Labour's schools review group

Mike Ion's picture
I am delighted to have accepted Andy Burnham's invitation to join Labour's schools policy review group. I will join a group of advisers, headteachers, teachers and parents who will work with the Shadow Education Team to help them explore what families want from good local schools, and specifically:

What knowledge and skills do the next generation need to be successful in the modern world?

How can we continue to improve standards in English, Maths and Science, but also provide a balanced curriculum which meets the needs of all children?

What influence and control do parents want over local schools and their own child’s education?

How can we create the most professional and highest quality teaching workforce in the world?

I am due to attend the first meeting in the next few weeks. What would be your answers to the questions above? What do you want from your local school? What do you think needs to be done in order to raise standards for all pupils even further?

If you would like to contribute your ideas please feel free to post a comment or email me at
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Francis Gilbert's picture
Tue, 15/03/2011 - 19:14

This is exciting. Let's hope Burnham is a bit more of a listener than previous Labour Education Secretaries, and the current lot! I really feel strongly we need to bite the bullet about "admissions", stop schools being their own admissions' authorities, and have some sort of fair banding system.

Sarah's picture
Tue, 15/03/2011 - 20:38

As a parent I want a good local school supported by a democratically accountable local authority which is empowered to challenge and intervene quickly in any school which is failing. I really don't care about 'choice and diversity' - just a good local school. I want a fair admissions system (preferably which does not allow discrimination on religious or ability grounds - a truly comprehensive system). I want the local authority to have real teeth in dealing with schools which seek to get around fair admissions arrangements. I want more involvement of parents in schools, perhaps a greater proportion of parent governors on governing bodies and certainly more open-ness from leaders and teachers to parents coming into the school to support it. I want excellent technical facilities so that vocational education is not seen as the poor relation - but a realistic model that is not based on urban principles which cannot be delivered in rural areas. I want profit to play no part in delivering my child's education - if I want a market I'll go to Tescos. I'd like well qualified teachers supplemented by visiting lecturers and business people to enthuse and inspire children. I don't want school buildings with a 'wow' factor which has paid millions to private sector consultants - I want a well designed, warm, light, clean and modern space instead of crumbling temporary classrooms, leaking roofs, rotting windows and antiquated sports facilities.

I don't want a fake private school. I don't want my kids to mix only with 'their own kind'. I want them to be able to walk to school and then home again after participating in sports, arts, drama.

I was lucky - my kids got most of this and are now at University. It's what we should be aspiring to for all our children.

Janet Downs's picture
Wed, 16/03/2011 - 08:03

I hope the Labour schools review body does some research such as OECD reports about what children know and can do; OECD reports about different countries; education policy in countries whose pupils succeed (eg Finland); thoughts from Mr Schleicher of the OECD about what kind of education best fits the modern world. Having done the research I would expect the body to look at the evidence in full and not just cherry-pick the bits that confirm prejudices.

Please consider a core curriculum (similar to the Finnish model which allows flexibility to teachers to decide what and how to teach within this core curriculum). It shouldn't be overly prescriptive in the way the national curriculum has developed here. This core curriculum should be followed by ALL schools, private or state-funded.

Scrap arbitrary targets and league tables. Consider accountability on the Finnish model - teachers asses each pupil continuously and adapt methods to suit. The progress of each pupil is the business of the school, parent, pupil and local authority. It is not the business of anyone else and results are not used to judge schools.

Have a serious look at examinations. The pressure on schools of league table position has led to grade inflation. A GCSE C and above is no longer the equivalent of a GCE Ordinary level pass. I'm disappointed that Mr Burnham wants all pupils to reach GCSE C and above. If this happens then GCSE will have been reduced to nothing more than a school-leaving certificate which shows a pupil didn't drop out (like the German Hauptschule). GCSE needs to be recalibrated to 1987 levels (when it was first introduced) or scrapped altogether and replaced with a graded school-leaving cert which ranges from basic to high-achieving. The latter is what GCSE was supposed to be when it was introduced but was highjacked by politicians wanting to "prove" that their policies had raised standards. A Levels should be subjected to the same scrutiny.

All teachers in all schools should be qualified. In Finland teachers are trained in both subject knowledge and pedagogy to a very high level. There is none of the nonsense about talent in a particular area being sufficient to teach - good teachers need both talent and expertise.

Finally, it is unacceptable that any child should be taught in schools that are crumbling.

Laura Brown's picture
Wed, 16/03/2011 - 09:34

So many things to think about - sorry this is long! For starters:

In a world with many academies (which I guess is what Labour will inherit when they get back into power, not to be too defeatist!), we need to somehow restore local accountability.

In Sutton, where all the secondary schools are thinking about becoming academies en masse, they are already planning to team up to commission services together. At first this means each Head taking responsibility for looking into a different service but over time, I imagine it will evolve so that the schools start to employ a group who co-ordinate services across them i.e., a Local Authority by a different name but without accountability to the electorate.

Getting groups of local academies to team up in this way seems helpful to ensure good co-operation/sharing services etc. The question is, how can this be made democratically accountable in the way that the Local Authority currently would be - totally unclear at the moment.

And, this works where, as in Sutton, they are not bringing in outside providers such as ARK to sponsor them as academies. Where there are sponsors who have networks of schools across the country, we need to consider how to build in local co-operation and local accountability as well as DfE holding ARK accountable for doing a good job at a national level.

In summary, I think your group needs to consider how to sort out the confused, semi-accountable mess that we expect to be left by the acadmies programme.

The other topic that I think is essential is raising aspirations from primary school level. If we want kids from any background to have a better chance of competing with those at top public schools at university and at work, we need them to believe that they can do it from a very early age. And, we need to equip them with the confidence, experience and general knowledge that maybe they don't get at home - this is clearly an incredibly tough task. I work in finance and am constantly amazed by the domination of the upper echelons by ex public school boys. And, I can see from observing my colleagues that confidence; that sense of belonging in this finance world and having always known that they were cut out for being leaders makes a big difference. And, in my view, they think like this because that is what they have been brought up to believe by their parents, by their schools and by their whole environment. A very tough topic to tackle!

By the same token, for those who don't go to university, there is clearly a lot to be done to provide alternative education and as part of this to somehow raise the perception of broader, vocational studies so that people feel that this is equally valuable as more traditional studies. Perhaps we need to go back to understanding what jobs are actually out there for our kids and then think about how our education system can give them the skills they will need while, of course, still enriching/inspiring them and giving them broader experiences and not just becoming a sausage factory! I guess we want our schools to offer practical but exciting vocational courses that really engage the kids (perhaps by focusing on experiences they wouldn't normally have).

And... most importantly of all, fair admissions!!

Andy Connell's picture
Wed, 16/03/2011 - 16:25

let teachers teach. Scrap league tables so they can focus on learning not results. Teacher assesment works (see Finland) Return to HMI approach (as was) not Ofsted - accountability yes, but with support, not the punative approach.

Simplify process to tackle weak teachers - good support for them but if they cannot respond, then quicker competency procedures - it takes to long at the moment

exciting and relevant curriculum, including vocational approaches, embedded technology, creativity and 'soft skills'.

High quality initial teacher education, which we have (see Ofsted), but it under threat by the current govt. Its due a review - but talk to people who know about it (UCET and TDA for example), not a select group picked for their dogma rather than expertise.

welcoming buildings, with flexible spaces

collaboration between schools, universities (See Finland), business, arts

J Gerry Grant's picture
Wed, 16/03/2011 - 17:59

I support Andy Connel's comments but would like to comment myself on the SEN proposal in the Government's Green Paper published earlier this month.

It intends to reduce the overall number of pupils on the SEN register claiming that some pupils are placed on the register either because teachers don't teach well enough or because the school is pumping as much cash out of the system as possible.

Here we go again: bash the teachers!

Seriously: firstly, to reduce the SEN numbers will leave a whole cohort of pupils at present on the register, off it. Their needs will not have changed but the provision to help them will be removed. A recipe for disaster.

Secondly, to reduce the number of pupils on the register without considering how to provide teachers with better CDP and resources to cope with more difficult situations, will lead to greater problems.....Teachers will have been criticised then left with an increased workload without the resources to cope with it.

Thirdly, money is not necessarily to solution but inevitably as school budgets are reduced, too often the first people to be cut will be Teaching Assistants. I have seen it starting already locally. As a consequence teachers' workload will be increased and more will be set up to fail without the support in their clasrooms of good TAs.

Pascale Scheurer's picture
Wed, 16/03/2011 - 18:11

Hi Mike

I'm glad you posted this. Tomorrow I'll be at an invited roundtable on "School Accountability" with Mr Burnham, courtesy of Reform. I will note these answers and try to bring them up.

It is great that parents' views are being sought by both major parties.

Do you know of the Guardian's "The School I'd Like" project, which I think has just finished? The kids get to have their say too.
I also like the Cooperative Trust Schools model which builds in local engagement as a core value:
There are about 100 CTS's already, and they aim for 200 by 2012.

Best wishes, Pascale

Francis Gilbert's picture
Wed, 16/03/2011 - 18:18

Is there a case for taking the curriculum out of politicians hands and creating a separate "independent" body -- which represents all stakeholders -- that oversees long-term planning of it? At the moment the whole curriculum is such a political football; for teachers and parents like me, it means everything gets changed with a new government, or even a new Education Secretary.

Shane Rae's picture
Thu, 17/03/2011 - 09:38

Anyone know how to contact Andy B via email? I've scoured the net but can't find his email address anywhere.

Russell Spink's picture
Thu, 17/03/2011 - 18:38

Let the 'student voice' be heard in order influence future direction. Not least of all those who are towards the end of their compulsory/AS/A2 education facing the prospect of a battle to gain a place in HE or to join the heap of those young people who are failing to find and form of employment in the current dire circumstances.

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