Why lean, Green education machine would scrap Ofsted

13th February 2015 at 00:00
Party boss Natalie Bennett calls for `cooperation not competition'

Teachers frequently complain about constant revolution - and they can expect plenty more promises of change as politicians gear up for the general election.

But while school staff felt bruised by the pace of reform under former education secretary Michael Gove, his programme looks positively unambitious next to the agenda set out by the Green Party.

Speaking to TES, party leader Natalie Bennett said the Greens would, among other things, abolish Ofsted and the national curriculum; raise the school starting age to 6; return academies and free schools to the control of local authorities; and scrap all national tests in primary schools.

Private schools are also in Ms Bennett's sights. Under Green policy, they would lose all their tax breaks and be treated "as the businesses they are".

"We believe in an education system where every child can achieve their best, and that the best way to achieve that is where all elements of the system are cooperating and not competing with each other," Ms Bennett said.

Among the party's most eye-catching policies - at least as far as teachers are concerned - is the intention to abolish nearly every measure by which schools are held to account, including most standardised tests and, of course, Ofsted.

"[Ofsted] has become very damaging for schools and teachers and pupils. We would like to replace the idea of parachuting in inspectors every few years with a regionally based, continuous programme of assessment," Ms Bennett said.

The phonics test would be dropped, which she claimed would "really make the teachers cheer". And key stage 2 tests would be scrapped, too.

"In terms of GCSEs, we're very much in favour of a mixed-assessment model - so some exams and some coursework and modular-type assessment, rather than the increasingly narrow focus on exams," Ms Bennett added.

The national curriculum would also go, replaced by looser "base national standards" that would outline what children had the "right to know".

The Greens are enjoying a historic leap in the opinion polls, but this has placed their policies under greater scrutiny than ever before. The party's full election manifesto will be finalised over the coming weeks.

Ms Bennett said considerable research showed that delaying the start of formal education was beneficial to children. "There's a lot of evidence from around the world showing that we're starting too early and it's doing real damage, particularly to children who feel like they're being left behind," she said.

"The very formal `sit down and listen quietly to teacher'-style education can come later, and instead there should be more play-based, child-centric learning until a year later."

The current government's attempt to run all academies from a single Whitehall department was "unworkable", Ms Bennett said, with local authorities better placed to monitor standards.

"The whole basis behind free schools and academies is schools competing, and that means schools growing and schools closing," she argued. "If you do that in the free market, then some workers might be affected. But if you do it with children - if a school that children attend is closed down - that's massively disruptive for their lives and neighbouring schools. It's a huge ripple effect that extends very widely."

Ms Bennett, who attended private school on a scholarship in her native Australia, said England's independent sector should lose all tax breaks resulting from schools' charitable status.

"We would also ask them to contribute to the cost of teacher training," she said. "They draw on the same pool of teachers as the state system does and they are not paying any of the costs towards that."

And although Ms Bennett refused to be drawn on public sector pay, she said her party would be setting out proposals shortly. "Obviously we're opposed to the whole policy of austerity and the way public sector pay has been squeezed," she said. "It's not reflecting the hard work, professionalism and the contribution that teachers and others are making."

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