A Manifesto For Change In Education
The latest exciting round of ministerial musical chairs has left us with the same Education Secretary. In another universe this might be hailed as a wonderful thing, what with continuity of the team and an experienced expert who knows their brief leading the charge. If only. Each day more stories are published, detailing crumbling school buildings and exasperated school staff wondering why the government won’t deal with the latest mounting crisis.
The crisis isn’t a small one either. Our education system is not only breaking to pieces, it is almost completely unfit for purpose. Change of personnel at the top might have been a welcome start for many, but true systemic change is needed throughout and brand new thinking is needed in order to drive it.
The issues facing schools, students, parents, teachers and the country are piling higher each day that the required change is put off. But where do we begin? Well, with the students of course. It’s their education. They are the ones whose lives are affected the most and we owe it to them as our moral duty, not just because we’re paid to care. What do they need from their time in school?
Knowledge. Skills. Experiences. Access to culture. A sense of belonging. A sense of self.
Do they get all of that from their current curriculum? Possibly not, as one area (knowledge) tends to dominate the rest. Is that a bad thing? Well, yes and no. Students should know stuff and lots of it. Without knowledge they can’t develop skills.
But what if this drive for knowledge-at-all-costs leaves no time for after-school clubs because the staff are too busy running interventions, booster classes and detentions? What if there are no trips because lesson time is too precious to miss? What if they never learn an instrument because tuition costs are too high and the peripatetic teacher can only see them once a week for 20 mins?
It sounds like a raw deal. But it’s the genuine experience of some students as things stand.
So, why not change things? Let’s not tinker around the edges though. It’s time to go big or go home.
Seven ideas for the DfE to consider…
- Reduce the amount of content required by the curriculum for each subject. Lose 10%, 20%, 30%? Going a mile wide and an inch deep serves few students well. Nor does it retain staff, stressed out about how they’re going to fit 8 weeks of lesson content into the next 3 lessons just to get it covered by the exam date.
- Allow teachers to take their time off whenever they need to. Not just PPA, but holidays too. They would still complete their required number of hours per year, but they could have autonomy over their distribution.
- Properly fund SEND provision and associated services (eg CAMHS) so that students can actually access the world class education that ministers keep promoting and bragging about.
- Involve industry much more in the development of qualifications. A good start has been made on this, but so much more is needed. Do leading companies in cutting-edge technology play enough of a role in schools, where their future workforce will come from? Probably not. Incentivise it then.
- Make it statutory that students can access x number of hours of what we usually call ‘extra-curricular’ activity. This means sports teams, music tuition, drama clubs, educational visits. They should be put on as high a pedestal as ‘core subjects’.
- Scrap SATs and Progress 8. They’re crude measures and incentivise all sorts of perverse behaviours. Remove them and those behaviours won’t be adopted so often or by so many, to the detriment of so many students and staff.
- Scrap Ofsted. The brand is toxic and the organisation does nothing to help schools improve. Accountability is good. But an organisation holding people to account with no reliable standard of what is good practice is pointless.