(This is a draft designed to be circulated to organisations and individuals in UK education. Please suggest ways to improve it factually or persuasively.)
It's not the Minister's policy, but the Minister's power
|UK Ministers of Education|
For 30 years there has been a stream of directives from The Dept. for Education.
- SATs are on, and then off, then, maybe, on again.
- Schools should be specialist, then academies
- GCSEs should be modular, then linear.
- A-levels are split into two parts, then re-united.
- Schools can let students choose their GCSEs, then we get EBacc
Each time we get a new initiative, teachers (and unions) complain, campaign, sweat, get stressed, resign...
Every time the minister claims they are trying to help students' learning. They are not evil people; they genuinely believe their own thoughts. All the evidence, campaigning and resigning that teachers do, simply reinforces their belief that they have to make the change because teachers are resistant to the 'obvious' benefits of the policy.
So, perhaps we should stop campaigning on individual issues and get to the nub of the problem. The Secretary of State for Education has not always had these powers. Many of them date from the 1988 Education Reform Act.
Could we agree on a political objective which would remove the powers and give them to an independent body (perhaps modelled on the Office for Budget responsibility?
Here is an extract from a July 2014 NAHT document 'Owning what is ours: a manifesto for education'
"How we change the system is almost as important as what is being changed. Too often change is chaotic and hasty, which limits our ability to make it stick. The profession and government become distracted by conflict over principles rather than engaged in discussion around implementation.
We propose an ‘office of educational responsibility’. This office will go beyond existing proposals for evidence collection into planning and managing a five-year reform programme.
This programme would be agreed in advance and subject to rolling review. New proposals for change will need to be submitted to the office for analysis against three tests: evidence of impact, value for money and capacity to implement. It needs to be difficult for ministers to depart from the programme. A high profile chief education officer, coming from the profession, could lead the office.
Politicians would set principles, policies and outcomes. The profession would determine methods and, subject to representation via the office, be able to implement defined and tested policy in good faith."
Brian Lightman, ASCL leader, suggests an independent body to make decisions about the school curriculum and called for the end of schools having to follow the personal "whims" of policymakers. (Mar 2015)
If a number of teaching organisations could agree what we wanted, perhaps we could persuade the present Sec. of State to close the door on future rapid change to existing policies by creating such a body and handing over her powers.
Although it should be modelled on the Office for Budget Responsibility, this body should not have a similar name. The problem in education is not irresponsibility; it is the constant changes based on little or no evidence or experiment.
Dreaming? Why not?
Unless we can get these powers changed we will be stuck with a continuous round of 'initiatives' as new ministers make their mark on the job.
Draft Dec 2015