There’s an interesting article in the Guardian this week by Fiona Millar, on headteachers joining together to discuss educational issues and thereby acting as a kind of self-selected lobbying organisation. Isn’t this what education’s trade unions and professional associations should have been doing all these years?
Tweeting headteachers plan to reform education
A group of heads who ‘met’ on Twitter have formed a pressure group to get their grassroots ideas heard by policymakers
Ah yes – grassroots ideas. And about time too. Providing, of course, these people have progressive ideas that are rooted in the need to provide the kind of education that 3Di, and people like us, say is necessary. So what are these people advocating?
• Schools should be assessed in a range of ways, not just judged by the numbers achieving five specific grades at 16;
• Ofsted should be replaced by local partnerships that would hold schools to account and help them to improve;
• The curriculum and assessment should be taken out of political control and given to an independent agency (under licence for 20 years);
• The government should encourage small families of local schools in preference to large national chains;
• “Norm referencing” in exam grading is not fair, ie capping the number of students who can achieve a certain grade. There shouldn’t be a cap on what individual pupils can achieve.
• Join the movement by tweeting @thatiangilbert or @johntomsett
We have no problem with any of that. Our major concern is that it doesn’t go far enough, it doesn’t wholeheartedly endorse the “Finnish Model”, it doesn’t speak the language of multiple intelligences and it doesn’t appear to have a Primary or an Early Years perspective. In other words, this is a group of Secondary headteachers who are keen to drive a secondary school agenda.
Ms Millar’s article, however, also says this:
In their sights they have the shadow education secretary, Stephen Twigg. Their schools may be poles apart in terms of geography and social context, but they are united in their view that an alternative to current education policy is needed fast, and that Labour is the best hope of achieving it.
“A strong theme coming through the social media was a frustration with current policy, but also frustration with no alternatives from Labour. We want to put forward the voices of people who know what they are doing. People who are in it for the kids, for the right reasons, to discuss what has and hasn’t been good and come up with some concrete alternatives.”
“We are moving back to a ‘sheep and goats system’ that will stratify society in terms of attainment and potential,” said Ros McMullen, principal of the David Young community academy in Leeds.
“We need to be able to measure improvement and this requires an objective measure where students’ attainment is judged against an unmoving standard, not one where only a certain percentage of students are allowed to hit certain grades. People should be talking about this.”
Several clear themes emerged about how an alternative policy might be shaped if Labour was “brave enough” to set out something profoundly different “rather than hang on the coat-tails of the Tories”, said John Tomsett, a prolific blogger and head of Huntington school in York.
At its heart should be a de-politicisation of curriculum and qualifications, an independent body made up of teaching professionals to drive policy in this area, and a radically different approach to assessment and accountability, the heads agreed.
Proposed changes to GCSEs were described as “an inadequate preparation for 21st-century life” that will only fuel what Vic Goddard, headteacher of Passmores academy in Essex, described as a growing tension between “doing what is right for our school and for our children”.
“What we have to do isn’t always the same as what we need to do. We want an acceptance that education is about more than five exams. It is about the full journey and everything else that comes with it.”
A new form of assessment would have to guarantee rigour and high standards, place no caps on aspiration, but also incorporate other non-exam-based measurements that offer the chance for “success at every level” – a particular concern to those in special needs education, who fear that their children will be “consigned to the scrap heap before they start”, according to Dave Whittaker, head of Springwell special school in Barnsley.
“We must be able to celebrate success at every level so that pupils with SEN aren’t left without motivation or aspiration. This would mean a holistic view of achievement that can genuinely show progress over time and in context. It is not fair that our pupils’ equivalent to the EBacc is a report that says “never mind, you failed, but please try again sometime”.
One suggestion is to move away from exams at 16 towards the International Baccalaureate learner profile. “The IB is an internationally highly rated qualification that includes skills and competencies,” argued Tomsett. “Our assessment system must move away from pure examinations and towards a blended range of assessments like personal projects, extended essays, oral skills, as well as formal exams. The fact that Labour can only come up with a Tech Bacc in response to the EBacc simply highlights the paucity of their thinking.”
Well said, that man. New Labour’s thinking throughout all their years in power was an absolute disgrace, allowing Gradgrindism to continue and to prosper, and completely ignoring what’s happened to improve education in Finland and elsewhere, as well as ignoring the International Bacc and the need to scrap 16+ examinations.
The “paucity” of New Labour’s thinking appears to have two major causes. Firstly, a fear of saying or doing anything radical that might upset ‘swing voters’ and upset Middle England and its mouthpiece the Daily Mail; and secondly a complete absence of any ideas or any real understanding of education by a party now controlled by professional politicians who have risen through the traditional route of fee-paying schools and an Oxbridge PPE degree. [Sorry Ed – we know that you went to a Comprehensive.] Obviously New Labour’s Big Idea, like David Cameron’s, has been to keep things as they are apart from “spreading privilege” to the lower orders – i.e. all that talk of social mobility which Estelle Morris wrote about this week and which we commented on in our previous post. It’s time for New Labourites like ‘our Estelle’ to step aside, be quiet, and allow Ed Miliband to bury New Labour and its dismal past, and to bring forward people who actually understand what needs to happen to governance and policy-making within education.
We wish this group of headteachers well, and we look forward to its membership increasing to encompass the entire range of schools. It’s important that our country has a powerful lobbying group that includes the membership of every educational trade union and professional association, and it’s important that this group continues to press hard for progressive and radical changes to the education system in England.