18 November 2007

P Is For Pupils, Politicians & Power

My daughter, who turned five today and who is desperate to catch up with her big brother, would, I'm sure, agree that all children should learn to read by the age of six. She was disappointed not to be able to do so already in time for when she joined her reception class little more than two months ago. However, do we really need another alternative externally-administered test for six to seven-year-olds and a one-size-fits-all prescription of synthetic phonics, as David Cameron is reported as suggesting? If this were a Labour proposal, I would at least understand the rationale, with their misplaced belief that "the state always knows best." Yet this is coming from the party that is supposed to stand for freedom and local empowerment.

Shadow schools secretary Michael Gove was right when he told Andrew Marr, "Unless they learn to read properly they won't be able to read to learn subsequently, and this is the key foundation stone on which the rest of learning is built." Which is precisely why teachers need to be freed to teach. The last thing we need is yet another state-administered National Literacy Strategy, a new Every Child a Reader programme, or the Conservatives aping Labour's failed approach.

In the summer, Mr Cameron criticised the Government for treating every child "not as unique, but as identical," and making schools "local outposts of the central state." He also explained how the Conservatives would improve the provision of education for excluded children by trusting schools and their local partners with more resources, more responsibility, longer contracts, and more freedom. Surely the same would benefit all children? What happened to the party's belief in the principle of subsidiarity, its call for an end to bureaucratic overload, and its promises of a massive liberalisation of the supply-side of education? Let us hope that when Cameron publishes his education policy on Tuesday, we find today's reports have given a distorted impression of the opposition's ideas...