Blueprint for giving children a chance

25th May 2007 at 01:00
Anthony Seldon is master of Wellington college in Berkshire

An open letter to the economic secretary to the Treasury

DEAR ED BALLS,

Gordon Brown's team is now turning its mind to developing his education policy, and you have been holding meetings this week to that end.JEvery incoming government has great aspirations. They want to build a decent school system.JThey fail. Wilson, Callaghan, Thatcher and Major all had disappointing records.JBlair achieved more, but could have gone further.

Here are five suggestions, all cost-light. If you follow them, a Brown government will do more for children of this country than any government for many years.

1.JSchool Ethos. Just one change would earn you the profound gratitude of teachers, parents and pupils - discipline. More than any other issue, behaviour problems have brought havoc and despair to our classrooms, deterred teachers from joining the profession, driven out some of the best, and damaged the opportunities of many children.JLegislation and policy to ensure teachers can teach properly and children can learn without disruption would transform British education.JAsk teachers.

2.JCurriculum.JEnd the obsession with exams.JBroaden the curriculum and extra-curricular life of the school.JThis is above all important for children from less privileged backgrounds.JAdopt in all schools the "eightfold aptitude model", which we use at Wellington college to identify and nurture all eight faculties that lie within each child and adult.JOne of these is the "intra-personal aptitude", which is where well-being comes in.JEvery child has the right to learn how to live in harmony with their bodies, emotions and minds.

3.JTrust heads to run their own schools.JThere is a role for government, but much less than we traditionally thought.JThe job of every school is to help each child become independent; the job of government should be to encourage institutions to become independent.JIf you want to emulate independent schools' success, you will achieve it by allowing state school heads greater freedom, rather than matching expenditure (though this is also vital).

4.JStructure of schools.JSpecialist schools have done well, but it is wrong that schools specialise in only one area. So provide incentives for schools to develop second, third and fourth specialisms. It is good that you are not going to go back on academies. Encourage all independent schools either to found an academy or to work in partnership with them or trusts.

5. Parents. Parental involvement is a powerful predictor of the success of a child and a school.JEncourage schools to provide opportunities for parents to get involved.JEveryone should be a learner: pupil, teacher and parent. As a way-out idea, why not means test the parents of grammar school children?JThey are an anomaly. If their parents don't like paying, it will open up the schools to children from non-privileged backgrounds.

All governments think they can improve education. Do the above and you will.

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