Education can’t stand still and neither should it.
Political interference in education is well known and rightly condemned. The teaching profession has endured more intrusive meddling than any other profession – by politicians with no experience of teaching or of running schools. The impact of this is not positive and is not helping our children and young people.
Whilst it’s completely understandable for teachers to want a period of calm with no new targets, no new curriculum, no more changes to Ofsted and governance, we can’t continue with a system that defies common sense (and academic research) and denies the importance of the professional voice and the wellbeing of our youngsters.
In the Guardian on Saturday, Lucy Powell, the new shadow secretary of state for Education said,
“For too long, education policy has been dominated by arguments about structures. I want to move on from that and get back to first principles of how can we meet the chronic shortages of teachers,”
Whilst we appreciate her concerns, these two huge issues cannot be separated.
The Academies agenda and the perpetual changes to GCSEs and A-Levels, as well as gross interference in primary “testing” and learning, are important causes of teacher disillusionment with their profession. The “structures” have dominated and have caused a significant amount of anguish – to the point when droves of superb, dedicated teachers have left the profession.
They’ve left because they have too little autonomy, because the structures have debilitated them, because they feel professionally exhausted and emotionally drained by the structural changes, because they feel insecure with new contracts with academies or free schools, because the structures force them to teach in a way that contradicts their intuitive understanding of children and their needs, and restricts their choice of pedagogy, because they or their school have been inaccurately judged by an Ofsted team that even Ofsted now admit weren’t fit for purpose.
Structures do matter.
Which is why Lucy Powell is rightly condemning the potential “revival of selection” as an outcome of the possible opening of a new grammar school in Kent.
“If the government agree to this one school, the legal precedent will open the floodgates to a massive expansion of selective education – something that is bad for social mobility and aspiration, for children, parents and the wider schools system . . . . . . . This shows the complete lack of new thinking on education policy from the Tories. . . . . . . The supposedly golden era of the grammar schools in the 1950s, where children were just taken off one day to sit an exam, has completely gone because of the pressure that families are now put under.”
And herein lies one problem.
The “one-off exam” is now well and truly entrenched in our system, thanks to Michael Gove. Young people starting their GCSE and A-Level courses this term are going to be sitting “one-off” exams in the summer of 2017 – and will need to recall what they have learned in September 2015.
And this is progress? With all that we now know about neuroscience and how the adolescent brain works? Let alone, the lack of consideration for the child’s wellbeing and stress levels.
For over three decades, educators have conceded territory to consecutive governments. In return the politicians have taken the profession through a swamp of muddy rhetoric and feeble excuses for imposing their will on exhausted and demoralised teachers.
Is it any wonder they want to leave the profession?
She said, “If the government agree to this one school [a new grammar school in Kent], the legal precedent will open the floodgates to a massive expansion of selective education – something that is bad for social mobility and aspiration, for children, parents and the wider schools system”.
Whilst academies and free schools aren’t allowed to be “selective” the reality is that they do set their own admissions agenda, and there are reports of covert selection.
The floodgate is already open.
Every additional pound spent on setting up academies and free schools has meant a reduction in the funding for maintained schools. Gove overspent on academies and free schools by millions – money that was taken away from maintained schools. One school benefits, another one loses out, fails, is closed . . . . . and is reopened as an academy.
Structures DO matter.
If you need more facts about the misinformation on academies, then look no further than this from the Local Schools Network – a brilliant piece of investigative research.
So where should Lucy Powell go from here?
She might consider gathering together a panel of prominent educators just as John McDonnell has done with his group of economists.
She might do well to look at some of the suggestions in Guardian Education. We’d direct her to comments from the likes of Richard Farrow, Rebecca Hickman or Steve Oxlade (though we’d argue for scrapping GCSEs not a revision) rather than various comments that don’t exactly revolutionise thinking on education.
We’d also like to direct her to Kate Pickett’s excellent piece in the Guardian – “The evidence backs Corbyn’s vision for education. He needs to start advertising it.” (More on this later)
If she wants a more thorough review of the state of education and an agenda for change, she’d do well to look at the “Big Education” report from Compass and the NUT, with particular consideration for the section on “structures” and governance.
People are energised and enthused by the potential of a National Education Service along the lines of the NHS.
People are tired of political intrusion into education with its lack of consideration for teachers and children – focusing almost entirely on future national GDP to legitimise imposed changes (and even these economic reasons for knowledge-based learning are widely debated and seen as not fit for purpose for life in the 21st century – by business folk like the CBI). People are fed up of inequality and dislike the divisions that occur due to the academies and free schools agenda.
Structures do matter, and that is why a complete reinvention of education is needed in this country, not merely a review, not just a restructure – a whole-system change.
The status quo is not good enough. Education, just like children and young people, can’t stand still and grow simultaneously.
See also: Rearranging The Deckchairs