Friday, 14 March 2014

Advice for Labour shadow education secretaries.

Having witnessed Tristram Hunt`s early efforts as Labour`s shadow education secretary, it`s probably time for a simple list of do`s and don`ts:

       If privately educated, don`t presume to know much about state education, especially if your knowledge is going to be based on government propaganda and the media`s version of everyday life in state schools; neither will be accurate.
       When asked about the school destination of your children, don`t obfuscate with answers like "never rule out what takes place"; you will be rightly ridiculed, and the assumption will be that you prefer private education, even though you aspire to take charge of all state schools.
       Don`t even think of supporting such a totally inappropriate idea for schools as Performance Related Pay; it will reveal ignorance of how children learn and achieve. For example, is the teacher who taught a sixth form A-level history group, which achieved ten A*s, necessarily the person who inspired their ambition or subject interest, or the teacher who improved their literacy and evaluation skills, or taught evidence analysis, or even the same teacher who taught them for GCSE and enabled the Advanced study to take place?
       Don`t add to the burden and stress of teaching, when Ofsted, league tables, examination results, parental pressure and internal inspections make a new system of re-licensing teachers totally unnecessary.
       Don`t think that the undoing of the current government`s education legislation will be unwelcome because it will mean yet more change; pick out the most damaging and pledge to repeal them at the earliest possible opportunity.

       As Labour spokesperson for education, show your commitment to social mobility by promoting all ideas which will enhance the life chances of all pupils and students, regardless of their gender, race or wealth. Consider re-instating both the EMA to help students from poor backgrounds afford staying on for A-levels, and the modular A-levels with AS exams, coursework, and resit opportunities. Remember your party`s belief in equality of opportunity.
      Insist that all state schools only employ qualified teachers, but you need to brush up on the reasons; teaching is not just about the transfer of knowledge, as many who support schools having unqualified experts or experienced people as teachers seem to think. The PGCE programme is excellent for giving would-be teachers insights into the ways children learn, the psychology and sociology of education, as well as classroom experience.
      Show support for teachers and their unions as they try to resist cuts in pay, increased pension contributions, and worsening conditions of service, even when they are forced to resort to industrial action. Have regular meetings with the leaders of the teaching unions.
        Appearances on media outlets, articles in newspapers and such-like are fine as long as on each occasion you take the opportunity to acknowledge the improvements in state school education that has taken place over the last twenty years, largely because of improved teaching and the hard work of enthusiastic teachers.
     Be firm in your support for Ofsted to inspect all free schools and academies, and consider whether it is appropriate, these days, for Ofsted to inspect only half of schools in the private sector. Bear in mind that some brilliant schools, with very challenging pupils, should not necessarily be placed in special measures if progress is not up to national averages; think of the damage caused when that happens, both to the self-esteem of hard-working teachers and of the pupils, proud of their school and their achievements. In order for there to be an average, someone has to achieve less than others, and that`s not necessarily anyone`s fault!
      Call a halt to the expansion of the free school programme and academisation of state schools, and reconsider the role of the local education authority.
    Stop implying that only students educated in private schools develop "character and resilience"; state schools produce fully-rounded characters, full of wit, compassion, kindness, determination, and ambition, fully able to analyse and evaluate, and to spot the duplicity of politicians. A Labour front-bencher going through picket-lines of strikers desperate for a living wage, will not go unnoticed. As for resilience, many state school pupils "bounce back" every day, whether the setbacks be family orientated, or to do with their school aspirations being affected by changes to examinations, excellent results being criticised by politicians, essential grants being removed, courses dropped through lack of funding, or universities preferring rich, privately educated applicants to them.
   Be prepared to take strong action; when for instance, schools in an academy chain are deemed failing, they should be returned to local authority control; when universities mis-use funding by over-paying vice-chancellors, they need regulation! When an academy, as one in Nottingham recently, states it does not recognise trade unions, return it to its local authority. Ensure the financial accounts of all academies are made public, to attempt to assure the taxpayers that no school under your watch is being run for profit!
   It`s all pretty obvious stuff, really, if your commitment is to support state schools and all who work in them.

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