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It's just as well it's cool to be dumb


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It's just as well it's cool to be dumb


Dawn, Lea, Sezer, Bonnie, Glyn, Mikey, Nikki, Shahbaz and Pete - it's time for Big Brother.


This time the seven million viewers have been told they will learn all about Tourette Syndrome from sufferer Pete, why boys like wearing girls' T-shirts and why Sezer loves kissing. Far more interesting, they will learn about British education.


In the six years since the series started, the contestants have descended from sharp-thinking Jack-the-lad Scouser Craig and Nasty Nick with a brain but no heart, through to Jade Goody - who thinks that Rio de Janeiro is a person - to this year's Bonnie, who admits she can't even pronounce her own name.


It's now cool to be dumb - yet how many Bonnies do we need?


None of them displays any sign of education - though they have sat through at least 10 years of classes. They are ambitious - otherwise they wouldn't have auditioned - but they assume the only way to succeed is by having breast implants or wearing vests and cowboy hats.


The MPs spending two days debating education in the House of Commons this week don't seem to care.


It doesn't bother the Labour backbenchers that, after nine years in power, there are still five million illiterate children in Britain, that exam passes have risen but educational standards haven't improved, that 40 per cent of children now do no homework and that teenage football stars get knifed outside their schools.


All these backbenchers care about are the niceties of selection. They are determined that bright children should gain no advantage from the education system just in case it benefits the middle classes, too.


Yet what is happening is that able children from better-off families are managing to learn - through a combination of pushy parents, extra tutoring and faith schools - while children from housing estates with difficult families have been left floundering.


A generation of schoolchildren has been lost because the most narrow-minded, ideologically obsessed Labour MPs have held the party to ransom while nervous ministers have just tinkered.


Only yesterday, Estelle Morris wrote that the school problem could be solved if every school had two head teachers so they could cope with the extra red tape that she foisted on them as education secretary - forgetting that it is now impossible for many schools to find one head teacher.


Meanwhile, Alan Johnson, the new Education Secretary, has, according to his civil servants, been shouting for "announceables" - eye-catching initiatives that will grab the front pages.


His first was to demand that schools scrap junk food and bring back broccoli. It didn't seem to bother him that this announcement had been made seven times in the past nine years and has still not been acted upon.


His next announceable was that pupils will be weighed at four and 10. Yet schools have been given no guidance about what they should do if they have a fat child on their hands.


They could encourage the crisp addicts to take more exercise - but the Government has sold off nearly one playing field per day since it came to power.


His third announceable (he is churning them out) is that vulnerable children from broken families should be allowed to go to boarding school. This was first announced in 1998 and was reannounced by Ruth Kelly just before the general election, but it will only ever benefit 2,000 out of the 60,000 children in care.


Miss Kelly did manage to make one fundamental change to children's education. She introduced synthetic phonics - even though most schools had already returned to a predominantly phonics-based method.


Teachers haven't been grateful for all this interference. They have been bombarded with targets, forms and initiatives that detract from their teaching.


They have been forced to include children who are disruptive and dangerous, as well as those with special needs, who often require the sophisticated care of a specialist school.


Meanwhile, children who do make it to further education not only have to face serious debts on graduating, they may not graduate at all this year after the pay strikes by lecturers.


The Government's one big idea on education has been academies. Yet these too have been a failure. Lord Foster has been brought in at vast expense to build the new beacons.


He has designed nine of them, costing more than £32 million each, double the amount available for a comprehensive.


The architect is thought to have made £800,000 in fees from each project. Meanwhile, police are continuing to investigate the connection between donations from businessmen to academies and the handing out of honours.


And finally, research this week shows that despite all this attention, academies have increased grades by only 0.2 per cent.


The Labour Party should be about opportunity for all, as Mr Blair, a public school boy, once said. This should have united the Left and the Right of his party in a desire to give everyone the same chance.


Public schools should have become an irrelevance as talent rather than background became the issue. Instead, under Labour, private school places have gone up. The private sector increasingly provides the high-flying politicians, lawyers and even Coldplay stars.


Academic selection is the only answer. But this education Bill has missed that opportunity. It has been amended so many times that - to use Mr Blair's current favourite word - it has been marmelised.


Source: http://www.telegraph.co.uk/opinion/main.jhtml;jsessionid=TXGG3LEYUJ0IJQFIQMFCFFWAVCBQYIV0?xml=/opinion/2006/05/24/do2401.xml&sSheet=/opinion/2006/05/24/ixopinion.html

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