26 October 2015
RESPONSE TO THE GOVERNMENT CONSULTATION ON “INTERVENING IN FAILING, UNDERPERFORMING AND COASTING SCHOOLS”
I am unhappy with the proposed definition of ‘coasting’ and offer an alternative.
“COASTING’ DEFINED BY THE GOVERNMENT’S DOCUMENT
Paragraph 22 of the government document says:
ISSUES OF CONCERN
(1) By attending solely to achievements in ‘reading, writing and mathematics’ there is the implication that these are all that matters in the education of primary school children and the danger that other aspects of all-round education may tend to be neglected. I address this in detail below.
(2) Why 85%? It could be argued that there should be concern unless 100% of pupils are ‘fulfilling their potential’ – except that there is no meaningful way of knowing whether anyone has ‘fulfilled their potential’ since it is an undefinable concept.
(3) What is ‘the standard we expect’? Who are ‘we’? Who decides whether or not ‘pupils are failing to make enough progress’? These are matters that teachers within a school may feel able to decide from their on-going knowledge of their pupils, and parents will have a view on. But anyone outside a school can neither fairly nor usefully determine what standard should be achieved for every or any child within a school. Home and local environments vary widely and to try to ignore this is to put an unfair burden on some schools and their teachers.
(4) I fear that this definition of ‘coasting’ smacks of the manageralism which may be appropriate for monitoring the inputs and outputs of a factory, but is totally wrong for assessing the complex and varied development of young people in schools.
FIRST, DEFINE “EDUCATION”
Many politicians and business executives may support the manageralism approach to education, but, as a professor of education, I take a much broader view, which I believe is shared by most teachers and parents.
It may sound pedantic, but I consider that anyone who aims to influence the work of schools should first make clear what they understand by “education”. This is my present position:
Obviously learning to read, write and do simple sums is an important part of this, but schools have, as the above makes clear, many other purposes for their pupils.
These are the “many and varied attributes” that I hope young people experience in their time at primary and secondary school:
In all this, schools should be joyful places as they go about the business of preparing young people for the good life in terms of work, home and play. To me, these ideas define schooling and the work of teachers. No doubt others would add to them or express them differently, but, by and large, I would expect a consensus that these matter to most parents and represent the views of most primary school teachers.
AN ALTERNATIVE VIEW OF “COASTING”
So, if primary schooling is to be politically recognized as broader than the 3 Rs of ‘paragraph 22’, how can ‘coasting’ be determined? Certainly it cannot be measured quantitatively, but can it be recognized qualitatively?
Let ‘coasting’ be defined, in terms of the above eleven attributes of schooling, as teaching that concentrates on a few of these attributes, and tends to neglect others. (It would mean, of course, that a school that spent too much time on the 3 Rs to the detriment of other learning, would be ‘coasting’!) How could this be recognized?
The answer lies locally, not nationally, with school parents and school governors. If parents know that these attributes (however expressed) are the intentions of their children’s school they can get a sense from their children of whether they are featuring from time to time in their education. If children regularly complain that school is ‘boring’, alarm bells should ring in parents’ minds and they should try to find out why. Is it their child at fault or is it the work and ambience of the child’s classroom? Is there too much focus on some areas of learning and neglect of others? In other words, is their child getting a well-rounded and balanced education? If not, and other parents find likewise, then that class might be described as ‘coasting’. It should be noted that it is the class, not the school that carries this approbation – unless every class in the primary school is the same! Parents should raise their concern with the headteacher and, if little changes, the governing body.
This approach makes accountability local, not national. Yes, it may be patchy, more effective in some places than others. But it enshrines three vital notions. The essential educational requirement that there should be many facets to an all-round education; the democratic expectation of parents having oversight of the effective education of their children at school; and the duty of school governors to ensure that their school is a good school.
This is a slightly modified version of my submission on 26 October 2015