IN JUST two years, in 2020, state schooling will mark the 150th anniversary of the ground-breaking 1870 Education Act. Like so many Acts, it is more commonly known by the name of the Minister responsible for piloting it through Parliament: William Forster.
As then, we now have all-age schools; school-based teacher preparation; and, if some would have their way, pupil teachers — albeit renamed as apprentices. Many schools still inhabit at least part of the same building they used in 1870. And the Church of England remains a key player in the provision of schooling, especially in the primary sector.
But in many respects the world is a totally different place from 150 years ago — and even 25 years ago . . . the world before the internet.
During the 1990s, I wrote that the coming of the internet would reshape society in the way that, 500 years earlier, the introduction of print had challenged the orthodoxies of the day. I may have been a decade out in my timings, but there is a challenge to the traditional pattern of state schooling under way.
The demand for parent-led free schools and the growth in home schooling show that the change is deep-seated and challenges the fundamental pattern of education of the past 150 years.
AT THE start of 2018, however, many of the same old challenges face the new Secretary of State, Damian Hinds: finding enough cash for schools; managing the curriculum; teacher workload; and ensuring that enough teachers with the right backgrounds are available to staff all our schools.
As a former pupil of a faith school, and a champion for social mobility, Hinds is well placed to continue to fight for an education system that both meets the needs and challenges the aspirations of every child, while recognising that more than half the school population are not destined for university immediately after leaving school.
If I have a chief concern for the new Secretary of State, it is whether the present funding arrangements will allow the continued existence of small, often rural, faith primary schools.
These schools are rooted in their communities, and are often one of the few community bodies left in some areas. It would be unforgivable if these schools were to disappear as a by-product of the new National Funding Formula.
SCHOOLS can, of course, do more to help themselves, especially with energy costs. School playgrounds are one of the most under-used resources in the world: many are used for literally minutes for 190 days a year; and then not used at all.
How can they be harnessed to help the energy revolution? After all, they are mostly covered with heat-retaining black tarmac. Such a challenge fits in well with the need for careful stewardship of our planet, and the Church of England must consider whether there is more that its education arm can do to help.
Finally, a word about staffing. Schools in the southern half of England may find 2018 a challenging year when it comes to recruiting staff. Numbers in training are down on last year, and that means fewer new entrants in many subjects available to schools seeking to make an appointment.
With a school population on the increase, and possibly fewer teachers coming to England from across the EU, many secondary schools will find recruitment a challenge.
If all goes well, there will be enough primary-level teachers to meet the needs of schools; but leadership applicants, especially for small church schools, may well be in short supply. About one in three Church of England primary schools that tried to appoint a head teacher in 2017 was not successful at its first attempt.
Should more be done to achieve successful succession-planning for leadership, especially given all the extra posts created by the new multi-academy trusts now in existence?
John Howson is chairman at TeachVac and Teachvac Global, and a Visiting Professor at Oxford Brookes University.