Stephen Twigg has made some important moves in the right direction this week – re asserting that every child should have a qualified teacher is perhaps the most important – but there remains a hesitancy to tackle the corrosive legacy of Gove’s market reforms. Twigg seems to content merely to tweak Gove’s system. But is that enough?
The two central questions of UK education policy remain unanswered. How do we get a good local school for every child? And how do we put an end the disastrous ‘long tail of underachievement’ of students from our poorest families?. Gove claims that his free schools and academies policy is designed to do this. It is a wretched deceit. His ‘supply side revolution’ is already exacerbating social inequality. Two decades of market reforms in Sweden has been disastrous. Yet One Nation Labour remains too quiet on the issue.
The answers lie, as anyone who looks at the evidence knows, in making equity the central priority of education. As Pasi Sahlberg author of Finnish Lessons never tires from pointing out, it was the willingness to use state resources to really tackle the gap between rich and poor that made the Finnish school so successful.
Social inequality in the UK is even greater than it was in 1970’s Finland when they began their reforms. This does not mean Finnish lessons are inapplicable, just that we will have to strive even harder to break the mold.
One Nation Labour, if it is serious about a new deal for education, will have to offer a much bolder vision. It will need to speak to the hearts and minds of teachers as well as parents. Contrary to Gove’s plan to increase the rate of exploitation of teachers, cutting pay, increasing hours and workload, the evidence suggests that ‘less is more’. At least that’s what happens in Finland. No OFSTED, no SATS or phonics tests. No league tables, no obsession with data and levels.
It is almost universally agreed that the ‘quality of an education cannot exceed the quality of its teachers’ yet politicians of all parties remain hostile or insensitive to the voice of teachers.
So parents should be wary. If Gove’s reforms continue to prevail we will need to campaign for alternatives. We will need to unite with teachers and their unions. That means building a new National Campaign for Education that will promote a new vision and resist Gove’s wrecking ball approach.
All this talk about “freedom” is so much hot air. It is professionalism, accountability and greater democracy that we need. Allowing a few heads to line their pockets or re brand themselves as CEO’s is not freedom and autonomy. It is greed. It benefits the 1% and does nothing to advance equality.
There are so many great things about our education system. So many great heads and teachers, so many committed parents and so many wonderful students in good schools. Yet the poverty of our politicians’ vision of education (and social policy in general) means we need to act together and build beyond them.
This may sound a daunting task, yet it was precisely this sort of approach that – in the early 1960’s – put an end to rotten failure of the grammar/secondary modern system. Building on the success of comprehensive education, finishing the job that was started but then abandoned is the task that faces us. We know more now about how children learn and how to run successful school systems.
Tweaking is not sufficient. We must demand our politicians do better, but we must work together now whatever they do.