Editorial - Educating Westminster in what's important

22nd August 2014 at 01:00

"Reform, reform, reform. Structure, structure, structure." Such is the mantra of the political classes in most of the English-speaking world.

Shadow education secretary Tristram Hunt was right when he pointed out this week that in the 70 years (almost to the day) since the Education Act of 1944 rethought the entirety of English education, schools policy has been dominated by structure.

Brilliant for its scope and for its ambition for children from deprived homes, the act nonetheless opened the floodgates for politicians to do what they love most: rearranging deckchairs, whether the ship is sinking or not.

It sometimes feels as though they've joined some kind of Trotskyite cult in which they believe that the only decent kind of revolution is a permanent one. Teachers around the world will vouch for how it feels to be battered by these constantly changing winds.

Structures are important, of course. And they can affect outcomes in a very real way - for better or worse - when you tinker with them. Just ask the pupils who picked up their GCSE results yesterday, and the cohorts that will follow as new accountability measures and linear exams become the norm.

But if you want to see what really makes a difference, tune in to the forthcoming series Educating the East End, the latest iteration of Channel 4's Educating. franchise. The popularity of this surprise blockbuster - a hit with school staff and lay folk alike - tells us that the general public really understand what makes education work: friction and dynamism between the teachers and the taught.

All one needs to do is look at the amazing year experienced by Musharaf Asghar, the teenager whose successful battle with his stammer was the jaw-dropping denouement to 2013's Educating Yorkshire series. Believe it or not, he has now been rewarded with his very own spin-off show, Stammer School: Musharaf Finds His Voice.

Indeed, the whole shebang became a hit. Around the UK, millions fell in love with a local comprehensive competently going about its job. (Conversely, millions do not set the Sky Plus box to record education questions in the Commons every week, in order to catch up with the latest squabbling over free schools.)

Thankfully, the best educationalists and even the politicians sometimes recognise that respecting teachers and headteachers, getting the best possible staff into classrooms, and encouraging them to love their work and collaborate with colleagues in other schools is the best formula for producing better institutions and cleverer pupils. If you want evidence, look no further than Sir Tim Brighouse and the London Challenge, possibly the best educational intervention in recent decades anywhere in the world.

Similarly, you could ask Musharaf about Mr Burton the English teacher, who was determined that his pupil should overcome his crippling stammer.

Having a high-performing and motivated teaching workforce should be the focus of all politicians - and will make a damn sight more difference than banging on about academies. The ship doesn't appear to be sinking, and even if it was, mucking about with deckchairs is unlikely to make much of a difference.



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