A few little blots on a new horizon

20th April 2007 at 01:00
Michael Barber shows why the Prime Minister's cardinal weakness over the past 10 years has been to listen to the wrong people ("The next horizon", TES, April 13). Most of the eight lessons Sir Michael wishes us to learn from in the next 10 years show how little he understands about the complex nature of successful education systems: 1. The national curriculum does not need "benchmarking" to prove its worth but must motivate young people to become lifelong learners and unleash their creativity as the lifeblood of invigorated schools.

2. Never overestimate the power of data or understate its power to distort understanding and distract from a constructivist view of learning.

3. Of course all good education aspires to the highest standards but primary education is about understanding how stimulating contexts enable the teaching of literacy and numeracy to be meaningful and ensuring that the values that underpin effective personal and social development are ever-present.

4. Diversity does not drive up standards (it hasn't in Finland); "every school a good school" is more likely to be achieved via equal opportunity and collaboration. The fragmented, privatised system Sir Michael craves is more likely to pitch our young people into more unhappy, stressed-out and asset-stripped communities.

5. Heads know (as Sir Michael does not) that you need to be able to do "everything" with the staff you have. Professional development needs to be about building networks of supportive teachers who are inquisitive about learning and teaching.

I hope more funding becomes available and that it takes more account of individual pupils' needs; fixing school systems is indeed not enough and social capital differentials do need to be lessened, but the biggest factor that will determine whether we are "the envy of the world" in 10 years' time will be whether Gordon Brown, David Miliband or whoever succeeds Tony Blair listens to educational professionals or not.

Frank Newhofer, Oxford

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