The value of schools in a new austerity

On Monday, the Liberal Democrats published their plans to invest more in education, and yesterday I argued they missed the chance to set out a vision which was more responsive to the long lasting economic downturn we face.

So, how could they have responded?

Well, there are three responses.

One is essentially ‘more of the same’ like we saw yesterday. Admittedly, Nick Clegg did propose some changes, notably around school accountability and investing in reducing class sizes for 5-7 year olds, which brought the focus on inputs rather than outcomes.  But that hardly amounts to the vision we need.

A second is a reactionary response which amounts to a drive to ‘stop caring about kids and just teach them’. It will likely push for narrow accountability measures to evidence only young people’s subject knowledge, promote a traditional didactic classroom, while a wider local role in partnership or local service provision will be clearly labelled of low priority to the school system.We can see the threads of this in the Conservative position of Michael Gove and Nick Gibb as they emphasise traditional content and subjects, and their aim to greatly increase the numbers of schools independent of local authorities.


We need a new, third, alternative – one which addresses our society’s need for a new generation of citizens who, individually and collectively, are capable of meeting the major social challenges we face, including those thrown up by our economic circumstances, not to mention sustainability, shifting demographics, and so on.

The question becomes, ‘what are the institutions like which can foster a new citizenship in this country?’.

There are no easy answers, but Sir Cyril Taylor made a valuable point when he looked back to the experience of Henry Morris’ Village Colleges, which I think reflect to two things:

1. If we are to equip people to be active citizens, we must take account of their need to be knowledgable, their competence (not least to keep learning throughout life), and their networks and relationships that create the possibility of impact and change.

2. We should explore the idea of schools far better connected and embedded in their local areas. One promising piece of work is the RSA’s Manchester Curriculum – a pilot running this summer of an area based curriculum developed around on Opening Minds.

There will be further news on the RSA site and here about the progress of the Manchester Curriculum soon.


1 Comment

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One response to “The value of schools in a new austerity

  1. E Sturdy

    Happily some politicians are becoming more aware of the broad complexity of the issues here, and the Tories seem to be listening to those on the ground who do care about the development of young people. You assert that Nick Gibb and Michael Gove are defining the issues too narrowly, but his speech, and other detailed proposals by them, show otherwise. Equally, the ability of central Government to affect outcomes in education is severely limited and so perhaps we should really be holding Local Authorities to account where their schools are not performing.

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