Martin Francis recently invited me to critique The Green Party’s ideas on education

As you’d expect it’s a fairly wide-ranging paper and in places proposes a radical departure from the contorted, stratified, needlessly overcomplicated mess we have at the moment, but I found that I’d already come to a lot of the same conclusions.

Areas of agreement

First things first: children learn an incredible amount in the first few years of their lives, and yet pre and KS1 ‘education’ has been inchoate and somewhat ad hoc. Parents and the community have an enormous role and responsibility to give the child the best start possible.  Similarly, children are going to be ‘ready’ for more formal education at different ages. The Green Party are suggesting the age of 6 – personally, I’d rather it be when they’ve been deemed to’ve reached the concrete operational stage of cognitive development. Of course  we never stop learning either – and Education really needs to set us up for that, and set up to support that too.  Furthermore Education is most effective when all the stakeholders (horrible term) are actively involved. In other words, it’s a community project.

I’ve blogged before that I think that scholars simply ought to go to their local school.  I completely support the Green Party’s agenda to move towards state-funded, standard, local, non-selective community schools*.  I think class sizes of 20 are perfect.  I generally favour fairly – but not too widely – mixed ability classes, and inclusivity. I too would do away with compulsory daily acts of worship, though there is something important about coming together for formal assemblies which oughtn’t to be abandoned.

I absolutely agree with getting rid of SATs and league tables, neither of which serve the natural process of learning.  The ONLY factor that matters, is that students make progress (but that’s not the same as ‘value added‘). In accounting for this, Ofsted should provide a barometer for the school’s management, rather than beating the profession with a stick.

Something I haven’t written about, but often thought important, is food.  I totally agree that students ought to be given a healthy, hearty lunch. Cooked on site. It’s a sad state of affairs that children are arriving at school hungry.  They really can’t be expected to learn on an empty stomach. For many, a breakfast club is vital.

However, some of these things ought to be left to the profession to decide, and this is

Where we part company

For parity, education has to be a national thing, rather than regional or local.  It just really can’t be the political pawn it’s become. Education needs to be devolved to an independent body of experts, who oversee all matters of teaching & learning, and the development and support of teachers.  As I’ve written before, I think ALL teachers ought to be fellows of this institution, and have a say in how it’s managed.

For the same reason, there needs to be a National Curriculum too (in the sense of agreed, shared, level-appropriate content).  It should be developed by subject specialist teachers from all phases, and it should be malleable enough to meet individual student’s abilities and interests. Assessments (various) ought to be absolutely bound to it, rather than the situation we have at the moment, where exam boards dictate what is taught, and how and when students are examined (at least at KS4&5). I do agree though that more attention ought to be given to Life Skills, that academic and vocational studies ought to be integrated and have complete parity, and that apprenticeships have to be part of the educational landscape in order to meet the needs of all students (and employers). And I agree that the leaving age should be left at 16.

But I think the Local Authority does have two important roles to play in education.  Firstly, to ensure that there is a school place for every child.  This seems so obvious, and yet the focus of intense debate.  Its other function is to maintain the fabric of the school. However, the Local Authority must not be allowed to use education as a tool of social engineering.

* Specialist schools could be part of a mix for twilight, weekend or even day release.

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