The idea for “Education by Numbers” came about in early 2005, as I found myself writing, almost every week, about some problem or other with the league table/target/inspection system of school accountability. Many people seemed to be complaining about it: teacher unions, subject associations and even Government agencies. Although this regime appeared to be set up to offer qualities which would be of value to parents and pupils, such as useful information by which to compare schools and the means to help them improve, the reality of how it worked on the ground could be very different.
The more I delved, the more it became clear that a proper look at what was going on was needed. I felt that if the system was as dysfunctional as it appeared, I had to try to put the evidence I had together to inform the debate.
During my research, I expected to be challenged, and maybe even to have to change my working hypothesis, that the system was being undermined by fundamental flaws. However, what staggered me was how the evidence just piled up on the deficit side, and how it became clearer and clearer that this structure had very few defendants. I struggle, now, to think of anyone familiar with the intracies of this system who defends it in detail, apart from the Government and, perhaps, opposition politicians. And in four years or so, now, specialising in this subject I have still have not heard a convincing argument in favour of hyper-accountability which is convincingly argued with pupils’ interests, rather than those of politicians or other adults who wield power in this regime, genuinely to the fore.
The book has helped feed into a debate which has continued over the past year. Two major inquiries have heard evidence against the current testing regime, while the BBC’s Panorama programme heard complaints from children in May, and a minister was heckled as she tried to defend the system in front of normally mild-mannered school leaders at the National Association of Head Teachers’ annual conference.
The book is available through the Politico’s website at http://www.methuen.co.uk/titles.php/itemcode/1324/