The Guardian Education Manifesto article yesterday has provided plenty of food for thought – for us, at least. We hope it’s had a similar effect on Tristram Hunt and his team within the Labour Party.
Neither David Blunkett’s review of Education Structures nor the Labour Party Agenda 15: Education and Children document fills us with hope and encouragement insofar that the opening lines of both articles reiterate a familiar story – that of standards, “race to the top”, economic drivers and so on and so forth. (NB: Both documents continue to provide some positive thoughts for the future).
Can we please remind these policy makers that we are talking about children’s lives here?
Here are the opening sentences from “Putting Students and Parents First”.
“In the fractured landscape emerging in the education system across England, it is often forgotten that what we’re aiming to achieve is high standards for all, not constant restructuring of the service.
What we seek for young people is that they should acquire a body of knowledge, alongside the basic tools to continue learning throughout life.
Fundamentally this includes the ability to read and write, to be able to add up and take on mathematical challenges, together with an understanding of science. A grasp of who we are, where we are, and of course where we came from, is essential to a sense of identity.
Memory tests are important in ensuring that young children can spell, can recall their tables, can develop the capacity to retain information and therefore to be able to recall facts.”
Admittedly, Blunkett continues to say that education “must offer more than this” but if that is the case, why start with this familiar regurgitation of Labour Policy circa 1997?
Similarly, the opening sentences of the Agenda 2015 review “Education and Children” offer us the same old story.
“For Britain to succeed in the 21st Century, we must earn our way in the world and win the race to the top, with a high skill, high wage economy. We can only build such an economy with all of Britain’s young people playing their part in making it happen.”
Education? Values? Wellbeing? Lifelong learning? Individuality? Equality?
It was Gove who said that the so-called “progressives” in education were the “Blob” but our “socialist” comrades’ reluctance to listen to the very significant voices for change is even more demoralising.
Within the “Blob” one would be hard-pressed to find someone who didn’t want children to be able to read and write, or to be mathematically competent. We all need knowledge and the “Blobbers” like to impart knowledge to their charges as much as anyone else. It’s an integral part of the job!
We all want our children and young people to achieve. We nurture, challenge, direct and enable them with the absolute intention of helping them to a level of competency that reflects their abilities (all of them) – and beyond. So please, please stop implying that those who have a different view of education to the policy makers are willing to disregard these basic purposes of education.
Returning to the Guardian’s manifesto for Education article, it’s interesting to note that nobody mentioned the word “standards” (other than the mention of the proposed “Directors of School Standards” as suggested by Blunkett) – “academic excellence”, yes, but not “standards”. It’s also worth noting that not all of those interviewed for this piece could be accused of being “Blobbers” either, which is why their collective ideas really ought to be considered by the Labour Party for their own manifesto.
If you look “below the line” on this article, there are also some extremely valuable comments which, in the main, address something that none of the political parties seem capable of doing – to reconsider the fundamental aims and values that ought to drive education policy.
Just as with reading and writing, we all know that our national economic wellbeing plays an important part in education – but this is not the only consideration for education policy.
Yes, we’re back to the children – what is right for them, how they grow and develop, not simply the wellbeing of the economy!
If Tristram Hunt would care to look at the following summary list of hopes from the article, we are confident it will help him shape a policy that is meaningful to children and young people AND would be an absolute vote winner, if that was his only purpose in life.
Here are some of the main points that caught our eye and with which we concur.
- Rewarding schools for supporting disadvantaged and challenging pupils (to discourage off-rolling).
- A fundamental look at the external factors that contribute to educational “failure” (not sure we would go as far as removing children from home to boarding schools, but the principles of addressing inequalities).
- A halt to persistent changes through legislation (30 education acts in as many years).
- Investment in science and research (and pedagogy and technology).
- Abolishing GCSEs (no need for them when school leaving age is 18).
- More emphasis on “character education” (or attributes, or an education system that was more mindful of multiple intelligences, in our opinion).
- Recruitment and retention of good leaders.
- QTS for all and commitment to CPD (with all teachers working to Masters level).
- Restructure of the school year.
- Scrapping performance-related pay (performance in relation to child attainment).
- Initial Teacher training addressing bullying (We would go further than this and say mandatory training for PSHE and personal development).
- Nationally consistent child-care funding.
- More emphasis on the skills of speaking and listening.
- Each child having the opportunity to learn a musical instrument.
- The end of homework. (Just like our mobile phones, at the end of the day, children need recharging).
- Cross-party consensus on education policy (or better still, leave it to the professionals).
- School-based mental health services (or better still, more investment in preventative measures like universal entitlement to quality PSHE).
- Better careers advice (with a shift in what we value. Not everyone is an academic, nor would want to be).
- Real local autonomy.
- A Royal College of Teachers – created by and for teachers.
- Replace Ofsted with a Professional Partnership of “critical friends” (Money saved could be invested into extensive training on assessment – even more so if GCSEs were scrapped).
- Get rid of divisive league tables (that don’t tell the whole story of a school).
We would add to this list in various ways, not least a replacement of the National Curriculum with a National Education Framework – that concentrates on entitlement to learning and what is learned. We’d like more emphasis on creativity and personalised learning as well. We’d also like a greater emphasis on wellbeing, life skills and an understanding of human values and virtues.
Naturally, we’d also like people to reconsider what it means to be intelligent. It’s not just about the intellect. We are all more than the qualifications on a piece of paper!
Finally, there’s a real misnomer regarding what parents/carers (i.e. voters) want for their children, and the Labour Party would do well to consider that as they make their manifesto pledges. Of course parents want their children to receive and gain academic excellence but they also want them to be safe, content, unpressurised and for them to enjoy their childhood.
Over to you Tristram.