Peter Haysom is Chair of Cambridge Fabians and Anatomy local coordinator. He reports on the findings in Cambridge.
The Cambridge local session of the national Anatomy series brought some intriguing conclusions. The attendees ranged from a variety of different backgrounds and interests; a former teacher and Doctor of Education at Cambridge University, a psychologist, and a Norwegian Overseas student, amongst others, were able to contribute their thoughts to this session on Stakeholders in Education.
In order to confront the more detailed issues later on, we decided to construct a broader perspective; what is the purpose of an education system in society, and in the 21st Century? The neo-liberal adage of preparing competitive workers to function a capitalist marketplace was largely scorned, with many questioning whether we should be educating children to fit into the one that currently exists and where the power lies with the older generations, or to create their own future and society. Our former teacher argued that parental choice is actually unwelcome, as children are not the property of their parents. However, it was broadly agreed that the comparative influence of the four stakeholder groups identified (Government and the State; the Teaching Profession; Businesses; Students, Families & the Community) needed to be re-balanced. The Department for Education has in the past interfered too much in the detail of the teaching; why not follow the lead of health policy, with the State deciding the broad principles and the Teaching Profession deciding on methodology?
With the context of increasing vilification of teachers and of the profession, this emphasis on teacher-led policy-making proved to be decidedly popular. A suggestion was made to do away with the centralised “accountability” system, with particular reference to School League Tables. Accountability has always existed, but in past years it was always to the local community as opposed to a faceless State apparatus. Should we return to this state of affairs? The point was made that current institutionalised competition between schools serves only except to pass blame onto teachers, glorify numerical grades and become obsessed with qualifications. In light of Michael Gove’s disparaging comments about “mickey mouse subjects” and grade inflation, many students are despairing more than ever.
Our attendee from a maths background spoke convincingly about government and society’s fixation with quantative as opposed to qualitative results. Policy reviews, especially with regards to Education have consistently called for “more of this” and “less of that”, never really considering the emergence of new ideas and creative teaching methods. We noted that Labour’s policy review generally has been preoccupied with affordability, and that there are in fact many ways in which new structures and policies could be implemented without cost. Perhaps the UK should consider a much broader education philosophy; our Norwegian attendee attended a Steiner school for ten years, in which all subjects were taught in an interlinked way.
It then fell to us to consider the role of business and the private sector in contemporary schooling. Opinion was not at all favourable to increased private involvement in the running of the education system, but it was agreed that there is a role for businesses to impart knowledge in an informal way. I argued that during my Year Abroad, I had seen secondary schools, Polytechnic Universities, local businesses and district authorities working together to increase learning and vocational opportunities. There was also strong support for Technical Colleges, as well as the Regional College in Cambridge, which are stellar examples of how in-work training can be provided by collaboration with private entities. But it must always be at the behest of the educational organisation, not the other way around.
Lastly, we floated some suggestions of innovative ways forward for school management that might challenge the growing hegemony of free schools and academies. Intriguingly, one student mentioned “co-operative schools”, in which students, families and teachers are the literal “stakeholders” of the educational institution in question. It was concluded that parent-led academies as recently proposed by Labour would inevitably continue the culture of education by influence, by catchment areas and by money, and so therefore more progressive alternatives were necessary.
In all, the Cambridge Fabians were hungry for a different philosophy of education, which should operate outside of the rules of the market and should prepare active citizens, not simply prospective workers. That is the only way to begin to consider the issue of Stakeholders in Education.
On Thursday 7th November this Anatomy goes to Leicester. If you want to get involved in the write up for the publication please get in contact at email@example.com.