I appeared last night on a panel at the Conservative Party Fringe chaired by the Vice-Chancellor of Birmingham, Professor David Eastwood
, with the other guests being Times Education Editor, Greg Hurst
, Kevin Courtney of the NUT
, and Professor Edward Peck
, also from Birmingham University. Both Peck and Eastwood convened the panel largely because they wanted to highlight the merits of the new free school that Birmingham University
has set up.
I was asked to speak first and talked generally about how both universities and schools can -- and do -- learn from each other. The research I've examined reveals that actually universities could learn a thing or two from schools because there's evidence that teaching at universities is relatively poor
compared with schools: they have no version of "Ofsted" checking up upon the quality of their teaching; academics are largely rewarded for the research they do and see teaching as a poor relation to the "real business" of research; and students often report that universities rely far too much upon lectures and don't give the personalised attention they got at school. This said, schools could learn more from the research that universities conduct; there could be much more inter-action between the two sectors; the values of independent learning and wide reading which universities seek to instill need to filter down much more into schools. The biggest issue though is that the government need to take on board much research that universities have conducted into the destructive effects of exams
. This crucial issue is out of the hands of teachers; we have no control over what is exams are set or, indeed, their content.
Professors Peck and Eastwood were very keen to show-case their amazing new free school, which would be effectively run by the Birmingham University Education Department. Greg Hurst though made the Professors a little uneasy when he questioned their admissions policy
. As with many free schools, it's not going to be a local school, but will effectively "bus" students in from all over the city. One parent in the audience who had been wanting to send his children to private schools, instead of his local school which he described as being "hell", was delighted; he clearly saw the school as a free private school. Eastwood and Peck were both rattled too when I asked whether there would be an unfair allocation of resources, with the university school receiving more grants and money than its neighbouring state schools which wouldn't have the university's know-how in raising funds. They assured us that everything would be equitable, but the questions remain. Since the whole point of free schools is that they compete with neighbouring schools then won't the school try and use every resource to raise extra cash? Furthermore, wouldn't the university be keen to "poach" the best Sixth Form students for their university? It's not hard to envision the best Sixth Formers being creamed off to the university in much the same way that many school Sixth Forms do between GCSE and A Level. That means that Birmingham University has an unfair advantage over other universities.