With the 2015 election looming the news is beginning to fill up with the policies that will form the manifestos of the main parties. I’ve responded here with my own education manifesto for 2015 and invite anybody else to do the same and publish in the comments section below.
First of all a look at the main parties and their big decisions. (Information available at http://www.bbc.com/news/uk-politics-29642613)
Protect the school budget for under 16s but not increase with inflation. Convert an additional 3,500 schools that currently ‘require improvement’ into academies. Declare “war on illiteracy and innumeracy” by forcing schools that repeatedly miss floor targets for 6 year olds to convert to academy status.
Increase budget in England by at least the rate of inflation but not protect per pupil spending so much of the increase will be swallowed up by per pupil numbers. Compulsory sex and relationship education in all schools. Remove business rate tax relief from independent schools unless they have a “meaningful impact” on state schools by for example, lending their teachers. Double the number of Sure Start childcare places. Tighten up rules on primary class sizes to ensure that children are taught in classes of 30 or less.
Protect the education budget from cuts. No promise to increase to match pupil number increases. Guarantee qualified teachers and a core curriculum set by independent experts. Compulsory sex education in all state schools including academies and free schools. More money for disadvantaged children and free childcare for all two year olds.
The first aspect of every main party policy on education is a carefully worded statement on budget. The current options are:
Conservatives: Fail as many schools as possible so we can convert them into academies as a name change will bring about higher standards.
Labour: Pour money into a scheme (Sure Start) that independent auditors have demonstrated made no measurable difference. Price parents out of independent schools and into state schools but not increase funding for these thousands of students.
Lib Dems: Change the curriculum, again, but this time with ‘independent’ experts on the case. Provide child care places for all two year olds thereby creating an influx of new organisations needing monitoring and inspecting.
Not much of a choice really and so I offer up my own 5 point manifesto for UK education.
1: Return to a degree only route into teaching
Teaching standards have been diluted by offering too many alternative routes into teaching many of which fail to provide the basic grounding needed in order to do the job well. Teaching should require a degree and a vocational element. This means a BA or BSC plus a PGCE or a BEd. People with a genuine passion for coming into teaching will be prepared to spend four years preparing for the position.
2: Reform OFSTED with a role to support schools in raising standards
Ever since Mr Woodhead headed off to “weed out” the 15,000 incompetent teachers he calculated were working in schools OFSTED has become a destructive force that is controlled entirely by the political party of power. The Office for Standards in Education should have a non-political role and should exist to advise on school development plans and support schools in improvement. A team of industry experts coming to observe how a teacher works should be a positive experience and an opportunity to learn from their experience. I would make OFSTED inspections about identifying priorities for school improvement but then following inspection would have the lead inspector work together with the head teacher to devise the school development plan, the effectiveness of which could be evaluated at the subsequent inspection. This would have the effect of making the teams smaller, the organisation cheaper and therefore it would be possible to have more regular inspections.
This new positive form of evaluating schools and leading improvement would still be able to deal with inadequacies. Where significant inadequacies were observed the inspector would have the authority to step into the school alongside the headteacher and work with the school to bring about sustainable improvement. After all, who better to lead school improvement in our weakest schools than our strongest heads in whom we have trusted the responsibility of evaluating school effectiveness?
3: Simplify and clarify the curriculum requirements
Let’s take a look at some of the current National Curriculum expectations.
“Pupils should be taught to understand both the books that they can already read accurately and fluently and those that they listen to by checking that the text makes sense to them as they read and correcting inaccurate reading”.
“Pupils should be taught to maintain positive attitudes to reading and understanding of what they read by recommending books they have read to their peers…”
The problems with these statements is that there is no rigour to what is expected and they are open to interpretation. The first statement is a part of the current National Curriculum orders for Year 1 and Year 2 pupils. The second statement is an expectation of pupils in Year 5 and Year 6. But at what level should the child be reading? This is left without definition and yet is surely the most important aspect of reading level. If a child reads “My first picture book” and recommends it to his friend is he already succeeding against the expectations for 11 year olds?
The curriculum needs to be a core minimum of information that we expect of children and organised by age.
Forget experts designing a new curriculum or politicians flying around the world to analyse the leading cities in the completely corrupt PISA rankings. Let’s just cut to the chase and decide what level of books children of each age should be able to read and what language structures they should be able to use correctly in spoken and written English at each age.
4: Insist on entry exams for all foreign teachers wishing to have their teaching qualification recognised by the United Kingdom
The current system is expensive and broken. All teachers with a teaching qualification from abroad can write to the DfE and have their qualification recognised. QTS is issued almost by return of post. I have interviewed teachers from Eastern Europe who cannot speak English but are fully qualified UK primary teachers with QTS in place and a DfE number as though they had completed their probationary year and met all the objectives expected of teachers in the UK.
I propose two examinations and a compulsory probationary year for any teacher wishing to be awarded QTS on the basis of their qualification from abroad. The first examination would be a high level English examination. The second would be a pedagogical examination similar to those used at the end of Initial Teacher Training. On successfully passing both examinations the teacher would be eligible to complete a probationary year in a UK school and only then earn their QTS status.
All of the above would be financed by the teacher applying in the same way as students from the UK are expected to finance their way through higher education.
5: Demand a broad primary curriculum with specialist teaching where required
Where necessary subject specialists should be used from an early age. Music teachers who teach instruments to pupils, art and PE specialists. The hidden curriculum needs to become a relic of the past. We should provide all students with high quality tuition in every subject and expecting the literacy and numeracy specialist to then deliver a jaw dropping tennis coaching session followed by a lesson in how to play a tuned musical instrument is expecting too much. From the earliest years of education children deserve some subject specialist teaching to improve the experience they receive in subjects that too often are marginalised in favour of ‘core’ subjects.
And so I step down from my soap box and invite discussion or even your own five point manifesto for education to be published in the comments box below.