May could put education back on the right track

May could put education back on the right track

For a long time, I have been calling on governments to introduce a more mixed offering in education so all our children’s talents are catered for.

So I was very pleased with the broad outlines set out in the Conservative manifesto – if disappointed by the lack of detail.

But putting that to one side for the moment, the Conservative’s pledge to lift the ban on grammar schools and open new institutes of technology alongside free schools and academies can only broaden choice.

I fervently believe that if we are to close the attainment gap between the rich and the poor then we need to loosen the hold high property prices and catchment areas have on determining whether a child goes to a good or bad school.

Opening grammar schools, free schools, specialist maths schools and technical institutes will increase the opportunities for the many and not the few.

I warmly welcome Theresa May’s pledge to open specialist maths schools and technical institutions in every major town in England – I would have liked the same pledge to have applied to grammar schools as well, starting in the most deprived areas first.

For this country to be best equipped to compete on the post-Brexit world stage, we need to harness the talents of all our children – whether that is academic, creative or technical.

Another thing I have long called for is treating technical education in the same high esteem as academia and the Conservative’s proposed T-levels will go a long way to achieving that.

My other great passion in education is raising the standards at primary schools.

For far too long a progressive curriculum has resulted in too many children starting secondary school without grasping even the basics in literacy or numeracy. This in turn has compounded our low standing in the international league tables.

In their manifesto, the Conservatives say they will strengthen these areas but they don’t say how.

In my view we need a more challenging curriculum in both areas – aim high and accept nothing less.

Primary schools are the place where real change can be effected. They say in the manifesto that they want all children to know their times tables by the time the child is 11. This is already in the curriculum and they are supposed to know them by the end of year 4. The problem is one of enforcement. What is being done to check this actually happens?

The Conservatives also call for a more knowledge-rich curriculum but do not set out what this means. If it means more traditional learning then I am all in favour of this.

Their manifesto also hints at the reintroduction of SATs at Key Stage 3 and this is something I believe is crucial if we’re to raise standards.

There has been a chorus of disapproval from some that we test too much. This is nonsense!  Currently, we are giving children one formal test at the end of Key Stage One at the end of Key Stage Two. That is just two sets of tests in seven years of education and that is not a burden.

I believe it was a huge mistake to drop Key Stage 3 tests in the first place as that means there is no formal recording of a child’s progress in five years.

The government needs information (even if imperfect) to ensure national standards are improved. Comparative data is essential otherwise there are no forms of control at all.

Now, more than ever, we need an education system that equips this country with a generation that can contribute to our economy and help us compete with the leading nations.

So we can vote for Labour who seem intent on keeping the status quo of an education system that has failed for 50 years.

We can vote for the Liberal Democrats who want to weaken, rather than strengthen, the National Curriculum, which in my view would be disastrous.

Or we could vote for the Conservatives who, although they have been scarce on details, are at least proposing a real shake-up of the education system.

Progressive education has not worked. The comprehensive one-size-fits-all education system hasn’t worked either.

The only way we are going to give children from deprived backgrounds more chances in life is by increasing the educational choice that is offered to them.

Sadly, the truth of the matter is, if you are poor your only choice in life is to attend the local failing Comprehensive.

The Conservative Party seems to be the only ones to acknowledge this sad fact – now I look forward to hearing more detail on how they propose to end it once and for all.