“Labour will not tear up the new curriculum”, shadow education secretary Tristram Hunt told TES
in June. Schools had had enough of change, stability was needed.
He’s right that the education system in England has been severely battered by Gove’s GERM-inspired*policies. But there are things Hunt can do without turning everything upside down.
First: dump the prescribed national curriculum
. It doesn’t apply to academies and free schools. If it is such a desirable freedom, then extend the freedom to all schools. The only stipulation should be that schools must offer a broad, balanced curriculum. Chief HMI, Sir Michael Wilshaw, has recommended that the Government clarifies what should be taught in a broad, balanced curriculum
and that this should apply to all schools including academies and free schools.
Second: stop national assessment in primary schools
. Judging schools on their raw results is unreliable – it says more about a school’s intake than the quality of education offered by a school. That doesn’t mean assessment should not be carried out. But it should be formative and used to decide what is taught, when and how. It shouldn’t be used for ranking schools.
Third: introduce fair banding based on Cognitive Ability Tests (CAT) to ensure that secondary schools have a balanced intake
. I accept this won’t be possible in areas where grammar schools still exist but CAT tests could still be used in these areas in place of the 11+. CAT tests would be fairer than the selection tests set by grammar schools because it’s difficult to coach children for them.
Fourth: commit to phasing out high-stakes exams at 16.
This doesn’t necessarily mean ditching all tests – there could still be something like GCSEs externally set. But they should be few in number (no more than five) and restricted to core subjects. These assessments could be used alongside coursework, pupil preference and aptitude, and teacher recommendation to decide post-16 progression. They should not be used to rank schools.
Fifth: move towards graduation at age 18 via multiple routes
: a combination of academic A levels; vocational exams; coursework; extended projects; extra-curricular activities such as Duke of Edinburgh Award, Young Enterprise, Scouting; community work; work experience.
Sixth: revamp Ofsted
. Split the inspectorate in two: children’s services and education. Introduce inspections whereby properly-accredited HMI inspectors spend a longer time in schools and produce a report covering all subjects. Introduce two categories of judgement: Provides value for money or Needs support. Local authorities should work with schools, including academies and free schools, their governors /trustees to ensure schools judged as needing support get it.
Seventh: ensure all teachers are properly-qualified or are working towards qualified teacher status
. Teaching is an academic discipline and needs high-quality, on-going teacher education.
These policies would have several advantages:
1They would shift the excessive emphasis on test results to providing every child with a good education.
2They would reduce stress on pupils, parents and teachers caused by tests.
3They would reduce the cost to the taxpayer of administering a large number of external examinations.
4They would promote a broad, balanced curriculum which doesn’t devalue creative or non-academic subjects.
5They would be a better preparation for life after school by reducing the need for schools to teach to the test.
By placing education rather than examinations and school structure first, Labour would show its commitment to a good, quality education for every child.
*See GERM: the virus that is killing our schools here