Education & Family

Morgan rejects heads' independent curriculum body

Nicky Morgan Image copyright Reuters
Image caption Nicky Morgan promised heads there would not be a further five years of "constant change"

Calls by head teachers for an independent body to make decisions about the school curriculum have been rejected by the education secretary.

Nicky Morgan told heads that control of what is taught in schools in England needed to remain with politicians.

"Parents should be able to hold us to account for the decisions that we make," she said.

Heads' leader Brian Lightman had called for the end of schools having to follow the personal "whims" of policymakers.

Although rejecting this proposal for an arm's-length curriculum body, the education secretary promised an end to "constant change" in schools under a future Conservative government.

'Bed in and take root'

Mrs Morgan, speaking at the annual conference of the ASCL head teachers' union, said decisions about the national curriculum needed to be made by "democratically-elected representatives" who could be held to account in elections.

Image copyright ASCL
Image caption Heads' leader Brian Lightman called for a schools system based on "trusted leadership"

Head teachers had proposed an independent, non-political body which could review the curriculum for England's schools every five years, with the aim of creating more stability and less reliance on the fluctuating interventions of individual education secretaries.

Mr Lightman's conference speech in London once more raised head teachers' complaints about the level of politically-driven upheaval in the school system, with schools struggling to implement changes.

He highlighted that the framework used by Ofsted to inspect schools had been changed five times since 2012.

And he called for a system of "trusted leadership" in which school leaders were much more significant partners in deciding on changes that they would have to implement.

Mr Lightman said the relationship between heads and government needed to move beyond the "tired mantra" of accusing schools of failing.

The education secretary promised that further attempts to raise standards would not mean "five years of constant upheaval or constant change".

"Both the prime minister and I are very clear that the changes we've made need time to bed in and take root."

A major concern of head teachers has been funding - with Mr Lightman warning that the budget proposals of both the Conservatives and Labour would leave schools at risk of "falling off a financial cliff".

There were questions about the unevenness of how school funding was distributed - and Mrs Morgan said she wanted a "fair funding formula" to be included in negotiations for the next spending review, expected to take place in the summer after the election.

Head teachers also pressed on worries about a shortage of teachers and a "looming recruitment crisis".

'Scandal' of low achievement

Putting forward her plans for unfinished business if returning as education secretary after the election, Mrs Morgan said it remained a "scandal" and "deeply unfair" that there were such wide variations in the achievement of pupils living in areas not very far apart.

Image copyright ASCL
Image caption Heads raised concerns about exam changes, school funding shortages and a "looming recruitment crisis"

"What we haven't achieved is excellence everywhere. In particular in some of our coastal areas and small towns educational performance is a scandal," she told head teachers.

"Take just one example: 72% of young people growing up in Trafford get 5 or more A* to C grades at GCSE, including English and maths GCSEs, but just a 30 minute drive away in Knowsley the number is less than half that at 35%."

With the election approaching, Mrs Morgan said "regardless of the result", she wanted to leave the message of how much she admired the work of teachers.

"I will always be in awe of your skill and dedication, of your determination to secure the best for your pupils."

Mr Lightman said that the speech from Mrs Morgan had been "generally well received", but he raised concerns that not enough was being done to address the "enormous confusion" over exam standards.

There had been so many changes to the exam system, he said that if employers were presented with three job applicants who had the same GCSE grades from three different years, it would be impossible to know how they compared.

Mrs Morgan spoke of the importance of school autonomy and recognising the professionalism of teachers - but she highlighted another overseas ministerial initiative for teachers that she would not be following.

Esteban Bullrich, education minister in Argentina's capital Buenos Aires, has given his personal mobile phone number to every teacher to invite them to get in touch directly with any concerns.

"I'm all for learning from the best, but this may be the one international initiative I may not be adopting that quickly," she said.

Labour's shadow education secretary Tristram Hunt said: "It takes some serious chutzpah to suggest that a situation where the secretary of state writes the history curriculum over a long weekend is democratic.

"Labour knows that the most effective way to give our children the best start in life is devolve power to outstanding heads and inspiring teachers. We will raise the quality of teaching by ensuring every teacher is qualified."

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