Ignored just because we're not 'outstanding'

4th February 2011 at 00:00

There is a certain arrogance when a government decides it is going to make such profound changes as those outlined in the recent white paper, and the Education Bill which followed it last week. The assumption that all that has gone before was rubbish and needs to be thrown out in one fell swoop is extreme, particularly when there have been so many successes.

I am still smarting from the shock I felt when I first got the opportunity to sit down with the white paper and plan how I would consult with staff and governors. It's true this was about two weeks after the paper had been published (because I am a very busy head), but I nearly fell off my chair when I realised that the closing date for feedback was 8 December - the day I was doing my planning. This suggested to me, quite clearly, that feedback was not really required or welcomed.

If I had had a real opportunity to be consulted, the one piece of advice I would have given is to suggest that, instead of introducing the English Baccalaureate, why not go even further and abolish A-levels and introduce the International Baccalaureate (IB)?

There are many advantages to this plan: it's a real baccalaureate - and not just a random selection of subjects. And it has a clear philosophy. It covers all the curriculum areas, including a language and a humanities subject, as well as a creative and expressive arts subject. It's academically challenging and rigorous. Independent schools love it and even the Russell Group universities recognise its worth. Research suggests that students who follow the IB programme are better prepared for university than those who take the A-level route.

I don't really expect Mr Gove to follow my advice - and, indeed, I would not want him to without real consultation. I have always encouraged my staff to take every opportunity to try to get involved in policy-making by joining the various forums which debate education and which can actually influence what happens. But the unseemly haste to get this paper into Parliament makes this impossible.

Ministers need to take heads and teachers with them, not turn us against each other. After all, we are the ones who will make things happen.

As a headteacher of a school that is graded "satisfactory" and is not an academy, I feel virtually ignored. The present Government is obsessed by "outstanding" schools and assumes that they know everything and can represent us all. They can't.

It is frustrating for us that, although we've been hugely successful as a training school, we are branded ineligible to become one of the new "teaching schools" that will replace them.

The group of advisers and headteachers chosen to lead on the review of the national curriculum may be well respected and perfectly experienced and qualified, but they are not reflective of schools like mine and many others across the country. They fit a certain niche and I am not confident that our views will be seriously considered.

The implications of this review will be far-reaching. We have already been told that the outcome will be a curriculum that is heavy on knowledge and short on skills, with no acknowledgement that you can't have one without the other. Who will listen?

We are told that the module GCSE exams will go and pupils will not to be allowed to do re-sits. The view is that we are making things far too easy for our young people. Anybody who spent time in a secondary school during the month of January would see all the hard work and effort, as well as the stress, etched in the faces of pupils and staff who were all working their socks off, and would not have come to this conclusion.

The white paper is big on statement but short on detail, and we are currently trying to fill in the blanks. There are so many "known unknowns" that it is very difficult to plan for the future. We are still waiting for the decisions on the new science curriculum to be taught in September 2011 and my teachers are not able to prepare the schemes of learning to deliver it. Our plans to start Year 9 on course for early GCSE entry have not materialised because we don't know what we are supposed to be teaching.

Like most heads, I am used to change, but I want to understand why the change is necessary and I want to be part of the conversation. Bulldozing schools and heads will only alienate professionals and this is not the way to get the best out of them.

On a more positive note, I know schools will make sense of it all somehow, and will make it work for our children because that is our job. We don't really have much choice.

Kenny Frederick is headteacher of George Green's secondary school in east London.

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