Picking up the Pieces – towards a manifesto for 2015

At The Picking up the Pieces conference 120 delegates met to address the challenges that would be faced by a new government in 2015 faced with the task of restoring a national public education fit fir the 21st century. The conference heard four experts set out a challenging agenda.  Details of the presentations can be found at http://www.campaignforstateeducation.org.uk/pickupthepieces.html.

Some key points from the presentations were:

Peter Mortimore, teacher, and researcher and former Director of the Institute of Education:

What is good about our education system:

  • Positive aspirations from all parties with more pupils enabled to go on to university;
  • Local democratic accountability through governing bodies and elected local authorities;
  • Teacher education, based in universities and developed through schools;
  • Broad national curriculum, including citizenship, the arts and PE.

Its Ambiguities:

  • the low level of spending on education compared to most developed countries;
  • our large class sizes (OECD average  17, UK – 26);
  • the pupil assessment and inspection system which is seen as a method of policing the schools rather than providing formative learning information;
  • the more recent focus on paying for out of school activities, school uniform and homework that puts increasing pressure on parents.

What is wrong:

  • interfering politicians
  • reliance on market model, reducing accountability
  • two/three tier service now with the addition of free schools and academies
  • Lack of affordable pre-school care
  • Lack of scope for innovation

What needs to be done:

  • develop a national pre-school system,  free at the point of delivery;
  • revive and empower  local accountability, outlaw selection and integrates private and faith schools to enable a system of balanced schools;
  • a standing education commission that reconfigures our present inspection and examination system.  

 David Wolfe QC, Specialist in education and Author of the ‘acanofworms’ blog.

Academies were established under the Learning and Skills Act 2000 and are not maintained but independent schools which operate instead through a contract with the Secretary of State. There is therefore no role for local authorities, the National Curriculum does not apply and neither do School Teachers Pay and Conditions. They own or lease their premises. These contracts vary and have not been renegotiated.

A relatively short piece of legislation could apply the same standards to academies as to maintained schools. There are helpful legal precedents because the Coalition has already legislated to override academies’ individual funding agreements. The key areas to be addressed are curriculum, governance, property and staff. Of these staff issues are likely to be the most complex.

Peter Downes, former headteacher, President of SHA, councillor and specialist in schools funding

The current system is riddled with inequities based on historical, geographical and political factors. Recent developments have added to the inequities. What we need is:

a.     A national formula for distribution from central government to LAs based on detailed, independent and professional analysis of the needs of pupils and the activities expected of schools

b.     The restoration for Las ability, having received a fair allocation, to make whatever local adjustments are necessary to achieve fairness, viability and a coherent locally accountable system

c.      If not the abolition of academy status, an absolute commitment to ensuring that academies (and free schools, studio schools, UTCs etc.) do NOT get advantageous funding.

Tim Brighouse, former Director of Education for Birmingham and Schools Commissioner for London.

  • Restore the balance between the political and the professional. Teacher professionalism is to be encouraged and politicians should not be telling teachers how to teach.
  • Restore the balance between national and local management of education. Education priorities should be decided locally by an elected local authority.
  • School improvement and teacher CPD are best provided by teachers from different schools co-operating and sharing best practice.
  • The curriculum should have three elements: national, local (locally determined) and international.
  • Assessment should not be confused with accountability. Assessment should be used formatively to inform children, teachers and parents. National standards should be maintained and improved through sampling.
  • Governance of all state funded schools should be defined by a single legal national framework and should have a democratically accountable element built in.

The conference also heard Stephen Twigg, Shadow Secretary of State give his reactions to the issues being addressed by the conference. Amongst the points he made were that:

  • The Labour Party’s job is to create an education system that is fair, governed by principles and justice for all pupils.
  • Teacher morale is currently low and teacher professionalism needs to be at the heart of education policy
  • Plans to set up an ” Office of Educational Improvement” supporting research-based evidence for policy and innovation.
  • The key driver in bringing about school improvement is collaboration and teacher professionalism.
  • Local Government must have an important role in education as commissioner of schools.
  • There are concerns about school admissions and the code and its enforcement will need strengthening.

The organisations* involved in putting the conference on committed themselves to working with other partners to build a consensus around the key issues of education policy that will inform and support the development of manifestos for 2015 and the work of a new government thereafter.

*Campaign for State Education, Socialist Educational Association, Comprehensive Future, the education journal Forum and Information for School and College Governors, with the generous assistance of the Association of Teachers & Lecturers and the National Union of Teachers.