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Posted on 19 October 2009 at 0:00 GMT

Cambridge Review - New Labour's education system doesn't work

When Labour came to power with a mission to sort out education, they bulldozed ahead with the mantra of "whatever works".

Linda Taaffe

All opposition to New Labour "reform" was met with this crude put-down. Tests were necessary to drive up standards.

Ofsted was needed to root out bad teachers. All this on the basis of not a shred of evidence! It was in reality a mask to continue Tory policies.

"Whatever works " was the strategy to justify the centralisation of control of schools, the handing of lucrative contracts to their friends in big business for buildings and services, and, of course, to stop dead any opposition from teacher unions.

A regime, that was initiated by the hated Tory Party under Thatcher through the introduction of testing children at seven, has been pursued relentlessly over the last 12 years.

Now every part of education - from children's early admission to school, the content of the curriculum, the building of schools under the Private Finance Initiative, the conditions of teachers and support staff, right through to university level - all have been infected with this suffocating "Stalinist" top-down control.

Targets, testing and league tables have led to bullying management, and a narrower curriculum than even that of the old Victorian Gradgrind era!

Now at last a vast body of research has been brought together in a 600 page document, that took over three years to complete and headed by the eminent academic Prof.

Robin Alexander and other well known educationists, which completely shatters the New Labour and Tory myth.

THEIR SYSTEM DOESN'T WORK. The Cambridge Report hit the headlines last week with a swathe of support in the media. Only mealy-mouthed second-line government spokesmen were left to defend New Labour policy. The Report supports much of what socialists and trade unionists, and a wide range of educationists, have been warning over many years about where this would lead - ever since the introduction of tests for seven year-olds.

Unfortunately for a generation of children - and their teachers - everything we said then has been borne out, to the detriment of unknown numbers, possibly thousands, of children.

This report bears out with evidence based on research that the narrowing of the curriculum is not good for children; and that the biggest contributor to under-achievement is poverty.

Yet despite this avalanche of evidence the government is adamant. It is not going to budge an inch. Despite the extensive forces ranged against their education policies, it will need union action to finish them off.

In the end it will be down to the unions to get SATs and all their ramifications thrown out.

The unions, particularly the NUT have had chances to do just that. In 2003 the National Union of Teachers under a right-wing leadership at the time balloted teachers in primary schools to stop Key Stage 1 and 2 tests.

Although the result was over 30,000 in favour of a boycott, the leadership buckled and stepped back, leaving teachers even more isolated.

This gave the green light to the government to pile on more of the same, with one diktat after another, one literacy strategy after another.

Earlier this year the NUT Conference voted again to call another ballot to stop SATs with delegates on their feet chanting enthusiastically " No more SATs." The NAHT the headteachers' union followed up by passing the same motion at their Conference.

It seemed that this time it was for real. Then absolutely nothing happened. Silence. Recently the heads, not unexpectedly, backtracked, and the now Left led leadership of the NUT fell in behind them.

What is due to take place in November is only an indicative ballot i.e. not a real ballot.

While the Cambridge Report will hopefully encourage NUT teachers to back this consultative ballot, the real point is, if strong action is not taken soon, then, the matter could be left to Cameron and his crew to sort out.

According to the Conservative Shadow Education Minister Michael Gove their view on less interference by central government is, true to Tory form, to hand over schools (including primaries) lock, stock and barrel, to all manner of private outfits.

In other words they propose the complete dismantling of state education.

The recommendations of the Cambridge Report, with some exceptions, are on the whole very welcome. Teachers are well pleased that what they have been saying for years is backed up by such an eminent piece of research.

However, the current system of testing and league tables will not fall down through evidence alone.

Trade union action is the key. If teacher trade unionists take the first step to boycott they will find a huge pool of support from parents, other educationists, academics, and even the media, who could be drawn in to bring about real changes for the benefit of children.

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