One of the most startling revelations of modern Britain is the overall decline in educational achievement. Whilst science and medicine expand their horizons our teaching resources in both primary secondary state schools continue to fail to thrive. Despite the investment of billions of pounds by successive governments the department of education has become a very poor example of educational achievement on the world stage.
Recent developments at CERN indicate that science is constantly re-evaluating itself. The thought that Einstein’s theory where nothing can travel faster than the speed of light could be proven wrong may be unthinkable, yet science is now being turned on its head. Physics as we knew it is witnessing fundamental laws that are now being rewritten. Yet in the world of education and schooling practices over the same time frame we seem to have achieved so little.
In the last 10 years technology, the internet, mobile communications and computers have all established paradigm shifts in performance and applications whilst our overall achievement in state schooling has not. Certainly the skill base in teaching has remained intact but we haven’t seen the equivalent mould-breaking breakthrough in pedagogy. I believe there are parallels in medicine. Whilst medical science has progressed in research and treatments an article in the Times (12th Oct 2011) reveals certain breakthroughs in bowel cancer surgery established by a leading professor in surgery 20 years ago remain unadopted by the National Health Service despite the significant improvement in its success compared to current practice. Central government bodies are the common denominator both in the NHS and in state schools education.
Whilst constantly introducing bureaucratic controls from the top down, motivating inspirational development at the coalface is stifled. Teachers and head teachers appear emasculated in their very own area of expertise. The policy to apply singular focus on attaining targets has thwarted the radical developments that are needed. Even those external colleges deemed to be researching improvements in teaching concepts have to a large extend fallen by the wayside during the cost cutting culls of the new government.
As a control experiment the expertise in independent schools continues to set the pace. Apart from financial constraints in fees linked with the prevailing market conditions the independent sector is thriving in the quality of schooling offered to children.
The advent of free schools and academies will circumvent the controls of the department of education. This move, heavily promoted by the government and the Secretary of State for Education would seem on the surface to be a bold move to implement change. Freed of Government and local Authority intervention these new schools could provide the breakthrough in focus and practical application in teaching.
It also seems a retrograde step 24 years after the introduction of the National Curriculum and Tony Blair’s battle cry of “Education, Education, Education”. The UK’s approach to excellence is to now to leave schools to their own devices. If this were the case it would appear the better solution would have been to have avoided government intervention in the first place. UK schools, instead of constant criticism, pressure on teachers – many of whom have left the profession and the introduction of countless educational initiatives that have cost billions of pounds to little or no effect, we could have seen 24 years of actual development spearheaded by teachers.
The role of head teacher has largely become administrative dealing with Ofsted and finance. Applications for promotion to head teacher is seen as a retrograde step by many potential candidates believing the job too stressful. Ironically the teaching and motivational skill of the head teacher has been largely lost to administration at the very time it was needed most. If we are to adopt a paradigm shift and claw our way back up the OECD educational league table, where we currently languish in around 25th position in the world, we need some courageous moves by schools. The free schools and academies may show the way. If Eton and Westminster schools who started life as a schools for children from poor families can metamorphosis to their current position of learning excellence so hopefully can our state schools.