Want to improve schools ? Then stop making so many "improvements" !

Stephen Smith's picture
I've been talking with a lot of my fellow teachers about politics lately - for obvious reasons.

Today a group of four of us got to thinking about what the biggest problems in education are.

It was remarkably easy to reach consensus - even though we all have different ideas, and political persuasions.

We agreed that the biggest problem is that every Government, whatever party leads it, seems to think that it's a good idea to change the system radically at least as often as every general election, and often a couple of times in between.

The way in which each change of Government also makes an assumption that anything any school has done previously has not been very good, that the whole system is failing desperately, and that we need to reset the clock to zero and start again, is also a not very helpful approach.

Despite both of these approaches, schools haven't changed all that radically - certainly not in the way the Governments intended - but they have evolved, and they do a good job by an large.

If only we could have had time to get used to the innovations imposed on us instead of abandoning them every time the political wind changes, we'd be doing even more fabulously.

Between the 4 of us we've well over a 100 years of experience, but obviously the Government ministers who keep the "improvements" flowing all know about schools as well - because they all went to school once themselves.

Some of them even went to state schools.
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Stephen Smith's picture
Wed, 22/06/2011 - 23:19

Sorry about the typos !

Janet Downs's picture
Thu, 23/06/2011 - 09:27

One of the major lessons from Finland, the top-performing European country in the 2009 OECD figures, is this: that education reform and improvement needs to be slow, steady and based on consensus. The OECD wrote that Finland's success "is due to this steady progress, rather than as a consequence of highly visible innovations launched by a particular political leader or party."

Unfortunately, this is not a lesson learnt by political leaders in the UK (particularly England). Each succeeding government boasts "flagship" policies which it foists on to school without regard to evidence and with little debate. The Academies Act 2010, remember, was rushed through Parliament at a speed usually only employed in times of national emergency.

Teachers are already punch-drunk with initiatives which have been forced on them by successive governments since the mid 1980s. Under such constant interference, it is to teachers' credit that the system hasn't imploded.

But watch this space.... teacher recruitment down, teacher morale poor, untrained commentators thinking they know better than the professionals (imagine the anger if politicians told doctors what treatments they must use, or lawyers how to interprete the law), the OECD warning that there is too much emphasis on grades in England and this may crowd out important non-cognitive (and therefore not easily measured) skills, the OECD warning that the academy/free schools policy needs careful monitoring if it is not to disadvantage already disadvantaged children...


Adrian Elliott's picture
Thu, 23/06/2011 - 11:25

Excellent post!

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