Published in the Brentwood Gazette – 1st January 2014
This month I attended a meeting with the Shadow Minister for Schools, Kevin Brennan MP, at Portcullis House in Westminster that I had arranged on behalf of Brentwood and Ongar Labour Party. I was one of only two in our delegation who had no educational experience.
Amongst our group were a former head teacher, assistant head teacher, head of department and a Professor of technology enhanced learning. Mr Brennan, in contrast to most of his colleagues and peers, spent 11 years as a secondary school teacher before going into politics.
At the moment it seems like a hostage to fortune to those who wish to make their mark within the five year term of a parliament rather than setting down a long term strategy for our schools.
Fresh in my thoughts was the article in this newspaper regarding the latest in a bewilderingly long line of changes brought in by the current Secretary of State. The senior members of Brentwood’s established schools were united in calling for more time and detail to prepare for exam changes.
This also underlined a real issue for me, that those expected to implement changes are not being engaged in the process of forming them.
I am a parent but no expert in education. I have no background in teaching and I don’t have the first idea of how to control and engage a classroom of teenagers. Neither do the people making education policy and, amazingly, some who are running and leading our newest schools.
I applauded Mr Gove recently when he condemned Simon Cowell’s comments about his schooling having nothing to do with his success and it being more important to be “lucky”. He was right to say that it set a very poor example to our students and their parents.
However, the Secretary of State’s actions appear contradictory.
He doesn’t believe that teachers need to even be qualified to work in state schools. Teachers in academies no longer have to have Qualified Teacher Status (QTS), recent figures show that over 10% of staff in free schools are unqualified.
When visiting Westminster I was accompanied by people who had spent considerable time in education. Because I have no such experience their perspective is invaluable. Shouldn’t those deciding policy do the same?
Continuing his apparent disdain for learning, Mr Gove refers to our leading academics as “the blob” and prefers to be advised by someone who believes that genetics determine your academic success and another, Lord Nash, who runs a private company that has opened some free schools.
As the 27 year old unqualified head of one of his primaries recently resigned in her first term, perhaps he is not the best person to ask?
It would certainly explain the emphasis on competition in current policy over collaboration and sharing best practice. I much prefer to see schools working together to the benefit of as many of our children, and the wider community, as possible.
The recent Gazette coverage of Shenfield High pupils’ “beat the bullies” workshop for children from five of our primary schools is a brilliant example.
Competition requires winners and losers. Why should there be any desire to allow any child to lose in education?
Sadly exam changes follow the same destructive path. Similarly, labelling current GCSEs as not “rigorous” while pupils are still preparing hard for them helps no-one at all apart from those promoting, and benefitting from, “reforms”.
As BCHS head Stephen Drew said in the Gazette article I referred to earlier, “exams should not be about seeing how many young people we can make fail”.
I shall feed that back to Mr Brennan.