Great Britain has a new Prime Minister at the same time as schools, colleges and Universities come back into session. Liz Truss has a monumental in-tray, not least the energy market crisis, conflict in Ukraine, tensions with the EU, dis-union within and the complexity of migrant need to meet our employment needs and illegal migration overwhelming our services. I don’t envy her, or indeed any world leader currently, beset by the clear set of problems with no obvious financial solution either except to kick the can down the road once more to future generations. Whilst writing this piece, I see that Kit Malthouse, MP for North West Hampshire has been appointed our new Secretary of State for Education, so I include them both for consideration of the points I make below.
I am only going to write about Education in this blog, but UK PLC should be very clear that it has a really effective early years and compulsory education provision which is frankly the envy of the world. It’s clear from the ‘levelling up’ narrative that we still have more to do in ‘opening up’ of opportunities for those areas of the country where deprivation and poverty continues to stifle ambition and as a consequence academic progress in school. Recognising that we have more to do needs to be tailored with the generosity to meet that need where it is most acute; in schools we are acutely aware that the funding of special education needs requires exactly this, coupled with a reassessment of actually how best should such needs be met. The advocacy of Individual budgets for Education, Health and Care plans has badly atomised the funding available, as a consequence local authorities being ‘spent out’ even before the start of a financial year. So first steps for Mr Malthouse is to accelerate the review of SEN to ensure we have the budget short term and the approach long term to bring inclusion in mainstream a reality for those for whom that solution is appropriate, and the support of alternative providers to meet the needs of those unable to be in school.
We have had 2 reports published this summer looking at the state of playnin our schools, one by the Times Newspaper’s Education Commision, the other by the Tony Blair Institute for Global change both of which summarise the key developments needed and come to broadly the same conclusions: the reversal in recent years at Sixth Form level to a narrow, knowledge led curriculum is not providing us with the broader set of skills and enthusiasms we need for the future, whether that be for higher education or employment. The Labour government took us closer to such proposals with their development of Curriculum 2000, though that only focussed on Sixth Form studies and kept the huge apparatus of GCSE and examinations in place at 16+. Both reports summarise the need to reduce substantially the ‘testing’ nature of 16+ exams, in part because they cause such a huge additional cost to the country in terms of lost teaching time, resources and facilities and because they are so divisive in terms of individual and school community well-being. What Mr Malthouse can plan with DfE is how to take these education metrics out of the political maelstrom, forging a 10 year or longer plan unting schools, colleges, employers and universities with a common purpose to meet the country’s widest employment needs for skills and qualifications.
It remains a national outrage that we refuse to provision sufficient training places for medics; choosing to rob third world countries of well qualified doctors and nurses they can ill afford to lose whilst refusing to provide sufficient places for home qualified students is the greatest hypocrisy. Of course it is not just about providing training places for students but retaining those really experienced doctors and surgeons to teach in hospitals with more than just A&E and Covid underway. Here curiously education has something to teach medicine, as we manage to keep many staff employed well into their 7th and 8th decade, partly because of course our pension pots don’t grow large enough to fall foul on the lifetime allowance (for most people £1,073,100). Every year, Claires Court graduates circa 50% of its GCSE scientists good enough in ‘old money’ to move to Maths and Science A levels and potentially into Medicine beyond – and we like most other schools would love to see Medicine degrees return to where they used to be last century, relatively available for most good candidates.
What we must do is plan to evolve over time. The efficiency of the UK system of University degrees is celebrated around the world, recognisably providing great content over a 3/4 year period coupled with time to develop the other skills and opportunities that permit young graduates to accelerate away when employment aged 21/22 beckons. I have appreciated Martin Lewis (Moneysupermarket guru) straight talking to government on energy costs this summer; previously he has spoken wisely about University Finance and we do have a best of all worlds scenario for students here in England, given the relative poverty of the national piggy bank – see here. Evolving over time must also include bringing more undergraduate courses into the undergraduate employment apprenticeship field. Again my school has really good experience of training teachers ‘on the job’, circ a 6 a year. With residential costs for Universities competing with the wider housing shortage, many students can enjoy a full Uni experience by staying local to home, and we are certainly very fortunate to have many leading universities within easy reach on our public transport network.
And finally, my own cautionary tale… last week in the early hours of Wednesday morning, I suffered a fit and needed to be hospitalised to find out why. Despite the ambulance, I was a walk in, walk out casualty, and between 05:30 and 17:30 I could not have been looked after better. Every test under the sun, scanners, cardiac and bloods later, and I am, it appears, as right as rain. The quality of care was extraordinary, for me and all, and so whilst I can read the headlines about ‘broken NHS’, my reality is very different in experience. Of course we can continue to point, finger, blame, but in my view, we won’t make progress as a country if we keep up as our main strategy the ‘blame game’ rather than use a ‘solutions based’ approach instead. I am having to make some running repairs to my working life straight away; I can’t drive for a while for example, and I am certainly keeping a very lively watching brief on diet and lifestyle. Very boringly, there’s not much to report (that’s a good thing), and actually the road to my full recovery is as it is for anyone else, one step at a time.
So all hail our new PM and EdSec, and good luck to you both. Thank you for returning Mr Gove to the back benches, his claim to fame being his famous distrust of experts. You have already highlighted that your approach is solve the problems in front of you as you see them, so do please have a good read of the 2 reports I have highlighted above. The many contributions made to both reports have been by experts in the field of education, and their preferred solution for skills development maps onto the work Claires Court has developed over the past 15 years very nicely indeed, with values even more clearly aligned, placing Integrity and Character above all. I see that your cabinet is as diverse as it could be, pulling talent from across all – perhaps you could look to adopting our school’s motto, “Ut Omnes Unum Sint”, ‘That all may be one’; at this time of national crisis, a sense of bringing the nation together is much needed indeed.