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Dear Secretary of State

What do leading educationists want from the new government? We asked them to write to Nicky Morgan

PA

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Plans under scrutiny: the education secretary, Nicky Morgan

Credit: PA

Plans under scrutiny: the education secretary, Nicky Morgan

Dear Secretary of State

Colin Hopkins
Director of Education, diocese of Lichfield 

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Colin Hopkins, Director of Education,  diocese of Lichfield

 

Colin Hopkins, Director of Education,  diocese of Lichfield

 

I WARMLY welcome your reappointment as Secretary of State for Education. I am looking forward to seeing how you develop your position, and to the leadership you will bring to an increasingly fragmented schools system.

I have noted your commitment to giving all children and young people an excellent education. This is, of course, motherhood and apple pie, and no educationist would dissent from this aspiration.

Of greater interest to me is how you will ensure that all children have an entitlement to a great education.

You clearly want all those working in the education profession to be successful and to prosper, and you have made it clear that you will intervene in inadequate or "coasting" schools that do not have the capacity to improve. I await the detail of this policy. As a diocesan director of education, I want to understand how this will make an impact on the 5000 Church of England schools across the country.

With regard to your flagship aca demies programme, inherited from Labour, quite frankly there has previously been too much inconsistency in the application of policy, and ministers and officials have made it up as they have gone along. We need a proper, and agreed, regulatory and policy framework for academies and free schools, and greater transparency about how decisions are taken by regional schools commissioners and ministers.

As far as Church of England schools are concerned, I want you to work with us, and to understand fully the distinctive contribution that our schools make to the well-being of society - not just as a relic from the past (as some of your officials believe), but as a living tradition that gives meaning and structure to young people's lives.

There is a rumour that the next Education Act will contain provisions to overrule diocesan boards of education if they impede your desire for structural change. If that is the case, then I think the provision is based on a misunderstanding. The Church's concern is to ensure that all children are happy and successful, and fulfil their God-given potential, but we do not subscribe to a narrow or doctrinaire technocratic view of education as having a primarily economic purpose.

I therefore ask you to recognise the need to ensure that church governance arrangements in academies and free schools are not subject to the vagaries of chance, and that we do not end up with secularisation by neglect or stealth, because the church character of academies is not securely articulated in the governance and voting arrangements of multi-academy trusts.

I am worried about the "Trojan horse through the back door": the gradual erosion, over time, of church ethos in our academies because the majority of non-church directors in some "mixed-mode" multi-academy trusts do not understand or value the church dimension.

Like many of my colleagues, I am worried about the future of small rural schools. Even if two or three of these collaborate, they might still have fewer pupils than a one-form-entry primary school (210 pupils). Some serious consideration needs to be given at the national level to the funding and organisation of schools in the countryside, so that we do not end up with very young children having to travel miles to school.

So much of education policy is driven by metropolitan assumptions. We need a proper debate about the future of small schools, as well as a discussion about the implications of "austerity" for the funding of all schools.

Above all, I hope that you will place education above ideology. Free schools are not needed in areas where there are surplus places. And I hope that you will recognise the importance of professionally taught religious education in all schools, and resource this appropriately.

Extremism will be defeated by education and enlightenment. All the Christian Churches will support you and your cabinet colleagues in building a truly inclusive society in which we can celebrate, and understand, the different traditions that make us British. 

 

Kieran Salter
Head teacher of St Mary and St Giles C of E Primary School, Milton Keynes

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Kieran Salter, Head teacher of St Mary and St Giles C of E Primary School, Milton Keynes

Kieran Salter, Head teacher of St Mary and St Giles C of E Primary School, Milton Keynes

MY SCHOOL has 235 children. It has been judged Outstanding by both OFSTED and SIAMS [Statutory Inspection of Anglican and Methodist Schools]. I have many years' headship experience, and I am excited and enthusiastic about my job.

We follow Psalm 127 in believing that "Every child is a gift from God" who should be loved, treasured, and nurtured accordingly. So I have some requests for you, as you undertake responsibility for schools for the next five years.

My first plea is that we should recognise children for who they are, just as much as for what they can achieve. Attainment and progress are important, but so, too, are character, social awareness, and kindness. We must not over-emphasise the importance of those things that are easier to measure, and ignore those aspects of education that encourage good citizenship.

We need less emphasis on tests, and a wider understanding of assessment. This presupposes a government that is prepared to accept that it cannot manage everything, and trusts and respects professional teachers.

My second plea is that your agenda allows teachers to teach. The child's parents have ultimate responsibility for their care and upbringing, and, while we care deeply about every child entrusted to us, we are not in a position to solve all of society's ills. The last Government did much to reduce over-prescription. Your workload reforms were a welcome start. We need a government that will not put additional burdens on schools without also deciding what burdens can now be removed.

Third, we need good-quality teachers, and enough of them. Although my school is fully staffed, and we contribute to School Direct [practical training based in a school], we are aware of a growing problem in the supply of teachers.

This is the most urgent of my pleas. If we can train and appoint the right teachers, and retain them in the profession, then the future of our schools and education system as a whole will be strong, and you will have left a legacy that far outlasts your term of office.

 

Gerald Pillay
Vice-Chancellor of Liverpool Hope University, a member of the Cathedrals Group of church-affiliated universities 

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Gerald Pillay, Vice-Chancellor of Liverpool Hope University, a member of the Cathedrals Group of church-affiliated universities

Gerald Pillay, Vice-Chancellor of Liverpool Hope University, a member of the Cathedrals Group of church-affiliated universities

WHATEVER we may have thought about the way higher education is now funded in England, we are where we are; and the distinctive features of British higher education which made it an exemplar to other countries over the past 100 years must not be diminished in any way.

It must remain possible to provide the very best higher education for every British citizen at whatever British university he or she may enroll. The wisest within the new Government must prevail over those who seek to limit this inclusive vision to narrower ideological goals.

It is their responsibility to end the tendency by governments (from both sides of the House) to seek merely administrative solutions to the pressing educational and cultural challenges that we face as a nation. We must restore a culture of high pursuit and deep learning, in place of one where league tables and targets have encouraged compliance, not excellence. ("Not everything that can be counted counts, and not everything that counts can be counted" - William Bruce Cameron.)

It must be within our abilities to rebuild the integrity of relationships that existed between student and teacher, in place of a culture where students are encouraged to be "customers", driven by surveys of "customer satisfaction" and litigation.

We must restore to teaching the respect and social standing it deserves, for the sake of all our children, and to restore to scholarship and serious enquiry something akin to a sense of vocation. These would be convincing signs of a culture of aspiration and excellence.

These objectives must surely be attainable for the benefit of all British citizens, irrespective of their social background or postcode.

 

Andrew Wilcock
Head teacher of Bishop Ramsey C of E comprehensive Academy, Ruislip

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Andrew Wilcock, Head teacher of Bishop Ramsey C of E comprehensive Academy, Ruislip

Andrew Wilcock, Head teacher of Bishop Ramsey C of E comprehensive Academy, Ruislip

CONGRATULATIONS on your re-appointment. It was heartening to read, in your post-election letter to the teaching profession, of your undertaking to work hand in hand with us, and to receive your commitment to a period of calm and stability. The profession will benefit greatly from both.

There are, though, two particular changes that I would, respectfully, request you consider early in this Parliament. First, a change in the way schools are judged. OFSTED has become a blunt instrument, which focuses too narrowly on particular data sets. It needs to be reframed to measure how well schools do their core jobs of enabling all their young people to reach their full potential and giving them the knowledge, skills, and attributes they need to succeed in modern Britain. It would be helpful for the profession to be involved with policymakers in a discussion of what this might look like.

The second change I would request is a fresh look at funding. I write as head teacher of a successful 11-18 comprehensive Church of England Academy - a National Teaching School with a large sixth form and relatively few pupils from disadvantaged backgrounds.

Over the past four years, I have seen my school's core funding slashed by half a million pounds, as resources have been diverted away from sixth forms and towards deprived students. We need a fair funding formula that reflects the needs of different students, but still gives enough to schools in the suburbs and shire counties to enable them to continue to provide a world-class education.

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