Keith Gaines – all change (again)  

We live in interesting times. since the last issue of Ink Pellet we’ve had the sats boycott, the general election, a new coalition love-in government, new leaders, a new department and a new set of education policies.

The Ks 2 sats boycott was amazing. that the nUt voted to boycott sats was hardly headline grabbing, but that naht agreed was frankly jaw-dropping. twenty years ago, teaching the concept of the oxymoron, i used to give ‘militant headteacher’ as an example, alongside ‘government planning’. about half the primary schools in the country refused to carry out the sats and, as chair of governors of a small primary school, i received a number of emails advising how i could write to parents expressing my regret at the action and how i could deduct pay from the headteacher. i did read these emails before i deleted them, as they were based on advice from ed Balls, the former minister at the Department for children, schools and families.

I’ve just realised what i’ve written. i never thought i would write such a poetic and uplifting phrase. as you slog towards the end of term, just say it to yourself whenever you feel a bit down. try it now. read it aloud.
‘ed Balls, the former minister at the Department for children, schools and families.’ Doesn’t that give you a warm feeling inside?

Where was i? oh, yes, then we had the election, the new coalition and the appointment of michael gove as secretary of state for education. not only was ed Balls gone, but the Department for curtains and soft furnishings reverted to its traditional name. i gave a small cheer when the post-election spending review announced a purge on educational quangos. i gave a bigger cheer when it was announced that QcDa was to be scrapped.

But it’s not all good news. Join me in shedding a somewhat bewildered tear for the demise of Becta (originally the British educational communications and technology agency). Becta was one of the very few bodies which was actually useful and which was able to make a convincing case that their expert ict advice to schools saved the taxpayer a great deal more than Becta cost.

Then, of course, we have the big ideas. out of the coalition haggling, the conservatives kept their ‘free schools’ whereby parents, charities or businesses will get state funds to set up their own schools. on top of this, all schools have now received a letter inviting them to become ‘academies’ – state sector but independent of local authorities. the Liberal Democrats got their ‘pupil premiums’ – money linked directly to disadvantaged children to provide extra help and to reduce the size of the classes they are in. no details have yet been given, but there is a promise to fi nd ‘signifi cant’ pupil premiums from outside the schools budget. the stated aims of these policies are to tackle underachievement, to revitalise education in the toughest areas, and to enable each child to reach their full potential. all the evidence suggests that what most parents really want is a good school run by an effi cient local authority; what they don’t want is the burden of setting up and running their own school and determining their own curriculum.

Potential, because the prospects for a child from a poor family on a sink estate are mostly dire. fifty years ago, i was just coming to the end of my first year at a super-selective grammar school. along with two mates from our rough, disadvantaged council estate, i had passed the eleven-plus exam and gained access to a superb academic education which led to university and a worthwhile career.

I’m not defending the 11+; i’m not defending grammar and secondary modern schools. But it saddens me to think that fi fty years later, we have evolved an education system which now gives signifi cantly fewer opportunities for social mobility to bright kids from poor families than were available to me and my mates. Will academies, ‘free schools’ and ‘pupil premiums’ increase the life chances of children from poor families in disadvantaged estates? i doubt it, but nonetheless, i wish the new government well in its efforts. the next few years will certainly be interesting.

Keith Gaines is a freelance writer. He is a former Head of Special Needs in a large comprehensive school and Chair of Governors of a primary school. Still, i applaud the effort to maximise children’s