Teachers know best

25th March 2005 at 00:00
Government intervention is now counter-productive to pupils'

interests, writes Michael Bassey

The evidence that government intervention has raised educational standards is strong: the evidence that it is now becoming counter-productive is even stronger. It is time for parliament to recognise this and to restore to teachers and schools the power to determine the curriculum, pedagogy and assessment procedures that they judge to be in the best interests of their pupils.

To this end, the next parliament should introduce legislation so that:

* Office for Standards in Education inspections are replaced by local education authority inspections, which identify and support schools that are in difficulties and support a system of self-evaluation in all schools;

* the national curriculum and related teaching strategies cease to be obligatory, allowing schools to tailor them to their pupils' needs;

* teacher assessments replace all external assessments of pupils until GCSE level, with assessments communicated to each child's parents regularly;

* government targets for pupil performance will no longer be set;

* league tables of assessments will be scrapped, and schools will be expected to publish instead termly reports from their governing bodies of school work and progress, making these available to the public;

* a central advisory council for education is re-established to advise parliament, government, the public, local education authorities, schools, teachers and governors on significant issues and in particular to monitor standards achieved in the various basic skills taught in schools through a robust sampling procedure.

Stopping Ofsted inspections is the key to demonstrating trust in teachers.

It is necessary to convince schools that the array of regulations that government has issued in the past 15 years (defaulting on which may lead Ofsted inspectors to condemn a school) can now be judged on whether they are in the best interests of pupils and parents. Allowing the curriculum to be determined by schools will not lead to fundamental changes in the teaching of the basic skills - these are firmly rooted in the education system.

The introduction of systematic assessment of pupils in the basic skills is perhaps the greatest achievement of the past 16 years. It has enabled each child's progress to be monitored and has ensured that work can be tailored to educational need effectively. But it does not require external testing, which has come to dominate schools and distort their whole ethos.

League tables are pernicious. While politicians glory in drawing attention to changes in nationally averaged results, teachers know that the small changes that occur year by year may be no more than artefacts of the system.

Of course, parents need to compare schools in order to make appropriate choices for their children, but they would learn much more by reading the term-by-term reports made to governing bodies.

Schools today are very different from those that were challenged by government in the 1980s and early 1990s. Teachers are much less isolated and tend to work more collaboratively. They have become skilled at assessing the progress of their pupils and planning their teaching accordingly.

Headteachers receive training in management. Governing bodies now govern and, in most schools, are seen as the essential link between the community and the school. In all schools the parents receive useful reports of their children's progress.

Nationally there is a General Teaching Council for focusing professional issues. And government has raised the level of school funding so that more and better resources for learning are available.

Everyone agrees that education in schools is about the nurture and development of every child - cognitively, socially, emotionally, physically, spiritually, creatively, culturally and holistically - and that experience of today is as important as preparation for tomorrow.

But somehow this is forgotten when ministers push their pet schemes, when political parties eye the votes, when inspectors tick their schedules, when administrators prepare their league tables, when curriculum specialists prepare their syllabuses, and when test designers draw up their tests.

But teachers don't forget: they know that the whole child is their concern.

Government intervention in education has raised certain standards in schools, but is now counter-productive. It is time to stop: day by day it is teachers who know best what their pupils need. It is time for the Government to trust teachers and to transfer to them the power to exercise that trust in the best interests of pupils and parents.

Michael Bassey is an emeritus professor of education. Teachers and Government: a history of intervention and a call for its end, is published by the Association of Teachers and Lecturers

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