According to a new report our Education system is letting us down and its mainly to do with Trust

Quangos should be slimmed down and their influence reduced; all schools should be independent


On Monday Dr Anthony Seldon presented a BBC 2 programme on Trust informed by his recent book on the same subject ( Anthony Seldon, Trust: How we lost it, and how to get it back, Biteback, 2009)

He gives examples of the lack of trust between people  and  the institutions that purport to serve or represent them . His argument is that this has a corrosive effect on society and governance and diminishes the quality of all our lives. And an absence of trust in our relationships leads essentially to a dysfunctional society. But it doesn’t have to be like this, he says, and he looks beyond politics and to the past for answers in pursuit of greater accountability, social harmony and well-being placing power back in the hands of people at the grassroots. Fundamental reforms are needed with different approaches to re-establish Trust ( polling suggests that just 30% of the electorate trust politicians) but change must come from each and every one of us in the way we act, and interact, including for example,  through more community engagement and volunteering.

At the end of last week  the centre right think tank the Centre for Policy Studies published a Seldon pamphlet  ‘An end to Factory Schools’An education manifesto 2010 – 2020 in which  he argues that  too many state schools have become factories. Results (at least on paper) have improved. But, he asks, at what cost? Reluctant students are processed, says Seldon, through a system which is closely controlled and monitored by the state. No area of public life is more important than education to prepare people to live meaningful, productive and valuable lives. Yet our schools turn out young people who are often incapable of living full and students’ lack of academic and personal skills while universities find that the end products of schools can be little more than well drilled automatons who do not know how to think independently about their academic subjects. Seldon’s book (and the TV programme) and the CPS pamphlet are linked. He writes ‘If one unifying idea draws together the ensuing chapters, it is the need for more trust throughout education. Government needs to trust schools, heads and teachers more. Parents need to be trusted more to choose the school for their children and to be far more actively involved in their children’s schools. Governors need to trust heads more. Heads need to trust teachers more. Teachers need to trust students more. Parents need to trust their children more. Students need to trust adults more. Mistakes will be made, but that in a free society is how learning occurs, how progress is made.’

In his film in one particularly striking scene he talks to a Primary school Head who shows the number of policies and regulations that his school has to adhere to, vividly illustrating just how little trust politicians and bureaucrats have in his ability as Headteacher to run his school.

Seldon makes twenty recommendations in his report calling for independent state schools free to decide their own curriculum, with active learning, not rote learning.

He wants a more holistic approach too to learning, encouraging all children to   develop the ‘eight aptitudes’ , informed by Howard Gardners eight intelligences, combined with diversification of public examinations. He calls for a radical restructuring of the current exam regime and for the stranglehold of A-Levels and GCSEs in England and Wales to be ended. The Government should instead welcome alternative exam systems, including the IB at diploma, middle years and primary years level. Within schools, the focus should shift away from assessment and teaching-to-the test, towards genuine learning and understanding.  Significantly, he wants the influence of QCDA and Ofqual to be “greatly reduced.” The General Teaching Council (GTC) should be abolished and recast as a far more rigorously professional body, upholding and championing the highest standards rather than acting as a trade union protecting teachers. And ‘The education ‘establishment’ ,including the DCSF, QCDA, Ofqual, Ofsted, the TDA, SSAT, GTC and ISC, should all undergo radical restructuring before 2015. They need to decentralize power, he says, to facilitate rather than drive change and to work collaboratively rather than dictatorially. They should be far slimmer. They need to trust schools more and let creativity and individuality blossom, rather than be stifled by central blueprint.’

For those who have caricatured  happiness classes in schools, Seldon reminds them that promoting ‘well-being’ does not require special lessons, but could be emphasized in all aspects of a school’s activities, including politeness and good manners, and a smart and distinct school uniform.  On inspections, he believes that Ofsted should be cut considerably and be focused on teaching and learning, not on children’s services. . Schools which are performing poorly should be inspected regularly, while those performing at high levels should not be inspected at all. Seldon was an admirer of Tony Blair as Prime Minister (though not of his conduct over Iraq). But he comes to not so flattering, conclusions on the effects of 13 years of New Labour’s education policies.

First, the disparities in performance between the independent and state sectors are increasing, not reducing. Independents have improved more rapidly than state schools and the current mix of policies to deal with the divide between independent and state schools will never succeed in closing the gap. Second, those children from the least advantaged backgrounds who would benefit from additional funding above the average, are receiving a worse education than those who attend popular state schools or who attend fee-paying schools. Seldon concludes ‘A new approach is needed. Its ultimate aim must be independence for all schools.’

Many of his ideas find favour with the Tories, and the shadow Education Secretary Michael Gove and Seldon are members of a mutual appreciation society, with Lord Adonis (Labour) an honorary member.

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