- Formal education should help children and students fulfil their creative potential. Everyone needs the basic skills of literacy and numeracy, but we also need to develop our imaginative, practical and social abilities. People should be encouraged to learn throughout their lives, both formally and informally. The economy of the future, where people should come before production, will need rounded, feeling individuals, not trained robots. Yet the priorities of today’s education system are distorted by its recent – and more distant – past.
- The backlash against sloppy teaching methods has been savage. Teachers have to work longer hours than ever before – more than 50 hours a week on average. There is an obsession with testing, form filling and league tables. We hope the lesson has now been learned. There is no doubt that parents expect to see what they are getting but endless inspection simply diverts resources away from the classroom. Those resources are badly needed. School class sizes have risen since 1997; the backlog of repairs to school buildings nationally is running at about £20 billion. There has to be a better way.
- Our belief is that local education authorities (LEA’s), elected by local people, and school governors, many of them parents themselves, are best placed to take decisions on what happens in schools. They will be given more discretion to shape the curriculum to pupils’ needs. Burdensome centralised controls will be dismantled. SATs and league tables will be phased out and the national curriculum will become non-statutory guidance. Ofsted inspections will be replaced by regular self-evaluations, facilitated and supervised by LEA’s. Schools will be given greater flexibility to allocate their budget between staff, buildings and resources. Standard Spending Assessments will be reviewed to remove current anomalies. Such an educational policy would spread excellence through the exchange of best practice, not stifle innovation through the rigid imposition of a single solution.
- Schools will be at the heart of their communities. They will be given incentives to make their facilities available to the local community for educational, leisure and artistic pursuits. The whole school community, including parents, teachers, students, support staff and local residents should have a say in running the school. Primary schools should be based in each community, as village schools are focal points of local community life. Sadly, centralist funding rules can get in the way of local priorities and force the closure of valued local facilities. The provision of secondary education will continue to be based in cities, towns and larger villages, as at present, so that students can enjoy the advantages of curriculum breadth that can only be obtained by employing a sufficient number of specialists.
- For historic reasons pre-dating State education, the Church of England and the Roman Catholic Church have had a major role in the running of much of the State sector. That is no longer tenable. As minority faiths demand their own schools, continued Church involvement is recognised to be fuelling ethnic segregation, breaking communities apart instead of drawing them together. Church schools are able to practice selection in admissions and discrimination in the recruitment of teachers. In many rural areas the Church of England holds an effective monopoly on primary schooling, making a nonsense of parental choice. A recent concession on funding, reducing Church contributions to buildings costs from 15% to 10%, amounts nationally to an annual injection of £24m into Church coffers. There should be no bar to privately-funded religious schools but there should be no need today for religious involvement in schools funded from taxation. If nothing else, it is a denial of human rights that atheists, agnostics and those from minority faiths and denominations are compelled to subsidise the work of the major Churches through ‘religion on the rates’.
- Learning is life-long. Adult education must therefore be available free of charge to those who meet course entrance requirements.
A regionalist government in Wessex will:
- return control of education policy and funding to LEA’s
- phase out religious involvement in publicly-funded education.
Meanwhile, the Wessex Regionalists will:
- oppose the closure of village primary schools where a majority of parents wish to keep the school open
- oppose new sectarian schools within the State sector.