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Monday, 7 April 2008

Melanie talks Balls

If you read last Thursday's story about how religious schools (I refuse to use the fluffy term "faith schools" without the distancing effect of quotation marks, thank you very much) are said to be flouting admissions policy, you'll be interested in this setting-the-record-straight piece from Melanie Phillips in the Daily Mail, who has a good go at the UK's Schools Minister Ed Balls.

You might expect her to defend religious schools, because they're, well, religious and Mel's a bit weird that way. But she also has a lot to say about dumbed-down British education, much of which I'm inclined to agree with.

She makes the point – she makes a lot of points, but this is interesting – that Balls's department doesn't even have the word education in it: it's called the Department for Children, Schools and Families (she says "Department of", but let's not get too picky).

"It now turns out," Phillips writes, "that most of these breaches [of admissions policy] were technicalities that [Balls] blew up out of all proportion. The most damning charge was of 'cash for places' – but when that was looked at more closely, it fell apart altogether. [. . .] [T]here is not a shred of evidence that these schools have demanded cash as a condition of awarding a place, like some kind of classroom protection racket. It is a grotesque smear."

Without something approaching a forensic examination of it all, it's impossible to say who's telling the truth and who's telling the porkies, but what is telling is that, according to Philips, Balls admits that his charge was based on "unverified desk research", which is, says Mel, "a fancy way of saying he had plucked it out of the air".

Well, you can't expect rigour from products of a dumbed-down education system, I suppose (though I suspect some of Mr Balls's researchers are quite clever in some things, if only in telling us how good our dumbed-down education system is).

It's dumbed down in two respects, you might say: as hinted at above and in the fact that taxpayers' money is allowed to subsidise (and, in the case of state institutions, pay for) "faith schools" in the first place.

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