Is it just us, or is Guardian columnist Estelle Morris (Baroness Morris of Yardley to all of yows) still the same fence-sitting New Labourite who knows little about Primary practice and pedagogy she always was? Is it just us, or do most secondary teachers and ex-secondary teachers (yes we’re talking about you Baroness) have an absolute fixation with “standards”, test results in general, and GCSE results in particular?
In her newspaper column yesterday Estelle wrote,
“There is strong evidence about what makes a good school and the increase in the number of effective schools is testament to the spread of this best practice.”
No there isn’t, and no it’s not. There is some evidence about what makes a “good” school achieve good academic results, but is this the same as a good school?
[ – NB the photograph accompanying this article – lots of glum-looking, uniform-wearing girls with their heads down and focused on their individual writing tasks.]
A good school considers the whole child. A good school looks at the inequalities and the socio-economic issues relating to the achievement gap between the different socio-economic groups and considers other measures as well as attainment booster classes to raise achievement and attainment. Evidently booster/crammer classes designed to improve test scores are not the answer in any case because they haven’t narrowed the gap.
Estelle Morris says we now need to consider pedagogy – but why only now? We certainly do need to look at pedagogy, and we need to look at a range of teaching and learning styles and skills that truly reflect the needs of children and young people. We need to break away from Gradgrindism and its modern-day equivalent – Govism.
We also need professional autonomy and trust from all politicians (regardless of their party allegiances) since educationalists are the best people to decide on pedagogy, on curriculum content and on a range of ways to narrow the attainment and achievement gap, and to serve the needs of the children in their school.
Attainment and ability in core subjects are vital but there are other ways to tackle inequalities, and the development other skills and abilities such as communication, creativity, innovation, imagination, expression, empathy and so forth will also do something to give children and young people better chances in life – as well as enable them to enjoy childhood, adolescence and adulthood in every possible way.
These are key issues that were never adequately considered or addressed during the New Labour years in government, and it seems there are still many people within the Labour party under Ed Miliband who have yet to wake up to the need to address them.
We strongly advise Estelle Morris and Ed Miliband to get hold of a recently-published book written by Dr Peter Cunningham, an ex-professor of education at Cambridge University, called Politics and the Primary Teacher. (Routledge) In the concluding chapter of this book Dr Cunningham says,
“A primary teacher’s role entails commitment to securing the well-being of others, and a primary teacher in close contact with children and their daily lives is likely to see this well-being in more rounded terms than policy-makers focused on narrow test scores.” (Page 126)
He goes on to say,
“Our aspiration should be for primary teachers to be confident professionals able to make their own decisions about curriculum and teaching methods, ready to analyse policy in place of unthinking acceptance, involved in union and other collaborative activities to resist mere imposition, initiating or engaging with opportunities for consultation and democratic debate.”
We would go further than this and say that secondary teachers should do precisely the same.
“Those who work in, with and for primary schools need to maintain a critical consciousness of the political context, to defend the measure of autonomy required to promote children’s development and all-round learning, to respect children’s rights and to model habits of good citizenship. We need to remain alert to the political dynamics and be ready to engage in an informed way with parents, the local community, and in national debates.” (Page 127)
Likewise those who work in, with and for secondary schools.
In his concluding chapter Dr Cunningham quotes from a private communication with a certain Gary Foskett:
“The reason we’re so far down the international league tables for both attainment and for happy and confident children is that children don’t enjoy school as much as they should and don’t have enough autonomy and enough encouragement to direct their own studies at their own pace. And of course it’s more likely that children will do well in every respect (including passing tests) if they feel that school is enjoyable and that learning is meaningful; if their school experiences are cooperative rather than competitive; if they feel that learning is truly personalised rather than regimented.”