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