The upcoming General Election is, unsurprisingly, generating debate and discussion around a whole host of policy areas. With 33 years’ teaching experience, I have found myself reflecting on the direction I would like education policy to take under our next government, whoever they may be.
One essential requirement would be to ensure that the right education is available to all our young people. As a nation we have still not come up with a fully accepted or respected vocational package. An offering that is highly regarded and valued by employers and students alike is essential to ensuring our education system can provide the opportunities and skills our young people deserve and businesses require.
I would also like to see genuine and robust partnerships between the independent and state sectors. There has been progress in this direction but an active policy from central government that encourages both state and independent schools to recognise the benefits of these partnerships and commit to developing them would allow us to achieve even more. The key to this working is to ensure all parties are willing partners; carrots and incentives are required, not sticks and instructions.
A national debate on the purpose of education is also long-overdue. Policy-makers, educators and families all have different expectations of the education system, and this lack of consensus on what schools should be trying to deliver leads to frustration and disillusionment. Are exam results the be- all and end-all? Or do schools need to focus on ensuring they contribute to the solution of wider social issues? Or should their aim be to support the personal development of their students? One thing is clear, schools cannot be all things for all children. National clarity on what the key aims and objectives are would enable schools to focus their resources on what matters most.
Ultimately though, if I had a magic wand to grant me one educational wish it would be to focus the national examination system on the real school leaving age: 18. Obviously there is a need to assess and report on children’s progress as they move through the education system, but schools are more than capable of delivering this themselves. Taking two sets of national exams in three years places unnecessary pressure on our children, creates a distraction from learning, and absorbs a lot of resources, including money, which could more productively be used elsewhere.
This wish list includes some quite fundamental changes to our school system, but ones I think are necessary to ensure its strength and suitability going forward. I hope our next government will be prepared to take some bold decisions that will deliver real and lasting improvements, not just minor change. Importantly, I hope that central government seeks to generate greater synergy amongst all involved in educating our young; there is currently too much argument and disagreement amongst those involved.
Headmaster, Bristol Grammar School