« Peter Franklin: Home truths for the Right | Main | Theresa May MP: What Harriet's priorities for women should be »


Evan Price

Congratulations to Louise!

On the subject of education, I agree that there is more evidence than ever that the Government is failing our children; that is why more parents than ever are choosing private schools.

The role of Government in this fiasco is not limited to its roles in the examination systems at GCSE and A'Level. The exams that our children now sit include tests of their development at infant 'schools' where the Government now has decided, in its infinite wisdom, that our babies need to be tested against 69 different criteria!

Does anyone else agree with me that the exam system imposed on children is done not to improve the standard of education, but to enable Government ministers to 'prove' that there are improvements by the production of evermore dubious statistics?


Excellent analysis. The problem is not only in primary education - but at all levels. We are not producing sufficient number of high calibre scientists and engineers any more, let alone skilled craftsmen.
Britain has bceome rather good at selling things other countries make (even our star footballers are mostly foreign imports).

However, the we as a Party have not put forward any cohenerent policy idea apart from some wishy washy blurb (not to mention Grammar School fiasco). Labour always believed in bringing the standard down to the lowest common denominator (to create a generation who cannot think for itself but will be nannied through life).

Bring back selection, apprenticeship schemes and shut down the mickey mouse institutions that pose as Universities - they are a disgrace.


I was in the penultimate year that sat O Levels, and I didn’t do as well as I’d hoped. Two years later, my little sister sat the first GCSEs, and she got straight As. How I glowered with resentful envy.

Yes but GCSE was Keith Joseph's baby and introduced in 1987 - a full decade before Labour came to power.

The Conservatives combined CSE and GCE into one exam to create one exam for the comprehensive school.

It was Conservatives who debased Universities by turning Polytechnics into full-time residential institutions and did away with sandwich degrees

Labour may be a catastrophe for failing to halt the collapse in standards the Conseratives unleashed, but to pretend the Conservatives have the solution is to ignore experience.


Decent education was sabotaged at the start of the 60's and has never really recovered. The Leftie Brigade hijacked the educational establishment, especially the Teacher Training Colleges, and no-one in the Tory years had the cojones to take them on.

I can remember having to teach my two Grammar School children and their friends how to write essays - and that was in the 80's. Once some of their friends went to TTC's, it became apparent why the standars of teachers was falling to pieces. There was much more training in racial awareness and equality than in teaching skills and discipline.

Sorry to sound like a loony conspiracy theorist, but what we have seen in the last 10 years in every aspect of our life is not just down to NuLab, but to a long-term and determined effort to undermine our country, stretching back for decades.


The main causes of educational failure are

- the abolition of grammar schools in most part of the country
- the pernicious influence of LEAs that are run by socialist social engineers
- the national curriculum that has been destroyed by political correctness, environmentalism, "citizenship studies" and multiculturalism

The Conservatives should

- allow councils to build more grammar schools (a localist policy)
- abolish LEAs and replace them with a national voucher scheme
- slim down the national curriculum and empower parents to decide what is taught in schools

School socialism is the problem not the solution.

John Ionides

A most excellent article, Louise. I agree that education is an area where we should be very strongly on the attack. A lack of education (in the wider sense; not just grade levels) underlies many of the other problems we see today.

However, we have got ourselves into a pickle. The other parties are just going to turn around and say "what are you going to do about it?". Given past record on the Grammar School debate they can then just sit back and watch the sparks fly.

It is clearly an area we need a clear policy on very soon, so at least we can rally behind a position. Personally, I am in favour of academic selection at the level of schools, although I understand the Willetts idea of fixing the problem though supply side reform alone and it has some extremely exciting possibilities. However, IMHO which of these we go for is slightly irrelevant. If we can put in place a system to restore discipline, and if we can start to take on the anti-intellectual culture in many schools (and in fact anti-intellectualism can be quite liberating, just not in the classroom) then we will be doing our kids a service whatever the wider organisation of the schools.

The Huntsman

An excellent piece which demonstrates that the citizens of Corby and East Northamptonshire have a lady as their prospective conservative candidate who can apply the steel capped ladies' shoe with just as much force as someone with a similarly-equipped ammunition boot.

My son has recently finished 'A' Levels and as a father one has taken as keen an interest as possible in his subjects. He and I share Spanish as 'A' level subjects. I have not a moment of doubt that his 'A' level is about as hard as was my 'O' level in that topic. By the time I had finished we were expected to and could converse and write in Spanish utilising all declensions of nouns and conjugations and tenses of verbs. He has only been exposed to two or three tenses of verbs and limited use of the subjunctive. He has read almost no literature: I still have and read from time to time the same books I had at School, a wide range of Spanish and South American authors and poets reflecting the highly catholic tastes of my teachers. He has been subjected to (and as a precocious Eurosceptic has found hard to bear) a lengthy diatribe on the virtues of the European Union and how Spain is benefiting so much from its membership of it. He is also expert on the work and life of Salvador Dali, who, whilst interesting, is surely not the apogee of Spanish Art. Goya, yes, El Greco, Velasquez or Picasso probably. But Dali is so off the wall and a one off that he is scarcely representative of Spain.

I give that detail, which I hope is not boring and distracting, to illustrate one's clear sense that the modern exam has been dumbed down, not just a bit, but radically. I have no doubt either that it is part of the 'there shall be no failures' culture which is so damaging.

One could also single out the making of learning a foreign language optional as evidence of how debauched the state education system has become.

This must be the maddest of all decisions. In future in this country, the only people who will be able to apply for jobs that demand a facility in a foreign language will be those educated at independent or grammar schools or those handful of state schools which have continued to insist on languages.

Thus a huge swathe of state-educated children is automatically eliminated entirely from any chance of competing for such employment. We must be barking mad.

I should add that I am no stuffy traditionalist in this regard. I see not much point in kids learning German these days, nor, sadly, French but Spanish, Mandarin and Hindi ought to be the preferred offerings.

It would be interesting to see, if the curriculum was left up to parents to define, as could be done by a radical devolution of power over education away from government back to the level of the consumer, what it would look like. Very different and much harder than anything the experts might come up with, I am sure.

Phil Taylor

Ken Boston may well be an Australian socialist. He is a very well paid one.

Salary £195K per annum. £95K in air tickets and accommodation paid by QCA last year and the year before. Apparently after 2 years on the gravy train he has to make do with his salary this year.

His office overlooking Green Park on Piccadilly must be some compensation.

Qualifications and Curriculum Authority, 83 Piccadilly, London W1J 8QA

Tony Makara

My son, an A level student, has complained how 'General Studies' has been a complete waste and drain on his study time. My son has worked very hard to get the high A level grades he needs to go to the university of his choice, and the last thing he needed was 'General Studies' eating up his time. What is the point of 'General Studies' actually? Especially as universities do not seem to recognise the subject as being of value.

Cllr Tony Sharp

An excellent analysis Louise. We can see where things need to be corrected. I do not think, Tom Tom that it is any use looking back 20 years and claiming that the Tories cannot have the answers today because they made changes back then.

No one said, for example, that GCSEs had to be accompanied by constantly falling educational standards and that education should be about programming children to pass exams rather than develop and learn in a rounded manner.

Where I would go further than Louise is in saying that:

"Conservatives believe in equality of opportunity so everyone has a chance to fulfil their potential; but socialists believe in equality of outcome - even if that means levelling the playing field downwards and holding people back to ensure there are no winners or losers. To achieve this socialists are denying people an equal opportunity to achieve their best. This kind of social engineering not only damages our children, but in the long term this country's ability to compete in the global economy too."


Great article.

I don't understand why the mainstream press don't tear the Gov't to shreds on its performance.

Oberon Houston

Good article Louise (congrats on the bambino btw!!!) ...yes a good piece, and timely too. The Labour dominated education select committee today damming the way in which the massive funding increases have been implemented, building new schools only to see them close down and focusing on infrastructure instead of teaching standards and specialists, which are a much better way of using extra money, but harder to get right and less impact than shiny schools in local papers. It’s a repeat of the failure to utilise increased funding in the NHS all over again.

Tony Makara

Lucy, Good point. Too many journalists are deferential to Labour and even have 'Sweetheart' relationships with certain ministers. Its all too cosy. Local newspapers are even worse than their national counterparts. More often than not a local paper is 'cooing and swooning' just to have an interview with their local MP and they don't even go close to interrogating them over failed policy.

David Belchamber

This is a vital subject and yet we still have no real idea how the tories intend to improve matters. Perhaps ConHome should list 50 or 100 points for us to debate.

The first thing surely (as with the EU debate) is to assemble real facts, otherwise we will never start a debate but only argue that black is white.

There is no doubt at all that (i) there has been considerable dumbing down all the way through the system, (ii) that coursework leads to open cheating, (iii) that difficult subjects are frequently avoided and(iv) that reults at 11 are still far from satisfactory.

But where is concrete evidence? We know that too many of the products of the system are "not fit for purpose" (admissions tutors cannot differentiate between "very good" and "outstanding" candidates, employers, the CBI and chambers of commerce are appalled at standards of literacy, the independents are moving from A levels to the IB and from GCSE to the IGCSE)etc.

The debate about grammar schools is a mess; these schools have had an outstanding record over hundreds of years but there are just too few of them. It is all very well to talk about introducing "grammar streams" into comprehensives (how well has that idea been thought through?) but, as I argued recently elsewhere, we really need to separate the "yob" element from mainstream schooling to allow proper teaching to take place.

There are so many issues to discuss and Louise is to be congratulated on her thought provoking article.

John Ionides

Couldn't agree more, David. In fact, there is a huge amount of evidence out there. We would be negligent not to really press for changes in the system, even if it comes down to governing by proxy (q.v.)

To be fair to Willetts it was clear that he recognised that improving discipline is a key area that needs addressing. No details were supplied at the time and I think that is a pity. Of course, what system is required depends very much on how large the "yob element" is (or, more precisely, how many kids would need to be removed for the balance to shift in favour of those who want to learn). This is not a figure I have seen estimates for.

Education is a very powerful topic as it affects the vast majority of people for most of their lives (first themselves and then their children, grandchildren etc). It is an area where the government has made a complete hash of things due to a combination of their inability to govern effectively and their adherance to a damaging and out of date ideology. It is an area that we must put together a bold set of alternative proposals for the sake of future generations.


I see not much point in kids learning German these daysI do not think, Tom Tom that it is any use looking back 20 years and claiming that the Tories cannot have the answers today because they made changes back then.

Even so every good tree bringeth forth good fruit; but a corrupt tree bringeth forth evil fruit.

Mat 7:18 A good tree cannot bring forth evil fruit, neither [can] a corrupt tree bring forth good fruit.

Mat 7:19 Every tree that bringeth not forth good fruit is hewn down, and cast into the fire.

Mat 7:20 Wherefore by their fruits ye shall know them.

Tony Makara

Tomtom, Kein Deutsch, das kann nicht sein! German is one of the greatest languages in history. Opening up the german speaker to a rich tapestry of german literature. The german language is very important still. Also learning german is great mental exercize, those who don't know german imagine it to be like english because of a few english of the english sounding words that one finds in early german lessons, but nothing could be further from the truth. German properly learnt is a great challege mentally. We must retain german as a core foreign language.

The Huntsman

German is a great language, of course, but not terribly practical when many board meetings of German Companies are routinely conducted in English, even if all the participants are Germans. I daresay Mandarin and Hindi might also prove a great mental challenge.

In the past we learnt French because it was the language of diplomacy and a dominant language on the Continent amongst the ruling elites. To the frustration of the French those days are gone and with it the need to have French as an essential tool for dealing with the modern world.

German was a language much found in scientific and engineering research material and for that reason was important. That too has gone and German has no special part to play in making our children well-equipped for the modern, globalised world. Though I daresay it might help one understand the words to our new National Anthem, Schiller's Ode to Joy.

The purpose of modern languages in school (as opposed to university where a much wider and eclectic mix is both justified and desirable) is to equip our children with the tools to go out and represent business, government and our way of life in what will be the dominant languages of 21st. century commerce and diplomacy. English we have, hindi, mandarin and spanish we ought to have. Our companies, our diplomats and those who govern us will need these tools so that we may be able properly to compete in a changed world.

That this Government has abandoned the teaching of languages in State Schools is, in my view, the single most disgraceful act by a Government which is not short of such in its record.

Tony Makara

Huntsman, I take your point. Especially about germans wanting to speak english all the time. Thats one thing no-one can accuse the french of! Im not convinced that mandarin is practical unless its just taught at the pinyin level. Having studied Russian I know that learning a new alphabet takes a lot of reading and time, so I imagine taking on chinese characters with all the complexities of the stroke system would be just too much for children of school age. Its all a question of time. Spanish, yes, I'd agree there because spanish is quite logical for english speakers to learn. I'd hate to see german disappear because I love the language even with its extraordinary compound nouns.


I'm not convinced that a Conservative administration could quickly solve the education crisis, faced as it would be by a teaching profession exhibiting Institutional Socialism.

John Ionides

Teesbridge, that to me is the delight of the sort of Swedish model that Willetts was putting forward. Don't like the school in your area and its attitudes to education? Get together a group and start your own. If local parents prefer it then it will grow (or the management will set up other schools in the area). Essentially you are building a system on schools that parents want to send their kids to.

Of course, if you live in a town where there is just one school and it is good then everyone is happy. If you live in a town where there is just one school and it is bad then the mechanism exists to do something about it.

You would, of course, have to be able to exclude on disciplinary grounds and there would have to be a well-funded alternative for children who cannot last in any school due to disciplinary problems.

You would also have to ensure that it is relatively easy for school to expand and you would have to think hard about the precise mechanisms by which contraction would be managed in unpopular schools.

AIUI, such a system combined with streaming by ability (presumably where numbers make this practical) is pretty much what Willetts was proposing. Don't know about the current thinking behind whichever task farce this comes under.

While I much prefer the ideology of Grammar schools (for me, the pursuit of excellence is one of the things education should be about), this system seems to me to offer a far better mechanism for change than building more selective schools.


Get together a group and start your own.

I would love to see your business plan....

John Ionides

Mmm. Interesting typo (no, honest). Read "task force" for "task farce"!


German is a great language, of course, but not terribly practical when many board meetings of German Companies are routinely conducted in English

Oh Huntsman how amusing. Some German AGs conduct board meetings in English but business is not done in Board Meetings. GmbHs do their business in German - either in the office or socially.

You won't do much business if you think it all goes on in the boardroom - having been on the board in German companies I can assure you without German you are toast. Both the Greek and the Japanese Commercial Code are to a large degree German - and the number of Chinese learning German should shame the British - it is the No1 supplier of machine tools with 6-month back orders. China and Asia do far more trade with Germany than with Britain

John Ionides

Tom Tom, the thing is that I have seen it work well in other countries. My mother-in-law runs a very similar scheme in Russia. The parents and teachers all seem to love it. Sweden adopted this approach a few years back amid much skepticism and it has been a great hit.

Of course, you have to keep the amount of regulation reasonable (which is one reason I can't imagine this scheme working under Brown) but with that caveat I think your cynicism is misplaced this time round.

The comments to this entry are closed.

  • Tracker 2
  • Extreme Tracker