Thursday 18 July 2013

Greens must make their alternative voice on education heard

I confess that what attracted me first to the Green Party was not the environment, although that has always been an important issue to me,  but its policy on education. It was refreshing to see a political party recognising the importance of play, being aware of child development and the dangers of one size fits all teaching methods, targets and curriculum. More recently all the three major parties have embraced the marketisation of education and the narrowing of its focus to competing with 'our major economic competitors'.

Childhood is being industrialised and education outcomes  reduced to a product measured by test results. Yesterday's suggestion of the ranking of all primary pupils in 10% bands and testing at five years old rightly caused consternation amongst educationalists, parents, governors and parents.

The Green Party is the only party to offer an alternative but must speak out loudly so that voters know we offer something fundamentally different. At present our voice on education is not being heard.

The ranking proposal was a dreadful blow to primary teachers who at the tail end of the summer term, are writing reports, holding parents' evenings,out in the heat with 30 children on school trips and organising end of term productions. Now as they rally to keep going until the end of term Michael Gove delivers notice that stress will be even greater in the future and that the labelling of children as successes or failures will start even younger.

Huge damage will be done to young people as a result and we can expect problems of low self-esteem, poor motivation and disaffection as a result.

I fully support the Letter to the Press initiated by the Charter for Primary Education  LINK which has been signed by some of our best children's writers including Malory Blackman, Michael Rosen and Alan Gibbons as well as educationalists, teachers and parents.

It is essential that Green Party leader Natalie Bennett signs this letter and I  hope my readers will sign it too:

We are writing to express our concern over the announcement on Weds of an increase in primary school floor targets, an increase in the amount of testing for primary school pupils and the intention to place all pupils in a league table ranked on ability. Rather than a philosophy of every child matters, this is a world where only the person at the top counts. Any child struggling to pass tests due to a special educational need is automatically labelled a failure.

Last month we held a conference to launch the Primary Charter. This was a conference which brought together teachers, parents, governors and teacher educators. We have produced a ‘manifesto’ for primary schools, outlining how we think pupils learn best. This includes trusting the professional judgement of teachers, allowing children to learn at their own pace and through play, while taking account of their own experiences. It involves giving pupils an opportunity to develop a love of learning and nurturing their ability to interact with others. We have already seen the damage done to children in this country through over-testing.

Research has shown that our children are unhappy and more worried about tests than in any other developed country. Crucially this does not lead to improved educational outcomes. There is no evidence to show that testing and ranking children improves their learning,but plenty that demonstrates the effect being labelled a failure has on their self-esteem and confidence. We prefer to look to the model of education we see in Finland where no inspections, no punitive lesson observations and minimal testing leads to consistently high standards, huge levels of teacher satisfaction, minimal social selection and an education sector that is lauded throughout the world.

Instead we see an announcement today that the attainment thresholds schools must reach is to be increased from 60% to 85%. The government want to test children earlier and force a more formal education, learning by rote and parroting facts driven right down into the early years. We suspect this is part of a move to hand publically owned education over to the private sector though an increase in the number of schools forced to become academies. The signatories of the charter reject this model of education and appeal to parents, teachers and support staff to engage in a dialogue with schools to reject Gove’s vision. The primary charter can be found on

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