Sheila Doré reports from the New Visions Conference at the Institute of Education
(There are audio files of the main speeches at the end of this report)
This conference was well attended by the great and the good in Education.
The event was chaired by Tim Brighouse who was also the first speaker. He gave a brief history of Education 1944- 2015. He suggested that we are now in an optimistic phase in which the marketisation of education has been seen to fail and in which a new and exciting evaluation and reorganisation of education can now be conducted.
The key features of this new phase would include the reform of OFSTED, exams replaced by teacher assessment, fair admissions, the creation of a College of Teaching and a government education policy based on the advice of those with relevant expertise and the relevant research.
He suggested that, “Optimism was being rekindled”.
David Bell (on screen) said the focus of education post the coalition was wrong. Teachers had been undermined and an independent commission was required to investigate the whole question of assessment. He said teachers should be given the maximum freedom to teach without constant political change. He called for a return to local leadership in education.
Melissa Benn referred to those who speak about education without the relevant expertise as “The Blab”. She reminded the audience that most parents wanted a good local school for their children and were happy with their children’s schools. She said that some schools chose families to secure their place in the league tables rather the other way round. 70% of schools set up their own admissions policies most of which are unfair and some possibly illegal, as in the Grey Coats School chosen by Gove and Cameron for their daughters. She called for a Government Review of Admissions policy and suggested a raft of reforms which would create a much fairer system.
Estelle Morris (on screen) praised the autonomy that many schools now enjoy but feared the competition that it creates. She called for a “glue” that would bind schools to each other and create a climate of collegiality in which schools could support each other. She was unsure as to what this (glue) would consist of.
Helena Kennedy (on screen) emphasised the importance of FE and 6th Form Colleges. She said they were crucial to the widening participation agenda- providing opportunities for disadvantaged students, adult learners and those seeking a second chance in education. She called for the restoration of youth services, EMA, opportunities for Lifelong Learning and parity of funding and esteem between FE and HE.
Toni Pearce told the audience that she was the first FE student to become President of the NUS. She represents 7million members-5million in FE and 2 million in HE. She gave an extensive and impassioned critique of the Coalition’s attack on students including the tripling of tuition fees, the loss of EMA and cuts in adult education. She expressed concern about the high levels of youth unemployment, particularly among BAME young people, high levels of debt and the prevalence of unpaid internships which ensure that only the privileged can secure these jobs. She called for a new deal for students including the phasing out of tuition fees, the restoration of EMA and the public funding of universities.
David Puttnam (on screen) provided an international perspective. He called on the government to grasp the importance of education in a global climate. He called for greater and more imaginative use of technology in the classroom and criticised the coalition government for having squandered the good will and morale of teachers emphasising that teacher retention is now a major problem.
Jenny Thompson is the Headteacher of a primary school in Moss Side Manchester who has taken the school from special measures to outstanding in recent years. The school has 80% of its students on free school meals. The staff, parents and children have worked as a community to develop the school. Parents have open access to the school and are given support in all areas of their lives that might impact on the well being of the child-debt, homelessness and unemployment. The school has adopted the UNICEF declaration that every child has “The right to be the best that they can be.” There was an inspiring DVD of the children at the school expressing their wishes for their parents and teachers to work together and to have more say in how the school is run. It is an inspiring contribution to the debate.
The conference closed with a contribution from the tireless Fred Jarvis who said that 2015 is the most important election for education ever. He said, ‘There are two options: a fragmented system based on competition, market forces and “choice” in which public assets are given away to unaccountable academy chains, the rolling back of the state leads to widespread chaos, no advisory services and a system that discriminates against young people on the grounds of ability, faith and parental social status or a system that is fair to all, publicly funded, locally managed and democratically accountable to the electorate.” He urged the audience to engage fully in the election process and to ensure that education is high up on the election agenda for 2015 and beyond.
Your chance to hear the main contributions
The sound files below are the speeches made from the meeting platform. There were some pre-recorded talks shown on a screen but due to echo effects from the various loudspeakers the sound quality is too poor to use. We have been told that the New Visions groups is going to put this material (they have the original video files) on their website. When they do we will provide a link.
Opening remarks – Chris Husbands (2 m 34 s)
Chairperson’s introduction – Tim Brighouse (17 m 54 s)
Parents and schools – Melissa Benn (17 m 18 s)
Students and education – Toni Pearce (19 m 15 s)
Primary school experience – Jenny Thompson (15 m 29 s)
What we need to do now – Fred Jarvis (11 m 43 s)
There were a number of video contributions in addition to the above. These can be viewed on the New Visions website.
I welcome Sheila’s report, which is objective and accurate. The only thing I would add is that the event was aimed at launching the NV booklet WHAT’S NEXT FOR EDUCATION, but Sheila has accurately noted by default that it was hardly mentioned by the platform! It was however on sale and Amazon are showing it as available from April 1st. I would urge colleagues to get hold of it and study it. As this was a conference and an organization of the “great and the good”, it is important to know what they are saying.
I wonder after the meeting, which I attended, how important it is to know the views of the “great and the good” of educational progressivism. Apart from Melissa Benn the contributions seemed to me to be either so self-indulgent/congratulatory and/or divorced from political reality that I wondered how useful the event was. When I went to the New Visions website I found hopelessly out of date reports of news and events and a discussion area in which all discussions have long since been closed. And yet the people associated with New Visions found it possible to talk of the importance of digital technology for education! I guess that I am not alone in seeing a contradiction in this.
Much was made of the shortcomings of the present government with respect to education (and I agree with that) but the alternative (Labour) was supported by default. It was remarkable that throughout the whole evening I do not recall either the name of Tristram Hunt nor a single item of Labour educational policy being mentioned. Hating the Tories is really not enough. We have to have something to replace what the Coalition has done to education. What was entirely unclear from the meeting was whether Labour has the policies to do this, as opposed to taking what has been established by the Coalition as a baseline from which to make modifications.