Let teachers sack heads … and other ideas for a National Education Service
Labour has published its plans for a “cradle to grave” National Education Service and will unveil further details of its policy at its annual conference in Liverpool this month. It wants the NES to transform education into a right instead of a privilege, so everyone expects the same standard, as with healthcare in the National Health Service. But what would any incoming government need to do to create a truly national service? We ask people involved in education what their priorities would be.
‘Lists of kings and queens don’t do it’
“I want to see radical change, not short-term, piecemeal measures and I am not sure I am seeing it in the policy at the moment. There should be a commitment to a broad and balanced, engaging curriculum with creativity at its heart, rather than at the margins. All children should be being taught critical learning skills, problem solving and political and social awareness, rather than getting a different curriculum depending on whether they are advantaged or disadvantaged. Reciting lists of kings and queens just doesn’t do it. I also want to see a reversal of the academy and free school programme and schools brought back into democratically accountable public sector management.”
Diane Reay is emeritus professor of sociology of education at the University of Cambridge
End the super-sizing of privilege
“Anyone drawing up an NES should take a long, hard look at the way the super-sizing of privilege has become a cancer on the body politic. Eton, for instance, seems to have done more damage to our national life than any single institution since the heyday of South Yorkshire police.
“And end the whole craven notion that education should somehow be responsive to the demands of the world of work. No one has a clue what work will look like – or if there will be any – in 10 years, let alone 20.”
Frank Cottrell Boyce is a screenwriter and novelist
Return oversight of local schools to local people
“The differential in performance between secondary schools in the north, Midlands and south of England is far too great and shows little sign of diminishing. This can’t be explained by economic factors, because there is very little difference in performance at primary school level.
“The massive expansion of the academies and free schools programme has marginalised local authorities and the role of local politicians. I’m no fan of local authorities because many of them didn’t sufficiently support and challenge schools when they had full control of the system. My concern now is that local oversight of standards is just as patchy under the newly created regional schools commissioners, who seem to come and go with worrying frequency. We need local politicians, particularly the new mayors, to champion their schools and know what’s going on in their area.
“This country is failing half its future. Technical and vocational education for those youngsters who don’t progress to traditional A-level courses and university has not been good enough for many years and certainly not up to the standard of many of our international competitors. These young people are too often served up inadequate programmes of study and training at school, further education institutions and apprenticeships. This is compounded by inconsistent careers education and guidance.
“We urgently need a strong political figure at senior ministerial level to oversee the skills agenda and work across the departments of education, business and employment as well as the CBI and chambers of commerce to ensure key stakeholders work together.”
Sir Michael Wilshaw is a former head of Ofsted and professor of education at St Mary’s University, Twickenham
Let teachers sack senior managers, like at Oxford
“Nursery education must not be run for profit. It may take five years to ensure nursery education in the UK is profit-free but it is entirely possible. All children should start school on their fifth birthday to get rid of the summer-born problem. Every school in those counties that have kept selection should be renamed “grammar schools” and the 11-plus should go.
“Academy trusts must be disbanded after the fraud investigations are completed and school management returned to geographical areas. I would like to see groups of six or so neighbouring secondary schools with a single senior management team, democratically chosen. Teachers would be able to sack their senior managers. That’s how the governing body of an Oxford college works and it keeps them on their toes.”
Danny Dorling is professor of human geography at the University of Oxford
Examine the barriers to higher education
“The NES must ensure that students, whatever their background, are able to fully participate in education. This will mean examining the barriers faced by some students, such as the crippling cost of living, and finding solutions, such as the reintroduction of maintenance grants. We will also need a set of new initiatives to improve access for black students. The NES should pledge to tackle the attainment gap of black students in our further and higher education systems.”
Shakira Martin is the president of the National Union of Students
Tackle the gilded privilege of private schools
“If Labour wishes to create a truly national education service it must deal with the private schools. A gilded class of privileged children help themselves to the best university places and top jobs at the expense of state school students. Abolishing the VAT exemption on private school fees is a good start.
“But a national education service must also make use of the big public schools and their wealthy endowments, which were established to educate the poor. Incorporating the 600,000 private school pupils into an NES would not only be cost-neutral but add value to the state school estate. Having these families cheering on their children shoulder to shoulder with other parents would help raise standards across the state sector while making our communities stronger.”
Robert Verkaik is author of Posh Boys
Stop education being driven by fear
“Education should be about young people and adults finding their strengths and their potential – what it means to be their best selves. Now it is being driven by fear and all the emphasis on data and results is fracturing the system and working against the reason most people came into the profession. Children are being made to feel that education is about exam grades and headteachers are under enormous pressure from the completely flawed accountability systems.”
Viv Grant is a former headteacher who coaches other heads
Abolish tuition fees
“Abolishing tuition fees creates the opportunity for a fresh start. A new funding council for adults, apprenticeships, further and higher education should be created to provide vital investment in the people’s education and skills. Generously resourced, it must replace tuition fees pound for pound with government grants. Institutional autonomy, as well as academic freedom, must be strengthened and strictly respected as a vital ingredient in a democratic society. Legislation should be passed to ensure that education at all levels is provided by not-for-profit independent institutions, whose students and staff have a real say in their institution’s governance, alongside community representatives.”
David Green is the vice-chancellor of the University of Worcester
Fair funding formula sham
“The 8% real-terms cut since 2010, the figure confirmed by the Institute for Fiscal Studies, must be reversed. Charitable status for private schools should end and the money saved re-directed to state schools. The DfE should stop wasting money on projects such as the Teaching and Leadership innovation fund and free schools. If we are to have a truly excellent national education system then all schools must be adequately funded. We can’t have the present ridiculous situation where some schools are funded 50% or even 70% lower than others. The new national funding formula is a sham.”
Jules White is headteacher of Tanbridge House School, West Sussex
Robots can help overthrow the factory model of education
“I would like artificial intelligence to be taken more seriously, something the government has failed to do until very recently. AI will totally transform British schools and universities within a decade. It will assist them to overcome the many inherent problems with the factory model of education that has existed for so many years and provide a personalised ‘teacher’ for every student, who will be able to progress at their individual level of understanding in each subject.”
Sir Anthony Seldon is vice-chancellor of the University of Buckingham
Democratic control by local education authorities
“We need a fully comprehensive, free, cradle-to-grave education system with provision for part and full-time learning. This should be democratically controlled by local education authorities and made available through neighbourhood learning campuses bringing together schools, adult education and associated services such as libraries.
“There should be objective teaching that uses scientifically accurate language on sex and gender and encourages students to understand the difference between biological sex and socially constructed gender roles. This is particularly important at a time when increasing numbers of young people are self-identifying as transgender.”
Selina Todd is professor of modern history at the University of Oxford and president of the Socialist Educational Association