The Education Select Committee

I’ve never indulged in such nerdiness before, I have to admit. I’ve usually got far more important things to be doing (like cleaning the bathroom, or something), however, when I realised that the Education Select Committee were meeting to discuss the purpose of education, and their two witnesses for questioning were Sir Michael Wilshaw and Sean Harford (of Ofsted fame), AND that it was on the telly, in between other appointments,I tuned in. And very interesting it was too – particularly the reporting of the event in the education press.

So, I thought I would (for your reading pleasure) collate the points that struck me, as I was watching – so that you don’t have to.
1. SMW is, like, really, really, really keen on Leadership. It is the solution to everything, from the teacher recruitment/retention crisis (we ought to advertise the very great financial rewards for those who make Leadership their career) to the constant conundrum of raising standards in our schools (we need good ones). Leadership determines everything. Apparently.

2. Ofsted is a burden upon schools. Mr Harford, the ‘soft and fluffy face of Ofsted’ (if you will pardon my lightheartedness) made a surprisingly candid admission to the committee. I’m not sure whether he meant it was an emotional and stressful burden, one that drives so many decisions in schools, or a financial one, but he’s right. It is.

3. SMW doesn’t know much about special educational needs and/or disabilities, and either does he see this group of children and young people as fundamental to improving our education system or closing any gaps (as far as I could see). When asked about the value of tracking certain groups of students to check how they were getting on, he chose to focus on the children who get A-A* at GCSE, and why more children who get L6 at primary weren’t going on to get top grades in subsequent exams. Catherine McKinnell raised the issue of barriers to learning, and those children who benefit from a practical education, but the conversation didn’t seem to go anywhere. There was talk of dumbing down from Mr Harford, for those students who go on to functional skills courses, and much frowning about careers advice in general. It seems that if you get a D in English at 16, you should be able to get a C at 19. So that’s alright then.

4. SMW is very much a secondary school head teacher. This is what he knows about – and this is what he thinks all educational establishments should be (I suspect). You can tell this by his suspicion of primary school results (are they teaching science and art?) and his statement that all 16-19 education should be in schools, rather than FE colleges which are, he says, ‘in a mess’. His certainty has the tendency to obscure very real questions, I think, about primaries and FE colleges and the pressure they are being put under and the nature of the children and young people they serve and their needs.

5. How easy it is for people who know what they are talking about to bamboozle those who are feeling their way into understanding of our education system and how it works. There were some questions from MPs who had clearly listened to teachers in their constituency – and yet their questions were brushed aside by talk of ‘good schools will be doing what they should anyway’ – which sounds so glib, so true, so unassailable, that it is difficult to question.

Which leaves me with the last two interesting observations.

6. When questioned by an MP who actually knew what she was talking about from within the system, no less, Marion Fellows, it was possible for a mild mannered Scottish woman to get her gentle point across. Some children hate school and the FE college can be a new start for them – and change lives.

And last, but not least:

7. It all ended in a rather jolly way, with everybody having a sort of Scooby Doo chuckle at the end. How terribly nice – and how many important questions, for me anyway, left unanswered. I’m no further on. I still don’t know what any of them think is the purpose of education – other than to ensure that more children get A*s.

15 thoughts on “The Education Select Committee

  1. Hi Nancy, this is brilliant – thanks. If you really do want to explore those important questions do consider joining me and 50+ people following the free eCourse I made based on the content of the Summit that sparked this enquiry. It was called the Politics in Education Summit and I think you’d really like the section by Brian Lamb around Special Education (and I’d personally be very interested in your thoughts on that) – all info is here and, as we’re connected on twitter, feel free to tweet/pm if you’ve any Qus. See you there.Lx

  2. Brilliant summary. Very glad I missed this one as I’m sure I’d have been shouting at the television in a rage… not good for the stress levels. The whole system is in such a mess it’s difficult to know where to begin :/

  3. The thing about the getting a D in GCSE English at school and therefore should be able to get a C by 19 thing… Combined with the thing about the dumbing down and functional skills thing… Really they don’t join the dots, do they? The functional skills thing is because they don’t have the SPAG things in place to get the GCSE things to get the C things. The functional skills journey then takes them away from literature and language analysts things meaning they deviate, necessarily, to focus on the things they need to. When D graders get shoved into a GCSE Eng retake class to do in 9 months what took them two years to do in school, they barely make progress within the D grade, let alone shoot up to a C. This often comes back to the SPAG thing. The reason they didn’t get their C at 16 is the thing that still prevents them at 16/19, because we haven’t had time to focus on that, as we’ve had to do all the literature coursework things and therefore no time to work on SPAG things. Vicious circle thing. Really.

  4. And about the thing about the 16-19 year olds should be taught in schools thing. Ok. Keep em. So they will get vocational teachers in with vocational experience and little academic background will they? To teach plumbing, hairdressing, construction and wot not? Because as Nicky Morgan said in her November 3rd speech 2015, many certificates such as nail technology are worthless? Because in her middle class civil servant world there could be nothing to come of nail technology? Never mind that I know a law degree student who has nail technology and on the side supports herself by running her own mobile nail bar business to get her financially through her law degree? Obviously all we need to make the world go round is academic stuff.

  5. But if we are going to scrap FE for kids then please redevelop it for adults again! We want more evening and Saturday courses on languages and arts etc. Bring back night school for fun and creative stuff!! Please!! 🙂

    1. Oooh Carol. Someone who knows what she is talking about! This is what was sadly lacking in the committee.

      Fwiw I went to an FE college for my A Levels and I loved it. I think I loved it more than I loved uni. I was ready to leave school (I never liked school much) – and the bigger environment of the college suited me down to the ground. I’d recommend it for everyone, frankly.

  6. Thank you for this Nancy. I thought SMW had been a head teacher in a part of Hackney where things were tough and the children had addtional needs. Not sure why he wouldn’t know anything about SEN. I would have watched it but like you I had other things to do like the washing. : )

  7. Great story so well written.

    His Holiness the Dalai Lama writes:

    ‘People were created to be loved. Things were created to be used. The reason the world is in chaos is because things are being loved and people are being used.’

    For #HumanityInEducation please sign and share. Thanks.

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