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Gordon Browns Masterplan

12 May 2009 2,077 views No Comment

The next big thing?Gordon Brown’s masterplan, for parents to be able to complain about schools, received a muted response.
Joanna Moorhead asks teachers, parents and experts to come up with their own big idea

Joanna Moorhead
The Guardian, Tuesday 12 May 2009

Gordon Brown speaks to students at Prendergast Hilly Fields school in south London. Photograph: Peter Macdiarmid/PA

Shirley Williams
Former education secretary
The curriculum is what needs addressing: it’s peculiarly dry and manages to do all the choosing for children, rather than allowing them to choose for themselves. It’s far too narrow and rigorous. Children have a natural affinity, for example, with history, which they often find exciting and can get a great deal from imaginatively. But what the curriculum does is take a subject like this, that’s naturally exciting, and make it seem narrow and boring – a lot of bright children, especially, get really bored. The best teachers are creative people who want to enthuse children with subjects they themselves are enthusiastic about, and so often the current curriculum irons that out. We have to loosen up the system and change the curriculum so that teachers are given a lot more room for manoeuvre.

Sir William Atkinson
Head of Phoenix high school in Hammersmith and Fulham
My big idea is quite straightforward: stop tinkering with education. Over recent years, successive education ministers have fallen over themselves to demonstrate how keen they are to raise standards, and that meant tinkering after tinkering. There’s this initiative and then there’s that initiative … and that means headteachers are forced to make decisions on which initiatives to ignore, which to pay lip service to, and which to take seriously. Not only does all that take up a lot of their time, but even worse is the fact that not all heads have the confidence or are in a position where they can afford to ignore some initiatives – so they’re in an even more difficult situation, and are pulled this way and that. What we need now is an extended period of stability where teachers know what’s going on – we need to get back to a time when teachers were allowed to do their job.

John Coughlan
Director of children’s services for Hampshire county council
The big idea in education has already happened – what I most hope is that the government is still with it, and still committed to seeing it through. What I’m talking about is the vision for the 21st-century school that was outlined in the Children’s Plan 15 months ago. It’s a whole new way of making schools more holistic, of linking them up with other child-centred services in the community: it’s about, for example, making school the hub of other family support services, and it’s about linking secondary and primary schools more effectively. So we don’t need another big idea – but we really need this one, and we need to make it work.

David Miller
Guardian secondary school teacher of the year in the Teaching Awards, an English teacher at St Ninian’s high school in Bishopbriggs, Glasgow
Overhaul teacher training: at the moment teacher-training providers don’t share the vision of what’s needed, and changing the way teachers are trained has the potential to transform the entire system. We need a shift of attitudes: I’d like to see a system in which anyone coming into teaching needs to have spent at least two years working full-time, because the thing I notice time and again is that teachers who have experience beyond the classroom bring so much imagination to their subjects, and they’re so good at relating learning to real life. They’re also a lot tougher. I spent 15 years working in the arts before I came into teaching, and I draw on that every day.

Virginia Bovell
Member of the expert advisory group of the Lamb inquiry, which is consulting on the SEN system
We should refocus our priorities towards how well the system serves children with SEN and disabilities: they make up a fifth of the school population, and thousands are outside the school system altogether. Too often they are ignored, or seen as an afterthought. What would the education system look like if they were the first thought? First, we’d see central government doing a lot more to ensure compliance with minimum standards – including taking a tougher line on unlawful behaviour by schools and local authorities. Second, teachers would be better trained, and their success wouldn’t be measured by GCSE grades. And third, active parents – including those whose children have SEN – would no longer be treated with suspicion, but as allies in the quest to drive up standards and outcomes for all.

Dr Richard Pike
Chief executive of the Royal Society of Chemistry
Science deserves a much higher profile. A round 10% of students take it on beyond GCSE, while the other 90% have a science education that ends at 16 – and my view is that both these groups could be better served. We need more, and better, science teachers: many at primary level have little understanding of science in the workplace or the community, and a lot more could be done to give them opportunities to learn. We also need to up standards generally – most independent schools now do the international GCSE . What it means is that those young people who have done it are better equipped for A-level. We also need to link science more with maths – that brings science alive and gives it a lot more meaning.

Margaret Morrissey
Of parentsoutloud.com, a forum for parents
I’d focus on 16-yearolds: they’re now forced to stay in school, and many end up going into higher education when what they really want, and feel suited to, is working and earning a living. I think we need to go back to a situation where a young person could choose to leave school at 16 and to go into an apprenticeship or training scheme – and I don’t mean a government job-creation scheme where they earn peanuts. I’m talking about proper jobs in proper companies, where they learn as they go along. And the knock-on effect would be that universities and colleges wouldn’t be crammed with young people who didn’t have the ability or aptitude for being there, and that in turn would mean that resources could be tailored for paying for the higher education of people who really wanted to be at university, so we could overhaul the loans scheme and stop the situation we’re in at the moment where we’re creating a generation of youngsters who are up to their ears in debt.

Christine Blower
General secretary of the NUT
Trusting teachers more is the central thing the government has to do, and has to incorporate into its policy and its attitude. Ministers tell us all the time that we’ve got the best trained generation of teachers we’ve ever had, so we’ve got to learn to trust them and to trust their judgment. Trusting their judgment means getting rid of Sats and consulting those in the profession about new ways of assessing teachers. It also means abolishing Ofsted and putting into place a system of schools’ self-evaluation in which teachers’ judgments are properly valued.

Melvyn Kershaw
Secondary headteacher of the year in the Teaching Awards, currently seconded to the Department for Children, Schools and Families (DCSF) as an adviser
The big idea for education is happening already, and it’s called the 14 to 16 reforms. What they’re about is making each school into a kind of consumer on behalf of its pupils: and what that means is that headteachers will stop trying to provide every opportunity for every pupil, and will instead look around much more widely on the pupil’s behalf to meet his or her needs. It might be a course available at another college, it might be a placement with an employer, but what it’s always going to be about is personalising learning. This plan is being developed right now, and in my view it’s going to revolutionise the education system, because no school or college can provide every opportunity – and this plan is going to mean a much greater range of options for every student.

Lee Elliot Major
Of the Sutton Trust
Inequality is the most urgent problem – and the benefits of tackling inequality in the education system will trickle right through our society. The current trend in education, and it’s espoused by both Gordon Brown and David Cameron, is for a market-based system – but I’d argue that all these moves to increase parental choice are of most benefit to middle-class families, and that, overall, they exacerbate social segregation. We need to give disadvantaged pupils and disadvantaged schools more help: and we should start by changing the way we measure attainment, focusing more on how we measure the attainment levels of children from poorer backgrounds. Funding those schools with the most challenging circumstances is crucial. The government would say that it’s already giving them more funding, but I think a lot more could be done. We also need to do more to attract the best teachers into the most challenging schools, and I think that could be done with financial incentives – and incentives that continue in relation to how the teachers concerned manage to raise standards in their new schools.

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