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Nick Seaton RIP

111026172228-nickseatonI am very sorry to report the death of Nick Seaton, a contributor to Conservative Home, and for 25 years, the Chairman of the Campaign for Real Education. While less well known than the Campaign for Real Ale, which inspired its title, the CRE has quietly proved to be as effective.

As the CRE says:

As the CRE’s central figure, he did more for education in this country than anyone. He kept a flag of resistance flying in the face of educational fashions that have gone on to fail a generation of youngsters. He provided an honest voice for that silent majority of parents, teachers and pupils who were afraid to speak out against the educational establishment. To the end he remained an unsung hero. Without Nick we would never have had a great debate about education because there would not have been a voice of dissent. He was the best of men and he will be greatly missed. The CRE will continue to hold the flag he raised.

One way to honour the memory of this great man is to write a cheque for the Campaign for Real Education and post it to their Treasurer - Dr Vera Dalley, 12 Pembroke Square, Kensington, London W8 6PA.

Another is to recall some of the items of unfinished business which he highlighted in articles for this website. Mr Seaton lived to see the tide turn in his favour. Michael Gove's predecessors as Education Secretary include Keith Joseph, Kenneth Baker and Margaret Thatcher. None of them achieved the break in decline that Mr Gove has overseen in just 32 short months. But Mr Gove has been standing on the shoulders of Mr Seaton. By patiently and honestly chronicling the flaws of the "progressive" educationalists, Mr Seaton also showed us that there could be a better path - where parental choice causes good schools to expand and thrive and bad schools to close or be taken over.

I am not sure Mr Seaton appreciated the extent to which he was winning. He was pretty sceptical of all politicians and political parties.

Of course there is a long way to go.

Here are some of Mr Seaton's proposals which have yet to be implemented.

1. Boost numbers at independent schools with a voucher system.

Mr Seaton said:

"We think it should be universal, give all parents the value of a child's education back in the form of a voucher each year and let them cash it in at the school of their choice. Parents could top it up if necessary if a private school is a bit more expensive. At the moment, when you compare state education at a lot of schools, you could send children to private schools for less money."


A voucher system like Sweden's should allow 'for-profit' providers. And top-ups for parents who are able and willing to contribute to the cost of their child's education.  (N.B. Even Alan Milburn is now promoting 'education credits'!)

2. Open new grammar schools.

Mr Seaton said:

The latest Sunday Telegraph has reported that Labour intends to abandon its £20m national academy for gifted and talented youth, which provides master classes and summer schools for bright children. The 'G& T' programme wasn't much but it did offer something for academic high-fliers.

Yet none of the leaders of the three main parties will defend the remaining grammar schools in England or Northern Ireland, all of which are under direct or indirect threat from politicians.

If Mr Cameron wins the election, what is a family living in four-fifths of the country devoid of grammar schools to do, if they have a bright child?  Those who can afford it will flee to the independent sector. Those who can't may be doomed to mediocrity.

3. Scrap PSHE

Mr Seaton said:

Good schools concentrate their efforts on high standards in English and maths, science, geography, history and so on. They may pay lip-service to pseudo-subjects such as PSHE and citizenship, but
that's all.

So at a time when concerns about educational standards have reached unprecedented levels, Ed Balls is ensuring that every school is compelled to waste valuable lesson-time on dangerous, mind-bending PSHE lessons.

4. Scrap the Schools Adjudicator

Mr Seaton said: 

"All the adjudicator  does is to pressure local authorities and schools to meet bureaucratic requirements on admissions. As far as I can see, he does nothing to improve parental choice. Surely, the very existence of the Office is an implicit admission that parental choice is not an official priority?  Why not just give autonomy to schools?....

£1,300,000 a year is a lot of taxpayers' money. Instead of using it to hide political incompetence, wouldn't it be better spent on improving failing schools? And offering all parents decent choices?"

5. Allow faith schools admissions freedom

Mr Seaton asked:

How free is a faith school that must keep 50% of its places for those of other faiths or none?

6. Choice and diversity means allowing more single sex schools

Mr Seaton said:

Given the choice, it is probable that many more parents would choose single-sex schools for cultural or religious reasons as well as educational ones.

Yet, the educational establishment seems determined to deny that choice even where it still exists.  If anyone knows of a new single-sex school being built under Labour's Building Schools for the Future (BSF) programme, perhaps they will tell us about it?

7. Schools should teach the difference between right and wrong. 

Mr Seaton said:

As most teachers know, there are two ways to teach values, which lead to particular patterns of behaviour.

The traditional method is 'values transmission', where the values of responsible adults (families or wider society) are transmitted from one generation to the next.

The 'progressive' method is 'values clarification', where youngsters are given information (which may or may not be complete and unbiased) and told to make their own 'informed choices'/'informed decisions."

8. Scrap the Training and Development Agency for Schools

Mr Seaton said:

 "Young trainee teachers are brainwashed into the brave new world of efficiency, excuses and political correctness."


The state's control of teacher training has permitted the universal enforcement of progressive ideology at the expense of  in-depth subject knowledge.  The Training and Development Agency for Schools (TDA), which costs taxpayers around £777m annually (£590m of which goes on initial teacher training), is not providing a satisfactory service.

Recommendation: The TDA should be closed down. So-called Qualified Teacher Status and other  restrictions on teacher employment should be removed and institutions should be allowed to employ anyone as a teacher, providing the applicant has the qualifications and experience (and passes   criminal record checks) required by the head/principal and governors. Practical teaching skills such as efficient class management should be acquired in school.

9. Teach subjects not topics

Mr Seaton said:

Christ's Church of England School in Richmond has almost abolished subjects for at least one year has introduced an integrated, theme driven curriculum that emphasises skills, not subjects. Instead of teaching subjects, each of which has a structure and a recognised body of knowledge, the school teaches a Personalised Alternative Curriculum Experience (PACE).

10. An end to "Circle Time"

Mr Seaton said:

Circle Time, where children and their teacher or 'facilitator' form a circle to discuss controversial issues, also undermines responsible adult authority.  Circle Time gurus Jenny Mosley and Marilyn Tew advise teachers/facilitators: "You must accept any contribution, however 'offbeat', with great respect" and 'value all opinions equally'.

It is not necessary to agree with Mr Seaton on the ten points above (although they strike me as pretty sensible) to recognise the extraordinary contribution he has made, as a modest and public spirited individual, to monitoring and challenging the orthodoxies of a whole empire.

Those of us wishing to continue his mission no longer have him at our side but we have his writing. His contributions to this site and many more are on the CRE website. His books and papers for the Centre for Policy Studies are available.

He may not have finished the task but he has shown us what is needed.

Top marks to him.


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