Even for the sceptical, the suddenness and speed with which the academy schools project has fallen from public grace is remarkable. After years of uncritical acceptance of official claims that academies, and free schools, offer a near cast-iron guarantee of a better-quality education, particularly for poorer pupils, there is now widespread recognition of the drear reality: inadequate multi-academy trusts failing thousands of pupils, parents increasingly shut out of their children’s education, and academy executive heads creaming off excessive salaries – in some cases almost three times higher than the prime minister – from a system perilously squeezed of funds. The Guardian reports.
Crisis can be an overworked term in politics, and our schools are good examples of public institutions, subject to years of poor political decisions, that continue to do remarkable work. But along with the academy mess, we can add the following to the current charge sheet of what should be (along with the NHS) our finest public service: pressing problems with recruitment and retention of teachers; rocketing stress among young children and teenagers subject to stringent testing and tougher public exams; and the ongoing funding crisis.
So what now? It is clear that the Tories have run out of ideas, bar the expansion of grammars. This autumn, following widespread consultation, the Labour party will publish its eagerly awaited plans for a national education service, an idea that Jeremy Corbyn has made clear he would like to see form the centrepiece of any future Labour administration.
Here, a little political inventiveness might not go amiss. Why not tot up the money spent on unnecessary, damaging reforms and announce that equivalent sums will now be redirected to areas where they are clearly needed? Billions have been spent on the academy transfer market, failed free schools, funding the shadowy regional schools commissioners, subsidising private education: in future, let’s use that kind of money to improve special-needs provision, build up adult and further education, or send teachers to regions where it is proving impossible to recruit and retain staff.
Stop the excessive testing of primary-age children and spend the money on steadier, less cliff-edge forms of assessment. Implement the Headteachers’ Roundtable proposal for a national baccalaureate, an initiative that would immediately broaden the educational experience of every secondary-age pupil, with minimal disruption. Time, too, to learn the lessons of our global neighbours and phase out selection, reform unfair school admissions, and bring education back into public hands. As Lucy Crehan shows in CleverLands, an absorbing study of top-performing school systems around the world, many of these – including Finland and Canada – do not select or even stream until 15 or 16, and education is provided by a mix of national and local government. The result is a stable public service, capable of far greater innovation than our own fragmented school market.
But there’s an even bigger job for the progressive left, and that is to kickstart an honest public debate about what’s really wrong with English education and how we might develop a better, fairer model. Such a conversation would have to break with the current cross-party consensus – in reality, a stubborn silence – on the relationship between selective and private schools and the often beleaguered state system. Let’s ditch, once and for all, the idea that the selective schools are an inspiring model for – rather than a major block to – high-quality public education, and start to talk seriously about how to create a common system.
Read the full article Our schools are broken. Only radical action will fix them
Do you agree with some of these ideas? Please tell us your thoughts in comments or via Twitter ~ Tamsin
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