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The Tories fail their education test

A level results are today and GCSE results are due next week, and according to reports recently, Qfqual have warned that we are likely to see ‘particularly volatile’ results.

As both a Governor and a parent, I know what ‘particularly volatile’ feels like – I feel it every time I see a picture of Michael Gove. But although Gove has gone, the impact of some his reforms are only now being felt, and I am left desperately hoping that all those 16 year olds who have been subjected to his great education experiment can come out unscathed.

However, many won’t. The main big change introduced for this group of young people is the shift towards a big final exam at the end of their course. Many argue that such a change was needed because too much coursework and too many chances to resit exams meant we had a system without intellectual rigour. For intellectual rigor, read one shot to win-or-lose, read the downgrading of skills other than cramming and writing exams well, and read a lack of trust in our teachers. It is no wonder good teachers are feeling forced out of the profession.

As with many ‘reforms’ by this Government, from scrapping the EMA to a one third reduction in youth service spending, these moves are not designed to help the young. Instead they are part of promoting an individualist, winner-takes-all society, where the strong survive, and those less fortunate find the ladder is pulled up before they get a chance to climb it.

What doesn’t get discussed is the way in which a narrow focus on a particular idea of educational result breeds distrust in teachers and students. Education reform based on an idea of teaching discipline, rote learning and constant testing fits with an unrelenting focus on league tables.  It results in a lack of trust in students, who we are told will cut corners whenever they can, and in teachers, because it is assumed that they will aggressively boost their results any way they can. Reflection, learning and growing are squeezed out, and values of community, collaboration and democracy lose out to individualism and reliance on the market as a tool to cure all ills.

This is not to say exam results and league tables are irrelevant, but that our approach to education needs to take a wider view. We need to build in core values of democracy and participation, and take them seriously, not pay lip service to them while we sweep away all joy in learning and any element of public service ethos. And this should be part of a wider strategy of investment in young people, with a long term attitude. Rachel Reeves has argued for a refocussing on the young, including a Minister for Young People, with wide ranging powers to bring resources together.

I think this is a great idea, but I also think we need to think locally about change. A recent report from Compass and the NUT has argued for the need to think radically about education, and has emphasised that politicians can facilitate change, but that transformation of our approach to education cannot come from the centre, but “but with the willing and active involvement of thousands of students, teachers, parents, communities and businesses.”

The school I am Chair of Governors at, Haverstock School in North London, has thought long and hard about these issues, and has worked on creating an approach centered on the link between the school and the community. The approach is built into the school’s partnership agreement, which sets out the roles and responsibilities of the school, students and parents, and the school prides itself providing a first rate education for our rich and diverse community.

We don’t need more top down education reform, we don’t need more involvement of the private sector and we don’t need new structures for our schools. We have had enough of free schools and academies. We need to focus on investment, community involvement, and fostering values of solidarity, appreciation of diversity and equality. We want all schools to be accountable to the local authority. Perhaps then we can get away from constant volatility and education reform and focus on building trust in our education system, our students and our schools.