful establishment or getting a new one set up?

Apparently it is Threatening Schools Week.  Yesterday the Charities Commission threatened to remove charitable status from private schools they didn't think were doing enough to help poorer students.  Today the Telegraph reports that Gordon Brown is threatening to close schools that don't reach a sufficient standard in GCSE results.


This is another in a long line of tired and obviously failing measures designed to try and beat schools into better performance from the centre.  It is supposed to complement the only other kind of measure this government understands - showering public services with taxpayers' money.  It won't work.


This creates an incentive to improve GCSE results but no direct incentive to improve educational standards.  If all we wanted was improved GCSE results all we'd need to do is further increase the pace of grade inflation.  What we're really after is a system where young people receive a broad and useful education.


Schools facing a powerful incentive to improve grades can focus on teaching to the test at the expense of improving the education of a broader range of students (those who will never pass and those who will pass anyway are pretty much irrelevant to GCSE pass rates) and providing a broader education and set of skills.  Politicians who don't want to make the hard choice to follow through on Brown's threats can lean on the notionally independent QCA to weaken exam standards.


There's nothing wrong with schools being held accountable and there may well be a need for bad schools to close.  However, instead of making schools still more accountable to politicians why can't we make them accountable to parents?  Why can't we make closing a school not a decision for politicians but the result of parents, having been given the freedom, choosing a more successful establishment or getting a new one set up?

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