Friday, May 23, 2008

House Points: Education and The Wind in the Willows

My House Points column from Today's Liberal Democrat News.

Good edukation

There was a telling moment at children, schools and families questions on Monday. Jim Cunningham, the Labour MP for Coventry South, asked what steps the Government has recently taken to raise standards in schools.

The minister, Jim Knight, replied with a dizzying list of government initiatives: personalised learning, progression, Every Child a Reader, Every Child a Writer, Every Child Counts, tutors, curriculum changes, academies, new 14 to 19 diplomas, raising the participation age, workforce reforms, continued investment and much else besides.

There was so much detail and it was delivered at such a pace that it resembled Ratty’s description of the contents of his picnic basket in the opening chapter of The Wind in the Willows. Remember the passage?
"There's cold chicken inside it," replied the Rat briefly;
"coldtonguecoldhamcoldbeefpickledgherkinssaladfrenchrollscresssandwichespottedmeatgingerbeerlemonadesodawater -"
But Cunningham did not throw up his little pink hands like Mole and cry ecstatically: "O stop, stop … This is too much!"

Instead he pointedly asked: "I thank my hon. Friend for that answer, but will he now answer my question about whether he has any further plans to raise standards in schools?"

In reply Cunningham started on the list again, wavered and then decided it was safer to attack the Conservatives.

Perhaps this is a sign that initiative fatigue has reached the more sensible Labour back-benchers too. This government’s extra spending on schools has been welcome, but it has been accompanied by an extraordinary desire to dictate what happens in every classroom in the country.

So much so that Labour back-benchers now think it appropriate to seek ministerial praise for individual teachers and pupils. Anne Snelgrove told the House about Kerry, Charlene and Dylan from Oaktree primary school, and sought congratulations for Celia Messenger, the tutor in charge of reading recovery.

And we can’t leave Monday’s question time without paying tribute to the Tory Patrick McLoughlin. He asked: "How many children in English primary schools does the Minister think is failing?"

George W. Bush once asked "Is our children learning?" But let’s leave the last word with Kenneth Grahame:
The clever men at Oxford,
Know all there is to be knowed.
But they none of them know, one half as much,
As intelligent Mr. Toad!

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