We are a group of teachers who feel disappointed and worried by the recent publication of the Labour Party’s Report of the Council of Skills Advisers.
Education in Britain has undergone a grassroots transformation in recent years with the increased interest in evidence-informed practices and finding out what really works, on the ground, for our students. We believe that the policies suggested in this report risk undermining the positive changes that have been taking place in schools.
We are deeply concerned that the thrust of curriculum changes suggested by the report seems to be for the benefit of employers who are seeking industry-relevant skills rather than promoting knowledge and learning as valuable in and of themselves and the entitlement of the many. The summary of the report argues that these reforms will increase growth and productivity, provide the skills needed for industry and prepare children for the ‘Fourth Industrial Revolution’. We believe education is about much more than this. As teachers, we believe education is about providing a rich, meaningful curriculum from which flows the knowledge and domain-specific skills required for children to thrive both personally and economically.
We believe it is the job of employers, not teachers, to train their employees in the specific skills needed to do their jobs. Schools provide a foundation upon which employers can then build. Skills do not exist in a vacuum- knowledge is the raw material out of which skills develop. Communication doesn’t exist without having something to communicate. Analysis is analysis of something specific. Whilst we want our students to be well-equipped to engage in the wider professional world, the notion that this can be done while downplaying the role of knowledge is seriously flawed. In addition to knowledge underpinning work related skills, children are also entitled to have the knowledge to take part in our national cultural and academic conversation. A curriculum dictated by the needs of business will narrow young people’s horizons.
The report cites the claim that 65% of primary-aged children will, as adults, have jobs that do not currently exist. There is simply no evidence to suggest this is the case. The most common jobs in the UK are roles like project manager, software engineer, accountant and sales assistant — these are all jobs that have existed for decades and which will continue to exist for decades to come. We must stick to evidence-informed principles for developing education policy rather than trying to second-guess what might be needed by industry in the future.
Given the workload implications that come with the kind of wholesale curriculum reforms which the report suggests, we would argue that it is much better for Labour to focus on the positive elements of the report that will materially address child poverty like the reforms to Early Years education and the return of Sure Start. We want Labour to ensure schools have adequate funding to continue to provide a high standard of education. We want Labour to ensure that teachers who are recruited into this great profession want to stay in it. This requires measures which address the chronic levels of child poverty in our communities which schools have been working hard to counter for decades.
We believe that education is important for growth, productivity and prosperity. Yet, promoting out-dated pedagogies and the teaching of ‘soft skills’ instead of a knowledge-rich, subject-specific curriculum will damage education in this country. There is no doubt that children in elite schools will continue to encounter important and powerful knowledge but we need to ensure it is an upheld entitlement of all children, no matter their background. We want education to empower children to discover their passions, become well-rounded individuals and then be able to go out into the world and have the freedom to choose who they become. This means education for all that is about much more than how we can make our children and young people economically useful.
What we are asking Labour to do is to reach out and talk to a wide range of teachers and school leaders who have been experiencing the lived reality of education policy. We want to make a positive difference, we want our education system to work for all students and we want the Labour Party to head into the next election with a manifesto that will achieve this.
The Campaign for Evidence-Informed Teaching