Editorial - Could the old hands be the saviours of schools?

5th June 2015 at 01:00

Recently I had the pleasure of advising on the memoirs of Fred Jarvis, former general secretary of the NUT, former president of the NUS and one of the great educational activists. It was a rare treat to explore his rich and diverse life in this inspiring sector.

Still deeply involved in schools, trade unionism and the rough and tumble of politics at the ripe old age of 90, Mr Jarvis is a fine example of the growing phenomenon of the campaigning pensioner. It's no exaggeration to say that he is one of the best-informed people in education, of any age. He was finally rewarded with a CBE last month.

Giving him a run for his money in the uber-experienced educationalist stakes - possibly even pipping him at the post - is Baroness Warnock, academic, headteacher, public policymaker and founder of the modern SEN system.

Lady Warnock - who is also a good few years beyond the traditional retirement age - has this week revealed plans for a completely new initiative, Teach Last. As the name suggests, the scheme would place older people from other professions into schools in a bid to raise the status of teaching and ease staff shortages. Skilled retirees from a variety of backgrounds, who would receive in-service training, could teach as a "second profession", she believes.

"It does seem to me that there's a tremendous waste of talent," Lady Warnock told TES. "Society hasn't really caught up with the fact that people retire when they're at the height of their powers these days. There's such a lot of energy, imagination and capacity for work left after most retirement ages."

She's not wrong. Setting aside the issues thrown up about qualified teacher status (experience, however extensive, doesn't always compensate for a full and rounded training programme), this idea does bring into sharp focus the talent that often lies dormant between retirement and, well, the Pearly Gates.

One cannot help but think that the deep understanding exhibited by Lady Warnock and Mr Jarvis - both of whom have been involved with educational lawmaking for more years than is decent to mention - is just what was needed when this week's education bill was being drafted.

The main aim of the bill is to target 1,000 so-called "failing" schools (and many more that are "coasting") with academisation - a process that will no doubt aggravate the already dire headteacher-supply crisis. As for the rest of the bill's contents, most teachers will probably take a look, shrug and say to themselves, as many did on Twitter, "Seen it all before."

And therein lies the problem: our schools system is exhausted from change. Lady Warnock and Mr Jarvis would not need it pointing out to them that between 1944 and 1978 there were just two major education acts. In the years since there have been 13.

Perhaps we should call for the creation of a crack team of creaking educationalists (Sir Tim Brighouse and Sir Mike Tomlinson are other contenders, if they're not too young) who would be consulted whenever a politician decides that what's needed is yet more legislation. This might just help to end the incessant reinvention of the educational wheel.

One can but dream.


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