Sunday, May 07, 2006

Welcome, Alan Johnson!

Such was the reshuffle kerfuffle over Charles Clarke and John Prescott, I only realised this morning that we have yet another Secretary of State for Education and Skills. Welcome. Did you know, Alan, that a young person in the current Year 13 (or upper sixth) has had no less than eight Secretary of States looking after his or her education since they started school?

Anyway, according to your website, Alan, you went to Sloane Grammar School in Chelsea, and according to the New Statesman you left school with no O-levels. According to the amazing website, you are 'very strongly for' top-up fees, the Iraq war and 'quite strongly for' equal gay rights.

Also, interestingly, you have used a three-word alliterative phrase (e.g. "she sells seashells") 356 times in debates — 31st out of 645 MPs.

From my perspective right now, these are the issues that I think you need to be thinking about as you arrange your mascots on your desk and work out where the coffee machine is:

1) The future of league tables.
League tables are the most corrosive force in UK education today, and they effectively corrupt all attempts at positive change in the curriculum by making any institution's top priority the manipulation and maintenance of one or two, highly deceptive, statistics.

2) The future of assessment.
SATs reducing little children's lives to misery. GCSE and A-level coursework producing a generation of young people who don't believe in deadlines. Endless resits. All driven by the aforementioned league tables so that any poor result is perceived as a problem for the teacher to solve, rather than a reflection back to the student of their efforts and abilities.

3) Bringing back bog standard comprehensive education.
Trust Schools and Academies; Specialist Schools; Technology, Language and Sports Colleges; Arts Marks. Do families really want all this 'choice' and specialism? Or do they want good local schools offering an all-round education so that their children can find out in good time what they are best at and what they enjoy, whilst also experiencing a balanced exposure to the skills and knowledge they need to live in the world today?

4) Sharing the blame around a bit.
When a child fails to flourish, it's not all down to his or her teachers. Parents, the media, local government, and tellingly the child him or herself are all partly responsible. How do we get everyone to step up to the mark and accept their share of the responsibility for the successes and failures of young people today?

5) Wake up and smell the plumbing.
We got rid of metalwork, woodwork and domestic science. We introduced vocational education which revolved around acres of coursework which was mostly copied and pasted off the Internet. We got rid of all our polytechnics and turned them into universities with long names. And now we have a chronic shortage of plumbers, electricians, builders, silversmiths and other craftspeople. Not to mention no new industry. Can someone please do some joined up thinking here?

Finally, Alan, please don't do what David Blunkett did. I can actually remember the joy I felt in 1997 when your party won the election. And I read with delight the letter that David Blunkett sent to every school to say how keen he was to work with us and to thank us for our hard work as teachers. But he never said that to the press. All we ever heard from him in public was criticism and the perpetuation of the idea that bad teachers are responsible for all that is wrong with the world. If you are our friend, please make sure you don't turn your back on us in the playground.

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