Bringing Schools Together Again
Education systems cease to become comprehensive in their nature when they become obsessed with attainment of a few, and become very narrow minded when they measure academic achievements only.
A teacher’s job used to be to educate a child. A skilled teacher would assess a child’s ability, and design activities which were inspirational and enjoyable, and tailored to the child.
Such is the route to life long learning. Somehow, somewhere that has all changed.
New Labour had the best intentions in wanting to improve life prospects for working class children; I can see that. But taking the initiative away from skilled teachers, and measuring those skills by their pupils’ performance in league tables, resulted in schools failing children and demoralised teachers.
The mass exodus of LEA secondary schools to become Academies and Free Schools will increase competition such that the schools will be forced to “cherry pick” their intake. More and more schools are being lured to take this option by promises of salary hikes for the top managers, while the majority of teachers oppose it. Signs are already that next year primary schools will be making the same move towards Academy status. Academy schools are independent. Their priority is to themselves, not to the community they serve, or to the population as a whole. They exist in competition with their neighbourhood schools and so co-operation between schools, which is already poor in many cases, will not be in the interests in schools unless they are forced to work together. So why separate them?
It is about privatisation of education, and about providing opportunities for private companies to make profits. Free schools are not free at all; this is the biggest con and misnomer I ever heard. The freedom refers to individual companies to be free to profit from children’s education behind even what was happening under New Labour. The coalition have used their research into some Scandinavian education systems as referred to in their white paper. But they have failed to mention the pitfalls.
If League Tables are a measure of of success of schools, then this evidence as reported in in the Guardian “Cribsheet” would seem to indicate that the Coalition are misguided.
Recently the Spectator made the case for schools being able to make a profit, and referred to Sweden as a shining example. When the magazine held a readers’ poll on the subject, 71 per cent favoured the idea of schools being run by profit-seeking companies. If you polled Swedish parents and education experts, however, you’d get a more mixed result. As a matter of fact, a recent poll carried out by Synovate found that over 50 per cent of Swedes want to ban companies from operating schools for profit.
As Friday’s Cribsheet pointed out, Sweden has seen a massive drop in international league tables on student results, including literacy. Read more about the findings of a recent report on Swedish free schools by business-funded thinktank SNS, that has caused a heated debate in Swedish media, in this Observer dispatch article.
What of the children who are turned away? What of the children nobody wants? As ever under the Tories, vulnerable children will suffer. It becomes a case of moulding the children to fit the school rather than tailoring the curriculum to suit the child. It’s topsy-turvy. It’s not about teaching any more. It’s about production of statistics, which keep the Daily Mail happy. It’s just plain wrong.
Labour’s education policy needs to ensure schools work together in consortia, schools co-operating so that skills and expertise are shared rather than schools becoming insular and competitive.
Children’s needs are the focus – not the schools’.
- Labour should reverse the policy of separation of schools, of segregation of children and restructure education consortia based on geographical areas.
- Labour must not allow schools and children to be a source of profit for companies: – this, together within profiteering in the NHS leaves a nasty smell which people find unacceptable. It is immoral.
- Within the consortia, there should be some schools which are smaller, nurturing schools to assist reinclusion for those with EBSR *
- There will be support systems in place for ME/CFS** sufferers and their families with input from health service specialists.
- Young mothers will be offered crèche facilities or child care vouchers, while continuing with their studies in mainstream schools and colleges wherever possible. Support will be put in place for them to continue in their schools wherever possible, while pregnant.
- Vocational links with local colleges will continue, as it allows diversification of the curriculum.
- Links with local employers will be maintained, and an expansion of work experience and training from 15 or 16 with view to guaranteed employment at the completion of the work-based training, so motivating learning as it is closely and clearly linked to future life chances.
- Primary schools should continue to focus on the basic skills, and on the process and experience of learning and play. Positive early experiences lead to confident individuals who want to continue learning rather than disillusioned young people with no hope, and little prospects.
- More specialist subjects may be better left for the secondary schools, ensuring children have the basic skills and are enjoying learning.
- Clearly there are skills which all children should be learning, but there should be flexibility allowing professional teachers to apply their expertise which should be directed at the children’s needs and learning styles.
- Gifted and talented children also have special individual needs, and there should be an enrichment of the curriculum to maintain their interest in learning, and a thirst for knowledge. It should not be a euphemism for pushing children to achieve a string of GCSEs just to satisfy league tables. There should also be caution that over emphasis on achieving strings GCSEs or A Levels beyond what is usual may have a detrimental effect on mental health.
Education in schools should be all about the child. Our topsy-turvy education systems try to mould children to fit into a system whether or not it is suitable. It should be the school’s system which needs to be adaptable, flexible, diverse and original. What is needed is a variety of educational provision, but all working together for the good of children and communities.
Our children are not commodities being churned out of our conveyor belt schools. They’re our future with lots to give to the world. Let’s help them do that.
Every one of them matters.
Please refer to:
** Myalgic encephalomyelitis/Chronic Fatigue Syndrome
Guardian “Cribsheet” on Free Schools