Whoever you are you’ve been pretty quiet about education during the election campaign. Perhaps we can hope you’ll stay quiet during the next five years. Silence, remember, is Golden
I fear, however, that’s a forlorn hope. There seems to be nothing education secretaries like better than to tell teachers how to do their jobs; what curriculum or methods to use; and to change school structures in the name of ‘improvement’
. So, here’s my advice:
1Take notice of the OECD’s warning that the PISA results for the year 2000 were faulty and shouldn’t be used for comparison. That’s in case you want to justify more ‘reforms’ on the grounds that England was ‘plummeting’ down league tables.
2The evidence you use should say what you claim it says. At the very least ensure you know the difference between ‘systematic’ and ‘synthetic’. They don’t mean the same thing.
3If you cite surveys to back up whatever assertion comes into your head take care to check them first. That way you’ll avoid the ridicule which Gove attracted when he used UKTVGold and Premier Inn to back up his claims that English teenagers were clueless about history.
4Remember what the UK Statistics Watchdog said: Year 6 pupils with Level 3 CAN read, write and do sums. (This is also a warning to the shadow Education Secretary – if SAT results go down this year as expected, don’t say that under the Tories, one-third of 11 year-olds are leaving school illiterate and innumerate.)
5Do what the Education Select Committee said: don’t exaggerate academy performance. Non-academies do just as well.
6Stop calling non-academies ‘council-run schools’ especially if delivered with a curled lip. It will make you look petty and it gives the impression you favour one type of school over another.
7Remember: all those pupils you claim are ‘failing’ because they don’t achieve 5 ‘good’ GCSEs will be voters by the time of the next election.
8Your plans for more apprenticeships etc will be undermined if you push Russell Group universities as the ‘best’ route especially if you judge schools on the number of pupils they send to them.
9Copy wise teachers – do not have favourites and set them up as exemplars. It undermines your judgement if they fall from grace (this is especially true if you awarded them gongs).
10Stop swooping on the education systems in other countries to find some nuggets which accord with your prejudices. Try looking closer to home: the Cambridge Primary Review
, the NUT’s manifesto for education
, or the ideas of the Headteachers’ Roundtable
Finally, two crises are looming – the shortage of school places (which will hit secondary schools by the end of the coming Parliament) and teacher supply.
You won’t solve the former by relying on free schools. Experience shows many have been set up where they’re not needed and some, such as University Technology Colleges, struggle to attract pupils. So you’ll need to discuss provision with local authorities – they know best where the shortages are. As for the latter, teacher recruitment is down and likely to become worse if, as we’ve been told, the economy picks up. It would be unwise to rely on unqualified enthusiasts doing a job as important as educating children.
9 May 10.25. Aspirations Academies Trust (AAT) wants to reduce the number of pupils in two of its secondary academies, according to Schools Week
. The Trust claims it 'can't cope' with the large intake in these schools. But AAT knew the size of these schools when it took them over. Alan Parker, former schools adjudicator, told Schools Week:
'This is a very good illustration of what is wrong with the system at the moment. If academies want to be difficult about things, they can play the system.' He went on to say 'the most damaging factor' in this case was 'the deliberate restriction of the size of the school when there is a shortage of places in the area.'
The ability of academies to raise their Pupil Admission Number without permission and their ability to request permission to downsize or even close academies as in the case of WGAT and Charles Read Academy
near Grantham together with the insistence that new schools should be academies or free schools makes it impossible to ensure sufficient school places. This is something you will need to address urgently.
– Read School Myths: And the Evidence that Blows Them Apart