“If we knew what we were doing, it would not be called research, would it?” – A manifesto beyond 2015.

There is no way Albert Einstein could have known where his research into Newtonian mechanics would take him into Space-Time, particle theory, the motion of molecules and that of the Universe. Reflecting on his life after the second world war, he had this to say “If we knew what we were doing, it would not be called research, would it?” Einstein spent most of his life working out how the chaos of the Universe was ordered, and pleasingly for us all his great work stood the test of time.

For the last 5 years, education in England has slowly been beset by educational change on change, to the extent now that everything we are currently working on for school-age children could be in a state of flux. At state primary school level, the National Curriculum has been renewed, but without a nationally agreed framework for its assessment and measurement of progress. Years 2 and 6 are currently required to follow the old English Maths and Science curricula, which is compulsory, though the levels used there-in are discredited. DfE have all sorts of transitional documents out there describing the next year’s curriculum to 2016.  At secondary school, the new national curriculum framework published in December 2014 describes the curriculum to be followed from September 2014. Need I write on? When change is so breathless that the framework around which careful construction is required is published after the start date, you know something has gone aglay. Government masks its ineptitude by stating that these curricula are statutory and must be followed by all state schools.

The GCSEs programmes for English, English Literature and Maths change this coming September 2015, as do most all A level subjects, though Drama, Geography, Languages wait a year and Maths gets to wait until 2017. Ways of grading are changing, GCSE from A*-G to 9-0, and A levels from modular AS+A2 to terminal A level at the end of 2 years. Not only are we to have a complete alpha-numeric soup of qualifications over a period of 3 years, but since the DfE have made it quite clear that the new qualifications are going to be more rigorous (harder), in the basket of qualifications we will also have apples, oranges, pears and such like.

DfE have of course tried to leaven the pain, by suggesting that during these transition years, the percentage of pupils gaining a new Level 4 or higher in English will be the same as those that would have gained a grade C or higher under the old system.  So not only are the exams to get harder, but in order to ensure fairness, candidates will not need to achieve as well as we might expect they would have to, given the more demanding nature of the challenge. Which of course means that once the old exams are through, we won’t be able to compare the next year’s cohort performance with the previous year, because the pass standard will be toughened.

The earliest that education research teams are going to be able to deploy statistical measures anew to compare one cohort to another is from 2018 0nwards. In research terms for independent research teams at for CEM centre, NFER, Institutes of Education and so forth, we are currently moving close to a Black Hole. Yes they can see and collect data from exam candidates at Key stage 2, 4 and 5 but each subject has been ‘pulled’ in one way or another to the extent that meaningful comparisons will not be available.

Within our national schools at the same time, the government has further destabilised provision by changing how schools are run, the money they receive, their mechanisms of government, the freedoms with which they can appoint staff (qualified or not), and whether these curriculum regulations apply to them. The product lines are Local authority schools v academy schools (stand-alone or trust groups), be they selective, comprehensive and secondary modern, free schools and university technical colleges. The  majority of these schools now report directly to the DfE. It is no surprise that the National Audit office (that watchdog of govt financial probity) has just declared (21 January 2015) DfE account “neither fair nor true”. In an extremely rare move, our public spending watchdog, has issued an “adverse opinion” on the department’s financial statements, indicating that it does not trust the accuracy of the DfE’s figures and is unable to assess whether it is providing value for money. The NAO said auditors had identified a level of “error and uncertainty” in the DfE financial statements that was “both material and pervasive”. The comptroller and auditor general Amyas Morse, who is head of the NAO, said the DfE’s failure to provide statements that gave a “true and fair view” of the financial activity of its organisations meant it was not meeting the requirements of parliament.

So there we have it. Within the state education sector, its controlling government department for Education and the treasury (let alone independent research teams)  have no chance of knowing whether its experiments with curricula and examinations are going to work until 2019 at the very earliest, and the watchdog that can actually can check something, the spending of our taxes, has every right to be deeply troubled. English state education has been put under the most extraordinary reforms, at break neck speed and at at time when the school population is exploding in most areas of the country. What a Big Bang lies in store?

Private schools within the Independent Schools Council family sit on the side and can only watch and protect their own from the incredibly damaging fall-out from such legislative, statutory and regulatory change.  We would not wish this on our worst enemies, and most of the state schools we work with are actually friends in partnership with provision. As a group of 1300+ schools, ISC has prepared on our behalf a manifesto for the parties moving forward toward general election. Entitled

“ISC 2015 Manifesto – It is time to reset the relationship with independent schools in the UK”

it is a statement of the goals, beliefs and aims of ISC schools. Now independent schools stand ready to reset the relationship; they want to be seen for what they really are and what they can offer for the benefit of all children in this country. The eight constituent associations of ISC have each agreed the manifesto and are fully behind its aims.

Claires Court sits with its mission very close to the ideals of this manifesto, which starts “We believe in: Breaking down barriers: the mission of all schools, whether state or independent, is to educate children to achieve their full potential; any barriers, real or perceived, between the two sectors are counterproductive; Social mobility: independent schools are and will be key contributors to social mobility; unlocking the potential of all children and young people benefits our society as a whole. The whole manifesto downloads from the link above or http://goo.gl/4wBQfw.

Anyone who has read my blog, or has listened to me speak or met me in person, can’t miss both my passion for education and for the pupils for whom I am responsible and my deep belief in the value of evidence-based education. In a school which has been in the same family ownership for 55 years, having had a leadership role for 34 of those years, I suspect I feel best placed to be able to reflect on the best value brought about by long term systemic development. One of the things Einstein struggled with is that the Universe (be that macro or micro) is beset by innumerable variables. Even though he gave us the greatest insight we could possibly have into gravity, we still don’t what it is really, can’t tough or explain it, though it affects everything we do on this planet.

In like manner with children, we know what they are like and love them beyond measure, and know we need to treat everyone as an individual. Whilst we can package them up and average them out, that’s not the same as ensuring that ‘Every child matters’. What we must not do is use ‘hindsight’ to manage education, which is of course what both Michael Gove and Nicky Morgan have done this parliament, recalling what worked for them in schools and imposing it on a country. I have no problem with being told that ‘all children by age 11 must know their 12 times table’, (Nicky Morgan, 1 Feb 2015 – http://www.bbc.co.uk/news/uk-31079515) but it’s the reductionist nature of such claptrap that causes me to have lost complete respect for the current ministers.

I’ll leave you with a final poster meme of our Albert, that perhaps suggests where I might place the current members of parliament in the evolutionary tree:

About jameswilding

Academic Principal Claires Court Schools Long term member & advocate of the Independent Schools Association
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One Response to “If we knew what we were doing, it would not be called research, would it?” – A manifesto beyond 2015.

  1. Katrina says:

    I love reading your blogs each week and often forward them on to interested friends, family members and colleagues,

    You sum up things perfectly! We’re in a state of constant flux! Equally frustrating for those state teachers amongst us who are trying to do the very, very best we can for the children in our care, is that we are supposed to feel ’empowered’ by these changes, fortunate even and free to make it all better for our children. With few assessment systems formulated yet and not much in the way of a model WAGOLL ( what a good one looks like!) we’re feeling our way in the dark a bit!

    I love your choice of quotes and Einstein has struck a chord with me this week! Teachers can be all things to all people: facilitators, advisors, educators, carers, entertainers …. etc., and in true Einstein fashion, better and more resourceful researchers by the day!!

    Looking forward to your next blog! Have a good week!

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