Tag Archives: education reform

School days, school days, end of the golden rule days

As of this lunchtime I no longer have a child in school. After 15 years of book bags and reading practice and PE kit and lunch money and parents’ evenings and INSET days and school reports and grumbling about the price of uniforms, suddenly it’s all over.  One is off to university this autumn, the other will be heading for sixth form college, unburdened by the need to put his hands on his school tie  ever again.

They’ve changed a lot, of course, in the past 15 years.  Possibly not as much as the school system has. Beneficiaries of New Labour’s “education, education, education” largesse  they went to an excellent local primary school, and have kept one step ahead of the  reformers ever since.

The youngest enjoyed all the sports the local primary sports coordinator introduced him to –  shortly before the school sports partnerships which made it possible were abolished.  They went to an outstanding secondary school which was in the very last group of schools to be refurbished under the generous old Building Schools for the Future programme.  The oldest completed her AS levels in the year before AS’s were changed.  The youngest has just done the last year of old-style GCSEs before syllabuses, course work and the grading system itself are all reformed. They leave the school system while uncertainties about possible forced Academisation swirl around.  I have occasionally pictured their ride through the school system like a scene in Raiders of the Lost Ark:  we are, collectively playing the part of  Indiana Jones running just ahead of the granite ball representing the Department for Education – or maybe we’re  Bart, they’re Homer:

They’ve done fine, of course, thanks to a series of hard-working, professional,  and downright wonderful teachers  who cajoled, inspired, and enlightened them all the way and who genuinely seemed to care about what happened to them. And not everything has changed since my day.  I asked my son how he felt about leaving.  “Now it’s over I can look back on it and say it was great” he said (remember, he left school about two hours ago) “But at the time, when you’re there and you’re a teenager and you hate everything, it makes you feel like banging your head on the desk.”  I doubt there’s anyone who went to any school, anywhere, who doesn’t know exactly how that feels.

On the outside looking in…

… at the people on the inside looking out.

I’ve been hearing a lot from friends still inside the civil service recently.  They generally echo the Observer’s  secret diarist who noted a slump in morale and a Wacky Races -style race for the exits in his piece on Sunday.  Those who can (the able ones,  the ones with a good shot of getting a job elsewhere – the ones you wouldn’t want to lose) are moving hell and high water to get a job on the outside before the real unpleasantness starts and the competition becomes  more intense.  They are astonished by the speed and the scale of the policy changes that are being introduced and the cavalier way that they are being announced.

There are lots of reasons why civil servants might be feeling bruised – a pay freeze, cuts to redundancy packages and pension entitlements, job losses reckoned in the hundreds of thousands, being asked to impose big cuts on programmes they have worked for years on and often care passionately about.  No wonder that no-one wants to stick around.  The timing’s terrible though.  A strong civil service is vital if proposed  changes in health, education,  the criminal justice system, the administration of benefits and all the rest are going to be introduced effectively.

Let’s hope the Observer’s Man from the Ministry is wrong when he says:   A brain drain has begun and our brightest graduates have got the message that this is not a good place to be. The implications will not be felt for some time, but the results will be devastating to our society and our economy.

This also, of course, represents a challenge for the internal (and external) comms and HR functions of government departments.  Managing change on this scale while keeping all the regular plates spinning  is a highly skilled job.  I wonder if they’re going to be strengthening those teams  to help them do it?  Oh yeah, I forgot.