Monthly Archives: November 2016

The Callaghan Speech – education’s tipping point

Callaghan’s Ruskin speech – Education’s Tipping Point?

In October 1976 the Labour Prime Minister, James Callaghan, gave a speech at Ruskin College in Oxford which still defines education politics today. Before Callaghan, no Prime Minister had ever given a speech about Education. Since he spoke, politicians have not stopped talking about schools.

In the Westminster bubble the speech has never been forgotten. Schools minister Nick Gibb made this explicit in a speech to an ASCL curriculum conference on April 27th. (1) Gibb argued that “this year marks the 40th anniversary of Jim Callaghan’s Ruskin Speech, a landmark speech in which Callaghan in many ways set the direction of reform for the next 4 decades”. For Gibb, the most important part of the speech was his curriculum comments notably Callaghan’s criticism of the view that children should have “just enough learning to earn their living in the factory”. Callaghan had argued, as Gibb said, that schools should “equip children to the best of their ability for a lively, constructive place in society”. Callaghan argued for a more balanced and rounded curriculum, though with a utilitarian and scientific bent, highlighting concerns which Margaret Thatcher would address a decade later through the short lived Technical and Vocational Education Initiative (TVEI).

Controversially, Gibb argued “Many during Callaghan’s time referred to the curriculum as the ‘secret garden’ for policy makers, but I think that the curriculum has also in recent history been… seen as slightly peripheral when it comes to driving improvement”. Callaghan certainly can be seen as proposing the National |Curriculum introduced in the 1988 Conservative Education Reform Act and it is very odd that Gibb thinks the curriculum has been neglected. He witnessed the disputes over Michael Gove’s revised National Curriculum from 2010-2013 and must be aware David Cameron described the Gove reforms as vital to national economic prosperity in words which echo Callaghan’s speech. Cameron said “This curriculum marks a new chapter in British education… As Prime Minister I know this revolution in education is critical for Britain’s* prosperity in the decades to come”. (2) How can Nick Gibb argue that with the new plans in place curriculum has become peripheral? However he is quite right to argue the Callaghan speech represented a fundamental shift of opinion.

Callaghan himself said before his death in 2005 that “of all the speeches I have delivered in a long political life, the Ruskin Speech is the one that is best remembered” (3). Two decades after the event, Tony Blair went to Ruskin to claim Education for Labour in the run up to the 1997 victory. Three decades later, his Schools Minister Andrew Adonis wrote an approving article in which he said Callaghan’s speech “lit a flare that has illuminated education reform ever since” (4). The Conservative Schools Minister, Nick Gibb, in recalling the speech claimed it for the politics of the present government. But what was the speech and why has it become legendary?

Primarily the speech was an assertion that politicians had the right to comment on education. Previously, the government role was limited to providing schools and teachers: while councils and teachers decided school policy. In 1960 Conservative Education Minister David Eccles had defined schools as “The Secret Garden” and the lack of information on what was happening in classrooms led Callaghan to call for what he called “the Great Debate”. Callaghan did not use the phrase “the Great Debate” at Ruskin, but he had used this in the Commons four days earlier. The phrase ‘Secret Garden’ did not appear in the speech either, but hung in the air.

Callaghan was not prescriptive about how more openness in school politics could be achieved, He focussed on standards, teaching methods, and the curriculum, showing a somewhat utilitarian concern for the needs of industry. The long running standards debate was seen in an economic context – Callaghan spoke of ‘complaints from industry that new recruits do not have the basic tools to do the job’ – with mathematics highlighted. He was concerned about the lack of interest in joining industry and the gender gap in science, querying “why is it that such a high proportion of girls abandon science before leaving school?” The Prime Minister did not commit to specifics on curriculum or the inspectorate, refusing to pronounce on “whether there should be be a basic curriculum with universal standards.. nor.. the role of the inspectorate”. It would be Conservative governments which brought in the National Curriculum and the Ofsted inspectorate.

Callaghan’s most contentious contribution was on teaching methods and without laying down guidelines he discussed “the unease felt by parents and others about the new informal methods of teaching …excellent… when in well qualified hands but … more dubious when they are not”. It was not hard to see in this a reference to the recent scandal at William Tyndale primary school in London.

The main legacy of the speech, however, may be less a concern for falling standards than the need for rising standards in a modern economy. Labour’s Nick Thomas-Symonds, who has written about Labour’s ‘Ruskin Tradition’ was on stronger ground in arguing “the aim of a relentless focus on educational improvement is one we now almost take for granted” (5). True, and it is clear the Conservatives match Labour stride for stride.

There is no doubt that the Callaghan speech initiated a new era in English education and the ferment of government activity it initiated is continuing. The Secret Garden is long gone, with hyperaccountability dominating every state school in England. When politicians state that this was a landmark speech, it is unquestionable that they are right- and with what effects?

Trevor Fisher November 2016

Notes

(1) Nick Gibb https://www.gov.uk/government/people/nick-gibb OR https://www.gov.uk/government/speeches/speeches/the-importance-of-the-curriculum

  1. DFE press release 8th July 2013.

(3) Callaghan made the claim in Continuing the Education Debate, ed Michael Williams, Richard Daugherty & Frank Banks, Cassell 1992 p9.

(4) Guardian 17th October 2006

(5) On the Progress web site, www.progressonline.org.uk/2012/06/06/labours-education-ruskin-tradition,

Callaghan’s Ruskin speech – Education’s Tipping Point?

In October 1976 the Labour Prime Minister, James Callaghan, gave a speech at Ruskin College in Oxford which still defines education politics today. Before Callaghan, no Prime Minister had ever given a speech about Education. Since he spoke, politicians have not stopped talking about schools.

In the Westminster bubble the speech has never been forgotten. Schools minister Nick Gibb made this explicit in a speech to an ASCL curriculum conference on April 27th. (1) Gibb argued that “this year marks the 40th anniversary of Jim Callaghan’s Ruskin Speech, a landmark speech in which Callaghan in many ways set the direction of reform for the next 4 decades”. For Gibb, the most important part of the speech was his curriculum comments notably Callaghan’s criticism of the view that children should have “just enough learning to earn their living in the factory”. Callaghan had argued, as Gibb said, that schools should “equip children to the best of their ability for a lively, constructive place in society”. Callaghan argued for a more balanced and rounded curriculum, though with a utilitarian and scientific bent, highlighting concerns which Margaret Thatcher would address a decade later through the short lived Technical and Vocational Education Initiative (TVEI).

Controversially, Gibb argued “Many during Callaghan’s time referred to the curriculum as the ‘secret garden’ for policy makers, but I think that the curriculum has also in recent history been… seen as slightly peripheral when it comes to driving improvement”. Callaghan certainly can be seen as proposing the National |Curriculum introduced in the 1988 Conservative Education Reform Act and it is very odd that Gibb thinks the curriculum has been neglected. He witnessed the disputes over Michael Gove’s revised National Curriculum from 2010-2013 and must be aware David Cameron described the Gove reforms as vital to national economic prosperity in words which echo Callaghan’s speech. Cameron said “This curriculum marks a new chapter in British education… As Prime Minister I know this revolution in education is critical for Britain’s* prosperity in the decades to come”. (2) How can Nick Gibb argue that with the new plans in place curriculum has become peripheral? However he is quite right to argue the Callaghan speech represented a fundamental shift of opinion.

Callaghan himself said before his death in 2005 that “of all the speeches I have delivered in a long political life, the Ruskin Speech is the one that is best remembered” (3). Two decades after the event, Tony Blair went to Ruskin to claim Education for Labour in the run up to the 1997 victory. Three decades later, his Schools Minister Andrew Adonis wrote an approving article in which he said Callaghan’s speech “lit a flare that has illuminated education reform ever since” (4). The Conservative Schools Minister, Nick Gibb, in recalling the speech claimed it for the politics of the present government. But what was the speech and why has it become legendary?

Primarily the speech was an assertion that politicians had the right to comment on education. Previously, the government role was limited to providing schools and teachers: while councils and teachers decided school policy. In 1960 Conservative Education Minister David Eccles had defined schools as “The Secret Garden” and the lack of information on what was happening in classrooms led Callaghan to call for what he called “the Great Debate”. Callaghan did not use the phrase “the Great Debate” at Ruskin, but he had used this in the Commons four days earlier. The phrase ‘Secret Garden’ did not appear in the speech either, but hung in the air.

Callaghan was not prescriptive about how more openness in school politics could be achieved, He focussed on standards, teaching methods, and the curriculum, showing a somewhat utilitarian concern for the needs of industry. The long running standards debate was seen in an economic context – Callaghan spoke of ‘complaints from industry that new recruits do not have the basic tools to do the job’ – with mathematics highlighted. He was concerned about the lack of interest in joining industry and the gender gap in science, querying “why is it that such a high proportion of girls abandon science before leaving school?” The Prime Minister did not commit to specifics on curriculum or the inspectorate, refusing to pronounce on “whether there should be be a basic curriculum with universal standards.. nor.. the role of the inspectorate”. It would be Conservative governments which brought in the National Curriculum and the Ofsted inspectorate.

Callaghan’s most contentious contribution was on teaching methods and without laying down guidelines he discussed “the unease felt by parents and others about the new informal methods of teaching …excellent… when in well qualified hands but … more dubious when they are not”. It was not hard to see in this a reference to the recent scandal at William Tyndale primary school in London.

The main legacy of the speech, however, may be less a concern for falling standards than the need for rising standards in a modern economy. Labour’s Nick Thomas-Symonds, who has written about Labour’s ‘Ruskin Tradition’ was on stronger ground in arguing “the aim of a relentless focus on educational improvement is one we now almost take for granted” (5). True, and it is clear the Conservatives match Labour stride for stride.

There is no doubt that the Callaghan speech initiated a new era in English education and the ferment of government activity it initiated is continuing. The Secret Garden is long gone, with hyperaccountability dominating every state school in England. When politicians state that this was a landmark speech, it is unquestionable that they are right- and with what effects?

Trevor Fisher November 2016

Notes

(1) Nick Gibb https://www.gov.uk/government/people/nick-gibb OR https://www.gov.uk/government/speeches/speeches/the-importance-of-the-curriculum

  1. DFE press release 8th July 2013.

(3) Callaghan made the claim in Continuing the Education Debate, ed Michael Williams, Richard Daugherty & Frank Banks, Cassell 1992 p9.

(4) Guardian 17th October 2006

(5) On the Progress web site, www.progressonline.org.uk/2012/06/06/labours-education-ruskin-tradition,

B6 Education’s Tipping Point?

Background: Callaghan’s 1976 Speech on Education

Download this briefing as a pdf

Forty years ago this autumn the Labour Prime Minister, James Callaghan, gave a speech at Ruskin College in Oxford which still defines education politics today. Before Callaghan, no Prime Minister had ever given a speech about Education. Since he spoke, politicians have not stopped talking about schools.

In the Westminster bubble the speech has never been forgotten. Schools minister Nick Gibb made this explicit in a speech to an ASCL curriculum conference on April 27th. (1) Gibb argued that “this year marks the 40th anniversary of Jim Callaghan’s Ruskin Speech, a landmark speech in which Callaghan in many ways set the direction of reform for the next 4 decades”. For Gibb, the most important part of the speech was his curriculum comments notably Callaghan’s criticism of the view that children should have “just enough learning to earn their living in the factory”. Callaghan had argued, as Gibb said, that schools should “equip children to the best of their ability for a lively, constructive place in society”.   Callaghan argued for a more balanced and rounded curriculum, though with a utilitarian and scientific bent, highlighting concerns which Margaret Thatcher would address a decade later through the short lived Technical and Vocational Education Initiative (TVEI).

Controversially, Gibb argued “Many during Callaghan’s time referred to the curriculum as the ‘secret garden’ for policy makers, but I think that the curriculum has also in recent history been… seen as slightly peripheral when it comes to driving improvement”. Callaghan certainly can be seen as proposing the National |Curriculum introduced in the 1988 Conservative Education Reform Act and it is very odd that Gibb thinks the curriculum has been neglected. He witnessed the disputes over Michael Gove’s revised National Curriculum from 2010-2013 and must be aware David Cameron described the Gove reforms as vital to national economic prosperity in words which echo Callaghan’s speech. Cameron said “This curriculum marks a new chapter in British education… As Prime Minister I know this revolution in education is critical for Britain’s* prosperity in the decades to come”. (2) How can Nick Gibb argue that with the new plans in place curriculum has become peripheral? However he is quite right to argue the Callaghan speech represented a fundamental shift of opinion.

Callaghan himself said before his death in 2005 that “of all the speeches I have delivered in a long political life, the Ruskin Speech is the one that is best remembered” (3). Two decades after the event, Tony Blair went to Ruskin to claim Education for Labour in the run up to the 1997 victory. Three decades later, his Schools Minister Andrew Adonis wrote an approving article in which he said Callaghan’s speech “lit a flare that has illuminated education reform ever since” (4). The Conservative Schools Minister, Nick Gibb, in recalling the speech claimed it for the politics of the present government. But what was the speech and why has it become legendary?

Primarily the speech was an assertion that politicians had the right to comment on education. Previously, the government role was limited to providing schools and teachers: while councils and teachers decided school policy. In 1960 Conservative Education Minister David Eccles had defined schools as “The Secret Garden” and the lack of information on what was happening in classrooms led Callaghan to call for what he called “the Great Debate”. Callaghan did not use the phrase “the Great Debate” at Ruskin, but he had used this in the Commons four days earlier. The phrase ‘Secret Garden’ did not appear in the speech either, but hung in the air.

Callaghan was not prescriptive about how more openness in school politics could be achieved, He focussed on standards, teaching methods, and the curriculum, showing a somewhat utilitarian concern for the needs of industry. The long running standards debate was seen in an economic context – Callaghan spoke of ‘complaints from industry that new recruits do not have the basic tools to do the job’ – with mathematics highlighted. He was concerned about the lack of interest in joining industry and the gender gap in science, querying “why is it that such a high proportion of girls abandon science before leaving school?” The Prime Minister did not commit to specifics on curriculum or the inspectorate, refusing to pronounce on “whether there should be be a basic curriculum with universal standards.. nor.. the role of the inspectorate”. It would be Conservative governments which brought in the National Curriculum and the Ofsted inspectorate.

Callaghan’s most contentious contribution was on teaching methods and without laying down guidelines he discussed “the unease felt by parents and others about the new informal methods of teaching …excellent… when in well qualified hands but … more dubious when they are not”. It was not hard to see in this a reference to the recent scandal at William Tyndale primary school in London.

The main legacy of the speech, however, may be less a concern for falling standards than the need for rising standards in a modern economy. Labour’s Nick Thomas-Symonds, who has written about Labour’s ‘Ruskin Tradition’ was on stronger ground in arguing “the aim of a relentless focus on educational improvement is one we now almost take for granted” (5). True, and it is clear the Conservatives match Labour stride for stride.

There is no doubt that the Callaghan speech initiated a new era in English education and the ferment of government activity it initiated is continuing. The Secret Garden is long gone, with hyperaccountability dominating every state school in England. When politicians state that this was a landmark speech, it is unquestionable that they are right- and with what effects? Forty years on, it is time to scrutinise the Callaghan speech as the turning point it undoubtedly proved to be.

On 17th November a seminar in the House of Lords will debate the impact of the speech with Lords Blunkett – ex Labour Secretary of State for Education – Lord Donoghue, head of the Number 10 Policy Unit in 1976, Fiona Millar journalist and writer, Chair Professor Richard Pring. Details on www.soss.org.uk. A briefing paper giving the speech in full is also available from SOSS.

Trevor Fisher

Notes

(1) Nick Gibb https://www.gov.uk/government/people/nick-gibb OR http://www.gov.uk/government/speeches/the-importance-of-the-curriculum

(2) DFE press release 8th July 2013.

(3) Callaghan made the claim in Continuing the Education Debate, ed Michael Williams, Richard Daugherty & Frank Banks, Cassell 1992 p9.

(4) Guardian 17th October 2006

(5) On the Progress web site, www.progressonline.org.uk/2012/06/06/labours-education-ruskin-tradition,

R4 The Betrayal of a generation

Cliff Jones – Review of

The Betrayal of a Generation

HOW EDUCATION IS FAILING YOUNG PEOPLE

BY

Patrick Ainley

Patrick Ainley has written a book that makes clear critical sense of what has been happening to education and provides insights warning us to change direction. His book is invaluable for those that would oppose the use of education to further fracture society. He gives us facts aplenty and well-constructed argument. I am glad to say that the book certainly won’t be his last word on this matter. It is an important contribution to our thinking about how to move forward. It is also, I suggest, a driven book: driven by a growing sense of urgency and outrage that education has been used to deceive a generation. The betrayal is not confined to one country and readers will also find themselves driven: driven to think and to act.

I now encounter:

more and more advice on how to use the internet to gain qualifications, especially in business, with a promise that a ‘fulfilled life’ will ensue;

more and more use of words such as ‘excellence’, ‘leadership’ and ‘successful’ to describe organisations and institutions wishing to generate a higher income from fees; and

less and less use of words such as ‘co-operation’, ‘inclusion’, ‘community’ and ‘accessibility’ to remind us that learning is an activity with a social purpose.

Over the years words and concepts such as ‘improvement’ have become subject to official sanction. At one time the phrase ‘differentiation by outcome’ signified open and accessible questions in response to which students might engage with an examiner and offer for consideration something that had not been anticipated. Now we say ‘student outcome’, meaning scores obtained by providing ‘correct’ answers. In this model educators become instructors and learners purchase chunks or parcels of education. Unfortunately, despite brilliant packaging and tempting labels, the contents do not satisfy.

Michael Barber’s most famous book is called Instruction to Deliver and his philosophy is caricatured as deliverology. He likes that even although it merely represents the hitting of a target set by governments that construct policy on an exclusive basis. Michael Barber transferred his approach from education to government in general. It now has worldwide currency and it comes at a price.

While reading Betraying I was constantly reminded, stimulated, sidetracked and drawn into imaginary arguments with a succession of betrayers: betrayers not only of a generation and society but also of education itself. Accompanying betrayal has been governmental incompetence and placing blame elsewhere is now a necessary political skill.

For me the book brought to mind John Major’s transformation of GCSE from a support for education to a means of measurement. He did not like coursework (some people think it is cheating) and as a result of his intervention the nonsense of tiered papers was introduced. Before making his speech at the Café Royal in 1991 he could have consulted someone like Kathleen Tattersall. She was probably our most experienced manager, leader and practitioner in public examinations and would have explained accessibility and the basic concept of enabling all students to ‘demonstrate what they know, understand and can do.’ Major was driving us back to the days when public examinations were intended to produce rank orders rather than make sense of learning. Consulting an expert was seemingly out of the question. Michael Gove?

The book also reminded me of Gilbert Jessup’s application of false public examination equivalences. Double-decker buses are not the same as bananas and neither were NVQs the same as GCSEs. Working for the Manpower Services Commission Jessup was one of many who had no understanding that while teachers worked off their socks to help students climb normative curves examination boards were protecting their probity by maintaining the grade boundaries decided upon, often badly, at the first Award of Grades meetings. With the possible exception of Estelle Morris I believe that politicians have been similarly ignorant.

To read what Ed Balls and Kenneth Clarke have to say in their autobiographies about their time in charge of education is to be depressingly reminded once again of an inability to penetrate below the surface or to engage with research and question their own assumptions. Clarke has no idea of the long-term damage that he caused when, brushing aside the research for which his department was paying, he simply imposed his personal expectations upon levels of performance in National Curriculum assessment. His successor then changed them to give an appearance of improvement.

Politicians impose expectations while examination boards trade on their perceived high standards and teachers are punished if they do not deliver what their customers have been promised. Standards, curricula and methods of assessment change at the whim of politicians while the gap between rich and poor widens. It is almost fifty-five years since C.B. Mcpherson warned us about possessive individualism. Despite its advocacy by so many people with the power to shape education, financial and social policies its great promise turned out to have been destructive and education has been deployed to deceive as a guarantor of success.

The book provides us with far more than I have mentioned. It is a serious and comprehensive work that covers key players and events. Patrick Ainley’s references are wide and deep. The issues raised connect class, education, fiscal and monetary policy and remind us how experience, expertise, emotional commitment and a huge capacity for making education fulfilling and fun have been misused. The book also recharges us and points a way forward.

Published by POLICY PRESS ISBN 978-1-4473-3211-4

Cliff Jones October 2016