Michael Gove must adopt a more holistic approach to win over heads

CBI chief John Cridland believes raising education standards is vital for the economy. He believes much has improved over the past 20 years but there is much more to be done and, he argues, it is essential Michael Gove has school leaders on his side. This is from the Guardian…

It is worrying, then, that the coalition’s ambitious programme is not landing as effectively as it needs to with school leaders, as the reaction of National Association of Head Teachers delegates earlier this month to the education secretary showed.

We’re not talking about union firebrands here. To deliver lasting change Michael Gove needs to carry these people with him. While Whitehall may think it’s playing the right music, too few people are hitting the dancefloor. We have to ask why that is.

There have been a number of moves in the right direction: stepping back from rushed age 16 exam reforms, reassessing the draft design and technology curriculum, focusing on high quality vocational education and the move to change exam result measures to reflect the performance of every child.

But policy is changing very rapidly. Childcare, inspection reforms, curriculum, qualifications and apprenticeships are all in the throes of change. What’s lacking is the thread that ties it all together, the theme tune that will give more school leaders the confidence to get up and dance.

There are three areas in which swift action could be taken to address this. Firstly, standards and accountability.

Business backs higher standards and expectations. But there’s more to school than just rigour. The exam treadmill needs to be replaced with fewer but tougher tests in more relevant subjects, freeing time in the curriculum to focus on space for broader education. The accountability system also needs to keep pace with this.

The business world has seen a gradual but significant move to more narrative company reporting since the 1980s, where firms set out their overall strategy and direction of travel alongside the essential black and white financial statements. In schools, tough exams are essential but are not sufficient in creating a great education system.

The government needs to adopt a more holistic view that wins support from heads, business and parents. Ofsted needs to adjust its role to be a guarantor, through reports that mix assessment on exam results with a broader narrative setting out achievement in the round.

Secondly, the curriculum. 18 will be the main point of achievement for young people once the participation age is raised in two years time. So we need a refreshed, single curriculum from 14 onwards which acknowledges that each young person will learn in a different way and find a different path.

Let’s invest in rigorous vocational alternatives and give them a proper standing in the system – gold standard vocational A-levels. And let’s stimulate a culture where individual learning plans are the norm, mapping out each young person’s academic and personal development.

Finally, we need equip to young people in making the transition from school into an increasingly complex labour market. We know that schools are struggling with the new duty to provide careers advice which in many places is increasingly on life support.

Businesses must step up to the mark to help with this but ministers’ attitude suggests that they simply don’t prioritise it. We need urgent action if the forthcoming impact assessment proves the negative picture many anticipate.

The government has made a quantum leap in returning authority to schools, but it cannot now step back completely on careers advice. Heads need a clear steer on how to fight the battle on the ground on this crucial issue.

John Cridland is the director general of UK business lobbying organisation, the CBI.

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