Last Saturday (10th November) I went to Leeds to the Yorkshire Education Conference, billed as Working Together for School Improvement. The event was organised by local branches of the National Union of Teachers, the National Association of Headteachers and the National Governors’ Association with the late addition of Parent Teacher Associations UK. The day was Chaired by a senior figure from Leeds City Council.
The full programme and speakers are listed here – YEC programme
I attended the event because it looked interesting, but also to show support for a really excellent initiative. Excellent because it brought together a wide range of ‘education stakeholders’ and generated genuinely interesting discussion and debate about key education issues. There was throughout a dialogue that is all too often absent from current educational discourse. All those involved in organising it should be commended – it demonstrated there are alternatives, and gave a real sense, at a local level, that if key groups work together they represent a formidable force for the public good. Much current government policy has made inroads because it has so successfully exploited the divisions opened up by the market in schooling (the ‘I don’t want to become an Academy, but . . . ‘ syndrome). However, where there is local organisation, and a coming together of key groups, then it is apparent that the domino-effect can be resisted, and local community systems (as opposed to local markets) can be protected.
A particularly pleasing feature of the day, was the substantial representation of school governors, and the presence of Emma Knights from the NGA. Emma Knights made several references to Michael Gove’s dismissive remarks about school governors, but she must also be concerned about the comments about ‘complacent’ schools governors made by Chief Inspector Michael Willshaw. It seems that if governors want something different for their school than that expected by the Chief Inspector then they are ‘complacent’. In other words, you can have all the local autonomy you want – as long as you do what the Centre wants you to do. Teachers and local authorities have long been used to being treated in this way, simply because they have the temerity to disagree. What is increasingly interesting is the way it is now governors, very much the voice of ‘consumer interest’ in the post-1988 Act vision, that are seen as obstacles to the Govian revolution. Troublesome governors, such as those at Downhills School who resisted forced Academisation, must be marginalised. In their place the new, slimmed down, Board of Directors style governing body. Untroubled by reflecting parent and professional interests (BOTH now dismissed as ‘vested interests’) such bodies can get on with the real job of running the new Academies as businesses. Parents as partners – out. Parents as consumers – in.
The Conference challenged these developing orthodoxies. It both presented alternatives, and brought people together to make them feel they could do something about it. As such, it was most welcome. It is a model that others could replicate, and in so doing, many people would overcome the sense of isolation that has fuelled the current fatalism. There are alternatives and another world is possible . . .
The NUT’s report of the event (with all speaker slides) is here.