If I were the new minister, I’d really appreciate a list of Things To Do (my mum would be proud, she’s forever telling me I need to make more lists). So I had a think, and, if it were me, if I were (by some miracle of magic) the minister, and I was in charge of education, this would be my list*.
*I don’t claim that this list should be The List, but it is my list, and it reflects my priorities.
- Pause on the whole assessment thing. We are sick to the back teeth, in KS2 (actually, you can make that the whole of primary) of the nonsense that has gone on with assessment for this age group. The reading test was bonkers. The assessment criteria for writing was unworkable. The SPAG was at least doable, but, really, how high do the standards need to be for 11 year olds? The Phonics Check in Year One is highly controversial amongst infant teachers – and really, you have to work really, really hard to put infant teacher’s backs up. And while we’re at it, can we agree that the whole concept of a Below National Standard Child is something that should be consigned to the Fiery Pit of Hell and be done with it? They are all different – they are all at different ages when they take the tests – and they don’t all progress in the same way or at the same time.
- Academies. Now, that one backfired on your predecessor, and although it seems to be making headway through the back door, we (and I think I’m right about this) would really appreciate it if we were listened to. It would be great if there could be a great big fat pause on that one too and some proper consultation with, and I know this is controversial, not just school leaders but class teachers too. Some of us like working for the local authority – and some of us get worried when we see news about dodgy financial dealings (and we know this isn’t everyone, but still) or children with SEND being bussed off to other campuses, so we’d like reassurances that some sort of checks and balances are in place other than investigative journalists. Those of us with an interest in SEND would also like some reassurance about how the support services are suppose to work in a fully academised system (and crossing your fingers and hoping the market will take care of it really isn’t a good enough plan, sorry.)
- SEND. We have had a whole raft of changes in the Code of Practice, and we need support and time to get them into place. The financial pressure that LAs are being put under is being felt by very vulnerable children and families. I mean, let’s face it, if we can spend a bit of money now on getting the foundations into place at the start then that’s going to save us money in the future, isn’t it? Can we please stop pussyfooting around the issue and get on with it?
- And while I’m at it, I, for one, speaking as a parent here, and the parent of a 15 year old boy with Down’s syndrome, am hopeful that Further Education has been brought under your watchful eye. The Code of Practice says from 0-25. Can it mean 25? Can we give FE Colleges some support in getting ready for the cohort of included young people coming through the system and expecting to continue with an education that is going to help them get a job and make friends – all the things that people without learning difficulties can reasonably expect to be able to do?
- Terminal exams. Now I’m not advocating more change here, but, inclusion is a thing and there are young people who need a different study pathway than GCSEs, or need the GCSE to work for them. It’s not failure, it’s life. Different forms of qualification and certification are just as valuable, and it would be great if we could hear the message coming from the department – that ALL young people, when they leave school, can leave with something they can take to an employer to show what they can do (and not just twiddle their thumbs or cause trouble in their classrooms until they leave in order to do that).
- Accountability. It’s run a bit mad. Now I don’t think there is a single teacher in the land who says we shouldn’t’ be accountable for the public money that we spend on the nation’s behalf, but really. The tying of the performance of children in tests to accountability for adults has done a great deal of damage; to the teaching relationship, to children, to teachers – to the quality of the day that we experience in school – and especially those children who don’t fit the age expected mould.
- Competition. My school sports’ day is on Monday. There is nothing like a bit of healthy, well managed competition to pep us all up. However, I think the most important idea I would like you to understand is that education, at its heart, is a collaborative, collegiate exercise. No one teacher is responsible for the educational outcomes of no one child. The A*s of August come on the backs of all the teachers who went before, and the parents, the child and the circumstances within which they live. It is a grand adventure, but the forces of the market place are alien here. Instead, the concepts of togetherness, teamwork, community and belonging hold sway. If you force market ideology on us, rather than a rise in standards, you will see a race to the bottom. Instead of confidence, there is fear. The child is not a customer or a client; they are a member of the school.
Schools are funny places. They are idiosyncratic and quirky and they reflect the humanity of which they are a part. I hope you enjoy being part of the team.