Today, the Education Minister, Elizabeth Truss, delivered a speech to Reform about the changes that the Government is making to the schools system that would result in improved outcomes for the Nation’s children. The speech was mostly focussed on primary education, from what I can see, with talk about the new arrangements for assessment at KS1 and KS2, amongst other things. Now, I am sure that politicians want to see improved outcomes. They want to see improvement, success and wealth. Ms Truss says, near the end of the speech:
“Under the new system, we are clearer on the ends. And give freedom on the means: freedom from government prescription.”
I think that Government believes this to be true. However, I also think that Government, and Ofsted, have not accepted that previous/current practice has given rise to huge unintended consequences that have made the lives of teachers (and SLT) very hard indeed. Neither of these parties (and there is no indication in Ms Truss’ speech either) have accepted that this is true – despite highly visible recent contacts with edu-bloggers who have clearly made this known. The new arrangements will also have unintended consequences. What are the features that will mean that these will be negative?
There will still be testing, there will still be the need to demonstrate evidence of progress, and the expected standards are higher than at present. Let’s leave out debate about the tests, the standards and the ‘desired outcomes’, here. Instead, think about the regime that this new system will lead to in schools. The previous regimes were predicated on the view that teaching wasn’t good enough, and that teachers needed to be given targets that influenced their behaviour for the better. Unfortunately, stakes were so high, and assessment schemes so subjective, that schools and teachers resorted to gaming the system….to evidence the continual progress demanded by Ofsted. Did the education of the children improve? (Well, honestly, maybe it did and maybe it didn’t: how can you tell?).
The new system has those same high stakes elements. Quantitative testing of a dubious provenance, the need to evidence progress, and a school inspection organisation tasked with ensuring that schools are improving. In some ways it’s worse, because the Government wants schools to find out for themselves what works. Note, not what results in a better education for the children (which is always subject to interpretation), but what generates better outcomes in the assessment tests.
If you are a Minister, you spend your life ushered about from meeting to meeting; you don’t have time to reflect properly. Rushing in big changes to the education system, without having thought through the unintended consequences doesn’t strike me as a good idea……..