We would like to put forward an alternative vision for our children’s education. We are not experts, but we feel that as relatively informed parents we have something to contribute along with everyone else. Our six key principles are:
Do everything to strengthen the link between a school and its community.
We want to ensure parent governors – and staff governors – are part of decision-making and ensure headteachers are in charge of their schools instead of remote academy chain chief executives. Local authorities know the schools in their community well, and can play a crucial role in ensuring checks and balances – as opposed to remote Regional School Commissioners. School admissions procedures must be fair and transparent, so schools that claim to be comprehensive are just that. Students with special needs and disabilities should be treated fairly, not denied a place or excluded. We would like every parent to feel their child will get a great education at their local school.
Encourage schools to collaborate not compete.
The success of the London Challenge, led by Sir Tim Brighouse under the last Labour government, shows that working together is the best way forward. A government-driven competitive market leads to winners and losers – yet children are human beings, not products to be bought or left on the shelf. Being in a “losers’ ” school leads to low morale, staff cuts as the school roll falls, teachers leaving and a poorer educational experience for our children. A market-led system can lead to increasing social and economic polarisation, as schools that are perceived as “winners” trigger higher property prices. At a time of budget cuts it makes no sense to build schools where they are not needed, and it can damage existing schools and cause greater social segregation.
Focus on the quality of teaching and learning in classrooms.
We believe schools are only as good as their teachers. Assessing the quality of teaching needs to be an essential element in a less punitive inspection system, which brings with it support not fear. More academies mean more opportunities to employ unqualified and poorly qualified teachers. At the same time, teachers can’t teach as well if they are stressed and overworked. We need to place more trust in in-school assessment of students by those who know them best – teachers themselves. There are other ways to externally assess instead of SATS – peer review by other schools for example or external moderation.
Encourage children to be independent thinkers, not robots.
We think discipline in class and teachers “knowing their stuff” is crucial, but so is the ability to light a spark in students’ minds and encourage them to think critically and solve problems. The debate between knowledge and skills is a false one: children need both of these to prepare them for the challenges ahead. Some schools are encouraging students to show greater initiative and curiosity in their learning, and finding that results have improved as students feel more motivated and empowered. This isn’t an easy option for staff: it’s in many ways much harder to teach in this way, but the rewards for both student and teacher are arguably greater.
We want our children to be happy.
Exam pressures are too great in an increasingly narrow curriculum, where the arts and vocational subjects have been squeezed out to the profound detriment of students. The particular ‘losers’ in this framework are students from homes rarely exposed to cultural opportuities and students who are naturally gifted in less academic areas. We would like fewer tests in class and an understanding that children develop at different rates. If you place unreasonable expectations on children they will become fearful of failure. Constantly testing children doesn’t mean they get better at something: it risks reinforcing a sense of inadequacy. We need less “performance data” and far more appreciation of mental health issues. It’s ironic that one thing governments don’t regularly test is the effects of so much testing on our children’s emotional well-being.
Education policy should be informed by what works and doesn’t work in schools, instead of it being dictated by ideology.
Teachers and academics deserve to be respected and listened to. We want to give our teachers hope, and encourage them to stay in the profession instead of joining the on-going exodus. Let’s celebrate them and the huge achievements they have made in state education in the last ten years and more. Relations between professionals and this government have all but broken down. It’s time for an independent commission to look it what is and isn’t working in state education. In the future, education policy would benefit from being developed by professionals for the long term benefit of young people, not by politicians for intended short term electoral gain.