Writing in the Telegraph, and in the wake of last month’s OECD report, Labour MP Ian Austin says innovation, specialisation and selection on merit can make Britain’s education system great again…
…The truth is that we have not valued education highly enough and standards in far too many schools are not good enough.
To achieve dramatic improvements, schools need great leadership. At Ellowes Hall in my constituency, results have doubled and more than eight out of 10 pupils now get good grades, because a brilliant new head, Andy Griffiths, has introduced a relentless focus on discipline and standards. He’s recruited good teachers, motivated them, set high aspirations and tough targets and made the pupils believe in themselves.
According to the Sutton Trust, “bringing the lowest-performing 10 per cent of teachers in the UK up to the average would in five years bring the UK’s rank amongst OECD countries from 21st in Reading to as high as 7th, and from 22nd in Maths to as high as 12th.”
We need a targeted approach with tough targets, the best heads and the brightest teachers for areas like the Black Country where standards lag stubbornly behind the rest of the country.
The London Challenge transformed education in the capital and we should be introducing or bringing back similar programmes elsewhere.
Next, we should expand Lord Baker’s brilliant work on University Technical Colleges through the Baker Dearing Trust.
These schools, which are partnerships between universities and businesses, enable children in the second half of their secondary education to acquire high-level technical and vocational skills, although this must accompany rigorous maths and English to age 18.
We should go further and specialise more at 14 and above, not just in relation to technical subjects such as engineering, electronics or advanced manufacturing as with UTCs, but in straightforward academic subjects too.
Sutton Trust research shows that just 7 per cent of pupils attend independent schools, but represent seven out of 10 high court judges, more than half our leading journalists and doctors, and more than a third of MPs. Just five public schools send more pupils to Oxbridge than 2000 state schools, or two-thirds of the entire sector.
The Sutton Trust proposes opening access to the country’s leading independent day schools by selecting pupils for all places purely on merit. Parents would pay a sliding scale of fees according to means.
When piloted at the Belvedere School in Liverpool, this Open Access scheme saw academic standards improve and the social mix of the school become more diverse, with 30 per cent of pupils on free places, 40 per cent paying partial fees and the rest paid full fees.
Extending that to 100 or more leading academic day schools, with state funding, would boost mobility and give our best universities and top professions access to Britain’s brightest young people irrespective of background.
Sharing costs with parents means the cost per head to the state for Open Access would actually be less than the cost of the average state school place…
Ian Austin recommends a lot of actions here to improve social mobility – which ones do you agree with and why/why not? Please share in the comments or on twitter…