We all have a memory of that place we call school. A moment of insight or fun; a teacher that inspired; the classroom; the sports field; an art room; a playground; a science experiment; the awful toilets. Our childhood in our schools has for many a particular and enduring place in our memories. And schools stir great passions and great divides – when in fact there is more to connect us together than divide us. And in an increasingly competitive education system globally, there is now more to gain from having a common sense view about our schools – so we don’t fall further behind Singapore, Finland or China.
So what we must do is set our teachers free, set our schools free and set the system free. The trajectory of government legislation in this area is exceptionally positive – new academies provide greater freedoms in terms of staff pay, conditions and the curriculum and, as middle class parents are now saying in a recent Durham University report the results are starting to add up. Free Schools too have enormous potential to address a major problem of a lack of school places - resulting from a population timebomb of children coming into the system – and they put parents, charities and teachers into the driving seat of setting up their own school. Critically both policies are based on a growing evidence base in Charter Schools in the US, which have radically changed the education system in America.
But despite this, the education system – much like the National Health Service - is like a large tanker. It takes time to turn around, takes pioneering leaders to show the way and takes courage from the large majority of frontline teachers who, despite caricature, are small ‘c’ conservative in nature. So the question for us is – have we set the bar high enough? Are we being ambitious enough in the change we want in education? And can we free up schools even further so they and we are able to compete with other countries?