‘What’s next for education?’ Book outlines aims for the new Government

Janet Downs's picture
Education was not mentioned much in the election – this was strange considering education was a high-profile Coalition policy. The electorate might have expected the Tories to be trumpeting success. But there was hardly anything. And ex-Education Secretary Michael Gove was kept out of the way. Private Eye said he was in America consorting with the Republicans.

But that was then. This is now. It’s important, therefore, to ask, ‘What’s next for education’. The New Visions Group answers this in a collection of essays.

The tectonic plates of British politics shifted last week. Sir Tim Brighouse, in the book’s introduction, reminds readers the plates also moved 70 years ago when victory inspired a resolve ‘to build a better and fairer society’. There has been much progress in English education since then, he writes, but more needs to be done. The contributors describe how.

Each essay, however, is more than a well-argued critique. Every one ends with an action plan for the new Government to consider.

Take governance, for example. Former Schools Adjudicator, Alan Parker, describes the chaos and fragmentation within English education caused by successive ‘reforms’. His action list includes a call for national functions to be delegated to ‘genuinely independent arm’s length bodies’ and a reversal of ‘covert privatisation of schools.’

Eddie Playfair, principal of Newham Sixth Form College, makes the case for sixth form colleges. His aims include investing in the neglected 16-19 phase and encouraging local collaboration in 16-19 provision to avoid gaps and duplication.

Ofsted must be made ‘fit for purpose’, argues Jonathan Crossley-Holland, a member of the Sheffield Hallam Institute of Education Board. He echoes concerns made on this site: the accountability system in England is ‘already more invasive’ than systems in leading global education systems. He highlights the mismatch between the last Government’s stated desire to increase school autonomy and the actuality of a tight regulatory framework which ensures compliance. As I wrote in 2011, ‘They create a prison and call it freedom’.

Clarissa Williams, national NAHT president 2008/9, describes the ‘maze that faces 14 to 19 year-olds’. She takes a familiar theme: the academic/vocational divide. In England, the latter has historically been viewed as inferior to the latter. She praised the Technical and Vocational Education Initiative, a policy launched by a Conservative, Kenneth (now Lord) Baker. But when funding dried up it was if it had never happened. Her aims include requiring all 14-19 year-olds to study ‘general and core skills’ and requiring that all schools give high priority to careers education and guidance.

Other chapters tackle the the early years, life-long learning, Michael Gove’s exam reforms, a curriculum set free from tests, England’s unfair school admissions system, shortcomings in the many routes for teacher education, the aims of primary education, closing the achievement gap, youth services, how universities should ‘serve the public good, not the market’ and a warning about ‘creeping privatisation’. Each one finishes with a comprehensive action list for Nicky Morgan, the new Education Secretary, to consider.

The final chapter is a reminder that the actions described cannot work unless integrated into a ‘proper programme to tackle inequality and poverty’. Roger Brown* cites evidence from OECD and others that ‘income inequality has a negative, statistically significant, impact upon growth’. The OECD found in countries where there was high inequality (and the increasing gap between rich and poor was ‘particularly marked in the US and UK’), poor parents put less effort into their children’s education than more affluent ones. He argues the Coalition’s policies have widened the income gap – ‘the bottom half lost…and the top half gained’.

Nicky Morgan has said her main task as new Education Secretary is to establish more academies and free schools. This is blinkered. Instead of stubbornly focusing on expensive programmes which have not proved to be the claimed magic bullet for improvement, she should base her policies on the aims listed in ‘What’s next for education?’

Copies, cost £10, are available here.

*Roger Brown was principal of Southampton Institute, 1998-2205, vice-chancellor of Southampton Solent University, 2005-7 and, until 2013, professor of higher education policy at Liverpool Hope University
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John Mountford's picture
Sun, 10/05/2015 - 21:29

Janet, I am quite confident The New Visions Group will have done a thorough job of highlighting the importance of the issues they have commented on to the future of our national education system. Maybe Ms Morgan will read it, but I, for one, would not be surprised to learn in due course that she declined to do so. The Conservatives set out their vision for the next five years in their manifesto, albeit in little breadth or detail and the cynic in me believes the kind of changes clearly sought by the contributors to The New Visions Group book will not appear on her 'to-do list' any time soon. To do so would be to admit that she, her predecessor and the last government got a lot of things wrong.

'What next for education' is going to depend on whether it will be possible to mount a sufficiently robust, high profile campaign to bring these issues to the public attention against the grain of media inattention and in the face of political manipulation of the facts on a scale I find shocking in its indifference to the core principles that purportedly underpin our democracy. Trevor (Fisher) keeps reminding us that, for all the worth in maintaining blogs like LSN, it is going to take a great deal of persuasion to change the existing paradigm.

My view is that some of the many academics regularly challenging the government's education reform agenda need to go further than sharing their ideas in the public domain and become more proactive in campaigns like the one at www.ordinaryvoices.org.uk

In addition, I believe that the teacher unions/professional bodies need to find common purpose in fighting for change to the system of governance that holds back any prospect of long-term reform of the service. The political classes are failing in their duty towards young people and need to be made accountable. Parents will need help to grasp the extent to which recent reforms to education reduce, rather than enhance the opportunities for their children in an expanding global market. Voters must be made aware of the vast amount of public money that is being wasted on schemes that produce little or no benefit. Our young people deserve better than they receive at the end of the period of compulsory schooling and this might well begin with a national debate about testing and public examinations - less is more and timing and frequency are urgently in need of reform.

Janet Downs's picture
Mon, 11/05/2015 - 09:32

John - what you say is true. I don't really expect Morgan to read the book (although she should do) because it's a well-argued critique of what is happening to education in England. Buoyed up by their election success, the Tories will push through more radical stuff. An Education Bill is expected during the so-called 'Honeymoon' period. Gove used this last time to push through is Bill with the speed usually reserved for times of national emergency. He attacked on so many fronts that his opponents were left reeling.

But it won't be so easy this time. If Morgan, as Gove did before her, says reforms are needed because England/UK plummeted down education league tables, we know it's a lie. If she wheels in supportive heads, we can check if that head has been rewarded with a gong, or is being paid an eye-watering salary, or is also a director of a for-profit company peddling educational consultation, training. The downfall of several of Gove's Magnificent Seven or Crusaders for Social Justice will lead us to feel cynical about nods of approval from compliant heads. If she spouts statistics, we can check (her track record concerning statistical accuracy is not good).

There will be no Honeymoon period.

Janet Downs's picture
Mon, 11/05/2015 - 09:45

John - You're right that our young people deserve better than this results-driven, market-orientated system that has been foisted on them.

By the time of the next election, thousands of first-time voters will have endured years of teaching-to-the-test and exam-related pressure. They, along with their parents, will realise:

1 The SATs they were told were so important have no educational value;
2 The new GCSEs resulted in confusion (certs with some results being A*-G and others being 1-9) and didn't prepare them well for further study (no coursework, no in-depth study, just jumping through exam hoops);
3 So many exams at 16+ are not needed especially with the participation age being raised to 18;
4 Their education was diminished by an excessive emphasis on tests;
5 The enthusiastic amateurs were no substitute for a properly-trained teachers;
6 Money which should have been spent on their education has been diverted to companies connected with their academy's trustees (or contributed to their executive principal's eye-watering salary and pension perks).

I think education will become a very important issue indeed despite the lack of interest in the election campaign.

Kevin Anderson's picture
Wed, 13/05/2015 - 09:19

Comment blocked on another thread

This site is politically partial, in the way that it is administered.

Agov and Allan Beavis, both extremely partial, appear to have site administration rights, and use them from time to time to block comments with which they disagree, or that are critical of them; a poor effort on a site dedicated to education.

Janet Downs's picture
Wed, 13/05/2015 - 10:01

Kevin - but you still managed to comment on this thread. It would be helpful if you emailed info@localschoolsnetwork.org.uk with details of the thread which rejected your comment together with any message you may have received.

If it happens again, please do a screen grab of any message and attach it to your email if possible.

agov's picture
Thu, 14/05/2015 - 07:10

"Agov...extremely partial"

Another day, another moan.

"appear to have site administration rights"


"use them from time to time to block comments with which they disagree"

Nope. I'll put that one in the right-wing paranoia box.

"or that are critical of them"

Now I'm hurt.

"a poor effort on a site dedicated to education"

Might be if there were any truth in it at all. Would you be happier on a nice right-wing political site where everyone agrees with each other as everything else is deleted? Would it help if I found you one?

Tara Flood's picture
Thu, 02/07/2015 - 12:38

given this is the admissions thread I'm putting a call out for data about the % of disabled pupils with SEN (with or without statements/EHCPs in academies/free schools as opposed to the % in maintained schools?

ALLFIE is a campaigning network run by disabled people and we are worried about the changes set out in the Education & Adoption Bill that will act as an incentive to maintained mainstream to continue to support the inclusion of disabled pupils with SEN.

All searches so far lead to the conclusion that "it's complicated" which isn't helping.

DFE stats don't give such a breakdown - HELP!

Janet Downs's picture
Thu, 02/07/2015 - 16:31

Tara - It depends what you mean by SEN. School Performance Tables 2013/14 define SEN as those with statements and on School Action Plus (SAP). The national percentage for state primary schools was for this definition of SEN was 7.7%. The national percentage for state secondary schools was 7.4%.

The data in the Annual Academies Report (Fig 9) defines SEN as children with statements, those on School Action Plus and those just on School Action. It gives the percentage for ALL state funded schools as 16.6. The national percentage it provides doesn’t differentiate between primary and secondary.

However, it is possible to tease out some of the data you want from Fig 9. It shows:

Pupils with statements and on SAP in converter primary academies = 7%. This is slightly less than the national percentage.

Pupils with statements and on SAP in primary sponsored academies = 9.5% - above the national percentage.

Pupils with statements and on SAP in converter secondaries = 6.4% - less than the national percentage.

Pupils with statements and on SAP in sponsored academies = 9.1% - above the national percentage.

What Fig 9 doesn’t tell us is the percentage of pupils with statements and on SAP in primary or secondary non-academies. We need to know this percentage in order to discover which type of school has the greater percentage of SEN pupils.

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