Education, alongside healthcare and law and order, has always been regarded as one of the great pillars of British society. Yet this pillar is beginning to crack.
Many would argue that our educational system has long been on a downward spiral and its fall has been quickened and intensified over recent years.
David Cameron’s government, like so many before it, thought that radical change would bring drastically improved results. This was the first grave error of the previous government: the British educational system has been constantly redefined and altered, especially in the upper echelons of the secondary school system, years 10-13.
This constant changing in both the GCSE and A-Level curriculum and their marking systems meant that teachers never became accustomed nor settled in teaching one system according to a set marking criteria. The overall effect is that teachers must constantly change both the content and delivery of their lessons to the drum being beat out of Westminster. Consequently, the level of teaching is impaired because teachers cannot become settled in the one system over an extended period.
The second major failing of Cameron’s government in its education policy would be its complete over reliance on numbers, data and statistics. Too often a school is simply given a number on the Ofsted level of rating and then attributed with being a poor school, a school in need of improvement, a good school or an outstanding school. Such a mode of simplistic grading does not consider the demography of the school, the wealth of its catchment area nor the many other complex factors which could easily affect a school’s performance.
Additionally, because schools are checked by Ofsted every three to four years, the weight of that one inspection is far too heavy. Less dominating, more numerous checks would allow schools to not feel that one specific Ofsted inspection is a make or break moment in that school’s development.
The third major failing of the previous government in education was allowing teaching profession to become one which far too many can fall back onto instead of what one which many seek to enter. In the main, this is due to the ease at which the modern system allows people to become teachers, especially in the secondary sector. Young men and women can now finish their degrees, do a one year teaching qualification and so become fully qualified teachers. In addition, some of these new teachers are literally thrown into ‘the deep end’ in terms of the level of teaching for such is the desperate need for teachers currently gripping the British educational system. Little wonder that over a third of qualified teachers leave within three years of entering the profession.
Furthermore, because of factors previously mentioned (the over reliance on data, the constant changes and developing problems) many young men and women are put off going into the teaching profession. This lack of enthusiasm to join the profession and remain in it has only been enhanced by the increased responsibility heaped onto schools: they have become less like educational epicentres and more communal and social institutions where both parents and politicians pressure them to offer a wide range of services so teachers get increasingly less time to do what they are employed to do- namely teach in a rigorous, disciplined manner.
When Cameron abdicated power and Theresa May was voted to step into the breach, many thought May would try at least to bring an end to these educational woes. In fact, the new Prime Minister has done little to stop the deepening cracks within our educational system. The only thing she has acted on is the idea of grammar schools.
However, though that might have been a plot to take the political spotlight as well as the nation’s gaze away from Brexit, it was a poor move on the political chessboard. When the country needs to be united after such a divisive referendum, the idea of grammar schools only provokes further conflict and division. Whether grammar schools should be increased in number should not be the first educational issue tackled by May- she already has a very long list of problems and issues that take precedence over the argument on grammar schools.
Cameron’s education bill has been dropped but not yet replaced and when it is, many in the profession fear that the two great heresies in the British Education will grow stronger.
First, an absorption with structures such as the grammar school initiative which comes from the same stable as Direct Grant, Academies, Free Schools etc. Secondly, ‘change’ that change is good and, of course it isn’t, so the chaos continues. The British educational system needs saving, only time will tell if Theresa May will be the heroine our system is crying out for.
Paul Doherty is an Intern at the Bow Group