Sunday, April 18, 2010

Britain's Nick Clegg on Class Size and Micromanagement

From Ann Kjellberg on the NYC Education News listserve:

Liberal Democrat Nick Clegg was declared the winner of last Thursday's leaders' debate in the current UK elections. Read what he had to say about small class sizes and other issues pertinent to issues here (see bold):

AUDIENCE MEMBER: I'm in my final year of school. I found that the system is incredibly
grades-driven, so much so, that often education for its own sake is
at sacrifice. We are over -examined and under-taught. What will the
party leaders do to improve education?

GORDON BROWN: I want to see our education improve as it has done over the last few
years. We need teachers with better qualifications. We need young
people with the aspiration to succeed, and we need to give people
the chance to start education early, that's why nursery education
starts at three and be able to go through to 18. That's what we are
saying in our manifesto, education will be part-time or full-time till
the age of 18. As far as grades and standards are concerned, I
myself believe in the highest of standards. I believe if we don't
search for the highest of standards, then we will not in the end get
the best pupils coming out of our schools. Yes, we've got to look at
the different types of exams and we will do so. But I think it's
important to realise we're in this new world where we are competing
with Asia, as well as America and Europe and our young people
have got to have the grades, the qualifications to be able to meet
the best in the world. That's what I want to achieve and I hope I can
work with you to do so.

DAVID CAMERON: I have every sympathy with what you say because education is
important, that, as well as getting good grades that actually we're
opening young people's minds to all the best things that have been
written and all the best things that have been said and to really
excite people about education. I think there is a danger that our
education system has become terribly bureaucratic. We send 4,000
pages of information to schools every year. We spend £300 million
on educational quangos. We're not getting enough to the frontline,
following the child into the school. As someone who has got two
children, one of whom started at a state school in London, and
hopefully another child to come, I'm passionate about getting as
much money into the school as possible, rather than wasting it in
Whitehall. In terms of exams, we've got to have good external
marking, done properly, and high standards. I think that's absolutely
key. I wouldn't want to see that change. But let's set the schools
free, so we trust in the vocation of the teachers who do what they
want - they're there because they have a vocation they care about.

NICK CLEGG: John, I think everyone will recognise what you're talking about, this
feeling that you have to constantly jump through hoops. The
symptoms are everywhere. Our National Curriculum is 600 pages.
The curriculum in Sweden, which has generally got a fairly good
education system, is 16 pages. I just read the other day that head
teachers now by e-mail over the last year, have received - get this -
4,000 pages of instructions from on high from Whitehall. This is
crazy. We've got to let head teachers teach, we've got to let
teachers teach. We've got to reinstil a sense of enthusiasm and
creativity in the way that you are taught. That's why we want to do,
the Liberal Democrats, is to put on to the statute book an Education
Freedom Act which literally bans government from micromanaging
what happens every minute of the day with every single test in every
classroom in the country. That's what I'd like to see. I think it would
make a big difference to you and other people who are at school.

GORDON BROWN: But every school has got to be a good school. We've got to insist on
the highest standards for every school. Since 1997, 1,600
underperforming secondary schools in 1997 went down to 250. Next
year, down to zero, as a result of the fact that we're allowing
federations, academies, to take over underperforming schools.
That's the way forward, to insist on the highest standards, to make
sure an underperforming school is taken over, to make sure we
invest enough in the education system to ensure our children are
properly taught. What I'd be very worried about is if in this difficult
and straitened time, we were to cut our budgets for education at this
point in time. I think that would put our children at risk for the future,
and it's very important that we continue to invest in the education of
every child in this country.

DAVID CAMERON: What I'd say in terms of what I care about most in education with my
own children going through the system, I want what every parent in
this country wants, and it starts with something that actually doesn't
necessarily cost money, and that is good discipline in our schools.
In a typical year now, you get 17,000 teachers being attacked by
students. We've got a real problem here. There was a case in
Manchester once where a child produced a knife in a school, got
excluded, and then the appeals panel put that child back into the
school. Imagine what that does to the head teacher that's trying to
keep order. So we say head teachers should be able to exclude
difficult pupils and not be overruled by appeals panels. We say
you've got to change the rules so teachers can keep order in class.
Right now, we seem to be treating the teacher like children and the
children like the adults. We've got it topsy-turvy, the wrong way
round, and we really need to change that so that we have proper
discipline and order. Then people can learn.

NICK CLEGG: I think discipline is important, of course. I think creativity, which I
think is the point you're saying, Joel - I'm not allowed to ask you
questions, that's against the rules, but just nod if - good! I think
creativity is important in the classroom, and think freedom for
teachers and head teachers. One thing which I think would really
help in all of those things - discipline, creativity, freedom for
teachers - is quite simply good old-fashioned smaller class sizes.
We have 8,000 infants in this country now between the ages of five
and seven who are in classes which are so big, they're illegal,
technically illegal. It's just logical. If you're a teacher, friends of mine
who are teachers say they can't really keep an eye on the
troublemakers, but they also can't support the brightest children if
the classes are huge. That's why we've got a plan, fully costed, to
provide schools with additional resources so that they can bring
down the average class size in a primary school, for instance down
to 20, and the average class size in a secondary school down to 16.

DAVID CAMERON: Again, we mustn't confuse what goes in in terms of money with what
comes out. I spoke about the fact that we spend £300 million on
educational quangos. The Department of Children, Schools and
Families - a lot of teachers actually call it the Department of Curtains
and Soft Furnishings because it's so beautifully done up - they
recently spent £3 million improving their own building, and putting in
a - I'm not making this up - a contemplation suite and a massage
room. As a parent of children at state schools, I want every available
penny to go with the child into the school so the teacher can actually
provide great education for our children. There is a lot of waste, and
it needs to be cut.

GORDON BROWN: Creativity, discipline, standards in schools, but we can't evade this
question: if we're going to have the best education for our children,
we do need the teachers and the teaching assistants. If you cut
money out of the education budget now, you'll be cutting the
numbers of teachers and teaching assistants. We say it's so
important for our country that while we cut the deficit, we will
maintain our investment in education per pupil. Now, the
Conservatives cannot say this, and I think we need an answer this
evening. Again, it's the risk, the risk to our health service, the risk in
crime if you have less police. Now it's the risk to education.


DAVID CAMERON: What Gordon Brown isn't telling you is that he's putting up National
Insurance contributions on every single job in 2011. The biggest
cost schools have is teachers. So he's going to be taking money out
of every single school in the country, primary school, secondary
school, FE college. We say stop the waste in government now so
we can stop the lion's share of that National Insurance increase and
jobs tax next year. That's the best way to make sure we keep the
money going into the school.

GORDON BROWN: But be honest about the risk. You're going to take one billion at least
out of the schools this year.

DAVID CAMERON: It's simply not true.

GORDON BROWN: If you were elected, in a budget in July, you've got to take six billion
out of the system, other than health and defence. Where does that
money come from? You've promised you'll take six billion out. It can
only end up with the loss of thousands of jobs, including teachers.
You will not back us and support us on keeping education. Why
won't you support educational spending, as we do?

DAVID CAMERON: I think people can hear that this is a complete invention of a figure
plucked out of the air. We're saying the government could save one
pound out of every hundred it spends. Now, what small business,
what large business, what family, frankly, hasn't had to do that
during this difficult recession?


GORDON BROWN: You're going to take money out of the school system.

NICK CLEGG: I'm not sure if you're like me, but the more they attack each other,
the more they sound exactly the same. Look, Joel's question - let's
go back to the question. Joel asked, why are you being tested so
much? How can all pupils in our schools feel they're being
supported and getting the best out of education? I come back to this
need to combine two things: firstly, more freedom for teachers and
head teachers. Remember this crazy thing I told you about head
teachers getting 4,000 pages of instructions by e-mail, and
secondly, smaller class sizes, more one-to-one tuition, Saturday
morning classes, evening classes, so that you can help those
children in particular who perhaps aren't being supported at home
as much as anybody else. I know from my two sons, who go to an
excellent local state-funded school in my area, if a whole class can move together, then that enriches all children. I think what goes wrong is when classes get so big and classes actually fall apart.


GORDON BROWN: We've got to be clear about this. I, too, want freedom for schools,

and that's why where a school is failing, it will be taken over by a
federation or an academy so that it can work, usually a local
federation or a local academy. I want the best discipline in our
schools as well, and I'm tough on what head teachers have got to
do to ensure there's discipline not just in the school itself, but
around the school as well, but we've got to face up to the fact about

NICK CLEGG: Well, Gordon Brown mentioned spending - absolutely, too right. I
don't think we're really going to get those smaller class sizes, that
one-to-one tuition that I think Joel agrees is necessary, the catch-up
classes, unless we find the money from savings elsewhere. We've
spelt that out in our manifesto, so we can provide under our plan
£2.5 billion extra to our schools.

ALASTAIR STEWART: I'm going to stop you right there, because I know what the questions
are and you don't, but the next question continues that debate. Your
answers are entirely a matter for you, and your rebuttals as well, but
I think you may find that the next question will continue that
discussion. It's Robert Lewis, a senior manager in healthcare. Mr
Lewis, your question.

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