The long-awaited review of education by David Blunkett was the subject of much media commentary yesterday. It was a pity, then, the actual report
was so difficult to find. I like to read the small print before commenting – after all, Blunkett was the secretary of state who launched academies
. And the Academies programme was mired in deception
from the start.
Radical, it isn’t. But schools are punch-drunk from radical change – curriculum, exams, tests, EBacc (applied retrospectively), school performance measures, Ofsted, teacher training, academy conversion - education secretary Michael Gove has directed these reforms like the sorcerer’s apprentice.
What exactly, then, did Blunkett’s manifesto say?
The report has some good points:
1All teachers should be qualified or in training towards Qualified Teacher Status.
2The Schools Adjudicator’s role in monitoring schools admission criteria should be strengthened.
3Children should be entitled to a “basic programme of learning” through a “light-touch curriculum” with sufficient room for innovation at local level.
4Collaboration between schools should be encouraged.
5Ofsted should inspect academy chains.
But there are duff notes particularly the appointment of Directors for School Standards (DSS):
1These are supposed to “drive up performance”. But this drive towards ever-increasing performance has led to an excessive emphasis on exam results in England (OECD 2011) which risks negative consequences including gaming, grade inflation and teach to the test.
2Local authorities already have School Improvement departments – these are well-placed to support schools.
3Each DSS would plan school place supply and oversee competitions to provide new schools in a given area. Any organisation could bid to open a new school. But local authorities are missing from the list – it appears, then, LAs couldn’t open new community schools. They can make recommendations to their local DSS but the final decision would be with the latter, an undemocratically elected quango.
The report doesn’t rule out private sector providers of education. It only says they should be brought within a statutory framework. But when for-profit firms become involved in education, it isn’t being altruistic, it’s investment.
The Office of the Schools Commissioner should be strengthened, the report recommends, but that’s nothing more than a public relations department pushing academy conversion
. Such a partisan office should be abolished not given more powers.
The report acknowledges the disintegration of careers advice in schools. But it only says an incoming government would find evidence to discover who should provide this advice. There appears to be no role for qualified, professional, independent careers advisers.
All schools should have the same freedoms as academies, the report says, but the Academies Commission
concluded these freedoms don’t actually amount to much: non-academies can do most things academies can do.
said Labour would “dismantle Michael Gove’s education reforms”. That headline was inaccurate – it would cost billions to undo these. That’s why Gove pushed them through with unseemly haste – the cost of dismantling would be prohibitive.
Labour is right to attempt to bring schools under some kind of coherent local stewardship but appointing Directors for School Standards is not the way forward. The framework is already there in the form of local authorities who are well-placed to oversee schools and encourage collaboration.
The review missed an opportunity to tackle one area which does need radical reform: the outdated exam system. Most developed countries have graduation at 18 – it’s time England did the same. This shouldn’t happen overnight – pupils don’t need any more rushed, poorly-designed exams foisted on them without being trialled and evaluated. But Labour would be failing children if it didn’t promise to overhaul a system which makes English children some of the most examined and tested in the world.