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.