The College of Teaching: please don’t get the decorators in while the house is burning down

Congratulations to Dame Alison Peacock on her appointment as the first CEO of the College of Teaching. She has done an impressive job in championing assessment for learning in schools.

Broadly I am in favour of the formation of professional bodies, I believe they have the potential to support and develop the professional esteem of teachers.

However, I do have major reservations.

The problem is that since the 1970s there has been a steady move away from a publicly-owned state education system. While the discourse was being established back then, the process has gathered pace since 1988 with Local Management of Schools, then City Technology Colleges, then Academisation and PFI through the noughties. We are in the final stretch now, with the full-scale outsourcing of public and community education to academy chains and free schools. Schools are no longer public and community assets, they are now there for corporations to expand their capital through the acquisition of public assets and the state subsidy of their operations.

The impact of this on teachers is to intensify their work: longer working hours, reduced pay and worsening conditions. Karl Marx clearly explained how businesses accumulate capital by extracting surplus value from the workforce. And of course this is what teachers have experienced increasingly over the last ten or more years. First it was through the intensification of work under New Labour, then came restraint on wage growth, the undermining of collective bargaining and partial introduction of performance related pay. In a public or community-owned service this would not have happened.

The College of Teaching has been established with noblest of intentions and through the hard work of many committed people. I respect this unreservedly. I also respect the aims of the College to promote the best in professional development and promote the professional standing of teachers.

But none of this can be achieved unless schools and the education service are restored to being publicly and community owned, and accountable to their communities. If privatisation is allowed to continue, the teaching profession will be permanently atomised, subject to the vagaries of business and corporations, as we are increasingly seeing in Charter schools in the USA.

In the current economic climate corporate profit is hard to maintain, unless the business has an effective monopoly, like Google or Apple, or if you have a state subsidised-business, for example, Virgin Trains or G4S. There are powerful forces looking for business and our state education system is vulnerable to these.

I hope therefore that Alison Peacock and the Trustees of the College of Teaching recognise what is at stake here. All stakeholders in education, including headteachers, teachers, parents, governors, students, pupils and academics, need to organise and mobilise to to stop privatisation. I hope that the College of Teaching will soon make it clear that they are unequivocally opposed to moves to take education away from public ownership.

If the College of Teaching becomes fixated on professional development and ignores what is happening to our education system, then we will not have a profession to develop. And that is why I caution against getting stuck in to designing state-of-the-art decor when the house is being set alight by neoliberal arsonists.

 

 

A National Education Service is exactly what we need

Jeremy Corbyn has been floating the idea of a National Education Service since his Labour leadership campaign last year. The idea is breathtakingly simple and, in fact, blindingly obvious. The formation of a fully-funded, cradle-to-grave education service is the antithesis of the outsourced fragmented and anti-democratic reforms that have been creeping in since the 1970s. These are a few of my initial thoughts on the idea.

The National Education Service would provide a coordinated high-quality education service that supports learning from early years, through schools, sixth form, further education, undergraduate, postgraduate to adult and lifelong learning.

Schools would no longer be in a position where they are artificially competing with each other, but they would coordinate their strategies and maximise the use of their resources to better serve local communities and regions. It would mean a change from the current fetishisation of leadership to promote mutual and cooperatively run services, where teachers, parents, pupils and communities are recognised as stakeholders and have a greater say in how schools function.

At present there is a recruitment and retention crisis in teaching, a National Education Service would address this. Teachers would have more professional esteem and have greater control over their work, pay and conditions. The intensity of their work would be reduced by shifting the emphasis from centralised accountability to local democratic accountability.

While some examinations would continue to be important, this would not be at the expense of developing broader skills and more holistic school contributions such as the education of the community and emphasizing inclusivity, collaboration and partnership. Certainly it would move away from excessive compulsory testing for the purpose of accountability. It would mean a departure from a narrowly defined curriculum to one which reflects the needs of the community in which the school is located. The overall aim would be to equip students with the skills and capacities to contribute to society and help them develop as individuals. An overarching aim would be to put education at the heart of making society a more effective, fairer and more inclusive functioning democracy.

In further education, it would mean an end to degenerate privatisation, but provide a service that supports post-16 education, both academic and vocational – without necessarily drawing strong distinctions between the two. It would offer adult learning, whether it be developing skills, allowing people to develop their interests or in helping them prepare for advanced studies. University education would be freely available to all and include opportunity to blend academic and vocational studies. The Open University would be restored to a position where it can offer low-cost and flexible approaches to university-level education.

This is ambitious and the main objection is, simply, that we cannot afford it. My argument is that we cannot afford not to do this. Education is not having the impact on society that it should be, it can do more to improve the quality of outcomes for communities; developing skills and knowledge and helping people make a difference in their lives and to the people around them. While all society’s problems cannot be solved by schools, education can be at the heart of improvement, by equipping the next generation to be more active and effective participants in democracy.

In terms of cost, it has been estimated that the bank bail-out, with all things considered was as much as £1.2 trillion1. Much of this investment went toward the preservation of these institutions and the preservation of the wealth of their key stakeholders. The National Education Service would be fraction of this investment. Of the order of tens of billions each year. Investment that would go directly into the economy but at the same time would result in considerable growth. If it were done carefully this kind of investment would have little impact on the deficit but would have considerable economic and social benefits2.

1. https://soundcloud.com/weeklyeconomicspodcast/endofhistory  Episode 5, The End of History. Economist James Meadway citing IMF estimates

2.  I discuss the economics of school spending in the following blog post: https://sw10014.wordpress.com/2016/02/24/how-much-should-we-spend-on-schools-part-1/

I published this post on the Cambridge Area Momentum site previously