I urge the next Labour government to end in schools the tyranny of testing, the coercion of competition, the constraints of the national curriculum, and the wealth-driven educational privilege that feeds elite professions. We envisage students having more time to develop their own pursuits and we focus on happiness as an essential element of schooling.
HAPPINESS OF STUDENTS
Schools should be enabling students to find happiness now and in their futures. Many of those futures will be as employees and any good employer knows that a contented workforce is a key to successful production. Schools have, of course, many aims but we put happiness of students at the top of the list. Everyone knows that gaining knowledge, developing values and learning skills that will serve in adult life are essential parts of schooling, but, in recent years, the happiness of students (and their teachers) has been ground down by the relentless pressure for high results. This needs to change.
EVERY SCHOOL A GOOD SCHOOL
We will aim for every school to be a good school (most are already) and therefore we will encourage parents to send their children to the neighbourhood school. (This helps build strong communities, which are likely to be needed in the uncertain economic and perilous-environment times ahead). When every state school is judged to be good we will take steps for independent schools either to transfer to the state system or to be closed. No longer should parental wealth give access to schools that distort entry to elite professions. In the future these professions should draw from across the range of all state schools and thus benefit from a much wider pool of ability.
NO NATIONAL TESTING BEFORE AGE 18
We will begin to abolish all forms of national testing in primary and secondary schools prior to a new national leaving-assessment at 18. Careful and detailed discussions with members of the teaching profession will be asked to consider, and hopefully devise, a reconstruction of secondary schooling in the now compulsory years up to 18. Is the GCSE still appropriate: could it be phased out? A leaving-assessment is needed to cover non-academic as well as academic pathways through the later years of schooling. In primary schools the assessment of children’s progress must lie entirely within schools and the professional judgements of teachers.
National targets, SATs, levels of attainment, and league tables will be abolished: they are impediments to good teaching and learning in schools. Competition is not an effective way of raising standards: it is the quality and professionalism of teachers, the endeavours of pupils, and the support of their parents, that counts.
CURRICULUM DECIDED BY SCHOOLS
It is inarguable that primary schools need to ensure that their pupils learn to read, write and do simple arithmetic but it is less certain that the extensive demands of the current national curriculum are in the best interests of pupils. Likewise secondary schools need to ensure that their students are prepared for whatever final examinations they will take, but that depends upon the demands of the latter. We believe that what is taught in schools should not be determined by politicians, as has tended to be the case over the past 30 years. While an outline national curriculum should be decided by senior members of the teaching profession, it is teachers, schools and local community governors who should determine the detail of what students need in their classes.
HOMEWORK MINIMISED OR ABOLISHED
We recognise that social activities like play and team games, and individual activities like reading and hobbies are important aspects of education, but young people have too little time in their school years for much of these. We consider that young people spend too much of their waking lives in school in classwork and at home doing homework. We believe that school homework should be minimised, if not abolished and school timetables adjusted to include private study periods.
TRAINING OF TEACHERS: MASTERS FOR ALL
The above proposals will put great demands on teachers for which they need a vibrant personality, a strong commitment to young people, a good academic background, and effective professional training including the psychology of classroom teaching, curriculum design, and classroom management skills. We believe this will be best achieved if teachers have a bachelor’s degree followed by rigorous selection for a two-year master’s degree of professional training shared between a university department of education and local schools.
RESPONDING TO PUPILS' EDUCATIONAL NEEDS
In the interim, before such training is putting a new generation of teachers into schools, it will be important to provide thorough in-service training for existing teachers to prepare them for the changes which we envisage making in our education system. They will need the confidence and insight to take on the responsibility of finding what their pupils’ personal and cognitive needs are and trying to respond to them. That represents the difference between a teacher and an instructor. Too much of recent government education policy has been promoting the latter and neglecting the former.
This proposal was inspired by Michael Moore’s film of Finnish education and Roger Titcombe’s synopsis at https://rogertitcombelearningmatters.wordpress.com/2017/09/14/there-is-another-way-and-it-appears-to-work/#comments.
It has also been posted on the Labour Party's "Your Britain" site.
MB 15 September 2017