As election fever grips the nation and the 7th of May looms, thoughts turn to what the future holds for education.
Some of the UK’s leading educationalists, who work with Osiris Educational, told Staffroom what policies they would bring in if they were Education Secretary. The results are thought-provoking and centred upon what is best for the learning of all children.
Vote for your favourite by tweeting the hashtag to @osirisedu or tell us what you would introduce if you were Education Secretary.
If I were Secretary of State for Education, the first policy I would bring in would be to change teachers’ contracts so that, to get an annual increment, teachers would have to demonstrate that they had improved their classroom practice. It would be up to the teacher to decide what to improve, and also to decide what would count as evidence of improvement (e.g. videos of classroom practice, student questionnaires, test results), but the requirement to get better, no matter how long you have been teaching, and no matter how good you are, would not be negotiable.
If I were Secretary of State for Education, I would abolish the exam boards and create a single, non-commercial National Institute of Education (NIE) to oversee qualifications. All tests would assess improvement rather than achievement. The NIE would also produce a detailed menu of the personal ‘character strengths’ that schools could commit to developing in their students.
Schools would have to publish their own customised list of these strengths, specify the methods by which they would cultivate them, and evaluate their success in developing them, as well as justify their choices and their methods to a humane successor to Ofsted.
I would seek those schools where nearly all students were making more than a year’s progress each year and build a coalition of success around them (no need to go to Finland or Shanghai!), and then invite all schools to be part of this coalition – success is all around us.
I would resource schools to better know their impact (i.e. what a year’s progress in each subject looks like), to help teachers have a common conception of progress and to emphasise both achievement and progress. I would form a group of highly accomplished teachers and principals to advise me on new directions, the implementation of policies, and the evaluation of current policies.
I feel that an Education Secretary should have experience of working in UK schools as a minimum requirement. If I were to take on the unenviable role of Education Secretary, then I think that my initial focus would be on re-establishing local accountability for schools, rather than having all powers centralised in a Minister of State.
Centralised accountability is cumbersome, impractical and unlikely to take due account of local contexts. The current arrangements, with no local monitoring of governing bodies, may potentially lead to a lack of immediate transparency and the adoption of idiosyncratic agendas in governance. Local accountability would make teachers feel less alienated from the centre of power and less subject to the whims of political ideology.
I would also want to take a close look at how the National Curriculum could be made less prescriptive, and whether, in its current form, it risks turning teachers into semi-skilled ‘deliverers’ of information rather than inspired and inspirational ‘creators and facilitators’.
If I was Education Secretary I would create tours of duty for teachers. I think a forty-year career is very hard for teachers, and maybe it should be a bit more like the Army, where you sign up for five, seven or nine years at a time.
I think education policy should be created by teachers, for teachers, and the best of those teachers should lead initiatives around the country. Politicians should not be involved in policy-making, and I firmly believe that we’ve got the expertise and the talent in this country to create new education policy without politicians getting in the way and hampering the creativity of our profession.
Like in the medical profession and engineering, I honestly don’t think that someone can be called an Outstanding teacher in the first couple of years. I think it should take time before you can be given that accolade, and there should be various levels of teachers, going all the way up to master teacher level. More experienced teachers could mentor and help other, less experienced teachers.
I think teacher training should become more enjoyable for people, so they can really embrace what they do and be valued more highly by society. So my final idea is that more marketing should be carried out – by the teaching profession and by the government – to parents, about the fantastic work that thousands of teachers do up and down this country.
Also, responsibility for bringing up children should be shifted back to parents and carers, because I think it’s gone far too far the other way, with teachers expected to carry out a lot of roles that parents would traditionally be expected to do, with the result that many people almost seem to hold teachers responsible for every ill in society these days.
I would want to increase state/independent partnerships. I think both sectors have a lot to learn from each other. I would also ensure that policy is dictated either by those at the coal face, or people who have worked closely with – or, ideally, in – a school at some point in their careers, not by bureaucrats who have never returned to a classroom since they left school. To this end, I would introduce a compulsory PGCE for all future Education Secretaries!
If I were Education Secretary, I’d start by listening more to middle managers in schools. They are the ones who really understand the challenges schools face every day, and the reality of the constant changes and overwhelming paperwork.
I would firm up the statutory careers guidance for schools, with a list of minimum expectations for an Ofsted ‘Good’ grade.
I’d also limit Ofsted grades for schools that did not achieve at least a ‘Good’ in careers provision.