Must do better!

MaggieJones2014.JPGMaggie Jones offers an end of term assessment of the government’s school reforms

Today in the Lords, we will debate the progress of the Coalition’s school reforms. It seems therefore, an excellent opportunity to give Ministers an end of term report. Even more so, given the debate comes a day after the publication of a damning report from the Education Select Committee.

The Committee accuses the government of exaggerating the success of the academy programme and calls for an evidence based assessment, concluding that it is too soon to judge whether academies raise standards overall – or indeed, specifically for disadvantaged children. They also echo our belief that Ministers have been obsessed with reorganisation at the expense of proven policies which deliver improvement. And there has been a failure to deliver value for money, with the National Audit Office losing confidence in the Education Department’s ability to account for expenditure. Indeed, academies are hoarding cash balances of nearly £2.5bn which could have been spent of teaching and learning.

A lack of effective oversight meanwhile, has seen the Department slow to react when things go wrong and an over-reliance on whistle-blowers in the thousands of schools that they insisted in managing from the centre. This is why Labour’s our devolved Directors of School Standards will be so important in bringing a much needed level of support and challenge to schools.

In contrast to the government’s obsession with school reorganisation, we believe in focussing our drive for continuing school improvement on the quality of teaching. There is already a strong culture of innovation, collaboration and best practice development. Our task now is to work with the profession to nurture and harness that energy. And we would underpin that with a requirement that every teacher has Qualified Teaching Status or is working towards it, as well as continuing to update their skills and knowledge.

We will also work with the profession to embrace the exciting opportunities that new technology can deliver in the classroom. Shared teaching resources, interactive debates and best practice blogs are just the beginning. Interactive text books, individualised materials and virtual teaching forums can give children exciting new opportunities to learn.

Of course, we must continue to get the fundamentals right. Literacy and numeracy are crucial to a child’s life chances and parents quite rightly expect a culture of high aspiration and high achievement. But they also expect their child to have an enriching education which does more than focus on the outcome of a narrow range of academic subjects. This is why we would put creativity back at the centre of school life and insist that no school should be classified as being outstanding unless they are delivering a broad and balanced curriculum that includes art, sport and creative subjects.

Our general aim however, will be to free up schools from the relentless political interference in curriculum content and teaching methodology – giving them greater freedom to excel. Labour’s reforms will include an emphasis on collaboration and we will build on the successful model of the London Challenge.

So, after 5 years of Coalition school reforms, the government’s legacy can best be summarised by an obsession with structural reform, an unhealthy meddling in detail, a failure to respect the evidence of what works, an inability to understand teacher professionalism, a lack of effective oversight and poor value for money. In fact, a school report that can best be assessed simply as: ’must do better’.

Baroness Maggie Jones is Shadow Education Minister in the House of Lords. She tweets @WhitchurchGirl

Published 29th January 2015

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