“My garden has different flowers. Different colours, different size, different blossoms. Different individuals, different professions, different fields, it’s good to have. When it all comes together, it becomes more attractive.”
The government could learn a lot from the words of the Dalai Lama. Children vary, they bloom and grow in different ways, and we need them to go into diverse occupations to make our world a beautiful place. Or at least to make our economy more fruitful.
You might think, therefore, that we would offer them a variety of options to suit their differing needs. But you would be wrong. From this September, secondary school pupils are being forced into a GCSE straitjacket of English, maths, history or geography, a science and a modern language. The Tories have promised that schools refusing to do this will be prohibited from gaining an Ofsted outstanding rating.
All this is justified with education ministers’ favourite words: rigour and social justice. It can be argued that children benefit from a good grounding in academic subjects and then, if they so choose, they can progress to vocational qualifications or apprenticeships. But how will that happen if they have already been turned off education by being forced to pursue a course for which they have no aptitude or inclination? Where’s the justice in that?
Of course, an uncompromising focus on academic subjects plays well with parents, as former education secretary Michael Gove showed. And one would have thought that Her Majesty’s Chief Inspector of Schools, a man not known for a compromising stance on education, would also be in favour. Yet teachers may this week find themselves cheering a very unlikely hero.
Although Sir Michael Wilshaw agrees that more pupils need to be doing the English Baccalaureate, the former and indisputably very successful headteacher believes that it just isn’t suitable for some. “I can think of youngsters, even at the highest performing schools, who will find it a problem,” he says.
Nearly nine out of 10 school leaders oppose the government’s plan to make the EBac compulsory, according to an Association of School and College Leaders poll last month. Vic Goddard, head of Passmores Academy in Essex, has already told the secretary of state that he will not be complying. And it would appear that Sir Michael is planning to do the same. If the Tories follow through on their manifesto commitment to penalise heads for not making all pupils do the EBac, he says he will enter into “a robust dialogue with the government if that issue comes up”.
In the end, however, it may not be Sir Michael, headteachers or concern over pupils that derails this plan, but simple economics: there aren’t enough teachers to implement it. Recruitment problems are particularly acute in the very subjects the government wants to make mandatory. And parents will soon turn on ministers if there are insufficient teachers for their children.
There is no sign of a replacement at the helm of the National College for Teaching and Leadership for Charlie Taylor, nabbed by the Ministry of Justice at the height of the recruitment “challenge”, and no solution to the crisis in sight.
As the Dalai Lama didn’t say: teachers don’t grow on trees.