What was Missing
Speaking from experience, we know that it’s quite difficult to be part of a panel at meetings such as the one we attended on Saturday. There’s a tendency to come away from the platform saying to yourself “Oh, I didn’t say this” or “I really should have mentioned that”.
At the Fabian Society Education meeting, there were some omissions, be they deliberate or accidental, which we feel are fundamental to the debate in how we look at education after Mr Gove.
There was no mention of a reform to Ofsted at all. Whilst there was mention of local accountability, it wasn’t clear that this included a suggestion that has been offered by organisations such as the Heads’ Round Table that there should be a local accountability mechanism which is based on constructive criticism and collaboration.
As we said in our previous posts, Ofsted and its judgement criteria has been one of the most significant and damaging driving forces in how and what are children and young people are taught. We all know that it shouldn’t determine content and practice but the fact is, it does. The weight of an Ofsted inspection can make or break a school, its senior managers and its staff. If there is no “grade” for wellbeing or “Spiritual, Moral, Cultural and Social” education, and in worse case scenarios these crucial issues and aspects of learning are ignored or forgotten. If there is no consideration of the impact of the arts on a child’s education, then this is pushed into the background. That is how it is, despite Mr Gove’s insistence that good and outstanding schools continue to provide excellent arts coverage. They can afford to!
Please let’s be very clear on this. 3Di are committed to accountability. We are committed to progress and we are consistent in our determination and enthusiasm for ensuring that all children are numerate and literate. We also believe that it’s essential that children have the opportunity to develop all of their intelligences and all of their skills for living as a young person as well as a fully-fledged adult. Any accountability regime that favours one aspect, i.e. attainment, at the expense of others, e.g. wellbeing, is not – in our opinion – fit for purpose.
There was no mention of the destructive and divisive nature of league tables and the issue about emphasis on what is “testable”. If we are, as Fiona Millar suggested, going to look at the whole view of what education is about, and what it would mean to be an educated 19 year old, then everyone has to tackle this thorny issue of what we are measuring, and why. If we are only going to measure attainment in English, Maths and Science, then this is going to continue to be seen as the raison d’etre of teaching. If, on the other hand, we are seeing education as a means of enabling lifelong learning and the physical, social, spiritual and personal as well as the intellectual development of the whole child, then the accountability measures need to be changed to reflect this.
The league tables create competition, not choice. This is a fundamental flaw that neither political party have been keen to admit to. If league tables were introduced and developed as a means of encouraging progress in “coasting” or “failing” schools, it certainly didn’t fulfil its purpose. All it did was set school against school, and more importantly schooling against educating.
These tables have been used and abused by statisticians, local authorities, governors, government and school managers themselves. There is little “truth” in their statistical straitjackets as to what a school is really like for the learner within.
Labour needs to look long and hard at their purpose, their effectiveness and their point.
Children’s Rights and Voice
Talking of accountability, there was little or no mention of the accountability we all have to the children and young people themselves. These people are pre-voters, and in our society have no real say in what their education should look like. We ignore their views at our peril. We should be engaging them in their learning and what their learning should look like. They have good ideas. In the meeting that followed this education debate, there was plenty of talk about how young people are disengaged politically. If we involve them in shaping their education, then maybe this could change.
Not only that, but a good starting point for reshaping education might be to refer back to the United Nations Charter on the Rights of the Child. Are we really providing the sort of education that pays more than lip service to some aspects here? We need to look very clearly and carefully at entitlement; entitlement to high quality education, entitlement to be and stay safe, the entitlement to being able to have their say, the entitlement to a broad and balanced curriculum.
We are shaping our children’s lives through their schooling. It’s that important, and it’s that important to ensure that we get it right for them.
National and International Successes
Although both Lisa Nandy and Fiona Millar referred to learning in other countries, there was little mention of how other systems could work in this country, or any proposal for further research on how to use successful practices in places like Finland and certain parts of Canada – two countries which only test their children once throughout statutory education, neither of which are failing in international comparisons.
3Di have made it very clear, through our writing, that we need to learn from others. We need to look further afield to see how and why such educational successes occur.
Of course there are also plenty of schools in this country that have successfully worked with the existing system, maintaining a strong focus on the whole child and a child-focused education. Even so, let’s not ignore some of the highly successful practice that exists elsewhere. Within our own country some of our independent schools can provide a template for working on wellbeing and academic attainment simultaneously, and their provision is not down to the fees paid. It’s down to an adherence to an education philosophy that is understood, agreed and valued by all who work and ‘live’ in the school.
Health and Education
Again, this was something that was mentioned by the audience but wasn’t fully discussed by the panel.
In April, Public Health departments are moving into local government thanks to the demise of Primary Care Trusts (PCTs). There are mandatory Health and Wellbeing boards being developed that have statutory obligations to children and young people. Yet, due to the demise in the influence of local government and the continued advancement of the academies programme that removes schools from local governance, there is no direct means of working with children and young people on health related issues.
Stephen Twigg said on Saturday, and also in an interview with Peter Wilby in the Education Guardian this week, that he would reintroduce nutritional standards in all schools should Labour be elected in 2015. Currently, academies are exempt from these standards. But nutritional standards alone are not going to tackle the time-bomb of obesity that is due to hit our nation. If these Health and Wellbeing boards are going to work effectively, as they didn’t in previous guises, there needs to be dialogue and action with schools, and all should have a joint accountability as to how they are addressing the physical and mental health of our young people.
Joint action is needed to tackle obesity, not just nutritional standards. Similarly, teenage conception rates are not going to continue to fall if there is no quality Sex and Relationships education in schools. Drugs Education should not be outsourced a travelling theatre company offering a one-off lesson in those schools that are enlightened enough to see a need for such education.
Finally, and this probably wasn’t the forum in which to do so, there was no mention of the extreme and revolutionary change that has happened in the last decade with regard to information technology. This will have an enormous impact on how children and young people learn and how we teach. The significance of this is only beginning to become apparent, and we need to plan to ensure that it’s a positive change, for the good of all, and not a wasted opportunity .
If addressed properly, this is going to bring huge changes to the way schools work. We need to plan now, and we also need to look at how we ensure that our children and young people are programmers of the future, not merely the recipients of other nations’ ideas and software.
These are just some of the omissions, but there are more. There were some excellent comments at the meeting, and there is certainly a commitment to reviewing what education should be about. Although the profession is reluctant to have to go through yet another round of sweeping change, if the change is right, if it is worked through with educationalists driving that change, if it’s clear that change won’t occur with every change in government, then there might be more commitment and enthusiasm for the changes that we all know are very long overdue.
- Part Two: Education After Gove – Responding to a New Landscape (3diassociates.wordpress.com)
- “Total Development of the Person” (3diassociates.wordpress.com)
- Compass Education: Radical Approaches to Education Conference – Part Two (3diassociates.wordpress.com)