Look carefully at that title. “One Nation Education. No School Left Behind”
This is absolutely right. No school should be left behind and no child should be left behind. However we need to determine what we mean by “behind” for if it is just about attainment yet again, then we are leaving many, many children “behind” by not offering them the education that they need and deserve.
Stephen Twigg went on to reiterate his commitment to comprehensive education, stating that even though it was a Labour government who introduced academies, it was done so altruistically in areas of deprivation where there was a significant lack of quality secondary education available to all pupils. The fact that this was then broadened out to attempt to make every secondary school an autonomous academy, free from local authority control or guidance, is something that the Labour party refute any responsibility for, yet there must be some accountability for what happened subsequent to their election loss. The foundations for two-tierdom were laid, even though the original intentions were allegedly more progressive and equal.
His three principles of comprehensive education were;
1. Education for all abilities
2. Non-selective schools
3. No school is an island
He reiterated that there is a tendency to focus on the provider, i.e. whether a school is an academy or not, rather than the more significant issue of quality teaching and learning that is provided by good leadership and collaboration. He cited examples, such as the Gypsy Hill federation, where schools were still effectively under local authority administration, but were working collaboratively and raising standards. He also believed that such collaboration should not be directed by central government. (Should it be directed by local authorities or should schools decide for themselves who to ‘cluster’ with that isn’t necessarily constricted to proximity to one another geographically?)
Twigg went on to say that Labour did get some things right, and one of its better policies was that which introduced a more coherent children’s policy through Every Child Matters, ensuring that other socio-economic factors were considered when contemplating the needs of every child.
He obviously raised concerns about the current government’s policies that could further the inequity in schools and what children are provided in the name of education. Regional pay would not tackle the issue of areas where it is impossible to attract good teachers, especially in failing areas mentioned such as many seaside towns and some northern towns – all of which suffer from extreme poverty and deprivation (any link?).
He cited great concern about the 40% reduction, in real terms, of the funding for early years education, when all practitioners know that impact is greatest at an earlier age. He advocated quality time in education for continued professional development, and without this, we cannot develop education for the future; thus suggesting a National College for Teacher Excellence. He raised concerns about attainment being the only measure to school effectiveness.
All in all, he said many of the right things but omitted others that were taken up by participants in the question and answer session.
Below is a brief summary of those questions, with a simplified response from the minister.
The important issue is that there are still key principles of education that are currently not being addressed that the Labour Party has to reconcile themselves with. The thorny issue of league tables will not go away. They continually say that they don’t agree with formulaic, knowledge-based teaching to the test and yet will not commit to getting rid of league tables – rather return to a Continual Value Added (CVA) measure to give a clearer indication of school progress. Yet this does little to demonstrate how a school is “promoting the wellbeing of pupils” as the statutory directive of the 2006 Education Act insists all schools should be doing – by law.
And most of all, there still needs to be an agreement on what parts of educational law should be in the hands of educators rather than policy makers, politicians and administrators.
In the room, there was a wealth of experience, vision, insight and determination to get things right. We all need to pounce on this moment, and demand – yes, big word but necessary – the right and the need to place educational direction back in the hands of people who really know what they are talking about because they know children, they understand need and they can see very clearly just how damaging to children and our society a knowledge based curriculum is going to be.
Questions to the minister (apologies if they are not completely accurate or there are glaring omissions)
1. How do you reconcile national directives with local autonomy?
2. If Every Child Matters was an excellent policy, why was it not implemented in full with equity between the five components, rather than what happened – which was a focus on educational attainment that meant the other four areas were seen as less significant?
3. Why do we continually allow children to feel as though they are a failure at the age of 11 with an imposed grammar school system still in operation in some parts of the country
(The minister’s response to these questions: National directives, such as Food in Schools, should be adhered to by all schools. There should be accountability but this can be managed locally. He felt there was a need for a National Curriculum but there had to be flexibility within this. The ECM Agenda does need to be readdressed by Labour to prevent the focus being entirely on attainment as the means to change children’s lives for the better. He suggested that there would be a set of policies developed to look at the grammar school situation, but this might be unpopular with MPs where grammar schools are still in existence.
Melissa Benn summarised by saying that if freedom for schools is worth having, then this freedom has to be an entitlement to all schools).
4. Lord Adonis, in his new book, suggests that the comprehensive system has failed. Did the minister agree?
5. What would the minister do about the fundamental issue of “teaching to test” and the inequality of education caused by deprivation?
6. The fragmentation of education with an array of different people running schools does matter. What did the minister have to say about this?
(Stephen Twigg’s response to these questions: He didn’t feel that the comprehensive system had failed and reiterated his commitment to it. The significant relationship between poverty and attainment had to be addressed. No solution was brought forward as it is complicated by a multiplicity of factors. Labour were looking into tuition fees and the possibility of a graduate tax was being considered. He reiterated the fact that the focus needs to be on quality teaching and learning rather than on who is running the school, though this has to be addressed too).
7. “One size fits all”? No it doesn’t. So when is Labour going to denounce league tables as a divisive measure setting school against school?
8. Is there going to be redress in the balance between teaching schools and university teacher training, and time for teachers to gain access to effective CPD?
9. How are students going to be involved in reshaping education in this country?
(The minister response to these questions: CVA scores would be reintroduced and redesigned under Labour. He didn’t feel as though league tables would be abandoned. There needs to be greater partnership between schools and universities as far as professional development and teacher training. He mentioned the need to look at the 50% of young people who didn’t go to university and how we ensure that there is an education system that serves their needs without it being two-tiered. He cited many cooperatives where students are involved in the fundamental decision-making process in schools, and said that he would be contacting student bodies to get their views on the way forward with educational content.)
10. “Will you be the Secretary of State to take education away from politics?” – so said a head teacher from the Head Teacher’s Round Table forum
11. How do schools avoid becoming academies or free schools, and what happens to those schools when Labour return to power?
12. What is the Labour party going to do about the lack of Early Years funding?
(Stephen Twigg’s response to these questions: There are certain issues that need to be retained by government, e.g. policy on admissions but essentially he agreed that education policy should be directed and guided by educationalists, especially with regard to teaching and learning. He raised great concerns about the EBAC and insisted that Labour were committed to continued assessment not a total knowledge/memory based exam. He said that every child should have the opportunity to develop musically, creatively etc, including those who are of academic persuasion! He said that there would be criteria set for academies and free schools in the future such as – are they educating the number of pupils they were funded to do so, are they collaborating with other schools, is their admissions policy fair? Early Years, he agreed needed an influx of resources and funding).