How Prime Minister Brown must build on Blair's reform

18th May 2007 at 01:00
"The king is dead, long live the king" is the brutal way we move from one political regime to another. The removal vans won't be in Downing Street until June, but now is a good time to look back and look forward.

Tony Blair came to power with schools struggling for funds, buildings in decay, a teacher shortage and ICT that relied on hand-me-down computers.

Ten years on, school infrastructure is much stronger (and Building Schools for the Future is still to come). Teacher numbers, status, morale and pay are all much higher and, crucially, attainment has risen across the board.

But, as Mr Blair would be the first to concede, there is still a long way to go. Progress on literacy and numeracy is a struggle at all the key stages. There is a big gap in the relative achievement of boys and girls.

Pupils receiving free school meals are falling further behind others.

Take-up in subjects vital to our future prosperity (science, maths and modern foreign languages) is worryingly low. Employers say they are still not getting the skilled workforce they need. Students - particularly in the early teenage years - are often bored with the curriculum. Behaviour and discipline are major concerns. The top-down reform model has run its course. The allocation system for school funding is too arbitrary. So Prime Minister Brown's five big priorities should be: 1. Empowering and incentivising students to learn. Personalisation is moving schools in this direction. But we must go further and rethink the school day, embed more interactive styles of learning and feedback, use ICT to extend the range of subjects on offer, empower students in the life of the school and constantly look to link learning to the world of work. An education system that does not listen to what young people think, respond to their needs and stimulate them to learn will never get past first base in moving attainment on to a new level.

2. Overhauling the curriculum and assessment frameworks. The national curriculum should focus more on what pupils need to know and the skills they should have by a given age, rather than prescribe details of what is taught. Post-14 we need to look to Tomlinson and move to an integrated diploma that incorporates academic and vocational learning and personal skills. Sats should be reformed with sample testing at 11, as advocated by Ken Boston of the Qualifications and Curriculum Authority, and assessment focused on a personal progression plan as pupils change schools.

3. Giving schools and heads a bigger role in leading education. Sir Alan Steer's review of school behaviour showed the value of reform in school-based leadership. Specialist schools, the National College for School Leadership and the National Leaders of Education are building leadership in schools, but we need more of it.

4. Involving parents as co-educators. Some schools are doing brilliant things: websites where parents can monitor their child's attendance, what they are learning and how they are doing, developing parents' skills so they can help their children. But too many schools pay only lip-service to parents. The parental agenda should not be about parents' councils but working with parents as co-educators.

5. Reforming school funding so that secondaries are paid directly for 11 to 16-year-olds, as they are for the over-16s. That will ensure that schools in similar circumstances are funded on a common basis. And such is the power of the data now available that the funding formula should in part reflect pupils' prior attainment - surely a better system than lottery and quotas encouraging schools to admit a broad mix of abilities.

New Labour's mantra was at one point: "A lot done, a lot still to do."

That's not a bad summary of where we are now.

"Education, education, education: the next decade" is Robert Hill's contribution to Public Matters: the Renewal of the Public Realm, published next week by Politicos

Robert Hillis a former special adviser to Tony Blair and Charles Clarke and now a consultant on public policy issues

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