Fresh ideas in education blocked by stale thinking | Education


The headline for John Harris’s excellent article (‘Open all schools!’ ‘Close all schools!’ What England really needs is creative thinking, 3 January) is slightly misleading. There have been plenty of fresh ideas – for the past 60 years at least. The problem is that they almost inevitably clash with the stale ideas of government. Michael Gove, Dominic Cummings and Gavin Williamson are just three of the many neoliberals who have chosen to make education their battleground in a class war.

In order to cement the position of private schools and Oxbridge, which are essential parts of the service industry for the ruling elite, it has been necessary to trash progressive thinking about classroom practice and starve state schools and further education of resources, and to corrupt the purpose of universities. By maintaining a system of exams that favours mere memorisation and the ability to regurgitate more suavely than others along any current bell curve, they have squeezed the creativity, spontaneity and joy from teaching and learning.

Three examples illustrate the state to which education has been reduced. First, any attempt to move to online learning to keep staff and students safe is much more difficult since the coalition closed down the organisations (for example, the British Educational Communications and Technology Agency and the Learning and Skills Development Agency) that gave staff and parents advice and resources for the progressive use of technology.

Second, the brilliant invention by the former Further Education Unit of a credit framework (to measure what students know, understand and can do) to replace the dreary system exemplified by A-levels has never been adopted comprehensively as it needed to be for every student in any setting on whatever course.

And finally, the hopes of 16-plus working-class students were dashed by the coalition’s abolition of the education maintenance allowance, a lifeline for so many. This government will never give us the “something new” that Harris craves. Let’s hope that parents, teachers and their unions can keep the wealth of progressive ideas alive.
Kevin Donovan
Birkenhead, Merseyside

• Last year, I worked with headteachers across England and was shocked by how the government contributed to the challenges they faced during the pandemic. I was also moved by their compassion and commitment – and that of their staff – to children and young people. Two things are needed urgently. First, the government must let go of its grip on state schools. Let these headteachers, as their peers in the private sector, make the decisions needed on the ground, in discussion with their local communities. Second, let’s focus on “school belonging”. Research shows that pupils who have a sense of belonging are happier, more confident and perform better academically. What a welcome gift for our young people.
Kathryn Riley
Professor of urban education, UCL Institute of Education

• Given the stop-go schooling that has become the norm during the ongoing Covid crisis, we urge the government to immediately introduce a “home learning maintenance allowance” for each child who has a right to free school meals. The HLMA should cover the cost of home-learning resources such as books, broadband, laptops and a well-resourced advisory service for parents. The HLMA would address home-schooling inequality by supporting the learning of many disadvantaged families and children.
Martin Large
Stroud, Gloucestershire
Anna Dusseau
Cople, Bedfordshire




Leave a comment