Politicians could close the door on 'secret garden' for good

9th April 2010 at 01:00

Ten University professors of education really "could do better" ("Education should be left to schools and not politicians", April 2). The idea that any government, voter or sensible education professional might expect schooling to be depoliticised is naive.

I have been in teaching for 30 years. I remember well the shock of starting my first post and being "inducted" by the then head of upper school in an Essex comprehensive. He said he would go through what I had to do with my tutor group in PSHE on my first day, introduce me to the class and run through the work programme - all before 8.45am.

He was late, or forgot, or both. I spent 10 minutes thinking on my feet and spent the next six weeks "teaching" my Year 11 tutor group about the effects of a nuclear fallout should the big one hit London. At my first parents' evening I was accused, quite rightly, by the father of one of my tutees of not preparing them for the world of work, sixth form or college. I am certain that the head, local authority and governors of the school had no idea what I was teaching and what purpose or aim it had. Nor did I - a recently failed 23-year-old wannabe rock star straight from university.

I look back in horror. Neither I nor my colleagues knew in the early 1980s if we were a good school. We didn't objectively know how it compared to any local or national schools. Parents couldn't have been sure what we were teaching or if it was cost-effective or efficient. They couldn't know if their sons or daughters were achieving as well they should.

What changed this secret garden? National political debate. Margaret Thatcher's government and Ken Baker, the then education secretary, realised that schools had to be accountable. Thirteen years of New Labour raised the status and accountability further. Without this, the salaries of teachers would be at least a third lower than they are now. No crusade to rebuild schools would have occurred, no GTC, no Teacher Awards, no Teach First programme, no Literacy programme, no NPQH, no National Centre for training, and exclusions would be higher.

If Michael Gove becomes the new schools secretary, an expansion of the academy programme, greater freedoms and variety of providers will generate real experimentation in organisation and enterprise.

Great heads run great schools, great teachers inspire future stars. But the idea that the poacher is also the gamekeeper, that one of the major spending departments of government should not be held accountable by the public, that parents should not through the political process be in some way able to hold the school system to account, is complacent and disturbing.

Without the pressure of national political debate, the inspiration of education philosophy, the accountability that ensures professionals consider their client's needs first, we would be back in a world where there was one telephone provider, no internet, two television channels and an educational secret garden looking after its producer needs and not remembering that it is the public's servant.

Trevor Averre-Beeson, Director of education, Lilac Sky Schools Ltd, Great Notley, Essex.

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