It is a great shame that education has remained in the shadows of the election debates, because there are real issues which should be aired, and very different policy directions to be followed, depending on the outcome of the election.
Given the 500 (or so…) word limit I have set myself for these blogs, I can do no more than summarize the positions taken on key educational issues by the three main political parties.
The curriculum: Labour would, within 100 days, pass a joint DfE/BIS bill to transform vocational education with a new gold standard technical baccalaureate for 16 – 19 year olds. The Conservatives would make the EBacc compulsory and mandate every child to learn core knowledge in English, maths and science. The Lib Dems would establish an independent education standards body, removed from ministerial interference, responsible for the curriculum and exam standards, and would introduce a minimum curriculum entitlement.
School structures: Labour would end the free schools programme and claw back excessive academy reserves. The Conservatives would open another 500 free schools and would force all schools rated ‘satisfactory’ by Ofsted to join an academy chain.
Teacher career paths: Both Labour and the Lib Dems would require all teachers in state funded schools to have, or be working towards, QTS. All three parties support a College of Teaching but with different emphasis for its functions.
Pay and reward: The Lib Dems have pledged to end the pay freeze for teachers and other public sector workers. Neither the Conservatives nor Labour have committed to this.
School Accountability: Labour would reform Ofsted, introducing a peer review model of school accountability. Both Labour and the Lib Dems would allow Ofsted to inspect academy chains and both parties would introduce stronger, local accountability and school improvement functions.
Teacher recruitment: Labour is committed to a review of teacher training. And UKIP would establish a grammar school in every town…
So much for what has been promised in the party manifestos. What I am interested in, however, is those educational issues which are not talked about by any of the parties, but which, in my view, are going to be major challenges in the next parliament.
Qualification reform: Apart from Labour’s commitment to re-coupling AS and A level, no party is talking about the mess that has been made in the frantic rush to reform GCSE and A levels. There are two major concerns. One is the haphazard and, frankly, inept way in which Ofqual has overseen the tsunami of qualification reform which has engulfed schools. (School leaders complain, in particular, of very late information on the revised syllabuses). A longer term problem will be the lowering effect of timed, linear exams on pupil attainment. Politicians will not be thanked by parents for introducing qualifications which lead to widespread failure.
School funding crisis: The rush to acadamisation, and the financial rewards accrued particularly by early convertors has left many school leaders in stand-alone convertor academies unprepared for tough economic times. It will not be too long before an academy, in danger of going bust, has to be bailed out by the Education Funding Agency. Restructuring (a euphemism for redundancies) will become the new normal in many schools – with all the negative consequences that entails for industrial relations both within schools, and nationally.