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Education reforms: what the experts think

24 November 2010 2,315 views No Comment

Sarah Ebner, editor of the School Gate blog,

13_sandwiches415John O’Leary (Editor of The Times Good University Guide and of Policy Review magazine)
Michael Gove is in so much of a hurry to reform the education system that his ultra-ambitious Schools White Paper inevitably ranges from the sublime to the ridiculous. He has waded in where even previous Tory ministers feared to tread – notably on teacher training and aspects of the curriculum. It remains to be seen how many measures come to pass.
Some of the ideas are confused – a baccalaureate that can’t be taken by all pupils (because of a shortage of language teachers) is a strange national benchmark and teaching hospitals are a wholly inappropriate model for training teachers.
They are as much a part of their university as the faculties of education that Mr Gove wants to replace and there are only 23 of them in the country – completely different from training teachers in overstretched, underqualified schools.
Other reforms, such as a national funding formula for schools and reversing the spread of modules, have needed doing for some time. But overall, the impression is an attempt to turn the clock back – always tempting but seldom successful.

Philip Parkin (general secretary of Voice, the union for education professionals)
The Department for Education seems to be driven by competing and conflicting ideologies – centralise with inflexible targets yet undermine national pay and conditions for school staff; raise teaching standards but propose the employment of unqualified teachers in free schools; promote a traditional national curriculum but exempt its favourite type of school (academies) from following it; allow teachers freedom to teach but tell them how to do it – not so much a mass of contradictions but a mess of contradictions.
As with previous policies, there is a risk of a headlong rush into change for the sake of change without proper consideration of all the issues and consequences.
Warwick Mansell (education specialist and author of Education by Numbers: The Tyranny of Testing)
Michael Gove’s plans to intervene in the affairs of schools with low test or exam results, confirmed in the White Paper, are extraordinary.
Although the coalition presents itself as in favour of localism, new powers to order an “underperforming” school to become an academy appear to allow the Secretary of State to take this decision without any reference to what the school’s local community – parents, governors, pupils and staff –wants.
The most significant other reforms are on testing and the curriculum, including a new reading test for six-year-olds, with results likely to be published in league tables, and the curriculum likely to be slimmed down. Much of the white paper is going to be very contentious.

Christine Blower (general secretary of the National Union of Teachers)
Michael Gove seems determined to pursue an ideologically driven education agenda that, despite the avowed intentions of the White Paper, will increase bureaucracy and government interference and will increase the divide between schools not close it.
“If the Education Secretary genuinely wishes England to do as well as countries such as Finland, to which he frequently refers in the White Paper, he should follow its example by replacing the inspection system with school self-evaluation, refrain from the publication of results by school League Tables and the setting of narrow performance targets and allow teachers to choose their own method of teaching reading.

Margaret Morrissey (of the Parents Outloud campaign group)
A Secretary of State with very little experience of the education system is making personal and radical changes for our children and has presented a disappointing White Paper today. For 25 years parents have campaigned to have a leader in the Department for Education who has taught and managed in schools, worked with parents and teachers and understands the reality of teaching children.
It is wrong to continually damn teachers. Parents do not in general agree with Ofsted and have real satisfaction with those who teach their children. There will always be the exception, but surely that can be addressed. Teaching is a vocation not a free-for-all the jobless with a degree.
Originally Ofsted was useful and parent-friendly. Then cuts were made, parents were excluded from the process and the whole value of the inspection was lost in tick-box inspection. Ofsted needs to be abolished.
League tables are a crude indicator of a school’s performance. They give a limited view and fail to give credit to the wider progress individual children have made. The majority of parents opposed them, as they did SATs, aware of the stress they inflicted on teachers and children with no gain other than for politicians’ sound bites.

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