Tuesday, 14 January 2020

University reforms and "fat cat" headteachers

Jonathan Wolff rightly places "student mental health" at the top of his 2020 university "wishlist", but omits to state an obvious point (Opinion, 07/01/20). All universities should be obliged to detail in their prospectuses what they provide for students suffering mental health problems, something that will be as important to many students and parents as the academic courses themselves.
    He is right to say that the current "casualisation of the academic workforce", and the exploitation of teaching and research staff, "need to change", but fails to mention that this requires a wholesale reform of the pay structures and an end to the obscene level of pay awarded to many vice-chancellors.
    Wolff surprisingly has nothing in his "wishlist" on universities` admissions procedures, the over-use of unconditional offers to get "bums on seats", or the need to make greater use of contextual data in order to give a fairer chance of admission to students from underprivileged backgrounds and underfunded state schools. With more private schools opting for alternatives to the newly reformed A-levels, which Ofsted describe as "national qualifications based on content set by the government", reform is needed to ensure that all students take the same route into our state-funded universities!
     My 2020 vision of the higher education sector differs from that of Wolff;  if it is indeed to act as "a central pillar of civil society", the so-called "top" universities have to change their obviously biased admissions` procedures which favour the top two social classes, stop blaming the Teaching Excellence Framework for what David Lammy called their "systemic bias", and realise that a level playing field has to extend beyond five of the home counties (Oxford faces anger over failure to improve diversity among students, 23/05/18).

If the government really wants "to get a grip on excessive executive pay" for bosses of school academy chains, it has to do much more than bring about some "five-figure pay cuts" (Government pushes academies to cut excessive pay, 11/01/20). For a start, would anyone earning a quarter of a million a year really notice if forced to take a £15000 pay cut?
  The important point the government should be making is that no head, regardless of how many schools under his or her responsibility, is worth paying anything like 10-15 times the amount paid to classroom teachers. Good leadership is important, but where the learning takes place, where top exam grades are earned, and where relationships are formed, is in the classroom, under the auspices of the overworked and underpaid teachers!

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