Thursday, June 21, 2012

Education: When did Kenneth Baker become a Liberal hero?

When an unpopular dictator leaves for an international conference he risks being deposed in his absence. Michael Gove has not called the tanks on to the streets, but he has launched a missile at David Cameron in the shape of his proposed reforms to education.

With their flavour of rigour and 'going back' they have delighted Conservative backbenchers and infuriated Liberal Democrats, which I suspect is precisely the reaction they were intended to evoke. It is hard to see Michael Gove being popular with the wider electorate, but he is able and ambitious. David Cameron needs to watch out.

But I cannot share the general Lib Dem horror at Gove's ideas. I don't like the idea of a single national examination board, but the system left by Labour had to be reformed. If you combine Blairite targets with the profit motive, you are bound to get falling standards.

Abolishing the national curriculum in secondary schools may not mean very much with that single examination board in place, but it is the sore of mood music educationalists should be pleased to hear. And surely no one would mourn the death of AS levels?

The general Lib Dem complaint against Gove's call for a return to GCSEs is that it would result in a 'two-tier system', but it is worth reading his retort when Labour's Kevin Brennan made the same point in the House today:
He invited us to consider that what the Government are reported to be putting forward would lead to a two-tier system. The sad truth is that we already have a two-tier system in education in this country. Some of our most impressive schools have already left the GCSE behind and opted for the IGCSE or other more rigorous examinations.
It is also the case, sadly, that 40% of children do not achieve five good GCSEs, including English and maths, in our system. He said that, under the proposals that are being reported, 25% of children would be left behind. The sad truth is that at least 40% of children have been left behind under the current system. There is no excuse not to act.
There is another reason that I find it too hard to be outraged at the prospect of changes to our current education system, and that is I remember when it was brought in.

It is chiefly the brainchild of Kenneth Baker, a Conservative whose was so slimily loyal to Margaret Thatcher that Spitting Image quite fairly depicted him as a slug.

Back in the 1980s Labour and Liberals did not support Baker, they opposed him. Labour educationalists produced a book called Take Care, Mr. Baker!: The Advice on Education Reform Which the Government Collected But Concealed. For the Liberal Democrats Paddy Ashdown and Alan Leaman wrote Choice Without Privilege: The Alternative Education Reform Bill.

I don't recall much praise for Kenneth Baker then. Indeed, I have a sneaking suspicion that we opposed him because we feared his ideas would produce a 'two-tier system'.

I have seen little reasoned argument against Michael Gove from Liberal Democrats today. Most seem locked in a mind-set where the world can be divided into sensible people who agree with us and ludicrous people who want to turn the clock back.

Just as with health (and let us pause for a moment to observe how much more deft Gove has been at bringing in his reforms than Andrew Lansley), we Liberal Democrats give the impression that we have arrived in power after 90 years in the wilderness with no higher ambition that maintaining the status quo. We need to do better than that.

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Gawain said...

Again, hear hear.

Alan Leaman said...

Well remembered!

Daniel said...

As I understand it, it's not the idea of change we're against. It's what Gove wants to change things to which is the problem!

crewegwyn said...

Would it were so Daniel!

We do seem to have a populist streak of 'nothing must change'.

Post offices would be a good example.

salon equipment said...

In 1991 the Court of Appeal held that Baker was in contempt of court - the first serving minister to be found guilty of contempt - for defying a court order and deporting a man from Zaire while proceedings were pending.

Anonymous said...

It seems to me that many Lib Dems are getting off on just opposing and stopping Gove, regardless of what the proposals are and do. It's a shame.