Four major areas of education that need addressing

JOHN Wakelin is remembered by former staff and pupils of Hinchingbrooke School with great respect and admiration for his work in transforming a small grammar school into one of the country’s largest comprehensives.

His commitment to doing the best for every pupil, and his meticulous attention to administrative detail, ensured that when Hinchingbrooke School opened in 1970 as a comprehensive, all the right systems were in place. His achievement in converting a former stately home, Hinchingbrooke House, into a thriving sixth form centre, is one of his greatest legacies.

His views on education are therefore based on successful experience and mature reflection. They deserve to be taken seriously and I for one will be studying his new book with interest.

My concerns about the current educational scene are fourfold:

A. Michael Gove’s insistence on turning the curriculum back to the middle of the last century is irrelevant to the needs of young people facing a challenging life in the 21st century. Breadth, flexibility and creativity will be far more important than learning the dates of the kings and queens of England and studying parts of speech in the primary school.

B. The pressure on heads and teachers is becoming intolerable. The demands of inspection and accountability, driven by data overload, are stifling initiatives and risk depriving children of the inspiration they need from their teachers to switch on to real learning.

C. Mr Gove is fragmenting the education system by in effect giving schools a short-term ‘bribe’ to convert to academy status, thereby exchanging control by local government into control by central government. The academies programme is costly (overspend in 2010-2102 was £1billion), divisive and unfair. Early results indicate that it has not produced any significant improvement in academic performance.

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D. The way funding for education is distributed across the country is out-of-date and unfair. Cambridgeshire gets the lowest per pupil allocation in the country, several hundred pounds per pupil less than counties with similar socio-economic and demographic patterns. We have a national education system (national curriculum, national inspection, national league tables etc) yet we still have funding based on local political decisions made over 20 years ago. Cambridgeshire’s ruling group in the 1980s prided itself on a ‘low tax, low spend’ approach and Cambridgeshire pupils are still suffering the consequences today.

I will be interested to see if Mr Wakelin’s ideas address these concerns.

PETER DOWNES

Head of Hinchingbrooke School, 1982-96

Cambs Lib Dem education spokesman

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