Tristram Hunt’s take on that ‘School Revolution’

Partly in response to the changes in government, mentioned in my last post, the shadow minister for education has set out some of his ideas around the future of schools:

This is once again a little disappointing for me, for example, he seems to be sitting on the fence around the variety of schools that now exist (academies, free schools, etc) rather than suggesting a simplification.  Yet the video like one with his predecessor, also at the RSA, does at least stress the virtues of schools working together.

Perhaps the most interesting point, for me, of Tristram Hunt’s  presentation is his apparent unease at those “less committed to the social ethos of schooling”.  Within the context of his presentation this sounded like opposition to an expansion of ‘virtual’ or online schooling.  I still fear this is a missed opportunity, even if he was just to advocate for more online delivery around bricks and mortar it would be a step forward.  However, he seems to be another politician who links physical co-location with social learning, which does not have to be the case.

Time for a real English ‘School Revolution’?

Today may, or may not, turn out to be a momentous one in the history of UK Education with the Conservative party’s reshuffle seeing the coalition’s ministers for education/schools (Michael Gove) and universities (David Willetts) both moving on.

There are many great sites that have picked apart the work done by the coalition over the last few years, and there are already lots of opinion pieces emerging on the changes including on The Guardian.

In terms of secondary education, I happened to get around to watching this video today so thought I would add some comments:

Overall, being published just a week ago, the video is something of an epitaph for Gove’s period in charge – all about the “advantages” of free schools, changes to the curriculum and ways people are studying.  However, nearly every comment could be criticized as either opinion or indicative of bigger problems, for example:

  • ‘Free Schools are really popular’ – there are not enough schools, a new model has not met the demands of a growing population.
  • ‘Free Schools can spend money directly on building great new buildings (or converting old ones)’ – economies of scale are not being made use of, every school goes through the whole (potentially wasteful) scoping of planning, building, etc.  Economics would suggest the big chain academies will replace the previous council-led organizations.
  • “Can allow pupils to focus on subjects” – focusing on certain areas too early?  Not enough vocational focus?
  • “Schools in areas where there has been none, helping the community” at the same time as supporting the idea of aggregating children into the specialist Maths school and others, Councils should have been held to account if they failed to to meet demand before.
  • “Children are expected to meet targets and contribute to community” – again more about failings of old systems rather than anything revolutionary about the new model.
  • “We make use of our building by leasing out spacing” – you have a building which is too big for you.
  • “Education should be based on research and curriculum should be driven by the labor market” – er, yes that’s nothing new.
  • Move to new grade scales, the shift to School Direct for teaching training and other elements all covered too with rather patchy supporting evidence.

My overall point is that this is not ‘revolutionary’, yes in some areas of administration but very little change for the end ‘customer’ of children and parents.  The fundamental message, to me, is that “we’ve tinkered with the admin and curriculum but a ‘school’ is still a ‘school’”.  The video starting and (almost) finishing with someone using a blackboard is, I hope, deepest irony from a civil servant somewhere.

“Free Schools are no different” is mentioned at one point, in relation to the rules and regulations of closing them if they fail, alas to me they have failed in not actually being revolutionary enough.  Many of the problems remain with our state education system such as the influence of religious groups (the new minister’s religious views do not seem to suggest this will change) and the insular nature of independent institutions.  Here is hoping that one change post-Gove will be a shift of focus from looking to the past for standards and an increased focus on preparing pupils for a connected digital future.