About Our Schools: Improving on Previous Best by Tim Brighouse and Mick Waters provides an excellent overview of the current educational landscape in the United Kingdom.
It summarises the journey of education since 1976 by tapping into, and quoting from, many of the central players, including fourteen Secretaries of State and over 150 other contributors.
At over 600 pages long, it provides a compelling account of the damage incurred by schools through the trend towards centralisation, marketisation and managerialism over the past forty years and is a compelling and highly readable addition to the education canon.
“A compelling and highly readable addition to the education canon.”
The book’s many contributors feed into a lucid and informative narrative by two of Britain’s most experienced and respected educationalists, who use their considerable experience and wisdom to present the case for change.
The book can stand alone as an account of where we are in 2022 and explains how we got here. But it is the authors’ blueprint for the way ahead, designed to take education out of its current malaise, that is its most significant contribution.
Recently, I was able to talk to the two authors and they made the point that the book would appeal to teachers from either sector who are keen on unlocking the talents of their children.
Some of the initiatives contained in the latter section of the book were directly relevant to independent schools, they felt, notably their concept of an Open School, developed along the same lines as the Open University. This would pool knowledge and expertise, especially in technology and AI, but also in best practice and leadership. It would help the process of improving assessment through ready testing and levelling up. Both felt that this “would make a huge bridge between the sectors.”
“The authors’ blueprint for the way ahead is the book’s most significant contribution.”
Sharing ideas and resources was another subject that came up. Brighouse said: “We’d like to copy the accountability and inspection system within the independent sector; we think it’s more civilized than ours.”
The gap between the two sectors that has grown over recent years was seen as neither healthy nor sustainable and they expressed their frustration at the failure of the sectors to work more closely together, largely for historic reasons rooted in mistrust between the two.
The growing number of partnerships between schools and ever-increasing pressure from the Charities Commissioner are changing things for the better, but there is still frustration felt in state schools, they said.
The increasing levels of cooperation, however, provided some encouragement with the multi-academy trust seen as the “ideal vehicle” for future partnerships.
“We’d like to copy the inspection system within the independent sector; we think it’s more civilized than ours.”
One of the great frustrations facing the state sector has always been the rigorous inspection and assessment regime and the archaic use of data to give children a flightpath by which they can be measured years later.
They described the system as “categorisation” rather than assessment and that instead of fostering a growth of ambition and independence, it has had the opposite effect.
Of the other recommendations in the book, they wished to highlight the “Elect” programme. By allowing all children aged between five to nine years to pursue elements of learning that they are really interested in, it would be a significant step forward in developing a more holistic and open-ended education.
Unlike other schemes to help the talented, able and gifted, Waters stressed that with this programme, would be an opportunity for every child, from the age of five, to be “engaged with something in which they show a talent, an interest, an enthusiasm, so they be nurtured and brought forward”
“There have been twenty Secretaries of State for Education over the past 45 years.”
The book is rich in ideas, including a curriculum for childhood and a curriculum for adolescence; the suggestion of the expert consultant teacher; and the proposal for an equity tax – all of which should give food for thought for all educators, schools and governors.
It was revealing reading about how the heavy hand of the State explains how we got to where we are today. There have been twenty Secretaries of State for Education over the past 45 years, most of whom were given the job with little notice and brought their own penchants and views to the job (who can forget Michael Gove’s first gift to all schools being a King James copy of the Bible?). No wonder initiatives stalled and the education pathway since 1976 has been littered with half and full turns, often based on nothing more than a political whim.
This is an outstanding book full of reflections and wisdom that will inform governors and heads about UK education over the past fifty years while providing a hugely intelligent response as to how we proceed in the future, as both state and independent schools.