What Lib Dem members think about EBacc, academies and free schools

by Stephen Tall on October 3, 2012

Lib Dem Voice polled our members-only forum before conference to discover what Lib Dem members think of various political issues, the Coalition, and the performance of key party figures. More than 550 party members have responded, and we’re publishing the full results.

Narrow backing for replacing GCSEs with EBacc

LDV asked: Nick Clegg and Michael Gove this week announced that the GCSE exams in England will be replaced by a new qualification in core subjects called the English Baccalaureate Certificate from 2017. This will mean a single end-of-course exam sat by almost all pupils and one exam board for core subjects. From what you have seen and heard, do you support or oppose the proposed changes?

    Support – 44%
    Oppose – 37%
    Don’t know / No opinion – 19%

Here is a selection of your comments:

I disagree with ending continuous assessment but (limitless) resits and modularity should go. Pertaining more to the question below, the inexorable rise of students achieving A-C (and similarly A grades at A-level) may be due to improving students/teaching but no-one outside the educational system will believe that.

The way these changes have been supported, and the phrases used by our “leadership”, is disgraceful.

Unfortunately based to a great extent on Mr Gove’s prejudices. Nick Clegg should never have allowed himself to be in any way associated with this peremptory unresearched set of changes.

In principle this is progress but more money must be injected into the system to guarantee better education for all students across the board. Otherwise less able students won’t stand a chance.

I am cautiously optomistic based on the little I have seen and read – However, I will need to see more detail before I consider whether I would fully support this – I do have some reservations, that for those pupils who are more inclined to be ‘practically’ adept rather than ‘acedemic’ will be left behind.

Narrow opposition to academy schools

LDV asked: Do you support or oppose schools becoming academies – schools that receive funding directly from the government, are outside the control of local authorities, and have greater freedom over setting their pay, opening times and curriculum, but continue to operate on a not-for-profit basis?

    Support – 40%
    Oppose – 44%
    Don’t know / No opinion – 16%

And some of your comments:

Anything that gives schools greater freedom over pay, opening times and curriculum is a good thing. My fear with academies is that they open the door not for competition and pluralism but for nationalisation of education.

I did at first support academies because it should have bought local determination. However, our local comprehensive became an academy last year and we now find it very secretive and parents have no redress to the lea about changes to the curriculum.

It depends on the individual circumstances of the school, it’s community and what the reason for the acadamy status might be.

Some freedoms for schools are welcome, but replacing local authority ultimate control with that of central government is illiberal centralising and there is also a danger that academies cease to get involved in local community initiatives.

While I have no problem with diversity in education provision – the crucial and essential role of LEAs in the management of schools, while in need of reform, is continually ignored by government to the detriment of education provision. While masquerading as freeing schools this is actually a centralising measure.

Majority also oppose free schools

LDV asked: Do you support or oppose the creation of “Free Schools” – new state schools set up by parents, teachers or voluntary groups which are outside the control of local authorities but operating on a not-for-profit basis?

    Support – 34%
    Oppose – 52%
    Don’t know / No opinion – 14%

And some of your comments:

It is a major, Tory, distraction from the real issues. Opposition may be difficult for Lib Dems because of the false impression it creates about LD attitudes to personal choice. Opposing is not the same as banning, which is simply impractical and would be illiberal. In practice free schools are not going to address core educational problems in the UK.

Generally oppose. I can see a case for a few in exceptional circumstances, e.g. where the LA provision has failed despite attempts to fix it.

Pointless waste of money that could be used in existing schools.

Qualified support. My concern would be that extremists or racist groups could set up schools to propagate their views and indoctrinate children. There needs to be a local approval process; perhaps they should have to get charitable status as a company, bound to approved aims, including non-discrimination.

The issues I have with free schools are democratic involvement, potential for dodgy curriculum and potential for dodgy teachers. Sort that and I don’t mind too much.

Almost half put down GCSE results rise down to easier exams (49%) and better teaching standards (48%)

LDV asked: GCSE results have risen year-on-year since they were introduced in 1988 until this year. Some say that this is a sign of improving educational standards while others say that it shows standards are slipping. What do you think explains the increase? Please tick all that apply.

    Exams have got easier 49%
    Exams are more leniently marked 37%
    Teaching and school standards have got better 48%
    Students are brighter and/or working harder 25%
    Don’t know / No opinion 13%
  • Over 1,200 Lib Dem paid-up party members are registered with LibDemVoice.org. More than 550 responded to the latest survey, which was conducted between 19th and 22nd September. NB: most responses received before Nick Clegg’s apology broadcast.
  • Please note: we make no claims that the survey is fully representative of the Lib Dem membership as a whole. However, LibDemVoice.org’s surveys are the largest independent samples of the views of Lib Dem members across the country, and have in the past offered accurate guides to what party members think.
  • For further information on the reliability/credibility of our surveys, please refer to FAQs: Are the Liberal Democrat Voice surveys of party members accurate? and polling expert Anthony Wells’ verdict, On that poll of Lib Dem members.
  • The full archive of our members’ surveys can be viewed at www.libdemvoice.org/category/ldv-members-poll
  • * Stephen Tall is Co-Editor of Liberal Democrat Voice, a Research Associate for the liberal think-tank CentreForum, and also writes at his own site, The Collected Stephen Tall.