Tuesday, May 02, 2006

Polly Toynbee gives the game away

I hate to keep going on about Polly Toynbee, but today's column deserves a little attention:
Go right back to 1997 with the target to cut every infant class size to 30 children: billions were wasted on needlessly cutting class sizes in high-achieving Tory areas to hit a fixed number, not an outcome.
She is making an important point about the limitations of targets. Governments choose the factors which are easiest to measure - like class sizes - whether or not they are the most important. And that can have a distorting effect on the policies implemented.

You might add - though it threatens a few Labour sacred cows - that it is better to be taught by a good teacher in a large class than by a poor teacher in a small class.

So far so good. But look again at what Toynbee says: billions were wasted in "high-achieving Tory areas".

What does the politics of an area have to do with how much funding its schools need? You can argue that schools in affluent areas need less funding, though people there pay tax like anyone else and will want their share of spending.

But to mention that these areas are Tory sounds dangerously like arguing that people there should be punished for not voting Labour by having their schools less generously funded.

I suspect that in what we may loosely call Toynbee's mind, the country is carved up between deserving Labour areas and undeserving Tory areas. The real world is a more complicated place than that.

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