The Fabian Society invited four platform speakers to the seminar.
Stephen Twigg – Shadow Secretary of State for Education
Lisa Nandy – Shadow Schools Minister
Rick Muir – Institute for Public Policy and Research (IPPR) Associate Director and Hackney Councillor
Fiona Millar – Education Campaigner
The meeting was ably chaired by Michael Shaw, Deputy Editor of the Times Educational Supplement, who allowed each of the speakers three minutes to talk and then invited questions. Below is a brief summary of the key issues raised by each of the speakers, and after that some of their responses to the issues raised by the audience.
What would education after Gove look like and how can we make it happen?
The panel’s views on what is required:
- Good local schools
- Children and young people to be prepared for adult life
- Response to what parents and carers want
- A broad curriculum
- High standards
- High status and morale for teachers
- Technical Baccalaureate
- Preventing an attack on creativity
- Consideration of the CBI report into education and employment
- Fair funding and accountability
- Strong local authorities
- Prevention of constant change
- We don’t want a Gove-like existence, i.e. staying with whatever he has put in place
- Structural change in type of schools
- Curriculum and examination changes
- No English Baccalaureate (EBC)
- Reconsider education from the perspective of what you would want an educated 19 year old to look like
- Focus on values and purpose of education
- Involvement of parents
- High quality education
- Local governance and local schools of high quality
- A look at school buildings and the influence of the environment
- Investment in quality of teaching
- Look at where change has been effective, e.g. Ben Levin, Ontario, Canada
- A focus on systems not structures
- Schools working collaboratively not in isolation
- Self-improving schools and peer to peer support
- Focus on teaching and learning
- Focus on how learning moves round the system
- Strengthening of the middle tier – i.e. local government/local authorities
- Local commissioning
- Scrapping of EBC or any equivalent 16 + examination
- Professionals working with politicians
- Planning education policy and practice with ALL children and young people in mind
- Lack of fragmentation
- Ensuring structures so that no child is left out
- Real choice for parents and carers
- Linking educational provision with issues about poverty
- Social enlightenment
- Further developing out of school support
- Learning from good practice, e.g. London Challenge
- Equality of learning and the issue of Free School in relation to this
In summary, there was agreement and consistency on the need to re-evaluate the whole point of a 16+ exam in the light of the statutory school leaving age being raised to 18. There was clear evidence that local governance was a key issue, and that this should include accountability of what parents want for their children – including the right for all parents to have access to a high quality school to send their children to irrespective of where they live.
There was a commitment to training and development of the profession – and Stephen Twigg once more emphasised his commitment to a National College of Teaching, and most importantly this very clear message that we need to look at the purpose of education, and the fact that education goes beyond attainment. There was also a strong view that there should be a national curriculum but it shouldn’t be too prescriptive.
Some questions asked from the audience.
- What do we do with free schools if Labour win at the next election?
- How do we ensure good Special Needs provision?
- Is Labour going to scrap the 11+?
- How are we going ensure parity between vocational and academic studies?
- How are we going to deal with faith schools, particularly in response to admissions criteria?
- What is needed to strengthen middle tier support and the role of local authorities?
- What do we do about the health needs of our children and young people, and the fact that responsibility for public health is coming into local authorities as schools exit?
- When is the Labour party going to accept the thorny problem of academies and their role in them being here in the first place?
- How could Pupil Premium money be spent to strengthen the work on social and emotional education?
- How do we re-empower the teaching profession?
In response to these questions, there was concern about thrusting yet more change on the profession, post 2015. Nobody had the answer to what to do about academies and free schools. Is it going to be possible to reintegrate them into local systems of governance? The answer wasn’t clear despite the fact that this has happened before. Grant maintained schools emerged the last time the Tories played around with the structure of schools, and they were all welcomed back into the local authority family when the need arose.
There was a general consensus that if the systems of governance and accountability are in place, if there is equity in admissions and funding and if there is commitment to teaching and learning as the main vehicle for narrowing the inequalities and achievement gap, then whether a school is a Free School or an Academy or a Faith School or a local authority maintained school is slightly less relevant. What is important is that they are offering a similar level of provision that is wholly inclusive and that one school is not vastly different to another in its potential for learners to achieve.
Underlying everything that was said is the need to be fair, to be open and to be accountable.
Stephen Twigg reiterated his grave concerns about the prescriptive nature of the National Curriculum and the EBC with its effects of limiting the creative curriculum. Naturally, he couldn’t make policy statements at such a meeting but it was evident that he was intent on trying to make sure the implementation of the EBC didn’t happen, and if it did Labour would be reviewing the situation.
The meeting was very thought-provoking and in our next post we’ll consider some of the issues that weren’t mentioned – issues that we think we need to look at immediately if we are going to be thorough about the needs and direction of education in the 21st Century. Let’s not forget this fact: by the time Labour get into power, if indeed they do, fifteen years of the 21st century will have passed. Fifteen years – during which other countries are learning and developing their systems from their own mistakes and the successes of others.
When Labour were last in power, there were glimmers of hope regarding some of the legislative changes that took place with regard to children and young people, but their focus was misguided, be it by a perceived need to pander to Middle England or by a misdirected vision with regard to how to address social and economic inequality.
It was Labour that introduced Every Child Matters, yet they concentrated on one aspect only when it came to implementation of this excellent document (written in conjunction with children, please note). It was Labour who introduced the equivalent qualifications of NVQs and BTECs but they never overcame the status issue, whereby these were seen as inferior to GCSEs rather than what they should have been seen as – viable alternatives for those who are not academically inclined.
If Labour are going to have another crack of the whip, then they have to address some of the mistakes made and they have to acknowledge that errors occurred – and that they’ve learned from them. Isn’t that what formative assessment is partially about?