The media and politicians, both professions stuffed with people who were educated at fee paying schools, and who attended elite universities, seem permanently to think that the education system generally, and schools in particular, are, in Education Secretary Nicky Morgan’s phrase “coasting or failing”. Lazy teachers, inept local authorities, feckless parents, feral kids, it’s a wonder anyone can prod a smartphone screen, let alone hack into NASA or read a Daily Mail columnist.
I just long to be able to vote for a party with a really simple, unambiguous education policy.
Here’s my wish list:
Good, free early years provision devoted mainly to ensuring that children meet basic developmental goals in language, play, spacial awareness, and whatever the experts in child development think appropriate.
All state schools to be run by local education authorities as secular institutions. The inspectorate to be staffed by qualified educationalists. All teachers to be qualified. End the patchwork of barely regulated free schools, dodgy, unaccountable academy chains, and a few put upon LEAs, and let schooling be sorted at out the appropriate level, that is, locally. Let teachers teach, and students learn (and play, and do creative stuff, and sports, and have fun).
Further education has never received the funding, care and attention it should have. FE should be the ladder of opportunity for those who need it. It should also be once again the cornerstone of vocational education and training, with all apprenticeships being a proper length and involving day release to FE college leading to a recognised qualification.
Higher education is a mess. We have things called universities which go from wealthy Oxbridge colleges to dodgy looking set-ups in offices over junk shops (that’s not hyperbole – I’m thinking of a particular place not so far from where I sit as I write this.) It is an embarrassment and a disgrace that a rash of private colleges and ‘universities’ that look more like places in developing countries should have proliferated, preying, usually, on poorer international students. Only proper universities should be allowed to use the title or to award degree level qualifications. The other places ought not to be permitted to operate. And the proper universities should be free from pressure to do the will of government, open to the wildest of blue sky thinking, and free of charge to anyone educated for at least ten years in the state sector.
Bring back polytechnics. The new polytechnics would not teach degree courses, but would offer graduate level professional and vocational training, much of it to people who already have university degrees. Teaching, social work, medicine and associated health professions, journalism, engineering, architecture, law; these are all areas in which specialised professional training would best be delivered in polytechnics which were perceived not as subordinate to universities, but as a different kind of elite institution. I’d like to see them under local control, to ensure that local economic imperatives were served by the education and training they offered.
And so to the “independent sector”. The very existence of fee-paying education is a problem, but we can’t solve social inequality merely by changing the education system. If people want to pay to educate their children, let them do so. But the “independent sector” should live up to the name by being fully independent. No charitable status, pay a levy towards the state sector in recompense for any teaching staff or others who have benefited from state educational funding, at all levels. The argument that people who pay school fees also pay taxes for state education is irrelevant. People without children pay taxes, too. Tax is the entrance fee to live in a civilised society.
That’s my plan. It’s not very radical. It’s kind of what we once had, apart from the (absence of) religion.