We now move on to the other areas of focus that were discussed during the Compass Education Inquiry launch.
The extent and depth of potential content for this Inquiry is both daunting and stimulating. The range of subjects and concerns for people is vast, but there’s an incredible commitment to change and a determination to ensure that future generations of children and young people receive the education to which they are entitled, as we work towards a better society for all.
Childhood and Education
- Entitlement and equity
- Involvement of young people
- Child development
- Diversity of childhood development
- Relevance of education
- Resources for early identification and intervention
Michael Gove has said that there is a division within the state education system. He hasn’t explicitly said so but the statements at the beginning of the new National Curriculum make this very clear. All secondary “state funded” schools must teach Sex Education and have a daily act of collective worship but only “maintained” schools have to follow the National Curriculum.
This is not only divisive but it also creates inequity. Why should children and young people in maintained schools be forced to endure the tedium of some of the curriculum content suggested by Gove, whilst their peers in academies and free schools are exempt?
We need to look at entitlement and what really does constitute a “broad and balanced” curriculum. On the Department of Education website, there’s a statement in the top left hand corner which says,
“Our vision is for a highly educated society in which opportunity is more equal for children and young people no matter what their background or family circumstances.”
So does “family circumstance” include whether their homes are in the catchment area of academies or not? And what precisely does “highly educated” mean? What is an entitlement for one child should be an entitlement for all. What constitutes that entitlement is open to debate, and one that we should definitely have.
Both Michael Gove and Sir Michael Wilshaw have demonstrated, through their curriculum plans and their comments about early years and about secondary transition, their seeming ignorance about child development. Not all children develop and learn simultaneously in a conveniently chronological way, which is why we have always advocated personalised learning programmes. We absolutely agree with the comments made at the launch about the need to review initial teacher training and return the focus to child development.
We are also living with the unknown – educating young children for jobs and careers that don’t currently exist. Some young people leaving school this year are the first to have had computers in their homes all of their lives, and those fortunate enough to be in that position are in a minority. It’s only in the last few years with the increased sales of smartphones and tablet computers that the internet has been accessible and used by the majority. We need to embrace this major advance in what we are offering to our children and young people.
As Lisa Nandy MP said, we need to ask whether children are actually enjoying what we are offering, and if they’re not perhaps it might be a good idea to ask them what they feel they need in order for them to feel more engaged in their education. As we’re not sure of what jobs they will be doing in the future, then perhaps we ought to concentrate on the love of learning as the absolute reason for education rather than “preparing them for adult life”.
Prioritisation and Inquiry process
- Priorities of children and young people
- Engagement of practicing teachers in inquiry
- Opposing educational views
- Educational practice in other countries
Fred Jarvis, former General Secretary of the NUT, raised a legitimate concern about the priorities for the Inquiry. He voiced his disquiet about the fact that a year may not be long enough to debate the issues and make the changes that are needed. He may be right.
There has to be a balance. As Stephen Twigg has said, what the teaching profession needs now is stability after years of being pushed from pillar to post. However, can we truly have stability when the current system is so deeply flawed? We need change and we believe that if that change came from within rather than the imposed changes of the last two decades, then teachers and lecturers might be more receptive to that change.
This is why it’s vital that professionals working in a range of educational settings become involved in this inquiry.
As commentators who consistently refer to the positive and progressive education systems in other countries, we would certainly embrace the idea of looking further afield for solutions. Canada – yes, Finland – definitely, but there are other countries that have also adopted a far more child-friendly and appropriate education system. Also, Ed Miliband’s One Nation socialism refers to all parts of Great Britain, and the successes of devolved education policy in Scotland, Wales and Northern Ireland need to be reviewed as part of this process, as well as the changes needed in these countries too.
Learning other than in school settings
- Learning environments
- Community and lifelong learning
- Routes back into education
This Education Inquiry isn’t just focusing on schools. We’re in an ever-changing world where more and more people are returning to education later in life, either to complement their existing knowledge and skills or to acquire new ones. Jobs for life no longer exist and nowadays people tend to swap careers as frequently as they used to change jobs. The access to lifelong learning needs to reflect this significant change.
But it isn’t just formal education that needs to be reviewed. Libraries throughout the country have struggled to resist closure. How can we support our colleagues here that provide such an essential service to their communities? And how do we ensure that our museums, cathedrals, galleries and wildlife centres are available to all – to use that quote from the Department of Education – “no matter what their background or family circumstances”.
Why does it cost nearly £30, for example, for a family of four to visit Coventry Cathedral? Thankfully, the last Labour government saw fit to return our museums to the nation, facilitating free admissions, but there are still far too many costs involved in taking children out to render many cultural excursions inaccessible to many a family. Businesses have to make a profit, but what are we doing to ensure that all children, irrespective of their financial constraints, can access these incredible areas of learning?
And what of these wonderful buildings dotted around our towns, cities and countryside that remain empty every weekend and school holiday? Why can’t we open our schools to the communities they serve when the school staff have left the premises? How many vacant playgrounds are redundant for a quarter of the year when parents are struggling to find a place for their children to play freely amidst the “No ball games” notices on their estates?
Ofsted and Accountability
- Independence of inspectorate
- Critical friend
- Impartiality of head of Ofsted
- League tables
No discussion on education would be complete without addressing the thorny issue of accountability, and it’s one that we will delve into further in future posts.
The anecdotes from some Ofsted inspections are deeply worrying. Peoples’ lives are dramatically, drastically and frequently unfairly damaged by inaccurate reporting. The stress levels during an inspection, be it school based or local authority, are dangerous to people’s health and wellbeing. Children are affected by this – during the inspection and subsequent to them, with the imposition of draconian measures inflicted through notices to improve that frequently contradict and damage existing good practice.
Of course we want accountability and no child should have to endure an inadequate education, but there are ways and means of making change happen.
In decades gone by, schools had access to “critical friends” through the support from local authorities and even the HMI inspectors. The grading system of schools, and the fear of being categorised in a negative way, has created a false reason for imposing certain pedagogy in our schools, frequently disregarding the needs of young people. The profession needs to regain trust in itself and prove that the more progressive and inclusive modes of learning are seen to succeed. All this can be done without grades, without league tables, through a sensible and creative tracking system for all learning.
Performance tables are divisive. They are deliberately so. They direct teaching far more than the needs of the child. They are the only measure that holds schools accountable and therefore, many choose to concentrate on the core subjects through booster classes and the like, rather than looking more closely at the other educational and wellbeing needs of the child.
We have to ask ourselves and admit to ourselves just how influential these league tables have been in thwarting real learning and stymying the creativity of the teacher and the child. We have to be honest and raise our hands in the air if, as managers or teachers, we have been directed more by the need to achieve 85% of Level fives than by the needs of the individuals in our schools.
We can have academic success without these. Our accountability should be to serve our children and young people well. That is the highest and purest purpose for education.
Over the next twelve months we will produce more interactive posts about the Inquiry. Once again, we ask you to participate in this debate. The Compass Education Inquiry needs your involvement.
Please be involved wherever you are in the world.