We are thrilled that Rescue Our Schools’ co-founder, Madeleine Holt, has won the 2019 Fred and Anne Jarvis Award for education campaigning, given by the National Education Union. Madeleine helped set up RoS three years ago and was active in creating the More than A Score alliance for alternatives to high stakes tests in primary schools. Last week Jeremy Corbyn announced that a Labour government will abolish SATs and the government’s proposed baseline testing of four-year-olds.
In her acceptance speech at the NEU conference in Liverpool, Madeleine urged Labour to join the Lib Dems and Green party in expanding their education vision to include secondary schools – in particular the huge stress students now face doing the new GCSES, which Michael Gove deliberately made harder. You can watch her speech or read it below:
First of all, thank you to Amanda Martin and her Portsmouth colleagues for nominating me for this award. I am absolutely delighted to receive it.
I would also like to thank all my Rescue Our Schools colleagues, who together keep it going.
So I was going to use this moment to urge Labour to come out with some concrete education policies. And then Jeremy Corbyn announces he is going to get rid of SATS!
Since Rescue Our Schools is part of the brilliant More than a Score along with the NEU – and for which I make campaign films – I am obviously delighted about what he said. But I guess my message now is: keep it up! And please extend your vision to secondary education.
Because since we set up Rescue Our Schools three years we have become particularly concerned about the mental health of students enduring the new GCSES – something which is reflected in the NEU survey today.
One of my children is doing these exams this year. And, as many of you know, they are no longer a General Certificate of Education. Too many students are excluded from showing what they are capable of. It’s back to O levels – except there’s no CSEs, there’s just a collection of fails for the kids who don’t make the grade. As my son put it, “I can get through this, but some can’t, and that’s not right.”
As we all know, our education system is institutionally insensitive to anyone who is not academic, compliant and tough enough to survive 25 GCSE exams over a month. Add in the funding cuts, and this government has created a hostile environment for learning.
But we know that changing the system takes perhaps 5 to 6 years, and staff are in no mood for more upheaveal. Yet in that time we will see up to 3 million teenagers turned off learning. That’s too many.
So this is the conumdrum: how can we make GCSEs in particular less stressful in the short term? We could get rid of the ebacc and Progress 8. We could tell students that exams at 18 matter more. We would love to work with the NEU and others on how to help our teenagers get through this with their mental health intact. And let’s have a proper inquiry into the effect of high stakes exams on students’ well being.
But we all know there’s a bigger battle to fight – our education system is not fit for purpose. In fact my daughter told me the other day that SCHOOL stands for Six Cruel Hours Of Our Lives – something that for once I was grateful she had got off the internet rather than it being a personal comment on her education.
It was enlightening to see the Tory MP Robert Halfon call the other day for GCSEs to be scrapped. All credit to the NEU for backing this. But after Jeremy Corybn’s properly inspiring speech, let’s hope the principles he laid out – that we need to prepare children for life, not just for tests – will very soon embrace education as a whole. How about a national conversation on the purpose of education, just like in New Zealand?
Because parents are voters – there’s 13.8 million of them in England alone. And there’s votes in saying we need a system that puts ALL students’ mental health first and celebrates ALL kinds of talents. Because parents know, through basic common sense, that exam factories do not amount to an education. So, Jeremy, keep up the barnstorming announcements. Bring it on!