Ed Balls makes a lacklustre start as Secretary of State for Children, Schools and Families

Andrew Grimson, writing in the Telegraph, is dismissive of Ed Balls' first speech in his new position:

"The banality of Mr Balls's opening observation is such that we can hardly bear to repeat it, for we fear it may echo in the heads of our more impressionable readers like some infuriating tune.

Stop reading now if you are sensitive, for here is what he said: "I start this statement with a proposition on which I believe every member of this House and every parent and grandparent in our country can agree: every child matters."

Those three words are the same cloth-eared piety that Ruth Kelly used to inflict on us when she was education secretary. It is supposed to show how humane and egalitarian the speaker is, but actually suggests a fathomless hypocrisy.

Every child matters to whom? And does any child matter anything like as much to Mr Balls as his own three children? Of course not, but here he is, pretending to himself and everyone else that his abstract love of children is somehow comparable to his real and profound love of his own children.

Mr Balls's newly coined title - Secretary of State for Children, Schools and Families - is totalitarian in its presumption. The state cares for you: this is what it seems to say. At least the most recent education secretary, Alan Johnson, had the honesty to admit that the children the state keeps "in care" are actually among the most atrociously neglected
children in the country. But with Mr Balls we have descended again to the language of Miss Kelly."

In our guide to the new cabinet we saw this coming.  His main political experience is a long period as Brown's aide in forming economic policy.  Hardly sufficient preparation for effecting a turnaround in large institutions like the school system.

Entering a senior position without the necessary experience Ed Balls is resorting to platitude.  He can establish his good intentions and come across as a 'nice guy' without risking the minefield of policy where his inexperience and lack of subject knowledge might be exposed through some mistake.  For too many politicians this is the route to promotion.

The need for a turnaround could not be more acute.  Some facts from the TaxPayers' Alliance Better Government paper demonstrate just how thoroughly political management of education has failed:

"• 11 year-olds: 25% leave primary school without sufficient ability in reading and writing to tackle the secondary school curriculum.
• 14 year-olds: almost 30% do not reach the expected levels in English, Maths and Science to tackle GCSEs.
• 16 year-olds: almost 60% do not achieve a GCSE grade C or better in all the three core subjects of English, Maths and Science.
• After 11 years of state education at a cost of over £75,000 per child, pupils are leaving school functionally illiterate, innumerate and unskilled:
- 40% do not achieve at least a C grade in GCSE English.7 Some seven million adults in England cannot locate the page number for plumbers in an alphabetical index to the Yellow Pages.
- 47% would be unable to achieve a grade G at GCSE maths.
- The OECD finds that Britain has the second highest level of low-skilled 25-34 year olds in the 30 countries of the OECD – twice the level of Germany or the USA.

In fact it will be increasingly hard for the country to operate effectively, when at present:
• The average attainment of prospective teachers entering a B.Ed course is less than three grade Cs at GCE A-level.
• 52% of would-be prison officers failed a simple literacy and numeracy test.
• 33% of nurses completing their training failed to achieve the 60% pass rate in basic English and Maths tests, despite having GCSEs in these subjects.

Typical questions for the nurses included:
- How many minutes are there in half an hour?
a 15 b 20 c 30 d 45
- Which of the following times is the same as 8pm?
a 1800hrs b 1900hrs c 2000hrs d 2100hrs
- What is the correct decimal nomination for six hundred and fifty pence?
a 605p b £6.50 c £65.0 d £6.05"

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