I was interested to read Dave Hill’s blog last week about grammar schools. As someone who failed the 11+ and spent many years assuming that I wasn’t that bright I have a particular perspective on this piece of policy development which, if we poke it even a little bit, can be seen to have no evidence base whatsoever. Also last week I was involved in internal discussions about how we can respond to the cutting back of the Education Services Grant, while at the same time we retain a pretty long list of statutory duties and indeed a desire to ensure that all our children are properly educated – because if they aren’t lots of other unpleasant stuff follows in their lives.
Those of us who have been involved with education and wider children’s agendas for some time will be very familiar with frequent policy changes, initiatives and new structural arrangements. In the field of education and schools this includes – amongst others: grant maintained schools; city academies; academy conversions; free schools; Excellence in Cities; Education Action Zones; Education Challenge programmes; Building Schools for the Future and the Primary Capital Programme. Not to mention numerous national curriculum changes following the initial introduction of the National Curriculum over 25 years ago (I kept my NC glossy folders for some time!); numerous assessment changes including moves towards continuous assessment and then moves away; the introduction and then dissolution of National Diplomas (in my last authority we received capital money to build a diploma centre which was surplus to use by the time it was built); very frequent changes in the inspection arrangements; lots and lots of funding changes; inconsistent messages over the years about the core purpose of education (instilling knowledge/developing skills/nurturing the whole child etc.); and now we have ‘opportunity areas’. If we extend this to other aspects of children’s services the list lengthens considerably.
As all these changes take place, colleagues across children’s services need to guide their systems locally and make sense of the different policy twists and turns; we need to maintain a focus on children’s outcomes pre and post ‘Every Child Matters’ and we need to ensure that children are happy, healthy and safe. And on the whole we have been remarkably successful. Locally I’m very proud that our safeguarding arrangements are improving, the number of children in the criminal justice system has gone down, our educational achievements have improved (measured as best we can across different assessment systems) as have the levels of young people entering employment. I know that colleagues across the South East and of course nationally are also managing similar improvements – but sometimes it’s tough – especially when the current budget challenge is added to the mix.
When I speak to colleagues in other countries who have similar roles they are surprised by the constant pace of change in the UK. Last month there was press coverage about Finland which has managed to maintain some of the very best educational standards internationally in the context of a far simpler education system than the one we have to manoeuvre around and the context of policy stability. Wouldn’t it be nice to have a year during which things don’t change again and we can just concentrate on the job in hand? I don’t speak Finnish but google translate tells me the word is ‘unelma’ (other auto translation systems are also available).
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