I’m fifteen years old and attend a school which has been a member of a Multi-Academies Trust since 2009, which gives me a unique perspective on the education system compared to political commentators and the experts you’ll often hear on the television. My school is very popular in the local community, oversubscribed and will be regarded by most as a success of the Academy system. The school that existed before my current school was very poor (according to OFSTED), saw no signs of improvement and was the school nobody in the local community wanted to go to – my parents always go on about the people who used to go to church to get into other ones, for good reason. This doesn’t mean, however, that the academisation project has been a complete success and that similar results wouldn’t have happened if similar measures were introduced by the state instead of an academy, any school will improve dramatically if you expel all the troubled students and inject millions of pounds into it.
The debate surrounding mass reforms to education has often excluded what actual students think and instead focuses on what political commentators and unions (which are important) think. I firmly believe that it is in the interest of everyone that students’ voices are heard, because students are the ones receiving the education and if students are unhappy, classrooms are going to be unhappy- creating problems for our teaching and support staff. The current system surrounding “student voice” is a farce that nobody believes in order to make students feel like their voices are heard and taken into account. They’ll usually have a few examples where “it’s created change” – but these are usually things the school might have done anyway, such as special ties for a certain year group – in order to make some students believe in the process.
I believe that under a new National Education Service we should not return to the system of Local Education Authorities, who were in many cases (like here in Worcestershire)ineffective, run to the ground by Tory administrations, and in serious need of replacement. The LEAs should instead be replaced with Local Education Boards (LEBs) which would run the schools in their jurisdiction. The jurisdiction under which LEBs run the schools should be smaller than the LEAs they replaced in order to better serve their local area. Worcestershire is a very diverse county with many areas with completely different needs (a school in Worcester is not going to be dealing with the same issues as a school in Bromsgrove for example) and should instead be the size of a District Council. The LEB should be a coalition of local district councillors, representatives from teacher, support and site staff unions and a proportional number of students from each school the LEB runs. As well as a proportional amount of students from each school, there should be district-wide positions such as Black and Ethnic Minority Officer, Women’s Officer and LGBT Officer, to ensure that all groups of society are represented – especially in areas like Worcestershire where it is very White British compared to other parts of the country.
This will give students for the first time real participation in how their school runs, giving them power and a say which will make schools run better – students see things from another perspective than the other groups – but also make students feel they have real control over their education, making them happier in the classroom and work harder. This doesn’t mean the roles of the other groups are unimportant here – it is important that schools are run in favour of the staff that work there (what benefits students and what benefits staff are not opposing things that needs to be balanced – unlike what many students think, they can complement each other) and local councillors ensure the school works for the wider community they serve. Both groups also bring expertise and experience that students don’t have.
We should end the falsely created market of education, students should instead go to their nearest school you can not have a quality of education and care for students welfare while schools are competing to try and get that extra end mark up on the league table. It is unfair on teachers and unfair on pupils. There is no transaction of money from student to school so you can not have a market – it simply doesn’t work and creates “really good” and “really poor” schools. Along with ending the market in education is ending the grammar school system or “fair banding tests” used by some academies. No child should be excluded from education due to not being “easy too teach” or a high preforming student according to a test you take in year 6, it creates a divide in education that should exist. Private schools should also be integrated into the national education service, people shouldn’t be able to buy there way into a better quality of education especially since it is not their wealth being used to buy it it is their parents. Education should have no divide of class.
The body making improvements should not be the same body that is handing out serious disciplinary action to students. This is why under a National Education Service actions such as suspensions, lengthy isolations (such as a week or day’s separation from the student body) and other serious actions should be done only with the oversight of the Local Education Board, and all other disciplinary action (such as a detention) should be allowed to be contested to the Local Education Board to ensure that students from certain backgrounds or who don’t perform well academically are not discriminated against by school management. Under a National Education Service, permanent suspensions should continue – however only if there is somewhere for them to go to. We need to end this model of students getting off due to performing well academically and other students getting punished due to performing badly. I don’t believe any teacher goes into a school wishing anything worse than the best for their students – however I also believe management has targets and this clouds their judgement when making decisions, everybody has biases – especially in a county with such a small ethnic minority community – and the LEB will have student officers of marginalised groups to ensure representation of these communities to ensure that they are not disciplined due to discrimination, whether purposeful or not.
Under the National Education Service, the power of a principal and senior leadership team should be reduced to making day-to-day decisions, running the school, executing LEB directives and performing administrative tasks. LEBs shall have the power to make policy reforms which will be excluding small specific cases district-wide, giving schools in a local area a cohesive policy to ensure fairness (a school should not have different rules and policy to another one in the same area) and cost effectiveness – resources and specialist staff can be brought in by the LEB, instead of having them brought in by individual schools and having excess of them. Uniforms should continue to exist – they are an issue that is controversial among the Student Body, however the alternative is the American style “Uniform Code” which is constantly producing issues like sexism and classism where poorer students can not afford big posh brands which richer students can afford, creating a bigger class divide in our education system which I believe students will oppose more. Uniforms in the National Education Service should be set for the district by the Local Education Board and provided by the state for no cost to ensure that no family is caused to suffer by the cost of uniform.
At a National Level, the National Education Service should be overseen by an Executive Committee with top Civil Servants, the Secretary of State and Ministers for Education and Delegates elected by the Local Education Board, with one delegate from each county and nationally-elected positions to represent minority groups. This will ensure we do not have a group of unelected bureaucrats actually running the system behind closed doors. Nationally, the National Education Service can procure things like digital technologies similar to how hwb works in Wales, however under perfect circumstances creating nationalised alternatives to things like Office 365 to reduce dependency on private corporations with our children’s data. Major policy like the National Curriculum is to be set by the National Education Service nationally, with oversight by the Executive Committee.
OFSTED should be eliminated as it is an inaccurate method of measurement – every student knows the drill: management sends around the email and presentation where it’s “You must all be good students!!”, all of your lessons are different from what you would normally do to meet targets OFSTED has set (which aren’t necessary in every lesson when teaching to the National Curriculum) and your teachers all go red in the face as a member of management walks through the door with an OFSTED inspector. It’s useless and just puts useless strain on the education system as a whole. Instead schools should have oversight applied to them by the LEB and nationally by the National Education Service and some random inspections should take place – however there should be no major consequences on teaching staff for this nor should a grade be applied to the school as a whole. Under a National Education Service there will be no need for a grade as there will be no market – parents should send their children to the nearest school.
Up to now in this article, I have focused largely on democratising the National Education Service, and that is for two central reasons. The first is that the problem with the Education System, and academies in particular, is that they are being run by unelected and unaccountable bureaucrats who treat education like it is a market and their only job is to cut expenses and meet targets to make their school go up in the league tables. If we democratise the National Education System we end the unaccountability of these bureaucrats. The Local Education Board as I have described will eliminate the market that has been manufactured in education – schools being run the same by the people that the board serves. The second reason is that students feel powerless, which creates the major issue of alienation that impacts students performance globally. Instead, we should give them power – power that will allow them to make proper, noticeable, positive change to their education – and that alienation towards the school will drop drastically and students’ misbehaviour will reduce. Disciplinary action being taken out of the hands of the few managing the school and into the hands of the LEB will make students feel that justice is being taken. If you were punished by the government as an adult and weren’t given the ability to contest this would you feel happy and like proper justice is taking place?
Going onto more practical issues, dinners need to be free in schools. The number of times I have heard students having to go up to the chef to ask for a loan on school meals or the catering staff embarrassing a student (“If this was Maccies would you say you’d pay tomorrow? NO!”) for not having money on their account is upsetting. The number of times I’ve seen people go hungry for not having money on their account is upsetting and while technically you can go to the finance office and ask for a loan, it’s embarrassing and no student wants to do that. Additionally, we fail to take into account children not eating properly when talking about the cost of school meals – a packed dinner which consists of a energy bar and a packet of crisps is still a child going without food. If we made school dinners free for everyone we would solve all these issues while saving families – many in deep financial issues which aren’t eligible for FSMs – lots of money.
Collaboration between local schools should also happen more, rather than collaboration between random schools that aren’t near each other as is currently happening in academies – for example joint trips between schools to allow more trip opportunities and save money. Students do not naturally have the competitiveness toward other schools that management often aims to develop to try and increase league table results – it’s pointless and we do have friends at these other schools.
While I am not an educational expert by any stretch, these are some of my thoughts on why we need a National Education Service and how it should work and why from my perspective as a socialist student, that one day, under a Labour government, I dream of being implemented.