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UK education: the next five years

Liam Donnison discusses the changes we can expect to see in schools during the new administration

Posted by Stephanie Broad | October 12, 2015 | People, policy, politics

One of the most likely changes to UK education during this parliament will be an increase in primary academies. It seems clear that schools defined as ‘coasting’ will get increased attention from the DfE and more of these are likely to be converted to academies.

Over 2,500 primary schools in England (about 16 per cent) are judged by Ofsted as ‘Requires Improvement’ so if ‘coasting’ schools are similar in number, this is a sizeable undertaking.

Rather than joining large chains, new academies have the opportunity to form small groups, accessing smart, high-quality improvement advice and school-to-school support, rather than relying upon traditional local authority help. A key challenge will be access to leadership expertise, developing the skills and experience of school leaders to work with more than one school, with common systems for assessing and meeting the needs of the schools they work with.

Since the quality of a school system cannot exceed the quality of its teachers, encouraging the best people to enter teaching, training them well and developing them actively throughout their career, are also all critical.

 

Liam Donnison: 'Of course, academic success is incredibly important, but shouldn’t we be just as pleased with developing children and young people to be enterprising and creative people who can succeed economically?'

A new administration often uses a great deal of tough rhetoric, including strong statements of intent such as “no patience with coasting schools”. While the substance of this may be perfectly valid, tougher measures should be balanced with a much more positive narrative, so that school leaders and teachers feel recognised for their work, confident and encouraged to advance in their careers.

We often look to other countries to improve our education system. While this is important, what is often omitted from national discussion is that the UK does have a good system of education and that other countries sometimes look to us in the same way.

I am finding, in our work with other countries, that they look to our system for ideas on developing not just academic success but enterprise, creativity and a rich developmental curriculum. It begs the question: what is the education system there for? Are we trying to train children only to be good at taking academic tests, and if so, why? Of course, academic success is incredibly important, but shouldn’t we be just as pleased with developing children and young people to be enterprising and creative people who can succeed economically?

The UK education system is one of the best in the world

Surely a successful economy and society, aided by academic achievement but also by enterprise, innovation, care for others and hard work, is what we invest in our school system for. As one of the six largest economies in the world, Britain is clearly doing something right.

Our system caters for the broader entrepreneurialism, creativity and business skills that are required for a well-functioning economy. Of course we can improve, and certainly we could invest more in developing management, entrepreneurial and engineering skills. In the last five years, the government has focused, rightly, attention on the academic end of education. University Technical Colleges, while a good innovation, are small in number. There has been a focus on apprenticeships, but these alone are not the answer.

We are starting from a positive position. We have worldbeating universities, creative media industries, engineering, financial, pharmaceutical and energy businesses. We may not be Silicon Valley, but we do have the enterprise culture, investment, skills and infrastructure that many countries admire.

By communicating a message of positivity about our education system, to balance our relentless focus on standards, we can surely improve ourselves even further.

Liam Donnison is Director of EES for schools: www.eesforschools.org

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