It seem that’s its kind of de rigueur to have your own education manifesto these days.
Sadly, many that I read are so lacking in specificity that literally anything could be done in their name and at the end of the period in question the authors could claim a successful implementation in full. You know the sort of thing:
- “We will move to trust based inspection system….”
- “We will work with the profession to address workload issues…”
- “There will be no more top down reviews…”
The sort of thing where anything can happen. The sort of this that MicroSoft Word usually underlines in green and screams ‘passive voice’.
I’m going to try to be different. Of course, the downside of being specific is that what I write will inevitably enable the reader to disagree with. Well, isn’t that the essence of a manifesto?
I’m limiting myself to three issues. Not because I can’t think of more, but because more than three would be overload for the system.
And the other thing is that the purpose of the ideas is not just to try and make life easier for schools. The intention is to try and make the system better for all. Those two aims are not always perfectly aligned.
So, here we go.
Number 1 – Improved Transparency.
We have seen many reforms over the past few years, some of which have yet to work their way through the system. To its credit (grits teeth) this government has probably done more to improve transparency than most before it. As an aside, I think they started out with quite a reforming zeal about this (see the amount of data thrown out the building in the first year of this parliament) then realised that too much data means too many awkward questions, so they dialled it back a bit.
But still, credit where it is due. To an extent, the genie is out of the bottle.
What I would like to see is a very clear set of rules (yes, rules) about what has to be published and how. The first thing is that all schools should be required to maintain a web presence at their official url (the http://www.schoolname.county.sch.uk address). At this address, within one click of the home home page, should be the following information:
- All the information currently required;
- The full list of governors and trustees, along with their registers of interests;
- “Ownership” data, i.e. LA, MAT, Federation etc.
- Full financial data for the school (as currently carried by gov.uk).
- Full disclosure of headteacher salary, plus banded salary data for all employee whose salary cost is greater than £50,000 per annum.
- Full data on intake (as currently carried by gov.uk).
This must be available via the school website, but must also be available in easily accessible form for all schools from a central repository for those seeking to make comparisons between schools. This is an essential element in creating an accountable system.
At the time I was a bit sniffy about the data widget idea that DfE had a couple of years back (which they abandoned when they were asked for twenty-odd million quid to pay for it. It shouldn’t cost that much, but I think would, if implemented properly, be worth it.
Number 2 – Building Schools for the Now.
Our school stock is, generally, in appalling state. As a nation it should shame us.
Personally I never bought into the BSF process. There are many people whose dedication to the improvement of education is unimpeachable and whose views I have the greatest of respect for who will defend the BSF process. On this I disagree with them. I thought it was a little too much of a jobs for the boys talking shop where too much time was spent trying to design the perfect school. As we know, because the needs of education change over time, such a thing does not exist. Build what you can now, and build in a way that you can change it when needs be.
We need to build schools. We do need to rebuild schools. And we do need to repair, renovate and extend schools. We need to do this now, not in the future.
How do we pay for this? Simples. HS2 does not need to be HS, and a nuclear deterrence need not be Trident. Between them these projects will cost in the region of £80bn over the next decade. I’m a fair minded sort of guy. You can have half that for HS2 and a Trident replacement. Than provides £40bn to add to the schools capital budget. This should be more than sufficient to repair the school estate and provide necessary new builds. It has the added effect of providing a better boost to the economy in terms of jobs than the high tech builds that are HS3 and Trident.
What should we gain from this capital spend? One priority for me would be a better working environment for teachers. A second would be lower maintenance and recurring costs. Why not solar panels on every school roof?
Oh, and by the way, there would be special planning laws for schools that prevented planning laws holding up this work.
Another aside – my optional use for this amount of money was to implement a fair funding policy, using the highest current funding as the benchmark.
Number 3 – Admissions Policy
There would be a single national admissions policy. All schools would have the same admission policy. Not guidelines, or best practice. The. Same. Policy.
I’m not going to say what it should be. That can be worked through with proper discussion and consultation. We can never (I think) move to a position where parents truly have the choice over which school their children go to (rather than what they have now, the choice over which they apply to). If we can’t have that we need to have fairness and complete transparency in how places are allocated.
That’s all. Thats the manifesto.
I’d maybe want to tinker a bit with the Progress8 measure. I’m still not convinced that English should count for three slots and I’d be minded to allow the student a choice to play a joker (i.e. make the subject of their choice count double). There’s obviously work to be done on, for example, vocational qualification, but I’m not convinced that’s the stuff of grand political reforms – the necessary changes can be made within the existing school/Ofqual/DfE system.
Measurable. Desirable. Doable.