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Talking standards: part 11 of a conversation between educationalists Sir Tim Brighouse and David Cameron

In the 11th instalment of our online conversation, former schools commissioner for London Sir Tim Brighouse (pictured right) moves his debate with Scottish educationalist David Cameron (left) on from exams and assessment to the crucial matter of teacher quality

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Dear David,

Thanks for your latest letter setting out a list of perfectly acceptable and general aims for what schools might seek to do. I particularly liked your quotation from the Scottish 1947 document as well, of course, as your list at the end. Apart from its masculinity I also liked your notion of producing the “lad of pairts”. 

The philosopher John White at the Institute of Education in London writes persuasively about the right of politicians to set out broad aims for the curriculum, but regrets that in England at any rate that has led them to trespass on what should be decided locally.

My point, implied in my last letter, is that in a sense they have omitted to set out broad aims for the UK, and that if the UK is to hold together and if it’s the business of government to try to secure a fair deal for all its future citizens, they, the politicians, need to repair that omission. Given that Westminster would be speaking for the whole of the UK then Westminster politicians would now need to talk with their devolved counterparts in the Welsh assembly, Stormont and the Scottish Parliament before doing so.

The outcome would be necessarily general, but it might get over the issue of what on earth British values are and at the very least include respect for Scottish as well as English law. I hope such a meeting of political minds from the four countries might also say it was not for politicians to set out how things should be taught and perhaps take the opportunity to reach an agreement on how to honour the profession across the UK.

I would argue that it would then be for each of the four countries to set out in greater detail what they thought appropriate for fleshing out those aims in their particular country.

Of course such a UK-wide gathering about aims and purposes might lead our politicians to embark on a wider “learning from each other”, rather than from the educational tourism you have bemoaned stretching from Canada to Shanghai and Singapore. For example, north of the border, you seem to do just as well in the Pisa tests – so beloved by politicians – without governing bodies, without academies or free schools, without publication by the government of results, without performance-related pay but with a much wider curriculum approach, with stronger local democratic input and with a totally different approach to so many things. Of course, I shall not hold my breath for such a wider “learning from each other” to happen, but if it did, it might be good to exchange ideas on what should be on the list for their attention, which in a sense is what started this exchange.

So, in that spirit, could we move our discussion on from exams, accountability and the curriculum, on all of which we agree there is much to learn and improve?

As for the next topic, I want to hear your views on the most vital ingredient of all: teachers and support staff, their initial education and training, and most vitally of all their career-long professional development and support.

Can you give me your “starter for 10” on that? I have my own views, of course. It may not be urgent north of the border but it is in England where there is a real and deepening crisis of teacher supply.

Sincerely,

Tim

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