My top campaigning issues - and yours?

Fiona Millar's picture
Having reflected on many of the comments that have appeared on the site , I thought it might be helpful to say a bit more about what we are campaigning for, as well as against. We want to see fair admissions to all schools. Several of us have links with Comprehensive Future which has been lobbying ministers and politicians of all parties for an end to the existing use of the 11 plus. This pamphlet set out a series of positive changes that could allow selection to be phased out over ten years. Its publication led to some very interesting meetings between Comprehensive Future and parents, governors and teachers in the 15 remaining fully selective local authorities, all of which have an impact on their neighbouring counties. Comprehensive Future is currently lobbying MPs about the proposals in the current Education Bill to get rid of admissions forums and to reduce the role of the Schools Adjudicator, whose work has proved to be a very effective way for parents to challenge unfair admissions practices in their areas.

At the time of the 2006 Education and Inspections Act, which was fiercely contested by a number of Labour backbenchers and ultimately passed only with support from the Conservatives, Melissa Benn and I published this pamphlet about our vision for a high quality comprehensive school system. It is interesting to see, re-reading it now, how many of the arguments we made then, remain relevant today, in particular our view that the focus of government policy should shift away from structural changes and back towards standards of teaching,  high quality school leadership and continuous professional development for staff , a broad and balanced curriculum in neighbourhood comprehensive schools which may be diverse in many ways ( ethos, uniforms or not, single sex or co-ed, with particular specialisms) but which would guarantee all pupils an excellent well rounded education in schools with ( as far as possible) balanced intakes.

Shortly after that pamphlet was published in 2006, we wrote this article in the Guardian, which seems rather prophetic given Professor Wolf's comments today, as we pointed out that  some new academy schools would inevitably "focus on vocational paths to boost results. Far from being the crack troops of an intellectual revival in our inner cities, these institutions may well be the secondary moderns of the future: old-fashioned uniforms, tough discipline, yes, but a depleted curriculum for the urban poor."

I would add to these issues the need to encourage parental engagement in all children's education, as Shane Rae has repeatedly pointed out on this site, to continue investment in early years education and to overhaul the school accountability systems. Parental engagement does not necessarily mean setting up your own school, indeed is much more likely to be effective if parents spend time at home encouraging their children, raising aspirations and setting clear boundaries. Some parents find this difficult, although the Labour government did try to address this by encouraging family learning, parenting support workers and extended schools which offered wider cradle to grave services, rather like those being offered in projects like the Harlem Children's Zone in New York.

We haven't yet seen the fruits of the investment in early years made since 1997 but it looks like that this too will be disrupted by current cuts to local government, even though it is a vital part of tackling the achievement gap about which so many contributors to this site are rightly concerned.

Nor are we really clear what we mean by a 'good' school. Is it one that simply tops the league tables, or one where progress is good regardless of attainment on entry, is it a school where real choices are available with a wide range of extra curricular activities too, should it have a role in community cohesion or be judged on how it performs with its most challenging students? The Report Card proposed by Ed Balls before the last election may have gone some way to addressing this issue.

So these would still  be my top five campaigning issues; fair admissions, great heads and teachers in all schools ( forget about re badging them or setting up new structures as the evidence clearly shows that isn't necessary) a broad curriculum entitlement for all, real parental involvement in their children's education, a commitment to sustained investment in early years for all children not just some and a new way of judging school success.

What would yours be?
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Anne Reyerbach's picture
Thu, 03/03/2011 - 15:05

I'd campaign to have School-Home Support workers in all state schools to facilitate the sort of parental engagement Fiona referred to and to help address the barriers to learning that some of those at Jamie's Dream School so clearly articulated they had experienced. I am convinced that the new exam structures and the insistence on a top down discipline model are doomed to fail many already disadvantaged young people unless humanised by imaginative teachers who put the needs and interests of the children they are teaching first. They also need to be properly trained- 6 weeks induction into the profession, no matter how bright you might be, isn't enough! The problem is the many teachers struggling day in day out to do a really good job are then rubbished by Ms Birbalsingh and Michael Gove. It isn't easy being a teacher. It is unremitting. But it is worth it-but only if you get the encouragement and support to stay there.

Francis Gilbert's picture
Thu, 03/03/2011 - 15:30

Yes, I agree.
1. Fair admissions for all children.
2. A focus on good teaching.
3. A broad and balanced curriculum.
4. Improving parental engagement.
5. Transparency and accountability so that ALL stakeholders -- pupils, parents, teachers etc -- know what's going on.

Graham Mellor's picture
Thu, 03/03/2011 - 16:26

Implicit in what you say but I would add something specific regarding children with special needs - along the lines of consistent, high quality support for children with special needs in all settings. Consistent adherence to the same principles and practice between schools is key so schools cannot wriggle out of their obligations.

Fiona Millar's picture
Thu, 03/03/2011 - 17:24

Yes very important and thanks for including that. Will be interesting to see what the Green Paper has to say about SEN, if it every gets published. It seems to be about three months overdue now.

Sarah Dobbs's picture
Thu, 03/03/2011 - 16:28

We have to get away from the idea that we can measure standards witha series of numbers. It is cruel, and it distorts the whole process of education for teachers and children.

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