Opinion

Parliament wants to hear from you…


Politicians are asking for your help, or rather, your opinions, about education. Specifically, the Education Select Committee, which makes this more interesting and important than usual. Select committees do a lot of research and discussion about issues that the House of Commons either doesn’t have time or capacity to. So if you want to know what politicians are really thinking, these committees are worth keeping an eye on. The education committee follows the development and progress of the English education system, and interviews experts to help it decide what’s going on, with over ten major investigations ongoing being pursued at any one time. It’s all on the website, if you want to know more.

The specific question asked by the new chairman for 2016 is a simple yet vital one: What is education for?

Despite its simplicity, this question is in fact also big and brave, when you consider what it actually encompasses. For example, it asks whether there’s too much emphasis on exams and whether young people are being suitably equipped for adult life; do they need a broader academic knowledge than they already get? They are vital questions which we all want to get right and as such we are all being asked for our opinions. The committee wants to stimulate public debate, and that could mean with you if you are willing.

It’s certainly true that there have been lots of ideas and movements in education down the years. The 1944 Education Act began our modern system of education by admitting the state had a responsibility for it. Since then, we’ve tried different ways of making sure schools do what we want them to do. We’ve tried child-centred education with social improvements in mind, often through comprehensive schools; grammar schools (which first went alongside secondary modern schools and catered for about 25% of children); a slim national curriculum with a battery of tests to make sure basic skills have been achieved. We’re currently going through a “different kinds of schools” phase, with academies, free schools, studio schools, etc. With these there is both competition and a degree of profit-making, which is seen by some politicians as an incentive to succeed.

But there must be something in the air in 2016. This latest invitation for a radical rethink is a real pause for thought. It seems to have nothing to do with existing government policy. It’s actually asking us, “just what are we trying to do with our children?” and, bizarre as it might sound, that’s rather unprecedented. This committee is the second highest debating and policy-making group in the land asking for your views. It is your chance to help shape the future of education. And you’ve got until the 25th of this month to answer. Why not make the most of it?

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I'm semi-retired after a successful and much enjoyed career in education. Funnily enough, my last job was as a tutor for OOL. I taught on courses providing professional training for school support staff, as well as A level English Literature and English Literature GCSE. I've had an interesting career, in schools, colleges, adult education, the Arts and a few other bits and bobs. At one stage I was also a local authority inspector. Now I'm a school governor, and am enjoying watching my young grandchildren go through their own first experiences of school. Through these articles I hope to keep you up to date with different aspects of education news – and also to keep you interested!

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