If you look at http://voteforpolicies.org.uk/ you will see that nationally The Green Party leads overall, but that its biggest single policy lead comes in Education. In my own constituency of Erewash Greens lie second overall but again lead in Education and, again, that is the biggest lead of any party on any policy. Sadly, the educational landscape of this country has moved radically since the 2010 election and with very little consultation. With our policies clearly so popular with thinking people, it looks as if this Government is completely out of touch with reality.
There are enormous issues about further and higher education, about access, about fee levels, about the ways in which apprenticeships, vocational education and academic paths are structured and are respected. That would be the basis for a set of further articles. But let’s start with the youngest end and look at schools and teacher issues.
At the moment the government is ‘consulting’ over changes which would increase the child to adult ratios for pre-school children. They maintain that this will allow cuts in the costs of childcare and private nurseries although how this would be enforced is a mystery. They ignore all the research evidence which shows clearly that children need a rich language environment at this crucial stage with meaningful dialogue with adults being an integral part of this. By altering the ratio they are inevitably denying children the quality of conversation they need, and this is apart from any issues of safety that arise from the changes. The government speaks loudly about its desire to enable children in social deprivation to have equivalent chances and yet fail to underpin one of the clearest ways that this can be facilitated.
But trumpeting one thing and then rejecting compelling evidence is a bit of a theme with this government!
Clearly we should never abandon our commitment to community-based education for all children in a localised school. We support local and democratically accountable education authorities and comprehensive secondaries. It concerns us that over half of English secondary schools are now academies and that all local authorities have lost a substantial number of staff. Academy chains are very vigorously promoted and the biggest of these are essentially new local authorities with all the infrastructure schools need to run efficiently but none of the accountability through the local election system. Privatisation is only a click away and ‘for profit’ schools would be a very real part of that. The chains do not often have the richness of the previous Local Authority system of advisors, school improvement partners, and learning support consultants. Development is seen simply in terms of standards raising (ie test and exam grades) alone. Academies are claimed by virtue of the name itself to enhance standards and are held up as a panacea, but we believe their real purpose is privatisation and profit. We have seen the ruthlessness of the government’s determination to pursue that path in the case of the Sinfin Community School in Derby, where the governors were sacked for refusing to turn the school into an academy. Yet also here in Derbyshire in a single town, Ilkeston, two linked academies are currently in special measures and the chain which runs them has two other schools elsewhere with the same status. But does this draw a comment from the borough’s Conservative MP? No. As a party we would ensure that academies would have the same status as all schools with no extra funding, no rights to ‘select’ in any form, no rights to hire unqualified teachers or set different salary rates and with a requirement to offer the same agreed curriculum as other schools.
This leads us onto the next area where opinion and evidence are ignored, with what can only be called rudeness and arrogance. See Michael Gove’s and Michael Wilshaw’s comments about a letter signed by 100 eminent academics and check out the twitter feed @toryeducation for good examples of this. The proposed new national curriculum has drawn waves of protest from within the education sector, and Greens share the concern expressed. We have to consider the learning needs of all children, not just those who can follow a purely academic approach and succeed like Michael Gove! Rote learning only works for a small minority who learn in that way and the role of engagement, access, motivation and experience all need to be at the forefront of the underpinning of any curriculum.
A sector which is not greatly in the public eye, but which is crucial to the development of schools is teacher education. Again this has been subject to total upheaval in the last three years. Schools are now encouraged to bid for teacher training places with only a proviso that they link with an HE institution for validation. They can organise the training in any way they wish and the marketplace is held up as the main driver for this. It is not that school-centred provision is wrong (I manage such a course myself) but schools are experts at teaching children while teacher education is a science in its own right and needs a strong university presence along with excellent school partnerships to ensure we have thinking reflective teachers for the future. Trainee teachers now also have to borrow £9000 for a one-year course and government support is given on the basis of degree class and shortage of candidates for certain subjects. The rhetoric is that someone with a first class degree will be a better teacher than someone with a lower second class degree and so the first candidate (on a primary teaching course) will receive a bursary to cover the fee while the second candidate will receive nothing. This is simplistic! We need as a party to rationalise how places are allocated and the degree of collaboration needed to ensure success with both sides playing to their strengths. And of course we need to look at funding for all post-18 education.
Against this background of rapid change, Greens must now focus attention on the needs of real children and young people, and not the fantasy population this government imagines. We have popular policies but this is no time to be complacent, we must mount evidence led opposition to this Government’s policies while ensuring that our own policies address the realities in our society.
You might be interested in checking out the following site:
Gove Versus Reality looks at the policies pursued by Michael Gove for his radical and draconian transformation of the English education system challenging his assumptions and the evidence he advances to support his approach. http://www.goveversusreality.com/