The Conservative Manifesto – a bleak and dispiriting vision for the future of education.

There has been a lot of debate in left education circles about the adequacy or otherwise of Labour’s education policies as we approach the election. With the publication of the Tory manifesto however, we can see clearly that there would be a bleak future for education were it ever to be implemented.

The document is at one and the same time full of untruths and quite extraordinarily simplistic in its approach. Its intellectual shoddiness is really quite remarkable. The Tories retain their belief that all it needs is harder exams and a touch of private sector DNA and all will be transformed. Here are just a few of their more egregious statements:

1. They continue to assert that 1 in 3 primary pupils leave unable to read, write or add up properly. This is despite being told by the Office for National Statistics that this is not true and should not be repeated.

2. Their answer to this supposed problem is to retest pupils who don’t achieve their target in Year 7. The only result of this will be to turn Year 7 into a desert of practice tests with the curriculum narrowed down to those things that will be tested. Is there a better way of turning struggling pupils off secondary school?

3. They commit to turning every failing or coasting secondary school into an academy. It is not explained what happens to academies that are failing or coasting – and there are plenty:

“An “overwhelming proportion” of pupils attending one of the country’s biggest academy chains (E-Act) fail to receive a good education, according to a damning inspection report.”

“An “overwhelming proportion” of pupils attending schools under the control of the Kemnal Academies Trust are not receiving a good enough education, according to Ofsted.”

“Ofsted has written to the School Partnership Trust Academies (SPTA), warning that it has too many under-performing schools that have been in this position for too long.”

and many many more.

4. There is to be a University Technical College in every city …. despite the news of the closure of a second UTC, a pattern of poor student recruitment and a distinctly patchy inspection record.

5. All secondary school pupils will have to take GCSE in English, maths, science, a language and history or geography. This has rather crept in under the radar – but it continues the deeply simplistic approach to the curriculum that downgrades the arts, all forms of technology and all vocational provision. It’s all reminiscent of the 19th century view that Latin and Greek were the perfect preparation for governing India.

6. We’re told that “this generation of teachers is the best qualified ever”. But no mention of the fact that in many schools teachers need no qualifications at all and the number of unqualified teachers is growing rapidly as schools struggle to find ways of saving money.

7. There is a specific pledge to train 17500 more maths and science teachers. There’s no suggestion as to how this will be done and of course no recognition at all that the number of people entering teacher training is going down every year so that we’re are undoubtedly heading for a serious teacher shortage as pupil numbers continue to go up.

8. They will continue to improve further education … with of course no recognition that they are driving significant parts of the sector into bankruptcy and are on a trajectory that, it has been said, will lead to the complete ending of adult education within five years.

What is really dispiriting about this manifesto is the lack of any empathy with young people and any understanding of what they really need to prepare for life in today’s world. There’s nothing on the development of skills, relationships, citizenship or personal qualities and nothing on how education can prepare people for living in our increasingly diverse society (not even British values!).

Nor is there any understanding of how you actually bring about improvement – nothing on professional development or on promoting collaboration between schools and teachers. And of course nothing on how schools relate to and should be part of their community – because in their view schools aren’t part of the community, their job is to come in from outside and do things to young people.

All we have is a narrow focus on targets and testing and a fixation on a particular kind of school organisation. If this ever comes true, schools will be even more dedicated to the factory approach to education as everyone’s future depends on hitting an ever narrower range of targets. Anything less suited to the complex, diverse and unpredictable world our young people will live in would be hard to imagine.

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2 Comments on “The Conservative Manifesto – a bleak and dispiriting vision for the future of education.”

  1. bassey355 says:

    Thanks, John. A brilliant and concise exposé showing that Gove’s influence continues.

  2. terryloane says:

    This is a good analysis, John, of the Conservative manifesto – chilling indeed. Are you also going to offer an analysis of the education content of the Labour manifesto? It would be interesting to consider how the Labour party addresses the issues you summarise so well in your final paragraph. How would a Labour government move away from “a narrow focus on targets and testing” and “the factory approach to education”? How would a Labour government ensure that young people are able to deal with complexity, diversity and unpredictability? And (to refer back to an earlier ‘Educatoin for Everyone’ post’) “is Labour really going to take on the GERM”?