With so much to deal with in 2016, why debate a return to 1950s education?

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09 September 2016 by Julia Neal
So my first week as the new AMiE president – and the first of the new academic year – draws to an end. Glancing through the press this week, it’s clear that there will lots of to talk about over the coming months and I’m hoping you’ll join the debate.

I had expected at the start of the week that the papers would present a gloomy outlook – and I wasn’t wrong. With a government inevitably preoccupied by Brexit, I wondered what prime minister Theresa May, along with the education secretary she has appointed, Justine Greening, would have to say in terms of education policy.

A bit surprising, then, that Greening appears to have no more to think about than reviving the age-old debate about grammar schools. Having worked in one myself for decades, I can appreciate grammar schools’ qualities, but is a debate about a return to a 1950s school system what is needed now?

Our school system has been systematically fragmented, colleges have been facing great reorganisation and upheaval, assessment is in a mess and our inspection service is not fit for purpose.

As for the most pressing issue facing education: workload remains a serious problem. We know from AMiE and ATL’s workload campaign It’s about time that many leaders are really grasping the nettle; asking staff how they think unnecessary workload can be reduced, listening, and then introducing changes to lessen the burden.

But the inadequate response of the previous education secretary Nicky Morgan to the workload issue means, despite the best efforts of some leaders, many causes of unnecessary workload have not been addressed.

We need Greening to take this on.

And then there’s the potential threat of forced academisation, more than hinted at in the White Paper Educational Excellence Everywhere, and likely to feature heavily in the Education Bill expected in the autumn.

We know that many students already feel under incredible pressure because of the Government obsession with testing.

The stakes have now got higher.

Students – many of whom are already struggling with the pressure to perform in tests - are potentially aware that If they fail their school will be turned into an academy.

Some headteachers will fall by the wayside.  No wonder then that the TES felt it prudent to publish an article this week advising them on how to tackle redundancy.

There’s also the controversy that is still raging about the forced GCSE resits in maths and English. We know these subjects are important – but surely this policy should be reconsidered in order to be more assessment friendly to our students and to release the burden on our overstretched colleges? Not all students will manage this path of progression as a route to further training and employment.

As we face the realities of the new academic year – let us be proud of the jobs we do despite some of the madness of Government policy. With so many pressing issues as the year gets underway, let’s force ministers out of their narrow focus on grammar schools and into a broader debate. Because there’s a lot to debate.

It is my job as your president to take your views to government. What’s important to you? Join the debate on Twitter.

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Educational reform