Stephen Twigg and Mary Bousted at the Progress MeetingPosted: February 25, 2012
Last Tuesday, Stephen Twigg and Mary Bousted from ATL made very significant speeches at a meeting arranged by Progress. The texts of the two speeches can be found at http://www.progressonline.org.uk/2012/02/21/evidence-not-dogma-3/ (Stephen Twigg) and http://www.atl.org.uk/media-office/media-archive/Speech-by-Dr-Mary-Bousted-at-Progress-event-in-response-to-Stephen-Twigg.asp (Mary Bousted).
Most press attention has focussed on Stephen Twigg’s call for an independent Office for Educational Improvement. This is certainly a significant proposal and a welcome one. There was a warning though that Sir Humphrey might describe this as “a brave suggestion” – in other words one that might eventually bite back.
More immediately important however were two other commitments made by Stephen during the meeting. One was to recognise the need to recreate a “middle tier” and address the democratic deficit that now exists in the system. In Stephen’s words
“I am interested in how we can promote models such as local schools’ commissioners, to ensure parents and local communities have a role in local education –commissioning places, raising standards, and ensuring fair access.
The second key commitment was to challenge the whole approach to the curriculum that we are seeing from Michael Gove. In his speech, Stephen emphasised the importance of transferable skills as opposed to Gove’s insistence on simply factual knowledge. And in response to questions, he made a strong commitment to promoting high quality vocational education.
Mary Bousted raised very powerfully the issue of “unbalanced intakes and their effects on individual and school performance”. In her view “no political party in the last 30 years has tackled the issue of unbalanced school intakes because to do so would be to take on the powerful vested interests of middle-class parents who vote”. She went on to point out that the most effective European school systems “have far less wealth inequality, fewer children living below the poverty level and far more balanced school intakes”.
Her point was much more than one about admissions. It was about the increasing number of children in poverty and the gap between rich and poor in our society which inevitably impacts on what the school system can achieve. The paradigm promoted by the right is that schools are significantly to blame for poverty by letting down poor children and that this is somehow unconnected to the real world in which the increasing number of poor children live. Mary reminded us that in reality, “we need to understand what needs to be done in terms of social justice to give all children a fair start in life and a fair chance to benefit from their education.”
Labour’s education policy is clearly still a work in progress. Some will find the compliments to individual academies and free schools hard to take. More important though was a strong attack on selection and the current grammar school nostalgia. There are however clear and encouraging signs of the development of a new framework that will restore local democracy and develop a curriculum fit for the 21st century.