The tyranny of an over mighty state – Sir Tim Brighouse #educationfest


What is the purpose of education? Do we have an ‘overmighty state’ controlling it? Sir Tim Brighouse addressed these ig questions.

Governments of the past few years have assumed that the purpose of education is to do with the economy. At the start of Brighouse’s career those writing about the purpose of education were psychologists, now they are economists. It is interesting to reflect on the mottos of schools on this issue. “Think for themselves and act for others”, that is the motto of the school he governs. 

So do we have an ‘overmighty state’? Before 1980 the state had three powers over the schooling system; approval of the removal of air-raid shelters from school grounds, decisions on how many teachers could be trained each year, and decide the size of the building programmes that LEAs should use to build sufficient school places.

After the last act of parliament the present secretary of state added 50 more powers to the 2,000 powers he now has over the schooling system.

Earlier in his careers Brighouse used to look for head teachers who thought about curriculum and pedagogy, after the introduction of the National Curriculum that ceased to be the top priority when appointing. He hopes we could move to a system of both, where accountability and knowledge of management is coupled with skills in curriculum and pedagogy.

There is no other country in the western world who has give the state the amount of power ours has in the UK.

In becoming an academy a school is characterised as having freedoms, actually they become directly accountable to the secretary of state. Brighouse sees the power shifting from the schools to the centre over successive governments both Labour and Conservative.

So what does a secondary school to to exercise freedoms?

They know they will be made accountable through Ofsted and results, and this might encourage them to become narrowly focused on what he characterised as a narrow but very important area of attainment in exams. However, they could have a debate about all of the experiences that they would want their young people to have, and then declare that they will ensure they have these experience either in their school or in a combination of schools in a partnership. 

Such lists would include having residential experiences, taking advantage of the ‘common wealth’ of the community the school is in such as local museums, universities and cultural experiences which not all young people have the opportunity to take advantage of.

He spoke of the importance of finding young people’s interests, supporting them with expert coaching and encouraging them to fly. He said that in many cases young people are not just failing to learn, but learning to fail. When coming to secondary schools those pupils should talk to their primary schools and show an interest in their interests.

He also said schools should work very hard on partnerships with other schools, so that they are not an island but can learn from best practice and developing practice in other schools.

When questioned, Brighouse said we have an assumption that you cannot trust teachers- this is shown in the accountability systems we have. However, on a local level the parents of children in schools often do trust their teachers, and he said we needed to change the accountability system to be more like this.

He described the idea of locally elected ‘Education Guardians’, elected at the time of local or general elections. These people could oversee planing of school places, harnessing the people in the locality to harness the common wealth for the efforts of schools and other ‘limited powers’. 

The state undoubtedly does have more power that it ever has over schools, but Brighouse also emphasised that locally teachers still have great trust invested in them and we need to acknowledge this systemically. 

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Change 3 numbers to change education - Mona Mourshed (McKinsey) #educationfest

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