An essay by Michael Bassey 2014


In terms of primary and secondary education these are the proposals for a National Education Service.

  • Every school and academy must be ‘good’, comprehensive and local.
  • Education must be determined by teachers working collegially and supported by national advice, not external direction.
  • Four levels of educational organisation are needed: national administration, local administration, school/academy collegial staff, and school/academy governing body.
  • All assessment should be by teachers until final assessment in the form of diplomas based on the Tomlinson proposals.
  • The current centralized bureaucracy of education of DfE edicts, government micromanagement, league tables, and Ofsted inspections must be disbanded.
  • A National Education Council should be established – independent of government but financed by it – with oversight of education and advisory powers.
  • Parliament should biannually receive a report from the National Education Council drawing on reports from local administrations, which in turn draw on school and academy self-evaluations in a bottom-up approach to accountability.
  • Teachers’ terms of employment must be national. Performance-related pay schemes must be abolished.
  • Particular attention must be paid to the in-service training of teachers to prepare them for the responsibility of collegial working.
  • Initial training of teachers, following a first degree, should be by university-based, school/academy supported post-graduate certificates.

This set of coherent proposals starts from the premise that teachers ‘know best’ what are the educational needs of their students and must be trusted to act accordingly with local and national advisory support and working within a system of ‘bottom-up’ accountability.

Tertiary education (universities, colleges, apprenticeships) needs to be included in a National Education Service, but comprehensive proposals for this are not included in this essay.


Over the last quarter of a century, education has been pushed and pulled, twisted and turned in the maelstrom of party politics. In effect governments of both left and right have acted as though teachers are knowledge-transmitting and skills-training technicians who need to be given a manual and rule book in order to operate effectively in pupil factories with rigorous inspection and constant monitoring of standards so as to ensure that they are working at maximum efficiency, obeying the managements’ rules and creating a 'world class' work force (what ever that may mean) to compete in the world markets of industry and business and help our economy grow in the future. It must now be recognised that this has not worked: politics has polluted the schools and is failing our children.

Education should be about young people living, and learning to live, worthwhile lives. It should be first, the experience and nurture of personal and social development towards worthwhile living; second, the acquisition, creation, development, transmission, conservation, discovery and renewal of worthwhile culture;and third, the skills of worthwhile survival in the challenging times of a globally warming, resource depleted, economically chaotic, future world.

And who should decide what is worthwhile? Teachers – and that is why they need a university education followed by a post-graduate training combining university study with school experience. Teachers, working together collegially in schools, discussing education with parents and local communities, walking tall in society, knowing the educational needs of their pupils, should decide what happens in schools. Accountability should be upwards, from self-evaluation and through democratic governing bodies, through local authorities to Parliament – not government. The educational function of government should be to fund schools from taxation, which is a proper use of public money: government should not bedevil them with party dogma.

For too long we have failed to trust teachers, failed to recognise that through their training, experience, commitment and professionalism, they know best what young people need to find their way in the world of their future.

It is time to return educational decisions to the educators, to trust the teachers, and so enhance the life opportunities of our young.

A possible way to do this is to transform the nation's commitment to education by creating a National Education Service, as set out here.


1.1 All state schools for secondary education should be described as ‘academies’ – irrespective of their recent history.

(This is to accept what is becoming the status quo, but also to recognise that secondary education is, and should be, different from primary education.

Secondary is essentially subject-based teaching with each teacher working with perhaps 200 pupils during a year, while primary is class-based with about 30 pupils per teacher for a year.)

1.2 All state schools for primary education should continue to be described as ‘schools’.

(Any that have been named as ‘academies’ should lose this designation.)

1.3 All state institutions for pre-school children should continue to use the various names presently in use.


(This must be a central concept for a National Education Service. It means that the pseudo-elitism promoted by league tables can disappear. It relates to ethos and culture – not examination results or university places gained. It can be felt but not measured.)

‘Good’ schools and academies are where pupils and teachers are happily and purposefully working together, where pupils and parents have confidence in the teachers and respect them, and where the community sees the local school and local academy as integral elements of a vibrant society.

They embrace curricula and pedagogy that respond effectively to the needs and aspirations of all pupils.

They are places where achievements are high because young people choose to study hard, are taught well by their teachers, are encouraged by their parents, and influenced by a positive climate towards classroom work by their peer group of class-mates.

The over-riding aim of such institutions is to provide for the best all-round educational experience of each and every pupil; this entails teachers striving for all pupils:

  • to master the basic skills needed for their schooling and for their adult life (communication, reading, writing, simple mathematics, and basic IT);
  • to develop their emotional sensitivity and personal morality;
  • to be nurtured in their development of survival and social skills;
  • to be appropriately immersed in the culture of their time;
  • to develop their cognitive, creative and physical talents towards achieving their potential;
  • to enjoy their years of schooling; and
  • to eventually leave at 18 with documents that demonstrate their personal achievements.

(While these are aspirations that no doubt all teachers and parents would subscribe to, it has to be recognised that in recent years, regrettably, so much pressure has been put on schools and academies to achieve government-set targets of results, that some of these attributes of the 'good' are neglected.

The next government must abolish all of these targets. The mantra of ‘raising standards’ is an empty political slogan, not an educational policy: it focuses on too little of what education is about.

Politicians should recognise that good schools and academies grow from the inside, from the combined efforts of pupils, teachers, heads, governors, and local community – and not from government edicts. Those schools that are struggling in difficult and impoverished environments will do better if they can seek the support of their local communities, bringing them on-side, rather than suffer the harassment of Ofsted inspections and government threats.)


All state academies and schools should be comprehensive and local, meaning that they provide for all of the local children across the ability spectrum and do not select by any criteria other than age and catchment area. Grammar schools and faith schools must be required within a few years to change their selection procedures accordingly.

(Initially this notion will be open to attack as ‘education limited by post-code’. But it is actually central to building the strong communities, rather than fragile neighbourhoods, that will be needed in the future. As the coming ecological crisis takes over from the present economic crisis, people will need to live more in their localities – in terms of health care, friendships, sports, shopping, entertainments – and education.

This proposal will also be open to attack as ‘limiting choice’. But if every school and academy is ‘good’ why go elsewhere? Positively, for many families it will remove the angst of trying to choose a school or academy and the disappointment of some by not getting their choice, but also it will reduce their transport costs since young people can walk to the local primary school and in many cases cycle to their secondary academy.)


A collegial institution is one where:

  • decisions as to the most appropriate curriculum for the pupils are taken by the staff and involve parents and governors, drawing on published research evidence and professional guidance, and sharing ideas with neighbouring schools, in order to identify and provide the best education for their pupils;
  • colleagues recognise the strengths and weaknesses of each other and draw encouragement from the first and give support to the second;
  • the head and any deputies are recognised as the educational leaders of the collegial institution in leading the development of pedagogy, curricula and assessment and in challenging and supporting the work of individual teachers.

(This is an essential part of every institution being ‘good’. It puts responsibility for education firmly in the hands of those who, by training, experience and commitment know best the needs of those whom they teach and how to respond to those needs.

Teachers working collegially is the antithesis of the way in which, for much of the 20th century, they worked autonomously – with every classroom door closed, physically and metaphorically.)

It may be appropriate for teachers entering the profession to affirm something like the doctors’ Hippocratic Oath. Call it the ‘Socratic Oath’.

For example:

  • I will teach each and every one of my pupils to the best of my professional ability and endeavour to identify and respond to their educational needs in accord with school/academy policies and ideals of social justice.

(While self-evident within the profession it is not always so to outsiders. This 'Socratic Oath' is intended as a protection against outsiders who seek to direct the work of teachers. It asserts the status and role of teachers in society. Like the doctors’ oath, it need not be made formally but simply recognised as teachers' ethos.)


There should be four clearly defined levels for the administration of the National Education Service.

5.1 National Administration (a low-key government department) with the essential administrative roles of:

(i) providing a basic level of regular funding for state educational institutions, with top-up funding according to special circumstances of the institution;

(ii) providing funding for capital projects such as major renovations of educational institutions and building new ones;

(iii) providing funding for an independent-of-government, research-based National Education Council (as described below);

(iv) providing adequate funding for the local administrations, (as described below).

5.2 Local Administration (not necessarily the erstwhile LEAs but with strong professional leadership which will need a democratic mandate) with essential roles of:

(i) providing the national administration with the statistical evidence of pupil numbers needed to calculate ‘regular funding’;

(ii) advising the national administration on any ‘top-up funding’ needed by educational institutions in its area in consequence of special circumstances;

(iii) advising the national administration on the need for capital projects to renovate educational institutions and to build new schools and academies in relation to predicted changes in local pupil populations;

(iv) distributing national funding received from the national administration to educational institutions and auditing this expenditure;

(v) providing an essential link for the bottom-up accountability between self-evaluation of an educational institution and the National Education Council;

(vi) responding to any significant concerns raised by governors, teachers, parents or local community about the work of a school or academy by appropriate investigation by its inspectors and necessary action by its officers;

(vii) ensuring that sufficient specialist support is available for children with special needs;

(viii) ensuring that appropriate support is available for any children excluded from schools and academies;

(ix)delineating catchment areas which define the local schools and academies that children should attend;

(x) employing a small number of local inspectors/advisers who can provide challenge and support to schools and academies in their pursuit of the ‘good’;

(xi) providing training programmes to initiate new school and academy governors into their role;(xi) employing sufficient staff to carry out the above administrative tasks.

5.3 School and academy internal government with the essential roles of determining:

(i) what happens in the institution in terms of curricula, pedagogy and assessment;

(ii) how the institution utilises such funds as are provided by the state; (iii)how the institution applies for funding for any special circumstances;

(iii) how the institution relates to the local community; and

(iv) how the institution self-evaluates in order to start the process of bottom-up accountability.

(The headteacher needs to be, and seen to be, the head of this internal government and educational leader of the institution, working democratically as far as possible and enabling the staff to work collegially as described above.)

5.4 Governing bodies with powers restricted to:

(i) oversight of the school or academy internal government to ensure that it is functioning justly and effectively;

(ii) submitting school or academy self-evaluation to the local administration as an essential step in the process of bottom-up accountability;

(iii) submitting any proposals for refurbishment or new building, and requests for funding for special circumstances, to the local administration on behalf of the school or academy;

(iv) ensuring that appropriate auditing of expenditure is made;

(v) appointing, and if necessary dismissing, the headteacher (following strict guidelines produced by the National Education Council) and as appropriate supporting the making of other appointments to the teaching and support staff.

(Too much has been expected of governors in recent years. They are an essential element of the National Education Service but it must be remembered that they are lay people, acting like the members of a jury rather than managers asserting power, volunteering in their own time, and expected a priori to support the teaching staff in striving for the ‘good’. Governors should come from the local community - ideally by democratic election).

Within five years the various charity, faith and commercial bodies who have taken on school governance must be replaced by local governors, including parents.


6.1 A national plan should be devised by the National Education Council to replace within five years GCSE and A-level examinations with Tomlinson-type end-of-formal-education diplomas in which academic and vocational provision from age 14 are available in all academies and equally esteemed.

(This brilliant plan, initiated but then ditched by Labour, needs to be implemented to overcome the present intense problems of our assessment systems.

This quotation from the Tomlinson Committee report is apposite:

"It is our view that the status quo is not an option. Nor do we believe further piecemeal changes are desirable. Too many young people leave education lacking basic and personal skills; our vocational provision is too fragmented; the burden of external assessment on learners, teachers and lecturers is too great; and our system is not providing the stretch and challenge needed, particularly for high attainers. The results are a low staying-on rate post–16; employers having to spend large sums of money to teach the ‘basics’; HE struggling to differentiate between top performers; and young people’s motivation and engagement with education reducing as they move through the system. Our report sets out a clear vision for a unified framework of 14–19 curriculum and qualifications. We want scholarship in subjects to be given room to flourish and we want high quality vocational provision to be available from age 14. These are different, but both, in their own terms, are vital to the future wellbeing of young people and hence our country. We want to bring back a passion for learning, and enable all learners to achieve as highly as possible and for their achievements to be recognised. We must ensure rigour and that all young people are equipped with the knowledge, skills and attributes needed for HE, employment and adult life.")

6.2 All assessments should be made only by teachers until the assessments for the Tomlinson diplomas.

Assessment is an intrinsic part of the practice of a good school, hence:

  • assessment for learning is part of the day-by-day practice of every teacher;
  • assessment of attainment is made from time to time (perhaps once a term) by the teachers themselves and communicated to parents – but not made public;
  • parents are regularly in touch with the educational development of their children;
  • as appropriate neighbouring schools may monitor each others’ assessments.
6.3 The National Education Council (see below) should provide guidelines for teachers in making assessments of attainment.


7.1 The 2,000 or so ‘DfE powers’ that critics assert exist should be sifted with the expectation that many will be eliminated, some down-graded to guidelines, and few remain as legal requirements.

7.2 Micromanagement of schools and academies from the DfE should cease.

7.3 All league tables should be abolished.

7.4 Ofsted should cease inspections and be disbanded.

(Thus the ‘top-down’ management style of national government of the last 24 years will be abolished.

In its place are two factors:

first, teachers in the local schools and academies, recognised as good institutions, will be trusted by the parents and respected by society at large;

second, local governing bodies will play a central role in the bottom-up accountability which is the ultimate safeguard of good practice.

It is likely that the costs of this new National Education Service will more or less be covered by the savings on abolishing the centralised bureaucracy that we have at present.)


There should be an independent National Education Council with a balanced membership of teachers’ leaders, MPs, academics and other prominent members of society with the remit of having oversight of the education in state schools and academies.

That oversight should include:

(i) accrediting teacher training programmes, both initial and inservice;

(ii) overseeing the setting up of transient ‘collegiality colleges’ as described below in paragraph 11;

(iii) devising and applying accreditation criteria and procedures for university-based post-graduate teacher training;

(iv) planning for the replacement of GCSEs and A-level examinations by Tomlinson-type diplomas within five years and advising Parliament on how to implement this;

(v) commissioning research on key issues that it identifies;

(vi) arranging nationwide sample monitoring of basic skills;

(vii) collating evidence from local administrations’ reports;

(viii) reporting biannually on the state of education nationwide to Parliament;

(ix) constructing a minimal or skeleton national curriculum for schools and academies in order to assure the general public that schools are engaged in effective and appropriate education;

(x) in furtherance of (ix) providing guidance (not direction) to schools and academies on issues judged by the Council to be pertinent.

(This National Education Council must be supported by a competent and professional staff and adequately funded by government. But its action must be firmly independent of government.

Its members should see themselves as mentors, not masters, of the Service:

they are to be guides, not controllers. They should be people who support wholeheartedly the educational concept of the good institution and of collegiality as the means to achieve it.

The Council will need strong leadership.

It may be appropriate to have two chief education officers – one for primary schools and one for secondary academies. These might be appointed on say five year contracts, drawn from the ranks of respected and successful educators, and be the joint chairs of the Council with responsibility for promoting its functions as delineated above.)


As the final stage of bottom-up accountability-leading-to-action:

9.1 Every two years Parliament, guided by the select committee on Education, should receive and debate a report from the National Education Council on the state of education nationwide;

9.2 A summary of Parliament’s deliberations should be sent to every school/academy for discussion by staff and governors as to whether any changes in the school/academy policies are merited.

(This provides a feed-back system between institutional self-evaluation and Parliamentary debate which would empower both and so provide a mechanism for effective development of this National Education Service.)


10.1 Teacher’s terms of employment must be national without regional variation (other than allowances where judged necessary in high cost urban areas such as London) and negotiated with joint representatives of the teachers’ unions;

10.2 Any schemes of performance-related-pay that have been introduced shall be abolished with appropriate safeguards for individuals currently in receipt of such.

(It must be recognised that teachers ‘are not in it for the money’.

They deserve proper payment for their services, but recent attempts to pay them more for getting good results are phoney and should be abandoned forthwith).


11.1 It is a quarter of a century since teachers had the freedom of responsible action that is proposed here and many will initially find the challenge daunting.

They must be carefully prepared for it by thorough in-service training.

Local ‘collegiality colleges’ should be set up for a transient period, staffed by school, academy and university teachers who meet criteria prepared by the National Education Council.

Funding will be needed for staffing this initiative and for teachers taking part: it can be diverted from the closing down of Ofsted.

(The importance of this step cannot be ignored.

When comprehensive education was introduced in the 1960s and 1970s the lack of effective in-service training for teachers damaged the image of this enormously worthwhile development.

It must not happen again.

It follows that the first step in creating this proposed new structure must be setting up the National Education Council and ensuring that it is well funded and powerfully staffed so that it can initiate the in-service training programme and guide the education system through the various changes described.)

11.2 In addition the initial training of teachers will need to prepare students for this new regime as part of post-graduate certificate programmes.

It should be done by university departments of education in co-operation with schools and academies and, again, subject to accreditation by the National Education Council.

11.3 All people entering teaching should have a first degree (the class of which is of no importance) - in any subject for primary education, and in a relevant-to-their-teaching subject(s) for secondary education, plus a post-graduate certificate.

As soon as is practical the length of such should be extended to 18 months.


A National Education Service should also include ‘tertiary education’, embracing the provision from apprenticeships to graduate programmes and starting not from the ambitions of providers of these, but from the future needs of the nation for doctors and mechanics, teachers and plumbers, social workers and house builders, nurses and nannies, and all the other trained people that modern society needs in sufficient numbers with appropriate skills and knowledge. Plus the life-long learning provision of adult education. This is not developed here.


This is, of course, only the bare-bones of what a National Education Service would entail. It encompasses a coherent approach to moving away from the present malignant education system with its narrow focus on national government-determined academic goals supported by ruthless inspection, to a vision of multi-dimensional education in which young people are enabled to develop in different ways according to their circumstances and perceived needs through the endeavours of teachers who are free to act on their professional judgements and in a climate of harmony and social justice. It is local and democratic but enmeshed in a national framework with a bottom-up approach to accountability which stretches from the school ultimately to Parliament.

Although it gives considerable autonomy to schools and governing bodies it includes two important extra-school safeguards: a skeleton National Curriculum which would be the responsibility of the National Education Council and power to the local administration, exercised through its own inspectors and officers, to respond to any significant concerns raised by governors, teachers, parents or local community about the work of a school or academy.

Adopting such a proposal would demonstrate that the Labour Party is serious about education and recognises that it is time to escape the errors of the past.

Once the concept of the good school and good academy is explained to parents nearly all will welcome it as what they want for their children and reject the inevitable wailings of the right wing press!

This essay was written in 2014 and modified slightly on 16 November 2015