In this and our next post we’re reporting on the comments made at the Compass Inquiry launch, as well as adding our own comments. Please note that these are 3Di Associates’ comments and not those of the Compass Education Organisation Group.
As there are currently four Inquiry working groups, we’ve collated comments about each of the four areas and grouped them under four headings. However, it’s evident that there’s significant overlap between these groups, and just because comments are categorised in one area doesn’t preclude their relevance to the other areas. For example, the content of the curriculum and the governance arrangements for school are just as relevant to professionalism and values.
In addition to these four areas of work, we’ve tried to organise other comments by their common threads. Thus we’ve added four more areas that the participants at the launch considered to be important. These will be commented on in Part Four of this series of our reports on the Compass Education Inquiry launch.
In each of the sections, the bullet points refer to comments made by participants. This is followed by our own comments on some of the issues raised. Over the next few months, we will be writing posts on each of these areas in turn.
- Access and inclusion
- Independence from politicians
- Middle tier support
- Academies, free schools and division of public sector education
- School governors representation in the inquiry
- Impact of faith schools
Ever since James Callaghan made his 1976 speech at Ruskin College, politicians have played a significant role in shaping education in this country, and not necessarily in a positive way. Since the implementation of the National Curriculum, the 1988 Education Act and subsequent acts of parliament, the Secretary of State now has more powers over the profession that he or she “governs” than any other governmental department.
How is this right?
Local authorities over the decades have been as variable in quality and effectiveness as some of the schools within their jurisdiction. To review their purpose and support is quite right. However to eradicate them completely, and promote devolution of responsibility to schools through the development of a NATIONAL academies programme is the epitome of 1984 “newspeak”. Academies may well have greater autonomy than their local authority governed counterparts but let’s not fool ourselves into thinking that they are completely free from political intervention.
We need to explore the relationship between schools and a wider body of governance such as a local authority or a voluntary cluster of schools. Schools can’t work in individual silos – neither economically or ideologically. We now need to answer the question of what support and governance can we develop for schools to ensure meaningful collaboration and collegiality. Is this support going to be nationally or locally led? Who is going to be involved?
We also need to look at the equity of access to quality and holistic education. The Academies Programme has highlighted this issue in a way that hasn’t been considered since the abolition of the 11+ in most local authority areas. Schools are selecting, be it explicit or not. Perhaps it really is time to look at the whole issue of grammar schools and faith schools. Just look at the performance tables for both primary and secondary schools to see the impact of such schools on their local authority counterparts.
Our children and young people are entitled to a fair admissions system, with equity in the type and quality of education they receive, irrespective of the school that they attend or the geographical area that they live in. Let’s face facts – the implementation of the National Curriculum (allegedly introduced to support consistency of learning) hasn’t done this because other factors that influence equity were never fully or even partially addressed, like housing, income support, childcare etc.
- Sustainable leadership
- Role of leadership
- Prevention of top-down approach to monitoring
- Teacher morale
- Regaining professionalism
- CPD and national college for teaching
- Cultivate better leaders
- Improving teachers
- Treatment of head teachers who are “failing”
- Enabling teachers to voice concerns safely
There’s growing support for a National College for Teachers, akin to other professional bodies such as the Royal Society of Architects – or medicine, or Royal Institute of Chartered Surveyors. This would indeed be a positive way forward but their remit would have to be carefully considered. Judging by comments made in this meeting, complementing our own concerns from decades of teaching experience, we really do need to address this issue of professionalism, ensuring that our colleagues in schools, colleges and higher education institutions are given the professional respect that they deserve. A professional body, separate from the unions responsibility for supporting terms and conditions of service, needs to be considered.
We are gravely concerned about the fact that excellent teachers and middle managers are reluctant to become head teachers because of the pressure of the job and the constraining accountability measures that dictate their priorities, rather than their fundamental philosophy of education.
We also need to look at how we give teachers their voices back. Anecdotal evidence is compelling regarding the number of teachers who feel intimidated into teaching in a certain way because of the accountability measures and the fear of their managers. Only this week we heard Sir Michael Wilshaw talking about after-school and weekend booster sessions to ‘drive up’ attainment. Is this something that all of his teachers thought was educationally sound? Is this very different to pupils being put under intense pressure with extra hours of private tutoring and cramming?
The morale and the wellbeing of teachers have a significant impact on the wellbeing of our children and young people. Fostering an atmosphere of fear does nothing for the wellbeing of anyone in school.
We would direct anyone who wants to consider possible improvements in our system to familiarise themselves with the professional standing of teachers to Finland.
- Who decides curriculum?
- National examinations
- Knowledge based/skills based learning
- Constitution of a national curriculum
- Slimming down the curriculum
As one contributor at the meeting said, we are about to be given a national curriculum which is, to all intents and purposes, the whim of one man. Oh to be in power and impose your choice of curriculum content on schools – the epitome of democracy!
Who does decide the curriculum? It certainly isn’t teachers, or the advisors that Gove chose to contribute to the discussions, who later criticised the curriculum choices made. Whilst the Secretary of State has suggested that there will be greater autonomy for schools to choose what to teach, the reality is that if they are placed in a category of “special measures” or “notice to improve” by Ofsted inspectors, it is this, together with the mass tranche of learning outcomes in the English and Maths curriculum, that will dictate what is taught – not the needs of the children and young people.
We do need to look at what would be part of a slimmed down curriculum but the driving force behind this decision should be the entitlement of all pupils to an education that instils in them a love of learning that will last a lifetime. We need to equip young people with more than facts. We need to give them opportunities within the curriculum to develop the key skills that will help them live as children and as adults in a world that is ever more reliant on competencies that go beyond being literate and numerate.
The mandatory age for being in full-time education has now been extended to the age of 18 but accompanying legislation regarding examinations hasn’t altered to reflect this change. To think that you can be legally married and still have to be in full time education is somewhat bizarre. In the light of this change, what is the purpose of 16+ examinations? We really need to look at this and legislate for change.
We often hear about the difference between knowledge based and skill based learning, but why is it an either/or? We need both. The curriculum needs to reflect the development of attitudes and values too. As in Singapore, we also need to shift the emphasis from teaching to learning. It isn’t about what is taught – about something that you can tick off the endless list of imposed objectives. It is about what children and young people are learning, and what they do with those learning experiences – be they knowledge and skills or attitudes and values.
We’ve spoken in many of our posts about the need to bring schools into the 21st century through the use of advanced technology. We once more ask readers to take a look at the “New Learning Revolution” to emphasise this point. Many of our schools are ludicrously inadequate in the provision of regular use of IT in all subjects. If learning through technology is the way forward, then we have to address the issue that many of our children have greater access to such resources at home rather than at school – and what of the ones that don’t? The flipped classroom is one idea that may not be manageable but learning from its successes and flaws would be a good place to start this discussion.
Values and wellbeing
- Inequality and equity
- Model of intelligences
- Accounting for social, emotional, spiritual learning
- Definition of entitlement
- Clear vision for education
- Capabilities for better lives
- Enjoyment of education
Every school has a duty of care to “promote the wellbeing of pupils”. This has been the case since the implementation of the 2006 Education Act. However, how often do Ofsted inspectors actually look at this area in detail?
Yes, they have a duty to consider the way a school addresses the “spiritual, moral, social and cultural (SMSC)” development of the child but the “measures” being used for this are extremely limited and not always relevant. For example, merely quoting the number and range of after-school activities (as has been seen in many Ofsted reports) or how often pupils gather for collective worship as a demonstration of a school’s effectiveness in SMSC is nonsensical.
For too long our education system has been unequal. For too long, we as professionals have been driven to consider the intellectual needs of the child above any other requirements, such as developing their social intelligence or their emotional literacy. Spirituality is not the domain of the religious. It’s about developing and nurturing a set of virtues and collective values. It’s about creating an environment that enables moments of awe and wonder to be experienced by our children.
We also have to consider the entire set of values that are integral to the aims of education in the first place – all of which are relevant to the three areas of focus above. We can’t look at governance without considering what we value in the type of governance to which we are aspiring. Likewise with the curriculum; we need to consider the values of education and what we are aiming to achieve as an integral part of the decision-making process on what is learned. Our entire professionalism has values at its core but perhaps we now need to be explicit about these.
Looking at values in education, for the good and the sustainable wellbeing of all those involved in education, has to be an integral part of any reinvention of education. It has to be at the core of a Good Society – with education being central to the achievement of this long term goal.
Our next post will concentrate on the additional areas that were highlighted at the Inquiry launch – Childhood and Education, Inquiry Process, Learning in educational settings other than schools, and Ofsted and Accountability.