Good plan, let's stick to it this year

4th January 2008 at 00:00
Will 2008 be the year when the needs of children are put first? With the renamed Department for Children, Schools and Families, and a 10-year Children's Plan on the launch pad, Gordon Brown and Ed Balls have made clear their good intentions.

But if every child is to matter, our politicians urgently need a change of approach. Here are five new year resolutions that would make a difference to every teacher and child in the country.

1. Slow down. This is especially difficult for politicians who want results within the short space of an electoral cycle. But effecting improvement in schools should not be rushed. This year will see huge changes to the curriculum in primaries and secondaries. Many of these are positive. But remember Curriculum 2000. Too much change too quickly leads to mistakes.

2. Slim down. This is not an invitation to go on a post-Christmas diet, but you do need to do something about all those exams. External tests at the end of primary school provide parents with a valuable measure of children's progress, as do end of secondary school qualifications. External testing at 14 serves no real purpose and should be replaced by "when ready" assessment.

3. Stop micro-managing. The Government has become over-dependent on holding schools and teachers to account through league tables and targets. The Children's Plan rightly sets out ways to give parents much more information via school websites about children's attendance, behaviour and progress. This is what they really want.

4. Nurture talent. One example of Whitehall micro-management is the new requirement for schools to publish the number of pupils achieving levels 7 and 8 in their key stage 3 Sats. The result will inevitably lead to schools massaging the figures according to whether they look better under the G and T measure or value-added at GCSE. Schools should be encouraged to identify and nurture talented and creative pupils - not just those who excel in English, maths and science.

5. Be bolder. None of the above means that Messrs Brown and Balls should stop the reform train. The move towards diplomas is one example where it is the politicians, not the profession, who are afraid to change and take risks. In 2008, we suggest they listen to the real experts - the teachers. Then they'll get the change that is really needed.

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