Another half term another DfE consultation document to complete.
The shift in Key Stage 4 qualifications policy signalled this summer accompanied an injustice visited upon thousands of students, parents and teachers in the name of standards. English GCSE results were tampered with on the C/D borderline and DHSB joined other professional groups and schools to launch a judicial review, such was the strength of feeling; something I haven’t witnessed in twenty years of teaching.
Separate from this issue was the proper debate around standards and I welcome this, even though it will throw my own family into the frontline. It looks as if my eldest son will be in the final cohort for GCSE examination and that my second son will be in the cohort taking whatever the new English Baccalaureate Certificates become.
And so I have just completed the DfE’s consultation on the reform of KS4 qualifications to have my say about standards and the way forward. Except that I don’t feel I have had my say. The questions addressed pre-ordained decisions about design and curricular emphasis and were about nomenclature and implementation of the new awards rather than a rigorous debate about the type of education our country needs. We also needed to know how the tension between assessment and accountability will be resolved following Ofqual’s admission that they haven’t quite been up to regulation this year before we offered our opinions.
One of my answers got a bit tetchy towards the end:
If we are debating standards, there should be a consensus as to whether high stakes performance indicators have truly driven up standards in the last 15 years or whether they have led to schools “gaming” the system at the expense of a broad, quality education.
It would be rash to replace one set of league tables for another and expect a different response.
Anyway, I finished the consultation response. I will never be cynical about education and we are honour-bound to let the DfE know what we think. I encourage anyone with strong opinions on the issue to respond too:
Education is something every member of the electorate has experienced and comprehends today in the context of that experience – this makes it too much of a temptation to politicise. The prevailing meme from the DfE appears to be one of taking our education system back to the good old days when exams were hard and we taught proper subjects. This is why there needs to be a cross party approach to change and the standards debate. It’s too important, too much of a slow burn, to be buffeted by political trends.
I feel for my colleagues here too. There has been constant change to syllabuses and curricula in recent years and a great deal of energy and resource used to furnish these. It is vital to get whatever the new system looks like right first time.
So what does our system need to do to sustain improvement?
The opportunities for developing professional capital and expertise can only be done within a framework of trust in the system and a respect for the intellectual credence of the drivers for change. The correct drivers for change are proposed in an excellent paper by Michael Fullan – shared by Tom Reynolds, a contributor to this blog. I couldn’t recommend this read more highly.
I still believe partnerships are central to realising the transformational change our system needs. Teaching schools will continue to be successful within existing alliances that have a strong commitment to sharing data and staff. Unfortunately, they are a potential “house of cards”; de-designation may never be far away in a toxic, rock-and-a-hard-place landscape of grade deflation, rising floor standards and a rigid Ofsted regime stalking the land.
In another school-led approach to system leadership, Academy chains may no longer be seen as deficit models, but agents for developing professional capital and, among other things, connecting the world of work and business with schools (I recommend Andrew Adonis’ excellent book “Education, Education, Education” for context here). But there are real difficulties in forming alliances when the prevailing atmosphere is one of threat and vulnerability.
What drives education professionals, such as the members of the new @Headsroundtable group on Twitter, is a confidence in the ineffable positivism and energy of young people. Our students’ talents and ambitions remind us constantly that they deserve the best system that the professionals, rather than the politicians, can design.
@Headsroundtable gained 3.5k followers in days and has become an independent contributor to system debate. The DfE might follow and engage rather than publish non-consultation consultations?
This post grew from my DHSB magazine editorial. Our magazines are windows through time (going back to 1911), and in stating that students over the last five years have seen the greatest changes in the Education system for a generation I am conscious of the dangers of hyperbole, lest history prove me wrong.
Will students reading our school magazine archive in 2022 reflect positively on this period of change? Will they say that school leaders worked together, doing everything they could to make their professional voices heard? Whatever we do, it’s time to pipe up.