Gove spells out education priorities for ‘a new era’
There is nothing to respond to. That’s right, absolutely no mention. Early Years care and education was high on the previous government’s agenda with measures to improve the qualifications of the workforce and hence the outcomes of very young children. There have been significant inputs in terms of funding because the government understood that if you want to narrow the gap between rich and poor, you have to start early, start young. In deprived areas in particular, extra funding has been put in place to support settings who in turn support families. Early years staff are in an excellent position to ensure children are kept safe; they can spot potential problems very quickly because they have a regular dialogue with parents and see children frequently. They can offer advice and signpost parents to other services, especially via the excellent SureStart. Parents get an idea of what positive behaviour management looks like through watching staff deal with behavioural problems, which often ‘rubs off’ on their own parenting skills, resulting in improved outcomes for their children. They make friendships and form support networks through chatting whilst dropping children off and collecting them. Through Family Learning courses they learn more about how to support their children’s learning. Free Early education (proposed to increase from 12.5 to 15 hours per week from September 2010 under the Labour government), with no obligation for parents to pay top-up fees, is vital to securing the well-being of our most vulnerable children. The Liberal Democrats seemed to acknowledge this but the Conservatives, during the election campaign, did not rule out allowing nurseries to charge top-up fees, which would price many poor families out. The children who most need early education would not be able to get it. Under the coalition, we will have to wait and see what the policy will be, but the absence of any mention of Early Years, together with a name change from DCSF to DfE which has removed the words ‘children’ and ‘families’ is very worrying.
How does giving schools greater freedom over the curriculum sit with ensuring consistency of standards across all schools and the publication of league tables which are supposed to make comparisons possible?
How will Gove and his team radically reform the exam system and ‘let’ schools offer a wider range of qualifications? This sounds like an administrative nightmare which would only be possible with more spending on….administration, which I though the Tories didn’t want; to them this is synonymous with taking money away from ‘frontline services’ (teachers and teaching assistants).
In areas where parents are educated, organised and wealthy enough to have time on their hands to set up these schools, there are already perfectly ‘good’ schools (with high SATs results and good/outstanding OFSTED judgements) which are well supported by active parent Governors and PTAs.
In deprived areas schools usually struggle with low SATs results (incidentally, the value added measure does not compensate enough for social deprivation). They also suffer through lack of parental confidence in participating in Governing bodies which means that Heads and teachers do not get the informed support they need. When middle class parents look at league tables (and they do this far too much) they will not consider schools which have low results even though they may be perfectly good schools with excellent teachers, and a great physical environment with plenty of space for children to play in (my youngest son attends just such a school and is happy and making great progress there). This has a knock on effect because these schools often become undersubscribed; potential parents take this as an indication that they are ‘poor’. Parents in deprived areas are not motivated enough or educated enough to start up and run a school. It is virtually impossible to get enough parents to run a PTA and there is never any election needed for parent Governors because there is never more than one candidate.
I hope the parents (who, let’s face it are likely to be middle class and well educated, if not already graduates) who will be allowed to set up these schools with taxpayers’ money, will be obliged to undertake relevant qualifications. Just because I have used the services of the NHS, this does not mean that I am capable of setting up a surgery and running it. Similarly, parents are not qualified to set up and run schools just because they are parents. Leave professional jobs to professional people who are trained to do them.
Discipline in schools
Supporting teachers with discipline is an excellent idea, unfortunately the wider ‘Big Society’ context of parent run schools will undermine this by giving parents more power and more sense of their own expertise and importance. I am a parent of three children so this isn’t as patronising as it sounds. In my experience (primary and nursery teacher) most of the problems with children’s behaviour stem from a lack of support from parents of the teacher/school, and a lack of acceptance from parents that:
Their child may lie (mine certainly do and I accept it and deal with it)
They are not experts in education
They themselves may make a wrong parenting decision from time to time.
I totally support extra funding for disadvantaged pupils. There are lots of initiatives set up under the last Labour government which provide extra funding for deprived pupils such as a ‘deprivation supplement’ to the funding for nursery children who live in the 20% most deprived postcodes (data taken from IDACI). I look forward to finding out more about the detail of this proposal and how well it targets disadvantaged children.