The following summary forms the conclusion of my book, ‘Learning Matters‘. The evidence and arguments for these proposals are systematically developed through each of the five Parts of the book.
Evolution is always better than imposed revolution. Step by step structural change is possible in the English education system. It is very important that each relatively small step itself represents a significant improvement on what went before so enabling the process of change to build gradually towards a coherent synthesis each component of which can stand alone in terms of its logic, the evidence in its support and the absence of disruption to the cumulative process.
The last three decades of ideologically driven changes to the English education have been in sharp contrast to such a process. We have seen not evolution based on evidence, but revolution imposed by central government dictat. This is a recipe for the inevitable emergence of a succession of perverse incentives and outcomes followed by further evidence-light impositions to address the damage caused. No-where has this been clearer than in the changes made to the school curriculum and the national examination system.
Here are my suggestions for the step by step stages for reform. They are not original and most of the components have surfaced previously from many other interested parties and bodies in the education system. Not only do they make sense as a coherent whole, each step brings its own individual benefits.
This replaces ideology with pragmatism and promotes a culture of apolitical collective professional ownership of the education system.
- Reform Ofsted by replacing it with an independent, directly employed HMI answerable directly to parliament (as Ofsted once falsely claimed it was).
- Reform local government by recreating LEAs and Education Committees. A by-product would be the abolition of ‘Cabinet’ governance so re-democratising and reinvigorating Local Government. At the same time promote the creation of unitary LAs where possible especially in urban areas.
- Give the new LEAs regulatory power and responsibility over the admissions policies of all the schools in their area, including Academies and Free Schools, so as to promote balanced, all ability intakes in a fully comprehensive school system. Something quite close to this has already come about in Hackney through voluntary agreements. The Hackney model is therefore a good one. It is especially appropriate for urban areas.
- Produce a national funding formula for all schools, Academies, Free Schools and LEA schools alike.
- Reform the powers and constitution of the governing bodies of all schools including Academies and Free schools with places reserved for elected teachers, parents and local councillors, with safeguards created to stop organised groups gaining power through infiltration to promote narrow sectarian or religious objectives.
- Require all schools to produce an annual prospectus to a specified template that includes the curriculum, behaviour and other policies including full exam results in the subject by subject, number of passes at each grade format, that used to be required. Cease the publication of all aggregated attainments (eg %5+A*-Cs or anything that may replace it) and so abolish school league tables. Abolish all general floor targets for schools.
- Abolish KS2 SATs to be replaced by Cognitive Ability Tests (CATs) taken in Y6 alongside other specific diagnostic, standardised assessments. DfE to continue to publish on the internet sound and valid technical data that it expects LEAs to use for the continuous monitoring and local inspections of all schools in its area.
- HMI to conduct periodic inspections of all schools alongside LEA inspectors. LEA inspectors to provide continuous professional development (CPD) and support for all schools (including Academies and Free Schools) with the help of HMI when requested.
- HMI to inspect LEAs and Academy/Free School partnerships and Multi Academy Trusts, all on the same basis.
- Require parents’ referenda on the governance and control of Academies and Free schools if a threshold proportion of parents sign a petition according to a standard template. This would give local communities the democratic power to restore failing Academies to LEA control.
- Create a permanent National Educational Commission with a carefully designed constitution with academic, professional and political appointments on a non-party basis to advise all forthcoming governments on education policy, and so take our schools out of politics.
Courage and inspiration is now needed to repair the damage and to create a new model of social ownership, control and accountability of public services.
This especially applies to education.