Battle lines drawn in fight to remove politics from education

Education will be a battlefield in the forthcoming election so we believe it is imperative to define clearly what may be fought over by politicians and what should be a politically neutral zone.

Fundamentally, we urge that schooling should be depoliticised. What happens in classrooms should no longer be micromanaged by Government, irrespective of who wins the election. While many recognise that political intervention in the work of schools was necessary at the end of the last century, it is now counterproductive and damaging the all-round education of our youth.

Early in the next Parliament, we would like to see an Education Bill that resolves the question "Who is responsible for what?" along these lines:

Parliament should (as now) fund national education and control its overall systems and structures. On these national issues political parties may differ and Parliamentary debate should precede Government action. Government should engender respect for teachers and trust their commitment and professional competence.

Schools and colleges should shape classroom practice. What is taught (curriculum), how it is taught (pedagogy), whether it is learned successfully (assessment), and how effectively each school tackles its tasks (evaluation) should be the local province of teachers, working collegially and supported by school governors, neighbouring schools, parents, a constructive inspectorate and, nationally, educational researchers. Guidance should be available from outside bodies, including local authorities - for example, in mathematics.

But in between these two levels of responsibility must be a third: a research-informed National Education Council working with rejuvenated local authorities. The latter are democratically accountable to their citizens, big enough to employ the requisite specialists, close enough to schools to understand local issues and to ensure that sufficient school places are available. And able to support and challenge a process of accountability in which school self-evaluation is scrutinised by school governing bodies as the starting point for a reporting process that goes via local authorities to an independent and research-based National Education Council.

This council would: guide schools in their development of curriculum, pedagogy, assessment and self-evaluation; monitor children's attainment by sampling; monitor local authorities' support for schools; sponsor research into worthwhile practice; and generally aim to tell the public and Parliament of the successes, failures and future directions of the education system - without fear or favour of party politics.

It is time to shift the prime responsibility for education towards schools and colleges, and so enable teachers to build the public trust that they deserve and need in order to be effective guardians, with parents, of the development of the young, and hence custodians of the nation's uncertain future.

It can be done.

Professor Stephen Ball, Institute of Education, London University; Emeritus Professor Michael Bassey Nottingham Trent University; Professor Bernard Barker, Leicester University; Professor William Boyle, University of Manchester; Professor Margaret Brown, King's College London; Emeritus Professor Frank Coffield, Institute of Education, London University; Emeritus Professor Tony Edwards, University of Newcastle; Emeritus Professor Ron Glatter, Open University; Professor Harvey Goldstein, University of Bristol; Professor Mary James, University of Cambridge; Professor Saville Kushner, University of the West of England; Emeritus Professor Colin Richards, St Martin's College, Lancaster; Professor Peter Tymms, Durham University; Professor Mick Waters, University of Wolverhampton.

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