My two-pence-worth

A couple of weeks ago @johndavidblake posted “14 things Stephen Twigg could do” on the Labour Teachers blog. I have taken the liberty of copying the 14 things below:

  1. Announce that successful academies and free schools will not be taken back under LA control. End of.
  2. Announce clear criteria for deciding who should run failing schools – and permit Outstanding Local Authorities to bid to run schools in neighbouring areas.
  3. Permit LAs who show significant improvement to bid to regain any academies doing less well under their new situation than previously.
  4. Commit to the retention of OFSTED, and commit to doing everything necessary to retain Michael Wilshaw at its head, and provide him with the necessary resources to iron out the variation in inspection practice.
  5. Make it a requirement of UPS that teachers should spend a short amount of time each year as part of OFSTED inspection teams in other schools.
  6. Refuse to take the NUT’s calls – and announce it publicly.
  7. Make full-time facilities time for teaching staff illegal – maximum of 0.6FTE
  8. Scrap the new National Curriculum
  9. Set up a Royal College of Teachers and bar members of union executives from places on its governing bodies
  10. Keep the free schools principle but improve the organisation
  11. Take up the Sherrington Plan for qualifications
  12. Announce criteria for limiting the over-expansion of academy providers
  13. Endow a new Teachers’ Research Council specifically to fund further research for in-service teachers
  14. Sanction small-scale, tightly monitored trials of for-profit provision of schooling.

For a more detailed look at these go to the original source here.

With a couple of caveats I mostly agree with the points, and I’m not going to spend too much time going through them one by one. But I do have a couple of issues. To point 4 I would add that OFSTED should no longer engage in any classroom observations, as I previously argued here. Point 5 I would amend slightly to be about the development of local benchmarking groups.

Point 6, well, why refuse to take their calls. You don’t change the way organisations work without engaging with them. Point 7, if teachers want union reps working for them then fine, but they get paid by the union, not the employer.

Point 12 – there needs to be severe tightening up of the criteria for becoming an academy provider. Much more edcuational knowledge and background required within providers.

The rest I can more or less sign up to, with the caveat that for some we don’t know exactly where we will be in 2 years times so we need to think about the starting point. For instance, scrapping any new NC may not be feasible depending on how fast DfE moves to implement. To a certain extent, the next governments hands may be tied by events.

What would I add? Very simple. Two things. One which probably has wide support and one which probably won’t.

First the popular one. Re-instate BSF. Or more correctly, re-create a new BSF programme. Not the bloated monster that it was allowed to become. Frankly we have to recognise that BSF became very easy to scrap.

Its a simple plan. Every school needs to be asked to prepare their own plans for what they need to do to prepare their school for the future. “Oh no”, I hear you say’ “that’s not possible, the future is complicated and unknown”. Well, actually, it isn’t. I think I can safely look ahead 50 years and say that a school is going to need classrooms, corridors, heating, lighting, water, toilet facilities, networking and a number of other easily listed things. Most importantly, any building has to be done so as to allow change and expansion (say up to 20% extra). Its only in science fiction books that we can’t look that far into the future. My primary school was rebuilt in the late 60’s and its layout and design is not that different to those schools being touted as schools for next 50 years being built now.

We don’t need some huge national infrastructure set up to manage such a programme. Nor do we need schools being strait-jacketed with silly no glass, no curve rules. We need a pragmatic approach which trusts schools to get on with it. The only thing I would ban is PFI. And I would ban anyone involved in the farce that was BSF from involvement (that’s it Mike, onwards with the win friends and influence people approach).

I propose a national campaign of educational civil disobedience. Every school should draw up their plans for their school for the future. They should cost it (as far as they can, perhaps with the help of local architects who want to get involved pro-bono). Then we can have a debate. This is how much it costs. Lets commit to doing this over a period of time. Yes, it will cost billions. Yes we will have to borrow the money. Its a good investment. And at the moment, money is cheap. If we can spend £30bn to get to Birmingham 10 minutes quicker we can do the same to improve our schools. Or, if we can’t do both, then do it instead.

And if you are still not convinced that we need such a huge programme take a look at @miss_mcinerney’s recent post on the inequities of school buildings. All children deserve to have that feeling of being valued as they walk up the path to their school.

Ok, now for the unpopular one.

The next government should commit to every school that is able to do so becoming an academy within the lifetime of the next parliament. Able to do so means not in a category. There are some precursors. The process needs to be changed to remove the fees bonanza for the local legal firms. Over time the ability to opt out of any national curriculum needs to be removed from academy agreements. A proper middle tier (light touch, so light you wouldn’t know its there if your students are succeeding) monitoring arrangement (involving LA’s) needs to be established. Funding agreements have to be tightened up to ensure the continuance of public ownership through private stewardship.

Why? Well, we need some certainties in a system. If every school is looking over its shoulder and constantly worrying about academisation then that is a drag on the system. As with every structure, there are pluses and minuses in changing, but as far as I can see there is no killer problem. We seem to be spending too much time worrying about what structure a particular school fits in rather than recognising that for the students within them this is a matter of little import.

And I suppose that there is one final thing. An awful lot of time is going to be taken up in the next parliament in just getting all the changes currently in the pipe line working. That will take a lot of effort, which is why a long list of “what Twigg should do” needs to be avoided.