CASE in the media

UK public pays high price for private schools, The Guardian 15/2/19

In putting "another point of view" about private schooling, Doug Clark perpetrates a number of common fallacies (letters, February 12th).  Firstly, it is ridiculously inappropriate to compare "luxury homes, cars, exotic holidays" with the fees for private schools.  Good education is not a luxury but an essential provision which needs to be equally available to all children if we are ever to have a properly functioning society.  Parents are not to be blamed for seeking the best for their children but the private school system encourages the wealthiest to do this at the expense of the great majority.  For example, 14% of the teaching force, trained mainly at public expense, is currently employed in schools which teach 6.5% of the nation's children.    

Secondly, the fact that private schools meet the criteria required for charitable status is merely a reminder that these criteria are quite ridiculously inadequate.  The charitable status enjoyed by private schools represents a subsidy to the wealthiest from the great majority of taxpayers, whose own schools are poorly resourced.  

Thirdly, the effects of the "stellar" teaching identified by Mr Clark as a feature of private schooling do not seem to last beyond childhood.  Repeated research has established that, among university students with similar grades at A-level or its equivalent, the privately schooled are the least likely to obtain the best degrees.  As for "parental encouragement and studious atmosphere", these are not difficult to ensure when those who do not conform can simply be shown the door.

Finally, Mr Clark might reflect upon the fact that the products of these schools have formed Britain's ruling elite since the middle of the 19th century.  After 150 years of national decline, does he think they have done well?  

Michael Pyke, Campaign for State Education

Fighting for fair funding for schools,  The Hitchin Comet  26/7/18

My commitment to local lobbying for schools began with the inspirational Caroline Benn’s Campaign for Comprehensive Education.  I went on to join the movement to stop corporal punishment in Leicester schools (including the one where I was assistant principal).  But In the last eight years I began to find the energy and fun missing from local lobbying. Central government was draining local resources dry and for me lobbying local council meetings became as edifying as watching ferrets sleep in a sack.

This feeling of local powerlessness was halted by the recent surge in support for local parent action groups. 1300 have joined Hitchin Parents Against School Cuts in less than a month. In concert with HPASC the leader of the small Labour group of Hertfordshire county councillors persuaded councillors to vote unanimously to support the Hertfordshire headteachers’ campaign against school cuts.  

The controlling group of Conservative councillors now advocate lobbying Hertfordshire MPs (who at present support the education policies of this Conservative government).  With another unanimous council vote the Conservative councillors of the District Council agreed to follow.  An astonishingly swift and neat conclusion to the first round in our local lobbying campaign for fair funding in schools.

The non-party-political Campaign for State Education view supports the Hitchin heads:

The Government has depleted public assets and wasted a great deal of money.  The Public Accounts Committee has noted that Government policy has transferred land and buildings from the public realm to MATs and Free Schools.  Opening 422 Free Schools during the past seven years has cost about £3.6 billion with an estimated £900 million going to lawyers.”  

Good that our councillors support our headteachers.  I ask all councillors to look again at what their headteachers are saying:

The government seems to continue to squander millions of pounds on education where it suits them so they do not have the money to fund education fairly and reasonably.”

The fight for fair funding continues

Peter Thomson, Vice Chair Campaign for State Education

Technical and vocational education, The Guardian 20/6/18

Chiding Fiona Millar for her pessimism about the new T-levels, Anne Milton MP, Minister of State for Skills and Apprenticeships, assures us that "these exciting new qualifications...are here to stay" (letters, June 16th).  She bases her optimism upon two factors: the care taken with the design of T-levels and the fact that they will be part of a "holistic" approach to technical education which will include the establishment of institutes of technology "that will offer ... technical training to degree standard".

Leaving aside that some of this looks remarkably like a case of "back to the future", the Minister completely ignores the underlying reason for the failure of every single government attempt since 1945 to provide high quality technical and vocational education: namely, the historical role of academic qualifications in reinforcing social class hierarchy.  This became quite explicit in 2004, when the government rejected wholesale the excellent Tomlinson Report, because its recommendations would have given equal status in the Sixth Form to both academic and vocational studies by incorporating both into the same school-leaver's diploma.

As Fiona Millar points out in the article to which Ms Milton takes exception, vocational education in the UK has always been seen as essentially for "other people's children".  T-levels, however well designed, won't change this.

Michael Pyke, Campaign for State Education

Oxbridge: bucking the trend, or hogging the limelight? The Guardian 5/6/18

Our schools are facing unprecedented financial difficulties and many are in danger of becoming insolvent; the government cannot recruit enough teachers and those already recruited are leaving in droves; rates of mental illness among schoolchildren are soaring, yet The Guardian has devoted the bulk of over a week's education coverage to criticisms of Oxford and Cambridge.  Apparently these two universities are wealthy (gosh, who knew?), don't admit enough students from deprived and/or ethnic minority backgrounds (quelle surprise!) and do admit some students who behave very badly.

There is indeed room for improvement in our elite universities but, compared with the disaster engulfing our schools, this is a trivial issue.  Please recover your sense of perspective!

Michael Pyke, Campaign for State Education

Base schools policy on hard evidence, London Evening Standard 12 Oct 2017

THE publication of evidence demonstrating potential injustice or discrimination in our public services is wholly to be welcomed. The proof of this particular pudding, however, will be some clear signs that the Government is prepared to base future policy decisions on the available evidence.

It is, for instance, a disgrace that graduates who were privately educated should secure more of the highest-paid jobs than state-educated students with similar or better degrees. But since it has also been demonstrated that students educated in comprehensive schools regularly outperform their privately or grammar school-educated counterparts at university, it was bizarre that the Prime Minister decided that her priority was to introduce more grammar schools!

More policy based on research, rather than on personal anecdotes or hunches, can only be a very good thing for our country. But I'm not holding my breath.

Chris Dunne, Campaign for State Education

Tuition fees and the shrinking graduate premium, The Guardian 5/10/2017

Pace Michael Rosen, whatever is driving the disastrous education policies of the present government, it is most certainly not "Pisa-envy" (Letter from a curious parent - September 26th).  While Rosen is right to be sceptical of the value of these international comparisons, those systems which are most regularly successful in Pisa do seem to have certain characteristics in common, regardless of cultural differences.  Three of the most important seem to be (i) a properly comprehensive system of secondary schooling; (ii) a heavy investment in the education and training of a truly professional teaching force; (iii) a curricular emphasis upon problem solving, rather than upon the acquisition of large amounts of factual information.

It does not take an expert to recognise that these are not the chief characteristics of the English education system!

Michael Pyke, Campaign for State Education

London Schools are better because of ethnic diversity, London Evening Standard 29/8/2017

YOUR leading article about London schools outperforming the rest of the country at GCSE ("London school reforms have been effective", August 24] states that "the main reason is that over the past 20 years London has led the land in progressive educational reform", in particular the drive for "academisation". If this was the reason for London's success it would surely have had the same effect elsewhere.

Research into the "London effect" has shown definitively that the difference in pupil progress from the end of primary school to the completion of GCSEs" is entirely accounted for by ethnic composition".

It will be an uncomfortable fact for some white British pupils that they made the least progress both in London and the rest of England. But whereas they account for about 85 per cent of pupils outside the capital, they account for only 35 per cent in London. Its schools have almost two- and-a-half times fewer of the lowest- performing pupils.

Teachers and headteachers in London have worked very hard over the years to raise standards. It doesn't help them, or their pupils and parents, to ignore the most blatantly clear evidence that the main reason why London's schools have been so effective is a factor entirely beyond their control.

Chris Dunne, Campaign for State Education

Selective schools are peddling myths, The Guardian 20/6/2017

In a somewhat revealing interview with Peter Wilby, Shaun Fenton asserts that the raison d’être of selective schools is “academic excellence” (Education section, June 13th).  This is a self-serving myth: there is no evidence that the academic achievements of children who attend selective schools are significantly better than those of children of similar ability and social background who attend comprehensive schools.  In the long term, indeed, the reverse would appear to be the case, since all the evidence shows that, among similarly qualified university students, the best degrees are obtained by those who have been to comprehensive schools.

This may be one of the many reasons why not one of the world’s best education systems employs academic selection of the kind that persists in England to the detriment of so many young lives.

The real raison d’être of selective schooling is that it reinforces existing patterns of social hierarchy, which is why it is favoured by those who are already well-placed.

Michael Pyke, Campaign for State Education

Good comprehensives deserve high praise, The Guardian 18 October 2016

Sadly, it comes as no surprise that even the present Labour leadership lacks the moral courage to commit to ending the 11-plus once and for all. It was a Labour government that decided to interpret the great 1944 Education Act by con­tinuing with the pre-war, class-based system of selection at 11, and the prin­cipal architect of this disastrous system was not RA Butler but Ellen Wilkinson, the first post-war minister of education. Although a highly intelligent, liberal and humane woman, she, like so many of her successors, could not imagine any high- quality system of education other than the one that she herself had enjoyed.

The first opportunity for Labour to put things right was grasped so timidly and half-heartedly by Harold Wilson in 1965 and 1970 that 163 selective schools were left in place, with disastrous conse­quences for the status of comprehensive schools in many areas of the country. Worse, in 1997, it was a Labour Education Secretary - David Blunkett - who, having said “Let me say this very slowly indeed. Watch my lips: no selection by examina­tion or interview under a Labour govern­ment”, then failed to carry the policy through, as a result of which the number of children in selective schools actually increased.

Michael Pyke, Campaign for State Education

In reply - The Guardian

What is it about politically progressive folk that they often spend more time attacking friends and allies on the left than targeting opponents on the right? There’s a typical example in the letter from Michael Pyke of the Campaign for State Education (Letters, 18 October), where he has withering words about three generations of Labour politicians in relation to the failure to abolish 11-plus school selection, naming and shaming Ellen Wilkinson, Harold Wilson and David Blunkett, with nary a word about any Tories.

No one would deny that Labour governments over decades have made many mistakes, but often in the face of massive hostility from Conservatives and their allies in the media, where around 80% of newspapers have habitually favoured the right.

Why do lefties do the Tories’ dirty work by piling on attacks on Labour as though they should always take the brunt of the blame for disappointments and defeats? In the last three decades it has largely been the right who have “made the political weather”, and they should always be the main target for criticism in seeking progressive reform.

Giles Oakley, London

In reply - The Guardian

Giles Oakley (Letters, 19 October) complains about people like me “spending more time attacking friends and allies on the left than targeting opponents on the right”. First, the Campaign for State Education (Case) is not aligned to any political party. Nevertheless, of the last 30 letters published by members of Case in a wide range of publications, only three have been in any way critical of Labour. These three did not take more time to write than the other 27! Second, Case expects the Tories to uphold existing socioeconomic privilege; Labour is supposed to be different.

Michael Pyke, Campaign for State Education


Only the best is good enough - Hitchin Comet, 6 October 2016

Thank goodness for The Comet Speaker’s Corner and the opportunity taken by Councillor Judi Billing (Labour education spokesperson) to support comprehensive schools.  The non-party political Campaign for State Education (CASE) has been promoting comprehensive education since the time that Labour Prime Minister Harold Wilson is reputed to have declared “The grammar school will be abolished over my dead body”.

CASE supported Councillor Billing’s call to Conservative councillors to join the protest about forced academy status and loss of local accountability for schools. Such pressure produced a result with Conservative councillors in Hampshire and Oxfordshire forcing something of a Conservative government climb down. CASE is in strong support of Councillor Billing’s recent Speaker’s Corner call to overturn the latest Conservative government proposals for new grammar schools.

Only the best is good enough for all our children.  Hitchin needs more councillors like Judi Billing who are not afraid to warn of the divisive nature of academic selection at 11 years.  For every child who is selected for a grammar school education at least two are rejected.  

Peter Thomson, Campaign for State Education (Hitchin)


The Tablet - September 2016

Contrary to what Dr Alfred Layton asserts, the arguments against selective education systems are not ideological at all but are entirely based upon evidence, of which there is a great deal.  For a start, not one of the world's half dozen most successful educational jurisdictions, as identified by the OECD, employs selective schooling.  Between 2009 and 2012, the OECD itself carried out repeated research in this area and concluded unequivocally that selective systems result in poorer overall outcomes than non-selective ones.  The reason for this is that any gain in learning to the selected minority is greatly outweighed by the much poorer performance of the majority, for whom rejection results in loss of confidence, self-esteem and motivation to learn.  This helps to explain why Kent, which has retained the post-war selective system and whose results are boosted by the inclusion of some prestigious private schools, is out-performed by Hackney, which has no grammar schools and no private schools of note.

Moreover, such gains as can be identified are insignificant.  Dr Rebecca Allen at Datalab, who has made a detailed study of the effects of selective schooling in England, not only concurs with the findings of the OECD but calculates that the added value of attending a selective school varies from zero to three quarters of a GCSE grade.  In Higher Education, this added value disappears: both the Sutton Trust and the Higher Education Funding Council have established that, at Russell Group universities, among students with similar A-level grades, those who have been to comprehensive schools regularly outperform those who have attended grammar schools.  It is now also becoming apparent that, although state schools as a whole are still under-represented at Oxford and Cambridge, this under-representation is worse for grammar schools than it is for comprehensive schools.

Dr Layton, who seems to think that the disadvantage of being classed as a failure at age 11 can be rectified by the expenditure of money, offers no evidence in support of his argument but instead relies upon irrelevant analogy and bogus science.  Educating the nation's children is in no way whatsoever the same thing as developing a small group of elite athletes and the idea that "academic talent" (or, more properly, cognitive ability) is a fixed quantity, identifiable at age 10, we now know to be quite wrong.

Michael Pyke, Campaign for State Education


Private Eye – August 2016

Seamus Milne may or may not be guilty of "hypocrisy" in allowing his children to attend grammar schools in Kingston, rather than comprehensive schools in Richmond, but your article in Eye 1425 is certainly guilty of the ill-informed and lazy assumptions that characterise so much of your coverage of state education.

In the first place, Milne did not "send" his children to the Tiffin schools.  Parents cannot "send" children to grammar schools in the way that a few can to such places as - to quote an entirely random example - Ardingly College.  Applicants to grammar schools have to pass a test of "ability" which, in the case of the Tiffin schools, rejects over 90% of the candidates.  Moreover, it seems to have escaped your patriarchal notice that Milne has a wife and that she may have had a say in the matter, a say with which, for all you know, Milne may not have entirely agreed.

In the second place, you say that "the grammar schools did the trick", strongly implying that attending a grammar school enhances a child's chance of obtaining a place at Oxbridge, which current research suggests is decidedly not the case.  Currently 48% of Oxbridge students have attended a comprehensive school, with 12% having been to a grammar school.  The Sutton Trust considers that these figures show that grammar school pupils are, if anything, less likely to obtain places at Oxbridge than comprehensive school pupils of similar ability and background.  Moreover, it turns out that the latter also get better degrees.  As for Milne's children, it seems highly probable that their combination of high intelligence and privileged cultural background would have got them into Oxbridge from almost any kind of school and that no "trick" was needed.

Finally, in saying that he has "spoken of it" you underplay Jeremy Corbyn's opposition to 11+ selection.  It is widely believed that Corbyn's second marriage ended because of it and he was the only Labour leadership candidate last year to commit to discontinuing it (Kendall, Burnham and Cooper all informed CASE that selection was "wrong" but declined to act on this moral perception).  Whatever Corbyn's shortcomings, he is unlikely to have changed his view for fear of embarrassing Milne.

Michael Pyke, Campaign for State Education


We will come to regret not having defended our education system -The Financial Times 18/3/16

Sir, In the light of last week’s damning assessment by Sir Michael Wilshaw, the chief inspector of schools, of the efficacy of seven separate chains of academy schools, it is all the more depressing and alarming that the government’s announcement of a programme of enforced “academisation” marks the start of the final phase of the destruction of our national education service.

The education bill’s aim is to speed up the process by which more than 20,000 schools are removed from local democratic oversight and, together with their physical assets, handed over to unaccountable private academy chains, with little or no parental involvement, no access to freedom of information requests, and a less rigorous inspection framework. All this despite the fact that the empirical evidence to date provides no support for the idea that academy trusts are any better at improving schools than local authorities (and may indeed be much worse); the growing evidence that Ofsted believes some academy chains are not competent or trustworthy providers, and despite the fact that our primary schools — where most of the significant educational improvement that Ofsted and the Department for Education rightly celebrate happens — are still largely maintained and supported by local authorities!

Almost no one seems to be aware that of the 50 most developed countries in the world only one other European country (Finland) and four in Southeast Asia outperform this country in overall educational attainment, and none of them have privatised their schools in the way this legislation will promote. On the contrary, they are all fiercely protective of a national system of education.

We have down the decades, quite rightly and passionately, defended our National Health Service. I believe the country will quickly come to regret that it did not as robustly defend and protect one of the most successful national education systems in the world.

Chris Dunne, Retired headteacher and member of the Campaign for State Education


Teacher recruitment crisis – The Observer 6/3/16

In an otherwise very good article, Laura McInerney unfortunately failed to refer to the most worrying feature of the current crisis in teacher recruitment: the fact that vast numbers of teachers are quitting the profession because they simply can't stand it any longer (Golden handcuffs for teachers won't solve the staffing crisis in our schools -February 28th).  In early 2015 The Guardian reported that 50% of newly qualified teachers were quitting within 5 years, with a whopping 37% not even staying for one year.  In a recent ATL survey, 76% of teachers were considering giving up.

McInerney mentions declining salaries but, among the five most common reasons cited by teachers for planning to quit, pay does not feature heavily.  By far the biggest problem is workload and the impossibility of have a proper work/life balance.  Other commonly cited reasons for quitting are: denigration in the media, leading to a feeling of being undervalued; having to cope with the never ending series of changes imposed by politicians; challenging pupil behaviour, and the feeling of being constantly under hostile observation, with 63% citing OFSTED as a heavily disliked feature of the job.

Michael Pyke, Campaign for State Education


Soaring state schools and the society we want to live in - The Guardian 9/2/2016

The general secretary of the Headmasters’ and Headmistresses’ Conference rightly attributes rising standards in the state sector to “the expectations of parents and pupils” having “been transformed over the past two generations”, whereupon Nicky Morgan and the DfE promptly jump in to claim the credit. What shameless opportunism!

Politicians are, of course, always eager to see instant results but it will actually be some years before we can assess the outcome of the “reforms” introduced since 2010 as the great majority of children affected by them are not yet out of primary school. So far, the only measurable result has been a crisis in the supply of teachers.

Michael Pyke, Campaign for State Education


Schools must not forget the less bright - London Evening Standard 22/1/2016

Well done to the London Academy of Excellence for offering standards equivalent to independent schools with state and external funding [“Headmaster of ‘East End Eton': Our school raises aspirations - it’s a genuine case of social mobility”,January 20].

However, what happens to the students who do not achieve the results the school requires?

It seems our education system is creating a selection process focusing on the brightest, raising the question as to who will educate the disadvantaged and less bright children?

N Dixon (Campaign for State Education)

Testing times for Tory education policies - The Guardian 6/11/15

The conclusion of Wednesday’s editorial is that the new education secretary “must listen to what she’s told” (Back to the drawing board: Nicky Morgan reinvents the wheel, 4 November).

If Morgan had had the slightest intention of basing her policies on evidence and detached professional advice, she would never have advanced so utterly stupid a set of proposals in the first place.

There is not nor ever has been the slightest evidence to justify the expansion of the academies programme. There is no reason to suppose that so-called free schools will be any less of a disaster here than they have been in Sweden; sending hit squads of “high-flying” teachers into areas with poor educational standards is a crassly simplistic idea, dreamed up by people with no understanding of how children learn. Most stupid of all, for reasons which your editorial well explains, is the proposal to reinstate formal testing for seven-year-olds.

Morgan is, however, merely the latest in a long line of education secretaries, Labour and Conservative, who have ignored both evidence and professional advice, preferring to base policy upon prejudice and the perceived need to protect vested interests. Indeed, the last education secretary of real ability and integrity was the late Keith Joseph who, having seen the evidence, changed his mind and introduced the GCSE.  Sadly for our children there seems little chance of anyone of such stature holding the post these days.

Michael Pyke, Campaign for State Education


Academies plan is a flawed solution - Evening Standard 13/10/15

My heart sank when I read that David Cameron wants all state schools to become academies within five years [October 8]. There are many problems with education but removing local oversight and parental involvement is not a solution.

I then read that Education Secretary Nicky Morgan has invited businesses to be involved in schools. It sounds as though my local secondary will be forced to convert into an academy against the wishes of parents. After all, who knows who will run it - maybe Poundland?

Nicky Dixon, Campaign for State Education


Selective reasoning on secondary schools - The Guardian 12/7/15

Good to see the strong moral convictions and determined sense of purpose offered by most of the candidates for the Labour leadership on the vexed question of selective schools (Fiona Millar, 7 July). Yvette Cooper believes that “a comprehensive intake is a good thing” but is not going to close schools that make such an intake impossible because she doesn’t “think this is the right approach”. Andy Burnham doesn’t “believe in selection at all” but is going to leave it to others to decide “at a local level”. Liz Kendall believes that “selection is wrong” but plans to continue with it. Apparently, only Jeremy Corbyn believes in translating his convictions into political action.

Michael Pyke, Campaign for State Education


Testing times for primary school pupils and Labour's education policies - The Guardian 31/3/2015

Tristram Hunt neatly avoids the issue when answering Patrick Yarker about making grammar schools non-selective (You ask the questions: Labour, 31 March). When the 11-plus examination labels and damages so many children before they have had the opportunity to develop, it is hardly surprising that parents should feel compelled to try to get their children into the selective schools in order to avoid this premature and stigmatising failure. That is not popularity - it is desperation.

What Hunt overlooks is the dismal performance of the rest of the schools in the grammar school counties. The two-tiered system predicated on antediluvian beliefs about intelligence and testing does needless and wasteful damage to thousands of children. A Labour education policy should focus on all children being able to receive a life-enhancing and supportive educational entitlement. Summative judgment about achievement is more appropriate to when the education process is complete rather than when it is only half way there.


Keith Lichman, Campaign for State Education


The malign effects of coalition education policy in England’s schools - The Guardian 4/2/2015

Zoe Williams is right to pour scorn on the education secretary’s ridiculous “war on illiteracy and innumeracy” (It is time ministers realised that teachers do want to teach, 2 February). Presumably Nicky Morgan is borrowing her metaphor from the “wars” on drugs and terror; sadly, she can expect just about the same level of success. Moreover, she appears to be fighting a war from the 1950s. What on earth, for example, is the point of requiring children to learn the 11 and 12 times tables and to “perform long division”? While she’s at it, why not bring back the rod, pole and perch, and all the other outdated weights and measures that used to adorn the back of exercise books? Oh and let’s ensure that every child understands the dangers of the pendent participle and the split infinitive!

As for her and David Cameron’s threat of more sackings and forced academy conversions for schools which fail at this nonsense, obviously neither of them has taken seriously the latest report of the education select committee, whose (Conservative) chair has just stated that “Current evidence does not prove that academies raise standards overall or for disadvantaged children” adding: “While some chains have clearly raised attainment, others achieve worse outcomes creating huge disparities within the academy sector and compared to other mainstream schools.


Michael Pyke, Campaign for State Education



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