All you need in this life is ignorance and confidence, and then success is sure–Mark Twain

The Election race is underway and Education is to be one of the key battle grounds. I’ve trawled the Beeb to capture some of the highlights:

“David Cameron has declared that permitting the building of new Free Schools is one of their big ideas, and we can look forward to a further 100 a year being built over the life time of the next Parliament.

Labour has accused the Conservatives of planning “extreme” post-election public spending cuts of £70bn.  Shadow chancellor Ed Balls made a speech unveiling Labour’s analysis of how Conservative plans would affect non-protected Whitehall departments.

BBC assistant political editor Norman Smith said Labour’s “dossier” was designed to give people “the political heebie jeebies” given the scale of cuts required, and an attempt to paint the Conservatives as ideological when it comes to reducing spending.

A pledge to raise education funding in England from £49bn to £55.3bn over the next Parliament is the price of the Lib Dems entering coalition after the election, Nick Clegg has said.  It is the first so-called “red line” that the Lib Dem leader has revealed. The Lib Dems have said they would spend £2.5bn more than Labour and £5bn more than the Conservatives between 2015 and 2020 on education, protecting funding all the way from early years to further education. Mr Clegg said what his party call the “cradle to college” pledge would be a “deal-breaker” in potential negotiations with other parties.”

In reality, for a school situated in the Thames Valley, I feel sure that the SNP, Greens, UKIP etc. have all got something to add into this mix, but the reality of the situation is that the next Parliament will include at least one of either the Conservatives or Labour parties, and that the most likely partnership they will create to form a government will include the Lib-Dems.  Now, it must be said Mr Clegg went back on the Lib-Dem promise not to raise University tuition fees, but as things turn out, the coalition choice to advance those to £9000 and make them more of a graduate tax rather hitherto seems to have been really quite an effective way of expanding UK Universities event in the face of a world recession.

Let’s make no bones about the general principal of needing great higher education – we do. As our own school’s University final year undergraduates are about to be launched into the world of work, they don’t need to report they have spent three years in a Library and seen a professor once in a blue moon. As the Facebook pages of our students show, the dissertations are now reaching publication, and the few weeks of swotting  before finals are upon them, heads are down to secure their degree.

And it is not just for the undergraduates we need great Universities. Many of the non-University jobs now include diploma course and the like validated by the Universities. Mature students often need access to shorter courses that lift standards of knowledge and expertise, and whilst some ‘colleges’ may not be household names yet, Higher Education also extends to the great Institutes and Societies of the Land. I am absolutely delighted that all three of the major political parties have put their support behind the plan to develop a Royal College of Teaching. I started supporting this enterprise at the outset, promoted by the current Conservative MP for Bristol North West, Charlotte Leslie, who was kind enough to attend a conference I ran in the Autumn of 2013, and encouraged me to push further the concept of a Royal College into the Independent Sector. Another strong supporter of the Royal College, who shared the platform with Charlotte and myself, Professor Pete Dudley (Leicester University) visited our school this January, to meet with our Subject Leaders and talk about how to develop our work through Lesson Study, a long-term collaborative approach to build deep subject and teaching expertise.

We need informed, educated voices at the heart of Education planning to ensure that back-of-the-fag packet stuff does not enter our schools on a minister’s whim. Sadly, that’s what we have had to face for a quarter of century, and an approach that escalated last parliament under Michael Gove. In the long term, probably his most dangerous change was to move so very much of the training of teachers from Universities to schools, under Teach First and other similar strands. I am delighted that we run our own teacher training programme in the school, in conjunction with Universities such as Reading, Bucks New, Winchester, Chester and Brighton, as well as in partnership with our GTP provider, eQualitas. As an Independent School, we have chosen to use the surplus from our Holiday Club programme to invest in new undergraduate and graduate talent, to ‘grow our own’ so to speak.

But a country cannot rely solely on ‘micro-breweries’ such as Claires Court to populate our nurseries and schools country-wide. Where are is our future talent to be found? Where are the specialist departments, in which we are growing our subject specialists, importantly for Maths and Sciences we know, but actually for ALL the other subject disciplines we need? Answer – the  Universities of this fair land of course.  I cannot over-emphasise the importance of stability in education, and with Universities able to reap from their own crop of undergrads, the right kind of students can be encouraged to give teaching a go. Either that, or for students to be able to travel home to study and work their ticket at their local Uni, whilst reducing accommodation costs and building a professional life with school work colleagues is certainly a sure fire way to succeed.

Sadly, we now have Job Agencies and bands of headteachers even trawling the Dominions for staff licensed to work in the UK, to fill the incredible shortage of primary and secondary staff we now face, whilst at the same time we have unprecedented numbers of new teachers leaving the profession shortly after qualifying, or choosing to join a growing exodus to other countries. Currently over 400 new English Curriculum schools open each year outside of the UK, and all need their core qualified staff to come from our Island Nation.

 So inevitably, I’d have to ask friends and family who care about English National Education to vote Lib-Dem, because the only way to hold back yet more chaos from arriving in our state schools is to ensure there is a moderating influence at the heart of the new administration. Of course I understand the Conservative plea that without a profitable economy, we can’t have success in social enterprises. and I certainly understand the Labour approach that places key importance upon careers advice. The trouble with both parties is that they have ‘previous’ on their hands, both guilty of undermining the professional judgement of school professionals by implementing educational pedagogies that don’t work.

As Mark Twain’s quote makes clear, if you don’t know what you are doing, but nevertheless insist that the stats show you are successful, then frankly your doomed. Flagship policies such as Teach First (and then ‘do something better next’ goes the quip) may have a small part to play in furnishing our nation with teachers. But as with the Police Force, we need to grow our teachers from the indigenous communities where they were born and educated, where as professionals they feel comfortable and aligned to the wider community in which they will live and work. Both my wife and I fell in love with Leicester where we went to University, and both would have been really happy to work there in the multi-national city community we lived amongst. As things turned out, we married and returned to my home town of Maidenhead back in 1975, where there were jobs for us both, and where we have spent a collective 80 years in Education.

Funny how after all that time, Jen and I tend to agree on most things, despite her being a Historian and I a Scientist. And we do make it be known what we think as well. Sadly, we tend not to agree with almost anything the local political candidates have to say about the educational needs of this area, and they certainly seem to be deaf, dumb and blind to the lead we give. But hey – (Jenny’s favourite phrase) – what do we know anyway?

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About jameswilding

Academic Principal Claires Court Schools Long term member & advocate of the Independent Schools Association
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