The introduction of the National Curriculum following the 1988 Education Act and the subsequent extensions to the powers to control what is taught in our Schools place significant responsibility in the hands of the education secretary, currently Nicky Morgan who according to her departments website qualified as a solicitor in 1996, specialising in corporate law, and advised a range of private and public companies from 1996-2010. That is the totality of her experience outside of the world of Politics according to that website. Under the coalition significant numbers of Schools have been freed to partially set their own curriculum as part of the Free School programme which David Cameron has promised will be extended in the next Parliament if the Conservatives are the largest party. Under those circumstances and this Governments focus on a smaller state it would be reasonable to assume that Ms Morgan would wish to extend this type of freedom to all Schools and at the weekend she was offered a mechanism for doing so.
She was attending the annual conference of the Association of School and College Leaders (ASCL) and one of the points that was made during the conference was that since 2012 the framework which OFSTED use to assess Schools has changed 5 times. There have been similar numbers of changes to the curriculum in that time. The leaders of ASCL who are Head Teachers and Principals of places of education proposed an end to the curriculum being set exclusively by future education secretaries and instead for this work to be delegated to a independent committee made up of school leaders, governors, teachers, parents, employers and politicians – and be reviewed only once every five years. In effect reflecting the best that society as a whole can develop. However sadly Mrs Morgan did not feel this idea was a good fit with her own ideas. She said decisions about the national curriculum needed to be made by “democratically-elected representatives” who could be held to account in elections. This is to limit the ideas to something that less than 1% of society will accept, which may be fine if it is the best 1% of our educational thinkers, but not if the people who decide have no real understanding of how education develops young minds. Although Nicky Morgan was willing to admit that the funding arrangements are in a degree of disorder and that there has been too much change in recent years, she did not appear to make the link to a failure of the democratic ideals which she espouses.
The ASCL proposals or some variation of them surely deserve serious consideration. As a Politician Mrs Morgan who is also a parent can clearly offer experience which would enable her to understand some of the strengths which this committee would provide. However she is not an educator and indeed none of her recent predecessors have been. The last time we had an Education Secretary with any real teaching experience was in 2002 when Estelle Morris resigned from the post. As we approach the General Election we need to know how all of the parties will respond to this idea and if they are not prepared to deal with it in a positive way, then in my view we need the assurance that the next Governemnt will ensure someone of Estelle Morris’s calibre is appointed as Education Secretary, and that there is also someone in the department who understands early years education. At present neither Labour nor Conservative have that on offer based on their current front bench teams and we cannot afford the level of disruption that Schools have been subject to over the last 5 years. On that Mrs Morgan, Mr Cameron and I are all agreed!