Lucy's article for the Daily Telegraph, first published here on 3rd November 2015
In his tenure in education, Michael Gove, the current Justice Secretary, was famous for the U-turn. Many of us will remember with relief his screeching about-turn on his plans to scrap GCSEs for a return to O levels and CSEs.
Then there was the time he had to backtrack over his proposal to increase the number of children that nursery staff and childminders could look after, following near universal criticism that this would threaten safety and quality in the early years. And his abandoned plans to drop climate change from the National Curriculum, after an online petition garnered over 31,000 signatures. The list could go on.
Of course, reversing on policies that are having or will have a negative impact is the right thing to do. But Ministers who think that making announcement after announcement only to backtrack a couple of years, months, weeks or even days later, is the model approach to policymaking, are seriously ignorant of the consequences on the stakeholders that their Departments represent.
And in the case of the Department for Education, we have now reached the point where a combination of utter incoherence and constant tinkering is leaving parents, pupils and teachers struggling to keep up with the changes that are going on in our schools.
Michael Gove may have moved on from education, but it seems his replacement, Nicky Morgan is keen to follow his approach closely. It was reported this weekend that the Tories have decided to perform an about-turn and conduct a review of the new tests and assessments that they previously pushed and promoted.
This reconsideration follows a seemingly endless tampering of exams and curricula. In truth, it seems that over the past five years barely a week has gone by without another Government review of another examination or national curriculum subject.
Revised subject content produced by the Department, new exam specifications, swapping grades for numbers are all among the reforms that have or are being introduced. Not to mention the Government’s withdrawal of the levels assessment system without any regard to what would replace them or to putting in place support for schools to cope with the reform, many of which were already buckling under the strain of the impact of a series of ongoing changes.
This constant chop and change has a significant impact. Every time, schools must respond and adapt, tearing up schemes of work that have suddenly become out-of-date, designing lesson plans to reflect the new content, and buying in new text books and resources to suit the new content.
There is a very genuine workload issue going on in our schools that is affecting morale in the profession and the ability of many teachers to always be at their most effective for our children’s education.
It is contributing to the chronic shortages of teachers in schools up and down the country, as the highest number of teachers quit the profession since records began. The Conservative Party’s fickle approach here is, without a doubt, making things worse and adding bureaucracy to our schools.
What is more, if we are to ensure that no pupil is left behind by our schools system it is vital that parents know exactly how their child is doing at school and how they can support them to improve.
Fundamentally, parents must have confidence in the exams system and the ability of schools to confidently and accurately assess the progress children make and pass on where there are gaps in a child’s knowledge.
Sadly, due to the confusion and chaos surrounding results and assessments year on year under this Government, this confidence is waning and the education of the next generation is undermined as a result.
Assessment is central to teaching and it is deeply important to get it right. If some good ideas emerge from this latest review then, of course, the Labour Party is keen to listen.
It is vital, however, that the Government finally starts to consider every impact of their incessant chop and change approach on classrooms. It is time to enable parents and teachers to each play their role in our education system effectively, and start to clear up the chaos and confusion in the system that is holding progress back.