It could have been worse. Tim Montgomerie in last Saturday’s Times
(behind paywall) advised David Cameron to swap Nicky Morgan, the Education Secretary at the end of the last Parliament, with her predecessor Michael Gove. This, Montgomerie wrote, would allow Gove to finish the job of reforming England’s schools.
But Gove is now Justice Minister and Morgan has been reinstated. It’s unclear how Gove’s idea of what constitutes evidence will meet the standards expected in a Court of Law – citing surveys from the likes of UKTV Gold and ignoring caveats not to use faulty figures to make comparisons would fall short.
Before the election, Morgan listed four priorities
1Changing school structures
through the free schools and academies programme would mean the ‘best possible schools’. But the Education Select Committee and others found these types of school were no better or no worse than other types of schools.
2Collaboration and development would result in the ‘best possible workforce’
. But collaboration is less likely when schools are in competition with each other and ‘development’ can hardly be a priority when the last Government said teachers didn’t need training.
3Raising academic standards through a new curriculum
. But any curriculum, new or otherwise, can be ignored (in theory) by academies and free schools. In practice, of course, they are as hidebound by the mandatory curriculum as non-academies – the accountability system in England ensures this. There was already too much emphasis on exam results in England, the OECD warned in 2011. Since then it’s got worse, not better. And Morgan told a teacher conference that politicians, not teachers, should decide the curriculum.
So much for autonomy.
4Vulnerable young people should be protected
– schools had an important referral role to play. She’s absolutely right about protecting such pupils but it takes more than referral. Schools need to tackle this through good quality PSHE and nurturing an atmosphere of trust. Obsession with tests and certain subjects such as EBacc reduces time spent on PSHE and building trust.
Morgan added a fifth: schools should produce ‘well-rounded youngsters’. But as Chris Keates
, general secretary of the NASUWT, said, ‘a very narrow academic agenda…dictated by a punitive accountability regime’ makes it difficult for schools to deliver her fifth objective.
It appears, then, Morgan will continue pursuing expensive policies which fragment the school system while exhorting schools to collaborate at the same time they are in competition with each other. She promises more fiddling with the curriculum which will divert the attention of teachers, already punch drunk with imposed initiatives, away from their prime duty of nurturing all young people.
Are these really her main priorities? She’s also mentioned tackling teachers’ workload but this can’t be reduced until ministers stop meddling. Where is there any acknowledgement of two pressing issues: the shortage of school places which will include secondary schools before the end of this Parliament; and teacher recruitment.
The 500 promised free schools could supply some places but only if they are in areas with a forecast need. Setting up schools in areas where there’s already a surplus, letting undersubscribed private schools into the state system and establishing expensive but not-particularly-popular UTCs won’t solve the problem. This is especially true now it’s becoming apparent academy chains can shut academies
or apply to reduce their Pupil Admission Numbers
Teacher recruitment is down at a time when pupil numbers are rising. Numerous schemes introduced by the last Government and an irrational hatred of University education department have flung teacher recruitment into chaos. Allowing academies and free schools to recruit unqualified amateurs, however enthusiastic, will not solve the increasing shortage of teachers. Quality is as important as quantity. Teaching is an intellectual activity and needs good teacher education
and continuing professional development.
These two problems, school places and teacher recruitment, didn’t feature in Morgan’s list of priorities. She may belatedly start to tackle them but if she doesn't she’s acting like Nero: fiddling while Rome burns.
12 May 08.47. Morgan pledges to tackle teacher work load, reports the BBC
. So, will she reduce the excessive emphasis on exam results or the demand for data from the DfE? Will she stop ministerial interference in curriculum and exams? This is hardly likely but it is these which contribute heavily to teacher workload.
Instead, she says academy conversion and more free schools will help provide every child with an excellent local school and ensure 'social justice'.
This is blather. The evidence (from Education Select Committee
, the Academies Commission
and others including LSN's Henry Stewart and even the Department for Education in its little-publicised evaluation of City Challenge
) shows that academies are not a magic bullet. Ofsted said the inspection profile of free schools so far was the same as other schools. The National Audit Office
found informal interventions such as local support were more effective in helping struggling schools than the far-more expensive academy conversion.
It appears Morgan will follow the example of her predecessor: ignore evidence and plough on regardless with expensive structural change.