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Whitehall kills off classroom creativity

Labour's pet think-tank issues warning on top-heavy system. Jon Slater reports

MINISTERS' top-down approach to education policy is stifling innovation and risks, creating a generation of teachers who are unable to plan their own lessons, according to one of new Labour's favourite think-tanks.

Matthew Taylor and Joe Hallgarten, of the Institute of Public Policy Research, say that David Blunkett has taken "unprecedented" control over both policy and teaching methods.

They argue that the Government now needs to de-centralise the education system to allow it space for "choice creativity and innovation".

The Government is likely to be taken aback by the attack from what is usually such an impeccably "on message" new Labour source.

The IPPR is a former home of education minister Baroness Blackstone and David Blunkett's adviser, Nick Pearce. And the think-tank has helped to develop several key education policies, including university tuition fees and individual learning accounts.

Although Messers Taylor and Hallgarten acknowledge that ministers won a mandate at the last election for many centralising policies, they argue that a lighter touch is needed across a whole range of policies.

The reduction of local authorities' influence, they argue, could lead to "te emergence of a vicious anti-innovatory cycle".

"What is more, it is difficult to see how the OFSTED (inspection) process can avoid dampening the growth of a culture of local innovation and experimentation."

Education action zones are criticised as little more than test beds for the latest ideas from central government. "The concern must be that rather than successful experimentation in zones leading to a widening of the principle of local autonomy and variation, it will simply provide new ammunition for what can be termed the 'tyranny of best practice'. In other words, today's successful innovation in one zone could become tomorrow's DFEE circular advocating a one size fits all solution," they warn.

And Government targets, tests and league tables have put paid to the promise of a slimmed-down curriculum. "The concept of a 'light touch' curriculum has been floated, yet this has more rhetoric than substance. What was previously known as a 'secret garden' may be in danger of becoming an over-manicured lawn," they say.

'Freedom to Modernise' by Matthew Taylor and Joe Hallgarten is published next week in Education Futures, a new journal jointly produced by the Royal Society for the Encouragement of Arts, Manufactures and Commerce, and the Design


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