For any age group a given numerical value has the same meaning in terms of standing relative to the group. For example, an eight year old and a nine year old, each of whom has a standard age score of , have performed equally well in relation to the average for their respective age groups. These are fed into the results based league tables for schools.
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You could argue that this is evidence of a system working to improve itself as school teachers dedicated themselves to enhancing the education they provided, urging on pupils to enhance what they learn. However, in addition to putting tremendous stress on students and teachers, I found the SATs system detrimental to my learning and the learning of my peers.
Crucially, SATs do not measure how much you have learnt or how well you understand what you are being taught — simply how good you are at passing the test. The first thing I was handed at the beginning of each new module or subject was the course specification. As you begin exam practice you are given mark schemes and above all taught how examiners apply them: you are taught content only as far as is necessary to give the examiners what they require. What you do need to know are the exact criteria for the level you are aiming for. In this way teaching time is monopolised by teaching to the test, and consumed by teaching exam technique.
This creates a constant pressure on children from a very young age. I have seen and experienced the dramatic effects on health and well-being. I had friends who began smoking at thirteen, to steady their nerves rather than aspiring to maturity. SATs are the quintessential institution of a system so obsessed with constant measurement and quantification that it gets everything the wrong way round, destroying education in the process.
Yes, I agree it is important to hold teachers and schools to account for the standard of their teaching. But it is essential to work back from the goal. This should be to provide good education that produces well-educated young people. Then, you need to develop reliable ways to report this, including when and how it may not be happening, in a way that leads to the swiftest possible improvement. The SATs system goes about things the other way round. Its starts with the need to have measurements and subordinates education to this objective: it bends education to the production of outcomes measurable in terms of a comparative system designed so as to enhance its own measurement by means of SATs.
The result has been to make education thinner and more superficial even while greater resources have been invested in it. The SATs method is wrong. In my case my parents carefully chose my secondary school, based in no small part on its results. They were sorely disappointed when it transpired that these results were in spite of an oppressive atmosphere, unruly students and poor teacher control. My secondary education took place in Sheffield, the birthplace and spiritual home of Citizenship education — a flagship New Labour programme.
When he became Secretary of State for Education Blunkett made his old teacher the head of an advisory group on education and its report led to the creation of a compulsory citizenship curriculum. In my school Citizenship was squeezed into just one hour a week accompanied by sex education, careers and health issues smoking, alcohol, drugs etc.
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Of course, none of the topics could be covered successfully — not least because all were dropped by the time I was 15 except for careers. But topics were also delayed. By the time we started our lessons on safe sex, the first girl in our year to leave school pregnant had a two year old child. To say the lesson was belated is understating things somewhat. Most memorably, was when some students took the opportunity to play football at the back.
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Hardly any work of value was actually achieved. How could it be? Mashing PSHE and Citizenship meant time was very pressured just to cover the various syllabuses and when you add to this the need to spend more than half the lesson trying to get the students to be quiet, you are never going to finish them.
So a topic like Law and Order was supposed to start by talking about school rules, why we need them, what happens when you break them, and then broaden out to the rule of law.
However, we never got beyond the first step, and the wider element of the ideas of citizenship itself were lost. In yet another compulsory subject — Financial Education — is due to be added to the crowded sessions. The government were so controlling and mistrustful in their management of education they squeezed the life out of it. Martin Powell Bristol: Policy Press, , — The Criminal Justice Act of provided for a new Sentencing Guidelines Council to reduce the variation in sentencing across the country.
Michael Tonry Cullompton: Willan Publishing, , — There was also a big increase in the prison population, driven in large part by longer sentences. Between and , the number of prisoners serving sentences of more than four years slightly more than doubled, while those serving sentences of between 12 months and four years increased by 57 per cent. The prison population rose by 26, between and In England and Wales, it increased from just over 60, to more than 85, by June not the same huge increase as occurred in the much shorter period —, when places rose by over 24,, but still at some pace, and at a much faster rate than in — Many real outcomes did match the impressively steep level at which inputs shot up, especially as the government shifted its stance from squeezing more results from the existing system and towards changing public-sector provision itself.
Three areas stand out: health, education and policing. Between March and March , the average wait for hospital inpatient care fell from Although new treatments were often the reasons for improvements, the numbers returned by the NHS improved faster than the average across the Organisation for Economic Cooperation and Development OECD —albeit from a low base.
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Spending review targets set in —of reducing heart disease deaths for people under 75 by 40 per cent, and cancers by 20 per cent—also seem to have been met. Huge improvements in the accessibility, flexibility and rapidity of care were delivered. In , patients would wait no more than 18 weeks from referral to treatment; just ten years before, , patients had been waiting for six months or more.
Initiatives such as NHS walk-in centres and NHS Direct, a hour helpline staffed by nurses, helped ease the tension in primary care, while innovation was encouraged—and in some cases flourished—in the hospital sector. Mortality rates for some illnesses appear to have declined faster where patient choice was expanded. It seems likely that independent sector treatment centres played at least some role in improving performance, if only via example, and through competition with NHS hospitals.
Early quantitative studies of the effect of greater patient choice in the NHS, however, leave the case unproven: only small gains were recorded in terms of healthcare access in more deprived areas. The actual number of beds that independent sector treatment centres provided was still marginal, though, just as controversies over PFI have helped exaggerate its scale and scope: they provided fewer than 2 per cent of beds in — Turning to the university sector, there was again a mix of much higher spending linked to new revenue streams. University funding rose by 50 per cent between — and — if all fee income is included, but by only 25 per cent if that is excluded.
The extra money allowed funded student numbers to rise by 20 per cent. In schools, improvements were just as clear, if necessarily rather harder to quantify. Teacher numbers in England rose between and from , to about ,—a rise of 12 per cent over the whole period—allowing the pupil-teacher ratio in primary schools to fall from 24 to 22, although the same figure in secondary schools fell only very slightly.
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There was at the same time a massive increase in the number of teaching assistants and other support staff, whose number rose from 60, to , by Teaching assistants were often assigned to help lower-attaining pupils and those with special educational needs, leading to a separation effect in which such pupils received less, not more, attention from teachers. The author is grateful to Dr Lyndsay Grant for this reference. The inauguration of the Teacher Training Agency which became the Training and Development Agency for Schools in and an accompanying advertising drive were designed to raise the profile and perceived status of teachers.
By the UK general election, Labour could justly claim to have employed more than 16, extra police officers in England and Wales than in , and to have recruited 16, community support officers. Community police teams were asked to respond to even non-emergency cases within 24 hours. Yet again, this level of public investment was not maintained after Labour left office in by there were only , serving officers in England and Wales, and their number had therefore slipped back behind even where they were in This level of activism did help produce results.
The number of crimes committed overall in England and Wales, as measured by the Crime Survey for those countries, fell from Violent crime was nearly halved, falling from 3. By , the murder rate was at its lowest for 20 years. It must be emphasised that this was part of a phenomenon affecting most of the developed world. Demographics, with a falling number of young people in the population, and economics—at a time of general prosperity—meant that the government was sailing with a fair wind behind it.
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Crime-fighting technology, such as car immobilisers, helped further. The effect of sentencing on crime rates, and still more on the perception of crime and disorder, can be exaggerated. But this is not to say that the increase in police numbers, for instance, had no effect. In some areas, and in terms of the battle against certain types of crime, it was very important. The ten police forces that were granted extra resources to fight the surge in such robberies did get on top of the problem. The general increase in police numbers at that time allowed the government to redeploy 2, officers to the crisis and, by so doing, push the figures back to where they had stood in These were but modest moves towards cutting the delivery gap between wealthier and more economically isolated areas.
Health action zones, for instance, were wound up in after an internal review concluded that these small-scale initiatives had not been either as innovative or as effective as ministers had hoped. Education action zones similarly seemed to build on past practice and current examples rather than becoming engines of change—something that might have been predicted given the difficulties of simple day-to-day management in areas of multi-dimensional need and challenge.
Having sent a signal of intent that did not always resonate, the government then encouraged a more localised approach, as in other areas.