It’s party conference time again. Season of grandiose claims, hollow promises, choreographed ovations, and now – a conference first – chunks of speech that are too important to be delivered.
When Ed Miliband confessed to forgetting those vital paragraphs on migration and the financial deficit at this week’s Labour Party Conference, I found myself hoping the other party leaders would follow suit by forgetting to talk about education. Forlorn hope. In the countdown to the 2015 UK general election we can reliably predict that the Govine legacy will be lauded as the most radical and successful programme of educational reform ever, at a stroke hauling a failing education system back from the brink and making our schools truly ‘world class.’ World class: among crowning political fatuities only ‘the best ever’ comes close. Best ever since when? 2010? 1066? The big bang? And who was around to collect the evidence?
Leaving such rhetorical games to those who choose to play them, but reminding ourselves that the evidence assessed in the Cambridge Primary Review final report provided a more measured account of ministerial achievements, the final party conferences before the 2015 election trigger something closer to home: our quest to identify what we believe should be the next government’s policy priorities for primary education. As in 2010, we shall present the resulting statement to party leaders, ministers and their opposition shadows, and we’ll give it the widest possible publicity.
In 2010, drawing on the Cambridge Primary Review final report and reactions to that report voiced at the ensuing dissemination conferences, we nominated 11 policy priorities. These recommended specific action on children’s voice and rights, the early years, aims, curriculum, assessment, pedagogy, professional development, school staffing and educational partnership. These nine were topped and tailed by two imperatives which remain as urgent now as they were then: ‘Accelerate the drive to reduce England’s gross and overlapping gaps in wealth, wellbeing and attainment’, and ‘Rebalance the relationship between government, national agencies, local authorities and schools.’ By many accounts the wealth and attainment gaps have widened while the removal of the remaining checks and balances between Westminster and England’s schools have made our education system more centralised than ever.
Although, a year on from CPR’s final report, I was able in the Brian Simon Memorial Lecture to record modest progress in relation to some of our 2010 priorities, and although it’s clear that CPR and CPRT have played their part in securing this, most of them required and require continuing vigilance and effort. That’s why the eight priorities with which CPRT was launched in 2013 echo some of those from 2010; and it’s why CPRT’s new research projects and professional development programmes focus on voice, learning, teaching, curriculum, assessment and tackling disadvantage.
Here’s the invitation then. Please tell us what the next government should do – or not do – in order to help schools provide the best possible primary education for all the nation’s children.
You may wish to voice your views by adding comments to this blog. Or you may prefer to email us. If you are involved with one of CPRT’s regional networks you may want to encourage discussion locally or within your own school. In any event, please tell us what you propose. We’d also encourage you to look again at the CPR and CPRT priorities referred to above. Are these still as pressing as they were? Do some override others? Once we’ve heard from you – preferably by the end of this term – we shall combine your proposals with our own to produce a draft set of primary education priorities for the next government. We’ll then consult further on these before firming them up and publishing them.
Of course, you may feel this exercise has little point on the grounds that governments are influenced more by ministerial prejudice and tabloid headlines than by evidence or reason. Despair at Westminster’s impervious arrogance has been prominent lately in Scotland, but south of the border it’s pretty widespread too. You may also have registered the CPR/CPRT leitmotif that policymakers have less influence than they believe and teachers have more, while what counts for children is not the latest DfE initiative but what happens in classrooms. That’s true, too. Yet policy undoubtedly frames and constrains our professional actions, especially in a regime as centralised and ideologically-driven as England’s, and to that extent we should do our utmost to influence it.
So please accept this invitation. Let us know what you want the makers of education policy to do for our children’s primary education after the 2015 general election.
- To contribute, add a comment to this blog or email us. firstname.lastname@example.org
- If you’d like to join others locally in this initiative, get in touch with your nearest regional network co-ordinator.
- As a possible starting point, check out the summarised key recommendations of the Cambridge Primary Review final report, CPR’s 2010 policy priorities, and the 2013 CPRT priorities.