When are we going to return education to educationalists?
We’ve had decades now of politicians and civil servants directing curriculum and policy on education without having any experience whatsoever in teaching or child development. When was the last time we had an education minister who’s taught in a Primary school and has expert knowledge of child development? Never?
I wouldn’t want to live in a house that hadn’t been built by a builder and developed by an architect, and I wouldn’t want to go into hospital to be operated on by a surgeon who was following a layman’s ideas of how to operate rather than his own. So why do we put up with this intrusion in education?
Over the decades, we’ve had a series of education policy reviews by experts. Lady Plowden’s committee reported in 1967, and although it was commissioned by the Secretary of State for Education, it was an independent report. Likewise, the Three Wise Men Report and the Rose Review of the Primary curriculum were commissioned by the government of the time but remained “free” to report their views.
Since 1979, when Thatcher came to power, there have been no less than 20 Education Acts compared with 19 from the turn of the century to 1979. That’s more than one every two years!
In addition to this there have been more reports, more commentaries and more confusion than any intelligent human being could cope with.
Some of the reports have been brilliant, and have exuded the sort of philosophy that emphatically suggests that education policy and practice should be governed and decided upon locally – and by educationalists. The Cambridge Review of Primary Education is one such report, and yet its recommendations have been completely disregarded by Balls, Gove and others. Its statement of purpose in its four key words “Independent, Authoritative, Evidence-based and Visionary” is very clear and signals that there is no political motivation within its report, and yet, it remains largely ignored and unread rather than a potential answer to the problems within primary education that we still see today.
In the teaching profession, we joke about the cycle of thought, where an idea will eventually re-emerge once it is back in educational fashion. Sadly, we’ve been waiting a long time for the wheel to turn back to progressive child-centred education where the absolute driving force behind teaching is the individualized learning and wellbeing of the child, as well as enjoyment of school. Once the National Curriculum was introduced and the subsequent testing regime, a teacher’s individuality was quashed and the freedom to follow the guiding beliefs of proactive pedagogy was also abandoned by many in order to race through the learning outcomes.
In 1989, I distinctly remember a colleague coming into a staff meeting with her hands full of the new National Curriculum. She’d spent some time doing an analysis and worked out that in order to implement the new curriculum she had to cover a ridiculous amount of learning objectives each day, and in that day a child needed to be introduced to, learn and consolidate these learning intentions as there was no time available for repeating, reiterating and re-learning. If a child was absent on one day, then tough! Somebody within the “Department” had not done the maths. It was ludicrously unworkable if you were to teach according to the guiding principles of ensuring every child could progress, with encouragement, at their own pace. It didn’t fit with the idea of differentiation that was paid a certain amount of lip service in the document.
Since then we’ve had numerous revisions of the curriculum as well as the introduction of the Literacy and Numeracy strategies, the removal of these horrors and the introduction of a range of strategies that are alleged to help learning but in reality are there to increase attainment. Please note the difference.
We are now in a situation when we are about to be introduced to a new National Curriculum, one that is allegedly “slimmed down”, giving more autonomy to the teaching profession. The trouble with this is two-fold or more. Firstly, teachers are so used to being told what to teach and how to teach that they may not have the ability to decide for themselves after decades of intrusion. Secondly, there are still going to be elements of the new National Curriculum that are imposed against the teacher’s understanding and appreciation of what their children need. Are some of the great examples of “classic” literature espoused as essential by Mr Gove going to be remotely relevant to many of our children? Of course not.
A man that repeatedly says that he is committed to local management of schools, then provides over 50 new powers for himself in the most recent Education Act, including the ability to close a school without any opportunity for appeal, where he can insist that any new school built becomes an academy and where his actual aim is to ensure that all schools are accountable to central government through the Free Schools and Academies Act. How is this a policy of localisation?
We need to unite and free education from the politicians. One of the reasons that Gove is pushing through these horrendous changes is that he is astute enough to know that there’s a strong possibility that the Tories will not win the next election. Their majority could be diminished to the point that they couldn’t form a coalition either. In order to get his ideas on education into practice he needs to do it now. If the Labour party or a Lib/Lab coalition came into force in 2015, they would no doubt hesitate to overturn these dramatic policy changes, although we would certainly encourage them to do so.
However, this isn’t the answer. The answer has to be that education policy-making is taken away from parliament and put back into the hands of educationalists.
People like Robin Alexander have nothing to gain personally from implementing their ideas in schools. He is committed to providing an education that is relevant to children and young people, that isn’t governed by political ideology but by educational philosophy – proven, evidence-based.
We need to think about how we are educating children to enjoy learning and provide them with skills for now and for later in life. This has to be an integral part of any curriculum, and yet we still seem to be focused (according to drafts of the National Curriculum seen so far) on cramming children with the sort of information that they could readily access through a few hours of Wikipedia and the likes.
Teaching and learning is too precious to keep in the hands of people that simply do not know what they are talking about and are basing their policy on how they were taught more than one or two generations ago, or on the advice of so-called educationalists whose sole concern is with “driving up standards” and raising attainment in timed tests and examinations.
Children and young people have more understanding of their needs so why aren’t they ever included in policy making?
Let’s unite under this umbrella of free-education.org and collectively make this vital change to ensure the educational rights for our children now and in the future.
Finland already provides the template for how education should be run for the long-term benefit of children, young people and society in general. Finland’s PISA test results have been the highest of any European country since the OECD began comparing educational outcomes in the developed countries. Instead of trying to persuade our politicians that we need to follow Finland’s example, we should be insisting that they tell us why we should NOT.