Fraser Nelson

An urgent need for change

An urgent need for change
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We hear phrase "market failure" often enough - but (as Michael Prowse once said) government failure is far more common. The most egregious example is education – and David Cameron says in his press conference today with Michael Gove. Here are a few facts they highlight today in their document (read it here):

1) Some 140,000 pupils were suspended from secondary schools for violence or persistent disruption in 2005/06. Many end up in the cells - almost 100,000 under-18s are given custodial sentences.

2) Suspensions for physical assault (in primary schools) is about twelve times higher in deprived areas than in the least-deprived ones. The scourge of school violence is focused on the poorest neighbourhoods.

3) Rather than police this, teachers are themselves investigated - as the targets of false allegations. Some 59% of head teachers say that false allegations have been made against them or their staff within the last three years.

Anyone who knows a teacher (who works in a normal or deprived area) will have heard similar stories. Police turn up to schools in twos: one to enter the building and the other to guard the car. And the disruptive kids know that their best form of getting teachers off their back is to lodge a false complaint against them. It sends the system into hyperdrive, and the teacher – not the bully – is hounded.

Gove today outlines new laws and powers which give teachers more power to deal with the problem. He’d end the right to appeal against expulsion, reverse Balls’ daft rule forcing schools to take a disruptive pupil for each one they expel, and offer teachers more protection against false claims. All good stuff, but I am sceptical about central government's ability to deal with this very effectively. Good schools will use such powers, the bad ones will not. The LEAs are the real power in education. What’s needed is a revolution in approach to discipline in schools – ie, a culture shift. And that can take years to achieve.

The Tory education plan has two planks. This is the first: how the party would seek to shake up existing schools. The second plank – supply-side reform along the Swedish system where a new breed of small, independent schools open in the state sector with state funds – is the policy that has the power to change education in England forever. It just needs a small number for a tipping point to be created, where existing state-run schools know they must shape up, or lose pupils (and money). Once they are responding to the priorities of British parents, no Whitehall edicts will be needed.

Until then, a Tory government must obviously use edicts (and empowerment measures, as today's are) as best they can. But the dismal state of affairs outlined in the Tory document is another chilling reminder of just how urgently change is needed

P.S. You may not have heard of Prowse. As the FT’s Washington Correspondent, he was converted away from New Labour - and explained how in a 1995 article in The Independent. Read it here.

Written byFraser Nelson

Fraser Nelson is the editor of The Spectator. He is also a columnist with The Daily Telegraph, a member of the advisory board of the Centre for Social Justice and the Centre for Policy Studies.

Topics in this articlePolitics