It seems that overall educational achievement is being increasingly threatened in the UK by external factors, ranging from lack of family support, poverty and health.
Politicians find it easy to blame schools for the apparent drop in standards of literacy and numeracy – this is no help. The real answer lies in providing greater support for families. Schools have the capability to do this but lack the capacity. They are shackled to a unforgiving performance regime.
If we could free up schools and fund them to support families, we could make a difference. Schools could co-ordinate local care and health services to provide guidance and support for parents. If we can no longer rely on families to fully support the development of children, then schools, with the help of the community, will have to fill the void.
The majority of countries face the challenge of providing adequate homes for all of their families. The home is one of the critical parameters for learning. The home can provide the key elements of security, space and support for the learner.
In the UK the problem is being exacerbated by the fragmentation of families and the shortage of affordable homes – both factors driving up demand and prices. In the background, the ‘free market’ continues to act as a dead hand. Many affordable homes are purchased as second homes or as ‘buy to let’. Cheaper homes don’t get built so often, as the profit margins for developers make them less attractive.
In the good old days we had something called ‘development land tax’ which meant that Local Authorities could always recoup funds from developers. This added to their own council house building programmes. Mrs Thatcher allowed for the majority of council homes to be sold off. They were not replaced. A classic piece of short termism for political gain.
Now, more than ever, councils need to be able to build cheaper homes themselves, which they can then let, providing much needed income. However, for some reason, Local Authorities are not deemed fit by central government to do anything and are suffering massive cuts to their budgets. This is unfortunate, as they would have a huge contribution to make in safeguarding education, facilitating housing, supporting the environment and health. All of the things that can make a country successful and in the long run, save money.
2012 promises much by way of radical change in education, some of the change engineered by government, some as a fall out from government. Multi Academies are a logical response by groups of schools who wish to collaborate in the face of a shrinking Local Authority, the chance to pool scarce reources and the threat of predatory school chains. Multi Academies may be supported centrally because they will provide fewer ‘centres’ for administrative purposes. I have written before about the likelihood that all of this will lead to some kind of eventual reinvention of a Local Authority – still the most efficient model to support schools . Until we reach that point, it will be exciting for schools to work closely and to explore the benefits.
School Direct heralds the new age of Initial Teacher Training whereby schools will become the key players in ITT. Schools have always enjoyed engagement with ITT for a variety of reasons, not least as a very good way to recruit staff. The danger here is that the market will produce dominant school groups (aided by Teaching Schools) and the self interest factor could lead to the exclusion of the majority of schools from ITT.
With both Michael Gove and the Guardian calling for a radical overhaul of ICT something is bound to give,except that nothing can until we find/support several thousand trained teachers to deliver Computer Science. However, ICT clearly to become the curriculum reform candidate of the year.
Prejudice seems to be on the rise if the problems in the football world are anything to go by. We are told that when things get tough, common decencies take a hammering. Apparently we stop caring for each other. Schools have always been key factors in the creation of a tolerant society. It is to be hoped that whatever political alternative develops as the strategy for the next 10 years, it will call for a consensus on education that begins with a true picture and looks at what works well and what is reasonable.
Amidst the churn and chaos of the current school system, with the shrinking Local Authorities, the growth of Academy Chains and Free Schools, there is a ray of hope. Any school that wishes to bind itself to others, for the sake of security from predators and for the sake of achieving a little of a collaborative’s political and economic power, might consder the Schools Co-operative Society (SCS) Multi Academy model. This model provides the philosophy and the framework for schools to collaborate on secure and equal terms.
The SCS structure enables schools to link together, either on the basis of needing to receive or wanting to provide support, without losing identity and without being seen as predatory. The structure also provides a distinct role for the Community and where possible for the Local Authority. The model probably provides the best chance that some of the Every Child Matters mechanisms and Community Leadership philosophy, will survive.
The Academy Trust is established around a series of representational forums for staff, parents, pupils and the community. Each group has equal voting powers. The Trust is also built on the tenets of the Co-operative ethos (self responsibility, democracy, equality, equity, solidarity, ethical values) which, in the developing ‘fighting for a place in the lifeboat’ atmosphere, is a true ‘beacon’.
If we are to compete with the world and find some growth in the teeth of the economic gale , we will need to encourage innovation. In effect, we need to equip young people to exploit the digital age. This will mean that digital devices will need to become the medium for learning. We shall need to have a curriculum that teaches enough about coding and applications to support the sort of creative thinking that we can, as a country, be so good at. The one glimmer of light in this age of unemployment and a rapidly ageing population is the availability and ease of access to the web.
A couple of hurdles, which can be overcome. The practical, digital expertise in schools often resides with the pupils – we need to support the ‘flipping’ of the curriculum so that teachers can support and learn with the students in school. A second problem is the rigidity of the national curriculum and the conservative, lethargic processes that hinder change – we need to quickly cut schools some slack.
David Miliband has recently argued for the concept of Community Leadership. The reform of the curriculum I am suggesting, could be closely linked to the community, as many of the innovatory applications of new technologies will need to relate to energy, the environment, the elderly, health and social care. Miliband also argues for a counter balancing cohort of comprehensive school headteachers who will challenge the elitist notions that accompany the free school and academy chain models. This group of heads would be the best advocates of an inclusive and enabling new curriculum for the rising generation, a generation who will need to rescue the rest of us.