July 17, 2003
Primary improvement?

Today I did a posting on Samizdata, quoting from this guy's article in the Guardian. And buried in among his piece is this little educational snippet, which I am starting to hear from lots of sources, New Labour and otherwise.

Although Blair sounds like a Tory more often than not, his government's policies have been more redistributive than they admit to being. Yes, too much of this money is raised through indirect taxation; but still, the general trend is positive. Ditto for the belated increases in public sector spending. In one area I have seen at first hand - primary education - there has been a marked improvement; secondary schools and hospitals are harder to fix, but still, throwing money at them is a good way to start. As for foreign policy... here we come to the nub of the anti-Blair problem. …

And of course foreign policy – the WMDs row – is the point of the piece.

Nevertheless, I'm intrigued by that reference to primary education. "In one area I have seen at first hand …" That definitely counts for something, and it helps that the author comes across in general as an honest person.

David Milliband, the "Schools Standards Minister", has been popping up on the television lately, and he never fails to boast about how much better primary education has been getting lately, and the implication is that soon they'll be moving on to secondary education, and to university education, and then to adult education, until everyone in the entire country has become tremendously clever.

Well, the later stages of all that may come unstuck, because as people get older they have a way of asserting themselves and not doing what you want, but in the meantime, has there actually been an improvement in primary schooling?

Thinking about it, it does make sense to me that of all the kinds of teaching, the teaching of the 3Rs to young and pliable children is likely to respond best to state centralism, and to be least screwed up by it. After all, it's a basically pretty straightforward procedure, and if you're a teacher and you just do what London says, that is quite likely to be an improvement. And this would be true even if the rigmarole being imposed is rather unsatisfactory, provided what it is replacing was shambolic enough, as in many cases it surely has been.

Posted by Brian Micklethwait at 11:17 PM
Category: Primary schools