Yesterday Fiona Millar wrote an article in the Guardian
calling on the Labour Party to come up with a bold, coherent education policy. I agree. We need someone tough and visionary to rescue the English school system and tackle this country's wider educational and training needs.
How difficult would it be for a Shadow Secretary of State to say the following for a start: first, that individual funding contracts with every school is an absurd and expensive way to run a school system and gives far too much power to an individual minister, Examples of the cost of Gove's absolutist and incompetent behaviour would follow. Whole new systems of administering education are not needed. A new Secretary of State would offer to pass funding contracts to any local authorities willing and capable of administering them. The clutter of agencies dealing with the academy programme would disappear, at a considerable saving of money. The Shadow Secretary of State could ask a small group of experts, including representatives of teachers and parents, to look at the possibility of binning the contracts and allowing all academies to convert to a version of VA status (ie with the local authority no longer having a majority on the governing body. I could elaborate on the details here, but they are fairly obvious.)
Second, set up an expert panel, which would include the so-called stakeholders in education, to look into and make recommendations on the future of a national inspection system. Such a system would stop being an enforcer of government policy like Ofsted and have two functions: to collect and where necessary evaluate, any measurable outcomes of the school system and second, to promote, encourage and suggest to individual institutions and to the Secretary of State and Parliament means for bringing about improvement. If someone wants to describe that as a return to HMI, so be it.
Finally, a hobby horse of mine. Stop tinkering with the National Curriculum. It is fairly obviously falling apart. Make it statutory guidance, like a Code, so that schools have to have regard to it but can vary it if they can show good reason for doing that. Altering statutory guidance (like the Handbook of Suggestions for Teachers that existed pre-war) is virtually cost-free. Altering the NC costs a bomb everytime anyone does that. Try any ideas such as these out on John Dunford and one or two leading teachers.
Finally - selection. In 1975 Mair Garside announced that the ILEA, from Sept 1977, would not continue to maintain any of the 45 selective schools in its area. And that is just what happened.
As Fiona Millar says, think tanks are not needed to suggest the obvious. A small measure of political courage is, but that is sadly lacking.