Eight years ago, Tony Blair became Prime Minister accompanied by a wave of goodwill from education professionals. Most were convinced he would bring progressive ideas and badly-needed investment to run-down, demoralised schools and colleges. Oh how we wish. It is true that Labour has fulfilled part of its early promise. Investment in schools, though not yet colleges, has risen sharply. Crumbling buildings are being refurbished or replaced.
Billions have been spent on computers and interactive technology. Despite inadequate funding, the workforce agreement promises to bring real improvements to teachers who currently work excessive hours. And the national primary strategies have led to significant improvements in the 3Rs.
But let us look at the downside. This well-meaning Government, in its hurry to improve things, has made huge demands on staff, frequently without listening to their concerns. In England especially, over-reliance on external assessment has had a stultifying effect on the curriculum. As they prepare to publish their manifestos, the political parties should pause to consider what impact their education programmes will have on those who will have to carry them out. They would do well to heed the aspirations of TES readers, more than 1,300 of whom took up our invitation to make three wishes for the future of education (page 1).
Three key messages emerge. First, give pupils more space to learn and a more creative curriculum, including high-quality vocational courses.
England should follow Wales's example by easing up on national testing.
Second, continue the investment in schools and colleges. A laptop for every teacher, an interactive whiteboard for every classroom and an intensive programme to help the weakest readers would bring huge benefits. Third, respect teachers and let them get on with the job of engaging pupils in the way they know best. Support them by cutting paperwork, provide the resources to tackle bad behaviour and invest properly in workforce reforms.
Give them a life.