Tuesday, 27 January 2015

Hunt's neo-liberalism distorts his understanding of education policy

Tristram Hunt's Guardian attack on the Green party's education policy LINK , characteristising it as 'total madness', seems to have spectacularly misfired today. Guardian readers looking up the detail have come back to comment favourably on the policy.

Our policy does of course mark a clear break with the neo-liberal policies of the three main parties which support competition and marketisation of schools based on what Chomsky recently called the 'grading of students and teachers'.

Labour of course began the marketisation of schools with their sponsored academies and this, along with the privatisation of the NHS, was a key element in Blair's New Labour strategy.  Hunt, along with Lord Adonis, is essentially a Blairite and we cannot expect him to offer a fundamental critique of what the system, instigated by them,  has become.

So what is this 'madness' Hunt has found:

Delaying the start of formal education until the age of six

There are many countries in the world where children start later than in England and Wales and achieve just as well, if not better, with less anxiety. The Green Party takes account of such evidence and understands the importance of play and exploration in early childhood rather than the testing and ranking at ever earlier ages supported by the neo-liberal parties.

Ending SAT tests in Primary Schools

SATS are essentially a way of grading teachers and schools putting them and their students under intense pressure. This has had the effect of narrowing the curriculum, deskilling teachers who are under pressure to 'teach to the test' and removes much of the joy from teaching and learning. Greens have a much broader view of what constitutes education.

Hunt suggests that children's progress would no longer be monitored, but of course SATs are not the only way to monitor and evaluate progress and tell us little about the individual child compared with other systems.

Abolition of Ofsted will end accountability

The  Green Party would replace Ofsted with a collaborative system ending much of the stress, illness and rushed judgements associated with Ofsted:
The Green Party will instate a system of local accountability using continuous, collaborative assessment of schools. We would replace OFSTED with an independent National Council of Educational Excellence which would have regional officers tasked to work closely with Local Authorities. The National Council would be closely affiliated with the National Federation for Educational Research (NFER).
Where pupils’ attainment and progress is reported as part of a school’s holistic report to parents and the wider community it will include assessments, including value-added, moderated by the National Council of Education Excellence and the Local Authority’s School Improvement Service as well as the school’s own self evaluation.
Education cannot compensate for society
In a variation of Michael Gove's 'enemies of promise' labelling of his opponents, Hunt suggests that Natalie Bennett speaks the language of 'low aspiration and defeatism' because she recognises that schools cannot compensate for all the ills of an unequal society.

This is what Natalie actually said:
I am gravely concerned about low exam results and high dropout rates from children from disadvantaged backgrounds. But I understand that even wonderful schools can’t fully compensate for severe poverty and stress at home - which is why making the minimum wage a living wage, affordable and warm homes, and ensuring decent benefits are available to all who needs them, are education issues as well as social justice issues
More than 40 years in teaching and school governance has certainly taught me the importance of material conditions, and I would add a daily hot meal and a place to study to the list. These make an impact on levels of energy, motivation and self-worth. We have to work on both improving education and improving living conditions and increasing equality.

The focus on individual progression in education with its blame for failure on pupils, parents, teachers and schools, serves to let politicians off the hook over increased inequality, child poverty and inadequate housing.

What Hunt didn't say

Hunt failed to attack the Green Party's policy to end academies and free schools, integrate existing ones back into the Local Authority system, strengthen LAs through better funding and increased democratic accountability,  restore LA's ability to build new schools where they are needed and end Performance Related Pay for teachers.

Perhaps they were too popular for him to advertise?

Green Party Education policy is HERE

Written by Martin Francis, Green Party Education Spokesperson and London Green Left (Brent)

Martin blogs regularly at Wembley Matters

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