Don’t let education be an afterthought

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This post originally appeared in my education site mrchadburn.co.uk

 

So it appears we will have a General Election on June 8th. The perceived wisdom is that the election is going to be dominated by Brexit and the type of Brexit each of the parties wants to see (or not as the case may be). However there is another reason Theresa May has called this election and it isn’t about Brexit. Prime Minister May has a particular vision of the future of the country and to push this forward she needs it backed by a manifesto that has been rubber stamped via a General Election. Only this way can she drive these things through the Lords. Without this election she is reliant on David Cameron’s 2015 manifesto commitments – most of which I’m not convinced she really believes in. Expect to see a number of things that were included in 2015 conveniently dropped and others included which reflect Theresa May’s (and her two chiefs of staff) particular agenda for the future of the UK.

For us in the teaching profession this will probably include the expansion of grammar schools. Whether anything else will appear I’m not sure. Of the policies that may be conveniently dropped or kicked into the long grass I wouldn’t be at all surprised to see fairer funding quietly disappear because it has become a very hot potato for Mrs May.

The future of education is way too important to be a mere secondary thought in the forthcoming General Election and it is incumbent on us that work and care for education to ensure this isn’t the case. We should all care about education because the education of our young is critical to the future prosperity of our country. We have 7 weeks to make a case for the best education system in the world – one that doesn’t turn its students into gibbering wrecks and doesn’t drive good teachers from the profession.

I’m going to start and throw a few ideas out there of things I’d like to see in forthcoming manifesto’s:

Funding – this has to be the most important thing in education at the moment. Schools are literally going bankrupt and good teachers are being made redundant. Personally I’m becoming a little irritated by the rhetoric from the government that school funding has never been higher. Whether it is or it isn’t it is clear to any sane individual it isn’t enough. The costs associated with education are growing much quicker than the money the government are providing hence the begging letters from head teachers, the slimming down of the curriculum and the redundancy notices that some teachers are receiving. Our schools are reaching the level of under-funding they last experienced in the 1980s. As I said earlier the future of this country depends on the education of its youngsters and this cannot be done on the cheap. If we want the best education system in the world we need to pay for it. Fairer funding should happen but schools should be funded at the level of the best funded schools currently and budgets should increase in real terms annually. Schools cannot wait two or more years for a vacuous consultation to take place – they need their budgets supplementing now. The question shouldn’t be how we can afford to fund this but how we can afford not to.
OfSTED – in my 22 years of teaching I’ve experienced an education system where accountability was virtually non-existent to a system now where accountability weighs so heavily on schools and teachers that it is like a lead straight-jacket on innovation and progress and is, in my opinion, the one thing that is driving so many good teachers out of the profession – if it continues much longer I may be one of them. OfSTED are the very embodiment of this extreme accountability. Their very name is like Voldemort in the Harry Potter novels – its mere mention strikes fear and trepidation into schools and teachers. This is not healthy and this organisation should be disbanded. The teaching profession has lost all confidence in its performance and its integrity. There has to be a better way to ensure schools are doing what they need to do and I look forward to reading about this in the manifestos of the various parties – I suggest collaboration and critical friendship among local schools should be at the heart of this.
Regional Challenges – the one success story from the noughties was the progress made by schools in London. Two things drove this. Firstly their schools gained extra funding which is why, for example a pupil in the City of London attracts over £8000 per year but a pupil from my own borough of Barnsley gains just over £4000 – but I’ve written about that in my first point. The second thing is that it created the climate for schools across the whole of London to work together and collaborate as critical friends developing school improvement plans that actually work. Google the London Challenge. Single local authorities are not large enough or diverse enough to make this work properly. These challenges should be regional. For my own area, a Yorkshire Challenge would be a massive step forward to improving the quality of education in my region and moving to a model of accountability that doesn’t accept mediocrity but lifts the spectre of OfSTED and their government driven agendas.
These are just three ideas I want to initially throw into the mix. If you disagree let me know but let me know why. What other areas should we be pushing our politicians on to develop the world class education system we all want. We need to try to drive the debate not react to someone elses.

 

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Wayne Chadburn

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