Opinion: Education issues at conference?

student_ipad_school - 175What are your current concerns about education policy?  Please do raise them in the comments to this post.  I’ll be meeting with the Liberal Democrats Education Association (LDEA) committee on Sunday and will be able to quote them in discussions where appropriate.

Personally I’ll be focusing on two issues at conference.  I’m very disappointed to see that my policy for reform to public sector regulation and in particular to Ofsted is not in the pre-manifesto. I’ll be attempting to ensure that is addressed at the public sector reform debate on Sunday afternoon.

I’ll also be trying to raise the profile of concerns about current assessment reforms and some pragmatic suggestions regarding what can be done rapidly to improve the situation.  The current state of affairs is summarised in a short report I’ve written with the help of unions, subject associations, awarding bodies and other concerned volunteers.

Other members of the LDEA committee are working similarly hard on a wide variety of issues.

* Rebecca Hanson is a teacher, a lecturer in education, an education adviser and a member of the LDEA committee. She was the Liberal Democrat candidate in the Copeland by-election in 2017.

Read more by or more about or .
This entry was posted in Op-eds.


  • David Evershed 29th Sep '14 - 12:29pm

    The Uk’s lowly position in education outcomes when compared with other countries means that improvement in standards is urgent. The status quo is not acceptable – children are being let down.

    There are no change options without some risks that things might not rurn out exactly as planned. The current proposals seem to have the right balance between urgency to improve standards and the risk of something going wrong. We should anyway expect the system to be adapted as it develops.

    Education standards must be improved if the country is to prosper in a world with strong competition from Europe and Asia.

  • I really wish we could break down this narrative that the UK is performing much worse than other countries when we come to education.

    A recent Pearson report put us #2 in Europe and #6 in the world http://www.bbc.co.uk/news/business-27314075

    Sure we don’t beat the Asian countries when it comes to numeracy and rote learning tasks, but who wants to create a generation of hothoused automatons that can only perform to a test?

    Of course there are problems at some schools and if anything we’ve been ignoring the underachievers for years in the crazy pursuit of ‘5 good GCSE’s’ (which David Laws has got rid of and replaced with an overall improvement measure, brilliant!) but the vast majority do a fantastic job.

    If I was a teacher I’d be absolutely sick of the bad press.

  • Want to win back some support from teachers who deserted the party post 2010? Make it compulsory that all headteachers in secondary schools have to take through at least 1 examination class – either GCSE or A Level – and if they do not they cannot make any decisions on performance pay related issues for other staff.
    Oh – completely unrelated topic – what is the partys position on referendum for Europe in 2017 ? Do we support having one or not? Could someone please post – yes or no?

  • David Evershed 29th Sep '14 - 3:22pm

    @Gareth Wilson says
    “Sure we don’t beat the Asian countries when it comes to numeracy and rote learning tasks, but who wants to create a generation of hothoused automatons that can only perform to a test?”

    The international PISA tests in 65 countries for maths, science and reading gave the following results for the UK:
    Maths 26th; Science 20th; Reading 23rd

    Singapore, Hong Kong and China (Shanghai) were in the top three for each of maths, science and reading .
    Source: http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/PISA_2012

    A test of creative problem solving showed a better performance with England being placed 6th out of 44.

    Singapore was top in creative problem solving with Hong Kong and Choine (Shanghai) 5th and 6th.
    Source: http://www.themalaysianinsider.com/malaysia/article/malaysia-ranks-39-out-of-44-countries-in-problem-solving-test-for-15-year-o

    So good results in maths, science and reading in Asian countries has not led to poor results in creative problem solving. Many UK teachers are in denial.

  • David Evershed 29th Sep '14 - 5:36pm

    Previous post should read ….. England 11th out of 44 in Creative Problem solving. China (Shanghai )was 6th.

  • stuart moran 29th Sep '14 - 6:07pm

    Shanghai is not China….can we cherry pick as well please?

  • Rebecca Hanson 29th Sep '14 - 6:42pm

    Just back in from teaching. Got to take minutes for my children’s PTA AGM at 7, hence the delay in responding to comments – please accept my apologies for that.

    Comments about current education policy changes from those enacting them would be particularly welcome.

  • Stephen Donnelly 29th Sep '14 - 8:10pm

    @Rebecca. With that last comment I think you have killed the debate by getting everyone to stand on their chars with their hands on their heads.

  • Rebecca Hanson 29th Sep '14 - 10:23pm


    All comments still welcome.

    Chinese strategies for maths teaching as described in studies such as that carried out by LiPing Ma are very interesting and would obviously lead to good problem solving skills as they are far more cross-applicable than western method.

  • Perhaps the biggest and simplest change is to give much more encouragement to the development of organisational learning!

    The example of “Chinese strategies for maths teaching” is a case in point, why do we need the political classes to jump up and down, when if education was a learning organisation it would evaluate the findings and simply adopt, modify or discard?

    Similarly, in the past we saw the massive effort required to overturn the way English was taught, even though it was obvious the methods being used in schools weren’t delivering.

    These are both symptoms of a system that isn’t learning.

    Having visited several secondary schools in recent months I’ve come to the conclusion that the difference between the best and the rest isn’t rocket science but the simple application of educational learning. In the forty odd years since I attended secondary school the best metric I came up with to assess them was: if I recognised it as a school I would of attended then it was doing something wrong.

  • David Evershed 30th Sep '14 - 3:01pm

    @Rebecca Hanson
    “Comments about current education policy changes from those enacting them would be particularly welcome.”

    I assume you are looking for comments from teachers. In my experience a significant proportion of experienced teachers in the past sought what was best for teachers rather than what was best for the children’s education. In the school where I was the Chair of the PTA we had poor complacent teachers who were protected by the union. Also the Council were afraid of union action if they sacked underperforming teachers. After having to be very strong with the County Council, all but one teacher was replaced.

    From a distance it now seems that the tightening of standards over the last four years has meant teachers have to be on their toes and up to scratch, which they may resent but is surely good for the pupils’ education?

  • Rebecca Hanson 30th Sep '14 - 10:37pm


    In ‘The Educators’ on Radio 4 Jo Boaler talked about the communication networks which exist between education research in the hands of academics of education and teachers in the US.

    There’s precious little of that left here. Teachers need people who can help them engage with the research – people who’ve been in several schools and have had time to think things through and try things out.

  • Rebecca Hanson 30th Sep '14 - 10:38pm

    @ David,

    If you thing I shouldn’t be asking teachers, could you give me an assessment of the impact of current education reforms instead then please?

  • Rebecca Hanson 30th Sep '14 - 10:57pm

    @ David,

    “From a distance it now seems that the tightening of standards over the last four years has meant teachers have to be on their toes and up to scratch, which they may resent but is surely good for the pupils’ education?”

    I can understand why you would think that. Sometimes you have to be very close to things to experience and understand the reality, which has been that teachers are always on their toes responding to demands from outside and are consequentially stripped of their capacity to reflect on the children in front of them and act according to what they see (i.e. they are stripped of the their professionalism and their capacity to engage with research). It’s not easy for many to understand the actual consequences of that change. Most people have a natural propensity to assume things are logical and good.

  • Rebecca
    You asked the question –“..What are your current concerns about education policy?  ”

    My main concern is that what passes for policy on education in all political parties in the UK sseems to be about something other than EDUCATION.

    There are policies on exams, poicies on schooling ,policies on indiscipline and lots of policies where politician want to use state schools to get across the latest fad or their own hobby horse.

    Hardly a week goes by without someone in a TV studio demanding that teachers “do more” to get children to solve the nation’s problems.

    In the last couple of weeks I have seen demands that schools do more to prevent child prostitution in Rotheram, prevent Muslim children become Jihadis, improve the profits for small businesses.
    At the same time school children are supposed to swallow a lot of nonsense about The First World War one hundred years ago; presumably to stop anyone in school talking about the miners strike of thirty years ago.

    A symptom of what is wrong was the recent attempted ban by Mr Gove on books written by foreigners. His idea appeared to be that if children In state schools read ‘To kill a mocking bird’ they will become corrupted by a dangerous foreign radical who does not salute the union jack before breakfast every day.

    Most of the discussion about education policy seems to be about something else.

    Maybe we should have a moratorium on education policy for a couple of generations?

    Maybe we should just teach children to read and leave the rest to them?

    Campaigning to keep local libraries open might do more for education than a thousand policies on schooling and regimentation.

  • Nigel Jones 1st Oct '14 - 11:14am

    It is difficult to summarise a big and complex set of issues.
    Michael Gove’s speech to Parliament has many attractive features, such as calling for improved standards, improved quality in vocational qualifications and the major change in assessing schools on a broader range of student achievements. The devil is in the detail of what he has done, which is not in the speech, but also in the one major claim in his speech that there is a broad consensus supporting what he has done and this is false. Just look at the letter from the Association of Teachers of Maths, or the letters from Education experts that have been in the press.
    I am a retired teacher and know the need to raise standards; so much of the ‘progress’ in our Education system in the last 20yrs has been about quantity rather than quality. But among my many concerns about what Gove has done are the following:
    1. Uniformity; the idea that standards means specifying what everyone must achieve or that all should be taught the same thing in the same year and that the only way of ensuring standards is to measure achievement in single exams.
    2. This has led to pressure to teach abstractions to many pupils at the wrong age so that as the ATM letter says, some youngsters will be forced to learn inappropriately (and hence will actually gain nothing from it and probably be put off learning), while the more able will still not be stretched enough.
    3. Support for and on-going training of teachers is inadequate, when they find themselves caught in a net that makes them pack too much in and therefore resort to teaching to the tests and facts rather than see their work as developing both interest and thinking in the children and young people in their classes.

  • David Evershed 1st Oct '14 - 12:56pm

    At least some 71 UK teachers are researching why Chinese children do better than British children. See


    There will also be an exchange between British and Chinese teachers so they will hopefully adopt the best of both.

  • Rebecca Hanson 1st Oct '14 - 8:14pm

    @ David.

    I was involved in one of the NCETM maths hub bids David. It was unsuccessful and we were actually quite relieved as we found out more. Those who’ve already been to Singapore have found out a great deal about what could be different here and unfortunately it’s virtually all policy level stuff – things teachers cannot implement due to our policy context. So great teachers are being taken away from their schools and communities for no considered reason.

    We had assumed there would be positive stuff for the local school community but there’s precious little.

    Personally I gained a great deal form being involved in such an exchange – but that was in 2000-2002, in the days when British teachers were still considered to have expertise to share rather than being told they’re useless all the time.

    On the positive side I’m sure the talented people involved will find some useful outcomes from it just because they are such excellent and dedicated people and who will have the benefit of being inspired by each other.

  • Rebecca Hanson 1st Oct '14 - 8:17pm

    @ John and Nigel.

    John Hattie’s program on ‘The Educators’ was excellent. He highlighted how the things which matters most for great outcomes for student is high quality teachers:
    An excellent program. Unlike one of the others in the series….

  • Rebecca Hanson 9th Oct '14 - 9:10pm

    You can see a bit of what I was up to here if you’re interested:
    (at 2:10).

Post a Comment

Lib Dem Voice welcomes comments from everyone but we ask you to be polite, to be on topic and to be who you say you are. You can read our comments policy in full here. Please respect it and all readers of the site.

To have your photo next to your comment please signup your email address with Gravatar.

Your email is never published. Required fields are marked *

Please complete the name of this site, Liberal Democrat ...?


Recent Comments

  • David LG
    There's actually a good interview with Layla Moran on this subject here where she talks about how she changed our policy on this as well as her families situati...
  • David LG
    The odd thing is that it is already our parties policy to immediately recognise Palestine. Furthermore Layla Moran has introduced a Palestine recognition bill t...
  • Yeovil Yokel
    That's a very fancy lanyard Richard is wearing!...
  • Andy Chandler
    @David Raw David have you read my article. I praised those achievements that you just stated. It's within the text. I am just saying that this goes beyond p...
  • Andy Chandler
    @David Raw I mean I will say that in my best judgement I have read my political biographies about Harold Wilson and documentaries for people who were proponen...