Stop using education as a political ‘weapon’, says top private school head

The Telegraph, 17/11/14, HMC member, Sue Freestone, Head of King's Ely, says that education should be put back in the hands of the teaching profession who are "trained to do the job well".

The desire by successive education secretaries to 'make their mark' is playing with the futures of thousands of children, a leading independent school headmistress has said.

Speaking to the Telegraph, Sue Freestone, head of King’s Ely, backed the creation of a 'College of Teaching' but said that more could be done to ensure education doesn’t remain a "political battlefield".

Ms Freestone, who has been head of King’s Ely for 10 years, said that the huge amount of change in the curriculum, in the status of teachers and within education as a whole had been “stimulated by the desire of successive ministers to make their mark.”

She added that this lack of continuity in education policy was affecting "the future of thousands of children" and that placing education back in the hands of the teaching profession would be beneficial both to schools and pupils.

“I don’t know of any other profession where you spend years training to do a job well, to then be told how to do it by someone who hasn’t got the first idea,” she said, “but that’s what happens in education.”

“Would you allow somebody who didn’t know how to take temperature, to dictate to a surgeon how to amputate someone’s arm? No you wouldn’t. It’s just crazy,” she added.

“We have highly trained professionals who aren’t allowed the freedom to do the job they believe is to the best advantage of their pupils,” Ms Freestone continued. “I’m not talking about every teacher having their own way; I’m talking about organisations working together in such a way that they can enable learning and development of pupils.”

Last week, Nicky Morgan, the Education Secretary, backed plans for a new 'College of Teaching' that will provide training, set professional standards for teaching and carry out research to improve standards in schools.

The new educational body – which, it is hoped, will be seen as the equivalent of the Royal College of Physicians and the Royal College of Surgeons – will also be completely independent from Government.

However, Ms Freestone said she would like to see a ‘Royal Commission on Education’, which would “set up the parameters in which any Government had to work: the boundaries, beyond which they could not step in terms of interfering with continuity of education for children."

“I am not the reactionary type,” she said, “I don’t want things to stand still, I just think they should evolve in a way that is driven by the inquiry and intellect of the young people moving forward, not according to the diktat of people who aren’t even in education.”

She argued that a cross party, non-political commission should be set up as a “living, vibrant, responsive body” to establish what is important in education; who is it for, what is it for, what is it set to achieve, who should deliver it and to what timescale.

“The last thing we want is a curriculum that is set in stone, but to take it out of the political arena, so it ceases to be a weapon. [However]," she added, "I don’t think there are many ministers for education who will want to relinquish their power in that way.”

Speaking to the Telegraph, Ms Freestone also criticised Nicky Morgan's recent comments made at the launch of the Your Life campaign.

The Education Secretary said that many pupils were 'held back' by an overemphasis on the arts, when STEM subjects could open many more doors.

However, Ms Freestone commented that the impact of such a statement could be "long term" and could "deny people access to the opportunity for personal development; as the person they are, not as the person the Government thinks they ought to be."

"If someone has a musical talent, why should they be told, just because they are also good at maths, 'don’t do music, do maths'. There’s no doubt that if you do maths A level you have a very good chance of getting a good job, but people who do maths A level tend to be bright. So, is it the maths A level or is it the fact that they are bright that means they get the job?

"The word education is from the Latin 'educare' - to draw out; to enable the expression of the talent and inspiration that lies within," she continued, "It’s not to stuff a child full as if they were some kind of box. It’s to let the person express what they have been born to become. I feel very strongly about that."

Read the full article © The Telegraph (subscription may be required)