Education secretary Nicky Morgan has rejected calls for an independent commission of teachers and education experts to set the core curriculum.
Speaking at the Association of School and College Leaders’ annual conference in London today, Ms Morgan said it was right for politicians to decide what was taught in the classroom because they were democratically accountable.
“That isn’t because I think I understand algebra any better than you do, or that Nick Gibb understands phonics any better than the teachers that teach it,” she said.
“Parents should be able to hold us to account for the decisions we make about what their children are learning and what they’re not and the surest way to make sure they can do that is at the ballot box.”
She insisted that politicians did not “fly blind” when taking decisions about the curriculum, and had “involved experts at every step of the way”.
Ms Morgan was responding to calls from the ASCL for an independent commission, made up of teachers, parents, employers, academics and politicians, to set the national core curriculum. The commission would only make changes to the curriculum once every five years.
Her approach appeared to differ from that of Liberal Democrat schools minister David Laws, who told the same conference yesterday that politicians created “obvious dangers” when they “start selecting the precise works of literature and periods of history which should be taught”.
The union’s general secretary, Brian Lightman, said after Mrs Morgan’s speech that he would continue to raise his proposal with ministers.
“Our proposal doesn’t leave politicians out of it; it involves other people with a stake in education,” he said. “The profession needs to have a clear input into it.”
During her speech Ms Morgan also told school leaders that if the Conservatives won the general election in May, the next Parliament would not involve “five years of constant upheaval or constant change”, adding that the changes introduced during the current Parliament needed “time to bed in and take root.”
Ms Morgan also used her speech to back the ASCL’s calls for a national fair funding formula. She said she felt “passionately” about the need for a fairer formula. “We want to get on with this,” she said. “[But] what I don’t want to do is create any more instability or uncertainty. We still live in very difficult economic times.”
The education secretary told delegates that the Conservative party’s spending plans, under which schools’ per-pupil funding will be protected in cash terms, would see £590m more being spent on education over the next Parliament than Labour’s plans. Labour has pledged to increase the overall schools budget in line with inflation.
But Mr Lightman said he was not convinced about the spending plans. “She said they would fund schools sufficiently, but the published figures don’t show that,” he said.
“None of the political parties have pledged enough funding to prevent schools from falling off the financial cliff, which means they will have to make decisions which will have a detrimental effect on the quality of education they are providing.”
Chris Woollett, a religious studies teacher and head of Year 11 at Bennett Memorial Diocesan School in Kent, said he appreciated the “approachable” tone of Ms Morgan’s speech and agreed with her stance on the curriculum.
“I think it’s right that the core curriculum should be set by people who are democratically accountable,” he said.
However, he added that recent curriculum changes had been made “at great pace, and the teaching profession was not involved”.
A former headteacher, who did not want to be named, told TES: “I’m disappointed to hear she won’t delegate responsibility for the curriculum.
“You don’t see the government telling doctors how to do their jobs, but they do for teachers,” he said, adding that the profession felt “disempowered” because of its lack of involvement in recent changes.
As a school leader, juggling and accommodating the range of responsibilities schools are expected to deal with can be hugely complicated, but it’s important to remember you are not alone: local community groups can provide invaluable assistance.
This is the message of Jim Minton, governor of a special school in London and director of communications and membership at charity London Youth. Writing in the 20 March issue of TES, he explains that creating community partnerships not only helps schools to address issues around pupil welfare and learning but also ensures that young people are connected to their community.
Earlier this year, Ofsted praised Mr Minton’s school for the variety and quality of its partnerships and the contribution these made to students’ success. Mr Minton says there are six key ingredients for forming and securing good partnerships – five of these points are below, and you can find the remaining gem in the 20 March issue of TES.
1. Discuss outcomes
Agreeing on outcomes will ensure that everyone pulls together. For example, an arts-based youth organisation and a neighbouring special school quickly identified a shared need to support young women with learning difficulties around sexual health. Both agreed this would lead to better behaviour and more engagement in learning, thereby supporting higher attainment.
2. Define roles
Although schools offer broad curriculum support inside the classroom, community organisations have expertise in engaging young people and supporting them outside school hours. Try to utilise each partner’s strengths instead of forcing them into areas where they are not comfortable.
3. Highlight mutual benefits
If a partnership can help to boost engagement and raise attainment – for example, by offering broader connections with families through trusted community organisations – then everyone involved will get real value from the work.
4. Find the right location
Although most youth centres don’t have the facilities of modern schools, they do have skilled staff and environments designed to engage and relax young people. Many pupil referral units in London speak highly of the partnerships they have with youth clubs and the value of working in a different space.
5. Give young people a say
A high-quality partnership will give young people the chance to design and lead aspects of their own learning. Good youth clubs and good schools both do this, and it is certainly in line with the importance Ofsted attaches to pupil voice.
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