Time to round up some thoughts on education ideas emerging from the party conference season. Labour policies are not very clear, which at least has the advantage over their being foolish. The Conservatives want to end A-levels. This is theoretically interesting and it may well be time for us to melt down the gold standard into a different gold standard. The dominance of academic A-levels over our whole system is worthy of close scrutiny and what it does to the many hundreds of thousands of young people for whom A-levels are absolutely the wrong answer. Time perhaps to consider whether a qualification designed for a tiny minority in a divided education system still recovering from the war is really the right way forward in perpetuity. Blimey, my mother did A-levels.
But this is not that time. Education is in crisis and we can’t rearrange these particular deckchairs. Especially as the tenure of the Captain is under serious consideration and he might not be around to steer through these icebergs. The system is flawed, but it has many strengths and it’s not entirely broken. It can wait until we reach a safer harbour, or at least some plain sailing.
Rishi Sunak is admirably obsessed with maths. It's obviously done him well and I’m entirely in favour of this general drift. We denigrate maths in this country to a ridiculous extent, just like we denigrate proper nutrition, early years teaching and the state of the railways. All of these are emergencies. All of them need well-qualified, valued experts to lead and run them. Maths, inescapably, needs maths teachers. We don’t HAVE maths teachers to meet the needs we have now. Where are all the others going to come from? You can’t outsource it offshore, Prime Minister. The education associations are right: this won’t happen, so best not to think about it. They’re not just being obstructive. We have other things to worry about. First, money. Second, teachers. A lively observer described that yesterday as having gone ‘from terrible to plummeting’. The third, or first depending on your school or your child is what we do about Special Educational Needs and Disabilities.
The number of children with Education, Health and Care Plans (EHCPs) in England has gone from 220,898 in 2010 to 473,300 in 2022 to 517,026 this year. 17.3% of children have SEND, 13% need SEN support in schools and 4.3% have an EHCP. The biggest growth areas in SEND are Autism (ASD) and Attention Deficit Hyperactivity Disorder (ADHD). Children with these needs in particular often find school life quite hard. Many other children with SEND might not do so well with the monolithic curriculum we have in schools now and their results might not redound well on a school. Therefore, they are unevenly distributed. Some schools welcome children with SEND, others – not so much.
You would have thought therefore that the government might consider this a bit of an issue, especially as the SEND funding which goes to LAs doesn’t match the number of children or the needs identified on their EHCPs. Many LAs are in deficit on their SEND budget and have had to be given ‘safety valve’ bail-out money. Some LAs balance their own books but push the deficit down to schools – who are meant to do what, precisely? Getting an EHCP is inequitable and the pointier of elbow tend to win. Getting any help can be a desperate battle for parents. And these are the nation’s most vulnerable children.
Well, the government has thrown its brightest and best at the matter. Frequently.
In other news, we had a wonderful African Caribbean Come Dine with Me and concert last night with staff as well as student turns and enough food to fell an ox. Three Year 7 boy dancers went down well with a happy crowd and a small follower demonstrated his own moves to me at break. I was hotfooting to meet with some serious Year 12 and 13s to try to work out what we could do as a school about the middle east horrors. Worry, express sadness and work for peace is our best guess. I was able to read them parts of the letter I’ve had on the matter from Gillian Keegan, Nick Gibb and Robert Halfon but, being good Tallis students, they felt that the Trappist option (silence, not brewing strong beer, you understand) was not a guarantee of better understanding for all. And yet this is a particularly difficult issue. We’ll reconvene after half-term.
Tallis life is endlessly fascinating. We need a week to recover from each other, but who’d want to be anywhere else?