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The Labour party needs to design an education policy which focuses on the Learning and the Learner. Everything else is secondary.
To focus on the learner we need a curriculum-driven system; at present the system is driven by assessment and qualifications. Assessment does not improve learning, it merely measures it. Qualifications need to be a proper reflection of learning that is valid and useful.
To achieve this we need:
• Not a prescriptive National Curriculum but a curriculum framework and/or guidance, prepared by seconded teachers and educationalists. This must ensure curriculum breadth over time and have sufficient flexibility for teachers to innovate and adapt to particular circumstances.
• To acknowledge that learning is holistic and includes learning outside the classroom and the school. The assessment regime must recognise achievements in these areas.
• All learning and its associated assessment must be progressive, ie. learners should move incrementally through a series of learning experiences and assessments, each building on what has been achieved to date. It should be a ladder not a series of hurdles.
• The removal of artificial ceilings and targets (eg 5+ A-Cs) so that all learners are enabled to achieve the best of which they are capable; this will mean changing age 16 assessment to a staging post, rather than a destination.
• To devise a framework that ensures that all learners are on the same trajectory but acknowledge that they will proceed at their own pace. They must all have the opportunity to end up in the same place. No provision should be described as “alternative”.
• An overarching baccalaureate, awarded only once, when the young person leaves compulsory education or training at age 18 which sums up all of the above – at whatever levels it is has been achieved. Different parts of it may be achieved at different levels – and that’s OK.
• A completely new national accountability system that recognises all achievement and the achievement of all learners.
The above can be achieved using existing qualifications, with additional qualifications developed to bridge the gaps between the levels, Entry – level 3 and beyond. English and maths should be given priority to support continued motivating learning and appropriate assessment up to age 18.
The Tomlinson report of 2004 would be a helpful blue-print to develop such a framework.
In order to achieve this the government needs to:
• Trust the teaching profession;
• Empower the teaching profession;
• Professionalise the teaching profession; ensure that all potential teachers receive high quality training with the right blend of school and university input. That all teachers must be qualified goes without saying. As does high quality continuous professional development.
• Work with the teaching profession; use their expertise to devise both the policy and its key elements. To focus on the Learning we need to ensure that every child, wherever they live, whatever their circumstances, is being educated in a good school, in the community in which they live.
The way to achieve this is:
• Ensure there is a strategic, forward looking plan, at national and local level, to make sure that there are always sufficient places where they are needed to meet demand; this is the absolute bottom line.
• Forget ideology in respect of existing LA schools, academies, free schools. Allow them to continue if they’re sound. Close them if they’re not.
• Then legislate to give every school the same governance structure and the same rights and requirements in respect of the curriculum and management. There should be no difference in status between maintained schools.
• Create a local framework to monitor and co-ordinate, to support co-operation not competition – not to manage or judge. This could be done by local authorities with a changed role; it might be done more effectively by new community school boards. These should be part elected (not as part of the political process; only parents of children in the community’s schools to vote) to ensure community engagement, part appointed to ensure the right blend of expertise.
• Give schools a defined catchment area; every child has a right to a place in their local school.
• Remove charitable status from independent schools.
• Reform OFSTED (with a new name to recognise the change) as a national accountability body which works with schools, not against them, that reports but does not label.
When the very first league tables were published, a Liverpool school came bottom. This got much negative national publicity. A GCSE assessor visited the next week. He found a school devastated and a Head anxious to tell him that they were the English Schools’ Rugby League Champions. Was this a good school or a bad?