The news about the abandonment of the EBC is to be welcomed by all interested in a progressive and inclusive education system. Is this beginning of the end of the regular Gove-ian, back of the envelope initiatives, which seem to have little to do with evidence-based, rigorous research and planning, and more to do with a kind of “Tom Brown’s Schooldays”, personal take on what makes for a good education? Somehow I doubt that. But at least it’s a start.
The education world has been suffering from major shock and awe style reforms and promises (threats?) of reform, such as EBCs since Gove got the top job at the DfE. By anyone’s reckoning this approach is simply not sustainable, or more importantly, in the best interests of our young people. A new group has formed called the Headteachers’ Roundtable, as a direct response to the teaching profession deficit that has figured in all Gove’s policy reforms to date. Their five principles make for interesting reading, and there is the old chestnut there about ridding education of party political tinkering, which is something I have long considered is worthy of deeper consideration by a party brave enough to consider it.
Maybe we do not need to go that far, but we can introduce reform which would temper the effects of Ministers acting in the interests of being seen to act, and beefing up their personal reputations through their programmes of reform.
So let’s consider the three following points, as we warm up to serious Lib Dem manifesto consideration:
1. Why is there not a Chief Education Officer (or more than one) in the DfE to act as a counterpoint to the Minister for Education, who comes from the teaching profession and is ideally, I would suggest, elected by the teaching profession? The model is already there in other Government departments, in roles such as Chief Medical Officer, Chief Scientific Officer, etc. Arguably with such professional heavyweights, initiatives such as the EBC would remain on the back of the envelope and never see the light of day.
2. Why is there not a body in the DfE, similar in function to the Independent Reconfiguration Panel in the NHS, which would act an an independent expert on proposed service and structural changes. In the NHS, this panel provides advice to the Secretary of State on disputed proposals for changes to the NHS in England, amongst other functions.
3. Finally, as has been proposed in so many other areas in the political policy arena, why can’t we agree that education is surely the area where there should be cross-party support for major initiatives, to ensure stability? The one basic and fundamental reason behind the much documented and evidenced success of progressive education policies in Finland has been because of political party consensus on the basic structures and direction of educational reform over decades. I leave you with a quote from Pasi Sahlberg of the Finnish Education Ministry, from his book, “Finnish Lessons”:
The success of Finnish education is not the result of any major education reform per se. Instead, education development in Finland has been based on the continual adjustment of schooling to the basic needs of individuals and society… The basic values and main vision of education as a public service have remained unchanged since the 1970s. Governments from the political left and right have respected education as the key public service for all citizens and maintained their belief that only a highly and widely educated nation will be successful in world markets.
* Helen Flynn is a Harrogate Borough Councillor and is the Parliamentary Spokesperson for Skipton & Ripon. She is an elected Council member of the Social Liberal Forum, an executive member of the Lib Dem Education Association and a newly-elected member of the Federal Policy Committee.