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Primary Education News
News It's time for the second great debate on education
In 1976 the education community came together to assess what was and was not working in education. It's high time we had that conversation again, says Brian Lightman
During my speech to ASCL's annual conference in March I referred to Lord Callaghan's famous Ruskin College speech of 1976 and set out my reasons why I think the time is right for us as a profession to initiate a second 'great debate' about the future of our education service.
In many respects the current policy environment around education is one of the most challenging I can remember. Many school and college leaders and teachers feel a profound sense of disenfranchisement from an agenda which appears to be ignoring their experience and advice as far-reaching changes to almost every aspect of their professional lives are rushed in with minimal consultation. No day seems to pass without a new policy announcement taking teachers and school leaders by surprise.
Yet, in spite of or perhaps because of this, I am deeply heartened by the fact that we are witnessing a veritable rush of ideas and leadership coming directly from the profession to promote the best practice and drive up standards. I have attended conferences and workshops where groups of professionals have shared inspirational practice in our schools and colleges and learned from each other. Events such as the ResearchEd conference have sprung into existence in days on the back of conversations on Twitter. With increasing volume and confidence the colleagues driving this clamour for ownership of their professional ground have shown real leadership as they continue to seize back the agenda that rightly belongs to them. My optimism has been bolstered further by the growing consensus I am detecting within the profession and many other stakeholders in education about what really matters to the young people in our care and a determination to work towards those priorities regardless of what ministers say.
At the launch of his inspiring new book Thinking Allowed on Schooling Mick Waters argued the case for an 'education spring' during which we as a profession would create a "forward-looking, redefined purpose schooling where the people involved take appropriate responsibility to create a system which is carefully managed, research and practice driven…. and focused upon long-term aims, regardless of government". I could not agree more and this is precisely the baton which I promised ASCL would now be taking on at our conference.
As leaders within the profession it is our responsibility to do everything we can to clarify those areas of consensus. We need to take stock, look objectively and without political bias at the evidence of what is and is not working. We need to identify and clarify the areas of consensus and set out a vision which will go beyond this and the next Parliament. We need to do what so many of those often cited high performing jurisdictions do which is to agree a long term development plan for the future of our education service which will rise above short term political considerations and not be driven by the electoral cycle.
But to use Lord Callaghan's phrase we must not tell anyone to "keep off the grass". Nobody can be excluded or back off from that debate however challenging or uncomfortable that makes the discussions. We need to hear from the left, the right and the middle; we need to hear from parents, employers, representatives of all kinds of educational institutions and sectors, academics and anyone else with a view. We need to evaluate the properly researched evidence. And at the end of that debate we have to come up with a workable overarching plan with clear success criteria, clarity about how it will be resourced and how our success will be measured in qualitative and quantitative terms. The test of any current or future government or opposition will be their willingness to engage in this matter of national importance.
ASCL will play a leading role collating and drawing together the findings but neither we or any other organisation can do it alone.
ASCL is calling on everyone who is serious about leading our education
service forward to join our great debate. We have set up a dedicated area of our website where people can register. We will facilitate seminars and other activities to take the discussion forward and report back on our findings at our 2014 annual conference in Birmingham.