Don’t ‘Brexit’ the education debate

Don’t ‘Brexit’ the education debate

Theresa May’s shock announcement to hold an early General Election had barely registered before all political pundits pronounced it a Brexit Mark II referendum.

And I for one will be deeply dismayed if the well-worn argument over Brexit dominates the election debate when there are so many other pressing domestic issues, not least in education.

My sincere hope is that Theresa May will act with her convictions and use the election to give her the mandate she desires to push forward much-needed education reforms.

Now is the time to really test the electorate’s appetite for changing our school system so that bright children from poorer backgrounds are afforded the same opportunities as their more affluent peers.

Yes, there has been a public consultation on the possible return of new grammar schools, but nothing tests the public desire for something more than a General Election does.

A public consultation will generate thousands of responses if you’re lucky, a General Election expresses the will of millions.

That is why I hope the government’s proposal to overturn the ban on new grammar schools is on the top of their agenda during the election campaign.

For too long we have endured selection by wealth, with top comprehensive schools sited in the leafy middle-class suburbs and pushing up property prices.

While more deprived areas are served predominately by poor-performing schools and a generation of bright working-class children are being left behind.

Theresa May, a former grammar school girl, has seen for herself how schools that cater for all bright children whatever their backgrounds help young people reach their full potential.

The argument that currently grammar schools favour more affluent children can easily be overcome by opening up new grammar schools in deprived areas first.

Existing, and future, grammar schools must also look at their admissions policies so there are more openings for children from poorer backgrounds to attend.

Elitism is not something to be ashamed of and we should desire to extend the education of the brightest for the good of the country.

We need to identify the elite in all areas, not just those who are academically gifted.

Therefore it is time for this country to stop the attitude that to succeed you must be academic.

Talents in technology, arts, crafts, manufacturing or the arts should also be celebrated, and indeed are desperately needed as we forge a future outside the EU.

That is why I would really like to see during the election campaign that funding is pledged to building more university technical colleges and studio schools for 14 to 19 year-olds.

My other wish-list for any future government is to overhaul our primary education.

Far too many pupils are arriving at secondary school having not achieved the national benchmark in literacy and numeracy – without those basics grasped they will fail in the next, most important, stage of their education.

And this is why Britain is ranked a lowly 15th in the PISA list of developed nations for science, reading and mathematics

I believe in free-thinking young adults who can express themselves creatively but you would not build a house without putting the foundations in place first. Education is just the same and those most formative primary years must be used to ensure children grasp what they are being taught.

We need a primary curriculum that is more challenging, that takes us back to the basics and in which children learn in a far more methodical way – rather than in the chaotic manner laid out in the current curriculum.

The Government should maintain the current SATs tests as these give important information about children’s progress. I would also reinstate KS3 tests a 14 as we currently have no measurement of children’s progress in secondary schools until they take their GCSEs.

My greatest fear is that this will be a missed opportunity for change, or even worse, the election of a party that believes in a progressive education system that has failed for 60 years.

But if this general election affords us the opportunity for a much-needed debate on the future of education in this country and we seize the opportunity for bold and positive change, then I for one very much welcome it.