I was late for the Politics in Education Summit last Monday (2 November). I arrived in time for mid-morning coffee so I missed the early speakers and Lord Nash’s no-show. But here are some of the speakers I did hear (more to follow).
Chris McShane, head of Quilley School, Headteachers’ Roundtable Should education policy be at the whim of an individual, McShane asked. Public services were being used by politicians to further their own careers, he claimed. They must be seen to make an impact. He listed numerous initiatives which had been foisted on schools in recent years – all of these together engendered anger, frustration and fear. McShane listed dangers: a fragmented education system, constantly moving boundaries, political decisions where the ripple effect turns into a tidal wave. There needs to be a national discourse about what we as a society want from education and a measured move to deciding the direction of travel, he argued.
Brian Lamb, Chair of Achievement For All Lamb asked how far education policy was based on evidence or on perceptions. Research, he said, was often nuanced and came with caveats. And it took time. Echoing McShane’s words, he said the political imperative works against this. Schools were in danger of being swamped by system overload.
Neil Carberry, Director of Employment, Skills and Public Services, CBI Employers should be engaged with the education system not a group that views education as providing a service to employers. The CBI did not want schools to produce automatons but young people with generic skills and a depth of understanding. Employers wanted artists as well as scientists (Nicky Morgan please note). Education should not be seen as polarised between education for employment and education for personal development. Both were needed. In the long term, he said, GCSEs should be scrapped in favour of graduation at 18 via multiple routes including work experience. Two days later,Tim Oates, from exam group Cambridge Assessment and chair of the last Government’s National Curriculum review, attacked the CBI for its ‘absurd’ request that pupils be ‘work ready’. This is odd because Oates was an earlier speaker at Monday’s summit (one of those I missed) and was presumably present during Carberry’s speech. Perhaps Oates was annoyed by the CBI’s recommendation to dump GCSEs – exam boards would lose much of their income if exams at 16 were reduced or scrapped.
Professor Andrew Pollard, Professor of Education, IoE UCL Professor Pollard called for education policy to be evidence-informed rather than evidence-based. He reminded delegates he was one of the two experts who had resigned from the National Curriculum review (chaired by Tim Oates) because the experts’ gathered evidence was being ignored. Michael Gove (then Education Secretary) and Nick Gibb (schools minister) were not receptive to evidence-based policies, Professor Pollard said. That comes as no surprise to writers on this site. For a few tasters, see Henry’s latest here and here, and my FoI response which failed to find Morgan’s 1000 transformed schools.