David Willets is going a great job in the education brief, moving away from his stereotype as an economics-man. I was interviewed today about why there are more and more attacks by young people on teachers on what we can do about it. I think that's an issue which is real dog-whistle politics to teachers. The TES, hardly a Tory think-tank, would run with it. However I am pleased to see that David is working away on another issue which is getting increasingly frustrating:
Shadow Education Secretary David Willetts has warned that testing in schools should only be a means to an end – an education based on a real mastery of real subjects.
And he has promised that the Conservative review of education will examine what can be done “to provide a better, deeper, richer education which will inspire learning beyond the school gates.”
Addressing a Built to Last Road Show event in Southampton, Mr Willetts, focused on the idea of general well-being, and its relationship to education, and argued that tests in schools should only be a means to an end. “That end is an education based on a real mastery of real subjects,” he declared.
Mr Willetts told his audience: “Our challenge is to think in fresh ways about the problems facing Britain and how they should be tackled. That is what these Built to Last Road Shows are all about. We know how Labour approach it. First they appoint a Happiness Czar. Then they set targets for how we are all supposed to become happier. Then we fail to reach the targets so there is an elaborate attempt at re-defining them. The Happiness Czar is sacked and replaced by a Happiness Lenin who promises tougher measures.”
Insisting that the Conservatives “must do better than that”, Mr Willetts stated: “We are focusing on test results that we can measure and not education which we can’t. This is the exact equivalent of David Cameron’s warning that we are focusing on GDP that we can measure and not general well-being that we can’t.
“When we have talked about education exclusively in terms of league tables and targets, we have separated ourselves from parents and teachers who feel that there is something missing. Much of what is valuable in education cannot be measured in tests and league tables, just as the value of life is not only about prices and markets. It doesn’t mean education should decline into ‘edutainment’ interspersed by tests. Education must be a route to deeper happiness – the real fulfilment that comes from mastering an idea, mastering a skill, mastering a subject. There is the fulfilment that comes from rising to a challenge, doing something difficult, pushing yourself harder.”
Explaining that the Party is reviewing the whole system “to see what we can do to provide a better, deeper, richer education which will inspire learning beyond the school gates”, the Shadow spokesman declared: “Tony Blair declared his most important goal was ‘education, education, education’, instead he’s turned into a sound engineer; it’s ‘testing, testing, testing’. But tests should only be a means to an end; that end is an education based on a mastery of real subjects. If we can get that right, education will serve its real purpose to enable people to live more fulfilled lives.”