Memo to ministers: Leave education to the experts

19th September 2008 at 01:00

For many teachers the solution to education's longest standing problems is for ministers to leave schools to the experts.

After questioning teachers about which policies they preferred, The TES survey asked if they had ideas of their own. More than 1,300 responded and the same suggestion came up repeatedly.

Eloise Beckles, a London secondary teacher, was typical. "Teachers should decide what happens in education, not ministers who only want to do what sounds popular at the time to get them voted in or to make sound bites," she said. "We should all be asked what pupils need, not told by people in ivory towers what we should be doing."

Another secondary teacher called for "those with the understanding and training to lead the education reforms and move forward. Take the power away from politicians."

A primary teacher said politicians needed to acquire emotional literacy, while a sixth form college lecturer called for them to "leave education alone for five years".

And that is an option some have been considering. In his speech to the Liberal Democrat conference this week, David Laws, the party's education spokesman, accused the Government of running education like a nationalised industry. There was no question of a return to the "secret garden" of the 70s, but real power should go back to schools, he said.

Asked by The TES if that would mean he would be content for some schools not to use proven techniques such as synthetic phonics, Mr Laws said: "Yes. Schools may use different methods but they will be accountable (through inspection) and it will be transparent whether those methods are working or not." A future Conservative government is likely to be less keen on such freedoms. The Tory front bench has made it clear that all schools would be expected to teach synthetic phonics.

Nick Gibb, shadow schools minister, described the debate over the method as "just a skirmish in a battle (against the `educational establishment') that is still to be won."

As for the Government, while ministers may have talked about becoming less top down, it is largely their record of centralisation in the last decade that has angered teachers.

They, predictably, appear to favour the Liberal Democrats on this debate. According to The TES survey, two thirds of them back the party's plan to merge the Qualifications and Curriculum Authority, Ofsted and parts of the DCSF to create an independent Educational Standards Authority. Guy Alcock- Cross, a secondary classroom teacher, said the idea could be "an important step in making British education a more coherent and sensibly developing system, which could eventually become the envy of the world. Year on year, there are far too many changes happening and endless dictats for headteachers and senior teams to cope with."

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