‘Education is going backwards’

This was the opening comment by a head teacher an an education round table I attended in London.  Several school leaders and teachers gathered to discuss the impact of the latest policy announcements the the conservative coalition government.  After listening to them it wasn’t hard to be somewhat pessimistic at the future of schooling in the UK.

Their education agenda is being influenced by a stringent budget; an ideological view that the national curriculum needs more substance and that governments should exercise greater control over education. While the promise is not to cut frontline teaching positions, all other services to schools will be affected.

The National Curriculum is being wound back with a greater focus on content and the Building Schools for the Future is also being cut. BECTA has already been abolished and much of its work taken over by the Department of Education.  Even the national computer fund has been slashed and spending on higher education reduced by 40%. A grim picture indeed!

Where is this all heading and what sense if any does it all make? The financial situation here in the UK and across Europe is very worrying. Predictions are for higher unemployment and contracting GDP across the spectrum.

The more I talk to educators from around the globe, the more shortsighted these sorts of policy decisions become. These policies ignore attempts to improve student learning and thus improve the quality of schooling across the board. Have a look at Merlin John Online and several others like Merlin and you’ll see what I mean. Governments seem to miss the point by a very big margin.

Government policy at least in the UK fails to understand the challenges of 21st century schooling -it is still locked into the input-throughput-output model of business. The thinking is that if you have control over all three elements then quality will improve. This may work for an assembly line but it isn’t the purpose of schooling.

Estelle Morris wrote a column in the Guardian last week on what the cuts will mean for teachers:

….relatively few in the schools sector have done so in an environment of economic stringency. Any teacher who joined the profession, or any head who was appointed, in the last 15 years will have taught or led schools during times of increasing resources and ringfenced budgets for new initiatives.Now they will be faced with the same pressures – staffing, class sizes, new initiatives, pressure to succeed – but many will be doing so with less money than before.

There is a real frustration amongst the practitioners I’ve spoken to on how we get policy and implementation to reflect the reality of schooling today.  Any attempt at finding solutions often degenerates into blame and a further fragmentation of positions – a claim I heard echoed in Scotland.

Of course, I’ve been reflecting on this as we head towards a state election in March. Is this what we want for our schools of the future?


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