By Emma Slater / Education / 0 Comments

Yesterday I was fortunate enough to attend a lecture given by Melissa Benn at Canterbury Christ Church University. She presented the case for a National Education Service which is of course part of the Labour manifesto, although she pointed out that it has the potential for universal cross party appeal.

Her talk was excellent- she gave an overview of the history of our education system with a comparison to the NHS. She addressed the issues facing our broken education system, including: the bewildering amount of different school types, leading parents to focus on consumer choice as opposed to expecting all schools to be of a decent standard; the unnecessary high stakes testing of pupils from the age of 4 and the related narrowing of the curriculum into ‘measurable’ subjects; and the crisis in teacher recruitment and retention. There was also talk about the accountability of academies, the problem of independent schools and of course the thorny and emotional local issue of selective education.

A National Education Service would be a cradle to grave service- truly free and inclusive education for life. Schools would be put back in the hands of local authorities and would be comprehensive. Teachers and practitioners would be highly skilled and highly qualified and would be trusted to understand child development and to do their jobs. There would be proper investment in all education sectors including, crucially, the early years. She cited the education systems of Finland and Canada as examples that our country could do well to emulate. The discussion that followed the lecture was illuminating as the room was full of a variety of interesting people who knew their stuff.

The B word was largely avoided, but when a woman who had been educated in Canada pointed out that our system is seen as one of the most fragmented and insular systems in the world, I immediately thought of Gove and his arrogant disdain for ‘experts’ during his leave campaigning and the utter destruction he caused prior to that during his four years as Education Secretary. As a parent and former teacher I am keen to get the topic of education back on the table and start to reverse some of Gove’s damage. So many children are currently missing out on quality early years education, falling through the cracks because of a lack of early intervention or excluded due to lack of SEN funding or suitable provision and this all needs to be addressed as a matter of urgency.

While I acknowledge Melissa Benn’s assertion that the full aims of a National Education Service will take decades to achieve, I can also see the rapid improvements that could be made at both local and national level once Labour are in charge. Her new book ‘Life Lessons: The Case for a National Education Service’ is available now.

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By Chris Cornell / Education / / 0 Comments

Whitstable parents today spoke out in support of the decision by the Kent Association of Headteachers to join Headteachers in West Sussex as part of a national protest on school cuts today. Parents at a number of Whitstable schools have this week recieved correspondence from their local headteachers explaining why they will be joining their colleagues from West Syssex in a national protest ending at Downing Street.

WorthLess? is a campaign initiated by Headteachers in West Sussex but which is now being supported by groups of Headteachers right across the country and is gaining a great deal of publicity and momentum.  The Kent Association of Headteachers has encouraged its members to join them on a national day of action, with some deciding to do so unpaid.

Chris Cornell, a father of two said,  “I sit on the Parent Teachers  Association at my daughter’s school and at last weeks meeting the headteacher explained just how tight things had been financially last year. For the first time in over ten years well over £10,000 raised by parents had been used to fund basic supplies requested by subject heads. Parents are happy to help when they can, but if this becomes the norm, I fear many of the projects the PTA take on to support our children’s learning may suffer”.

Abi Gilchirst, who organised a school gate protest with Rosie Duffield at Joy Lane Primary last year said, ” I was shocked to hear many parents say that the cuts that the Labour party had warned would be coming as party of the Conservatives austerity plan “won’t happen at our school”. Unfortunately that just hasn’t been the case, and I think all parents can now fully see the cost of austerity on our schools both in terms of staff levels and also supplies. I hope the Headteachers taking this stand will show the country that these cuts in funding come at a very serious cost to our children’s education”.

Morag Warren, Labour’s prospective councillor in Swalecliffe said “It’s unheard of in this country for headteachers to take part in organised action like this. It’s clear that they feel they have no choice – their jobs are being made impossible due to the savage cuts of this government. They are unable to provide basic educational equipment, and are having to choose between vital support for students with additional needs and pushing the most able. As a teacher myself, I am only too aware of how the teaching profession has been gradually deunionised by academisation. I am both proud and horrified that headteachers have realised that it’s absolutely necessary to take this action. The government can’t ignore the voices of those with the biggest influence on our children’s education any longer – they need to listen and invest in our schools urgently.”

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