3Di today turns its attention to a recent column in the Guardian in which Estelle Morris, Baroness Morris of Yardley, calls for the government to lead “a genuine national debate about the future needs of all children in all schools.”
This sort of “national debate” is long overdue, without a doubt, but it’s no great surprise to find that Estelle ultimately feels OK about politicians having the last word when it comes to the contents of the national curriculum, and also no doubt the overall aims and objectives, and priorities, of education.
Of course the problem with a ‘national debate’ (which was also the problem with Jim Callaghan’s ‘Great Debate’ about education) is that the political process generally applies, meaning that those who can muster the greatest number of votes for a particular point of view, no matter how uninformed or unsophisticated the voters might be, then claim victory in the debate. Public opinion, given the state of our media generally, is not always enlightened, and tends to flow with the status quo.
Once victory in the debate has been achieved then it’s game over – regardless of what the consequences might be for children, and no matter that professional issues should be continuously under review as part of an ongoing process – which is the way they do things in more enlightened countries, like Finland.
Politicians love debates. But somebody has to stand up for the rights of children, given that children have so little say in these matters themselves. What we really need is a major enquiry into, say, Primary education, which should be directed by respected professionals and the leading lights of the profession.
Fortunately we’ve already had one, and the report of the enquiry was published relatively recently, in 2010. Somehow I didn’t hear Estelle Morris calling for its conclusions and recommendations to be fed into a public debate.
As Jenni Russell reported in the Guardian on 26th March 2008,
“Every education secretary and minister has been distinguished by an almost wilful determination to ignore the mass of research that does not suit their agenda. Politically, that is the easiest choice. They are encouraged in this by their senior civil servants, whose careers have been built around delivering a particular agenda, and who have nothing to gain by seeing it change course. What is truly alarming is that ministers rarely even glimpse the reports they dismiss.
It seems that the Cambridge Primary Review is meeting the same fate. This extensive, diligent review of published evidence and new research was dismissed in 10 seconds by a minister in a private conversation: ‘My people say it’s rehashed.’ Publicly the Department for Children, Schools and Families has written the latest reports off as ‘re-cycled, partial and out-of-date’. It said, “We do not accept these claims . . . We have had a decade of success in raising standards.'”
“Children, their World, their Education” is the final report of the Cambridge Primary Review, which was edited by Robin Alexander and published by Routledge.
We’d like to invite Estelle Morris to begin her ‘genuine national debate’ by telling us which parts of the Cambridge Primary Review she has actually read, and which parts she feels, like her New Labour colleague, are re-cycled, partial and out-of-date. She can then go on to say which of the 78 conclusions and 75 recommendations for policy and practice she actually agrees with, following which, the rest of us can pitch in and have our say. But only if we’ve actually read the report.