Policy proposals to give England a truly world class education system for the many not just the few
In 1997 New Labour promised to improve education radically, and we made reasonable progress. Academies, Teach First, Sure Start, the literacy and numeracy strategies, the City Challenge programmes, Building Schools for the Future, more and better teachers, the doubling of education spending – all this raised school standards, started to eradicate failing schools, boosting social mobility and social justice.
My new book Education, Education, Education describes this reform journey. But there is so much more still to do and my book is largely forward looking. It sets out a “manifesto for change” for the next Labour government to give England a truly world class education system for the many not the few.
1. Basic education standards
It should be a national objective for nine in ten of sixteen-year-olds to achieve the basic GCSE standard of at least five GCSEs at grade A* to C including English and maths as soon as possible and by 2020 at the latest. At present, this proportion is still below 60 per cent. Four in ten still leave school without having gained a decent education.
2. A New Deal for Teachers
No school can be better than its teachers. The best education systems in the world recruit their teachers from their top third of graduates. Transforming teacher recruitment is the most urgent priority for England to build a world class education system. This requires a New Deal for Teachers – radical reform, not incremental change. The New Deal involves eight reforms:
Reform one: Teach First, the highly successful charity which recruits, trains and places top graduates into schools with more deprived intakes, should be expanded to make it one of the main routes into secondary school teaching. Teach First should increase its recruitment by 500 a year to reach 5,000 a year by 2020, by when it would be supplying one in four new secondary school teachers and perhaps half in more challenging schools and academies. Universities should systematically support Teach First to achieve this recruitment target.
Reform two: Mainstream teacher recruitment and placement beyond Teach First should be professionally managed on a national basis, with training entrusted to the best universities and schools. Instead of the existing system, where more than 80 universities recruit trainees and provide teacher education, in partnership with many thousands of schools, training should be concentrated in a far smaller number of the very best universities and schools. There should be a national recruitment process, adopting higher entry standards and best international practice in selection and assessment techniques, managed by an independent trust akin to the BBC with a board comprising educational, business and social leaders. This National Teaching Trust would commission the best universities and schools to undertake training, and support teachers directly throughout their training and their early years in teaching.
Reform three: schools rated outstanding by Ofsted should be allowed to recruit trainees directly, apart from the national recruitment routes, provided they are prepared to pay them and train them properly. This option would be particularly attractive to the best academy chains and federations.
Reform four: teacher trainees should be paid a salary. Learning from Teach First, graduates should be employed by a school, and work a standard 48-week year for two initial training years. They should teach or assist at their school during the whole 38 weeks of term time, with out-of-school university courses taking place in the other ten weeks, starting with a summer training programme in the six weeks before their first autumn term.
Reform five: on the evidence that starting and top salaries matter most to recruiting good teachers, there should be a much higher starting salary for target groups of teachers. For new maths, physics, chemistry and IT teachers, the salary should be in the region of £30,000 outside London and £35,000 in London, and for new headteachers I suggest a starting salary of £70,000 for larger primary schools (£80,000 in London) and £100,000 for secondary schools (£115,000 in London).
Reform six: for teachers and headteachers on these higher starting salaries, there should be an end to nationally-determined increments. Pay progression should be at the discretion of the individual school.
Reform seven: teachers and headteachers on these higher starting salaries should be subject to a longer probationary period of three or four years, during and at the end of which employment could be ended without recourse to claims of unfair dismissal.
Reform eight: the generalist B. Ed degree in primary education should be phased out and replaced with subject-based degrees. In place of the B. Ed, primary school teachers should in future either be recruited with honours degrees in specific subjects and then undertake post-graduate training – as at present for secondary school teachers and a small proportion of primary teachers – or they should study for combined ‘academic subject plus pedagogy’ degrees, with a large proportion of these joint honours degrees majoring in literacy and numeracy. Then every primary teacher would have deep subject knowledge and the primary curriculum could be broadened and deepened significantly.
To move from ‘academies’ to an ‘academy system’ driving national educational transformation six reforms are required:
Reform one: every underperforming secondary and primary school should be replaced by a sponsored academy. As of 2012, nearly 650 comprehensives are failing to achieve the basic GCSE standard for half or more of their students. These, and the 1,000 most seriously underperforming primary schools, should be the priority for the next wave of academies.
To provide for this, high-achieving academy chains need to become larger and more numerous, and many more outstanding academy sponsors are needed, including universities, and successful state and private schools. Every university and Oxbridge college should sponsor at least one academy replacing an underperforming comprehensive or providing new school places in areas of low standards. So should every highly successful state school or academy, and every successful private school and private school foundation. The most successful state primary schools should also become academy sponsors, setting up academies to replace low performing primary schools, with the best of these developing chains.
Reform two: successful schools converting to become academies should use their new status to help underperforming schools systematically, and the best of them should become academy sponsors themselves.
Reform three: all secondary-age academies should include sixth forms.
Reform four: all academies should consider operating a longer school day, from 8.30 to 5 p.m., and possibly increase the length of the school year from thirty-eight weeks to forty or forty-one, including work experience for year 11, 12 and 13 students. A longer school day on these lines, equivalent to an extra two years of education for every secondary school pupil, provides for a broader and deeper curriculum, including far more opportunities for clubs, sports and the arts.
Reform five: where an academy is found to be failing, Ofsted should conduct an audit of the academy’s governance to answer one critical question: are the sponsors and/or governors up to the job of improving the academy radically? Where they are not, Ofsted should replace the sponsor, conducting an open competition for a successor sponsor and brokering the transfer of sponsorship. In the case of a failing converter academy, the competition should be for a sponsor to replace the existing governing body, turning the converter academy into a sponsored academy.
Reform six: academies rated outstanding by Ofsted within a chain should have the right to vote to withdraw from the chain. Academy chains should not be allowed to become resented local education authorities in new guise.
4. Free Schools
Free schools – being academies without a predecessor state school – have been a central part of the academies policy since its launch in 2000. Where properly led and focused they play an important role in overcoming deprivation and promoting choice and innovation.
Successful ‘free school academy’ innovation since 2000 includes all-through academies (educating children from the age of three or four through to eighteen), boarding academies, and academies with specialist curriculums in fields such as engineering and the performing arts.
The government should encourage five other innovative types of ‘free school academies’ in the immediate future.
First, academies which provide far better for the 6,500 children a year who are permanently excluded from mainstream schools and academies.
Second, academies promoting excellence in maths and science, subjects where England is especially weak in comparison to the best education systems overseas, particularly in Asia.
Third, bilingual academies to provide centres of outstanding excellence in teaching the language and cultures of our principal trading partners including China.
Fourth, academies to foster outstanding excellence in sport, including tennis, cricket, swimming, athletics and gymnastics.
Fifth, academies with far stronger international links, not just in language teaching but also in the recruitment of secondary-age students from abroad to study at them.
5. Specialist schools
It was a serious mistake of the Cameron government to abolish the specialist school programme under which, for the previous twenty years, comprehensive schools and academies had been encouraged to develop centres of curriculum excellence. The specialist school policy was successful; it should have been intensified not abandoned, and maths and science ought to have been particularly encouraged as specialisms.
The specialist school programme should be revived immediately for secondary schools and academies. It should be extended to primary schools too, encouraging individual primary schools to develop special strengths in curriculum areas from maths and science to modern languages and sport.
6. Overcoming the private–state school divide
Every successful private school, and private school foundation, should sponsor at least one academy, true to its charitable mission and leveraging its success and its networks within the state-funded as well as fee-paying sectors.
Successful private day schools should be enabled and encouraged to join the state sector as academies, on the model of the first wave of ‘direct grant’ academies since 2000. On this model, the private school becomes an academy, retaining its independent management and character but without fees. It exchanges academically selective admissions for all-ability admissions, but with a large catchment area and ‘banded’ admissions to ensure a fully comprehensive ability range. It also continues with a large sixth form, underpinning continued very strong academic performance.
7. An A-Level Baccalaureate
The IB has been gaining ground in recent years for the good reason that it is broader, deeper, more engaging and more international than A-level in both subjects and skills. Expansion of the IB should be encouraged.
Going further, England should follow Singapore and carry through an IB-style reform to A-levels to create an A-level Baccalaureate (A-Bacc). This should include four key new components: (1) a ‘contrasting subject’ requirement, so that students majoring in the humanities, arts and languages take maths or a science and vice versa. (2) A project-based extended essay. (3) An interdisciplinary theory of knowledge course as a standard part of A-level. And (4) a requirement to demonstrate community service. Students would receive an overall A-Bacc mark, as in the IB.
8. A Technical Baccalaureate
There should be a new ‘Tech Bacc’ (Technical Baccalaureate) for post-sixteen-year-olds not studying the A-Bacc, to comprise three elements: (1) English and maths GCSE, (2) a reputable qualification in an occupational area or areas, and (3) work experience including a formal report back from the employer.
For those who have reached the basic GCSE level including English and maths, but wish to acquire further technical qualifications, there should be a higher-level Tech Bacc comprising higher literacy, numeracy, problem-solving and project-working skills, together with a reputable technical qualification, either to be taken alongside an apprenticeship or, if beforehand (as will be the case for most students under the age of eighteen), including substantially more work experience, also with formal evaluation.
9. Sure Start and under-five provision
Both nursery and Sure Start provision need to expand. The existing entitlement to only three hours a day of nursery provision for three-year-olds should be doubled for all parents. Sure Start, and its 3,600 children’s centres nationwide, should provide additional childcare and parental support for parents of the most disadvantaged children, ensuring that they are ready to learn when they start school.
10. Democracy, community and schools
Part of the benefit of secondary schools having sixth forms is that sixth-formers are great role models for younger teenagers. They are also well able to take on significant responsibility within schools, not only individually as prefects but in organising and leading activities outside the classroom, and also in decision-making. School councils have long featured in secondary schools. They should be established in all primary schools too.
Young people should be given the vote at sixteen. This would boost citizenship education, and ensure that political debate and democracy fully include young people. Alongside extending the vote to sixteen- and seventeen-year-olds, there should be a polling station in every secondary school in local and national elections. Just as in schools mock exams lead to real public exams for the older students, so mock elections should lead to real elections for the older students. This would give the teaching of citizenship a practical objective.
For the same reason it should be possible to become a local councillor at the age of 16 and parties should actively promote younger candidates – including school sixth-formers – to stand for council elections, in the way they have started seriously to promote women and ethnic minority candidates in recent years.
11.School governing bodies
Learning from the success of academies, all state schools should consider reducing the size of their governing bodies to fifteen or fewer, while ensuring that the membership comprises more governors with high levels of commitment and professional experience.
It is especially important that governing bodies are effectively chaired. Three reforms would promote this: (1) The appointment of the chair of the governing body should be separate from the appointment of its members. (2) The chair should be appointed by the governing body through open competition. (3) Governing bodies should be allowed to pay their chairs.
12. Schools as community hubs
Schools should become community hubs. This becomes all the more urgent as other community services – including health centres, post offices, libraries and community centres – are closing or under threat in the face of public spending cuts. Imaginative solutions for the co-local of services on school sites should be explored. The co-location of public libraries with schools is the most obvious step, but far more ambitious projects are possible.
Lord Andrew Adonis, is a Labour Party politician, academic and journalist. He served in the No. 10 Policy Unit and then as Minister for Schools from 1998 until 2008.
Education, Education, Education is published by Biteback