We believe state education needs a total revamp. For too long it is something that politicians have forced on students, teachers and parents without considering either their views or the evidence about what works. Polls repeatedly suggest that most parents want a great school on their doorstep. We want that too – because we believe in the value of educating everyone together. Here are some of the things we really care about.
The Purpose of Education
Covid-19 has caused huge disruption to school routines and is an opportunity to ask: what should be the point behind education? Is it to get as many students as possible to university, which has been the mantra of recent years? Or is to ensure that all children find their path in life, according to their particular interests and talents? Our view is that we need to provide an education that finds the spark in every child, and builds on that to give them the powerful knowledge and skills they need to go forward in the world with confidence. This is not about low expectations. It’s about having much higher expectations, so that all young people can find their place in the world.
No more exam factories
So what’s stopping us providing a much richer, broader education? The simple answer is the exceptionally punitive way in which schools are judged. Basically, exam results remain the key factor – whether they are SATs or GCSEs or A-Levels. If a school gets poor results, it falls down the league tables, risks being academised (if it hasn’t been already) or taken over by another trust. The head is sure to lose their job. Meanwhile, schools become more and more fixated on teaching to the test to ensure they don’t get downgraded.
How does this affect students? It means they get a very narrow education which is all about teaching to the test. Unfortunately, the Gove education reforms made all high stakes tests deliberately harder to ‘raise standards’, so around a third of students now ‘fail’ SATs in Year 6. Under a system called comparable outcomes, that same third is guaranteed to fail GCSEs five years later. This is a tragic waste on so many levels.
We are interested in schools and countries that do things differently. Outside the UK, most students don’t sit a high stakes exam at both 16 and 18. Now that the school leaving age is eighteen, we think there is a powerful case for reviewing GCSEs and having a much broader qualification when students leave school. Look at our alternatives page, to see how other countries are innovating with more sophisticated ways of summarising students’ individual achievements. We also believe that teaching across subjects through projects linked to real world questions is much more engaging more students, and gives them the kind of breadth of knowledge and skills they need.
We believe teachers are the single most important thing in any school. They deserve to be professionally trained, properly paid and treated with respect. Their training must embrace an understanding of child psychology and different pedagogies. There is, for example, no evidence that zero tolerance behaviour strategies and silent corridors aid educational outcomes. Yet many young teachers are attracted to these approaches because they haven’t studied other methods. At heart, properly trained teachers with continuing professional development cost money – and funding state education properly is a moral imperative.
Schools Rooted in their Communities
Schools are not supermarket chains. Every school has its own distinctive make-up and community around it. We believe in a curriculum linked to the local area, so as to bring the learning alive. We also think schools should be accountable to their local communities through elected parent governors. The more that parents feel connected to their school and listened to, the more effective the education. And it goes without saying that the more a school is supported by local families, the more it builds the social cohesion our fractured society so badly needs.