Another example of social media’s power to influence education policy has come from a group of UK head teachers who have joined together on Twitter — as the Heads’ Roundtable — to bring real reform to the education system in Britain. After being announced in The Guardian, the group’s Twitter account jumped to nearly 2,500 followers overnight and continues to grow.
Inspired by the GCSE grading controversy which has been playing out since this spring — and which drove an outpouring of protest from teachers, students and administrators online and off — blogger and entrepreneur Ian Gilbert came up with the idea of harnessing that outrage to achieve a real change in education policy.
Recognizing that there exists a limit to how much online venting can truly accomplish, Gilbert decided to bring together a group of secondary head teachers and form a new pressure group that aims to bring Labour into power, and current shadow education secretary Stephen Twigg out of the shadows and atop the Education Department.
When they met to discuss their agenda with the Guardian’s reporter, Gilbert explained that they were mainly guided by the idea that the education policy being implemented by the Coalition was failing teachers, administrators, schools and students. He understands that much of the frustration currently being expressed by professionals in the education field is partially based on a feeling that the only viable alternative offered by the Labour Party wasn’t really all that viable.
So, the group has set themselves a very ambitious goal. Not only will they campaign for Labour during the next general election, but will also work to put their own stamp on the party’s education policy.
The group – which has no name yet – met at the Guardian’s offices to discuss their ideas. So what is good in the current landscape? The heads, from a mixture of maintained and academy schools, who were joined by Dr Phil Wood from Leicester University’s school of education, cite the focus on disadvantaged pupils and the release of data as being the most positive developments.
Those in the room found plenty to criticize about the policies pursued by both parties. Coming in for equal amount of derision was the newly proposed English Baccalaureate Certificates, and Labour’s pet certification: the Tech Bacc.
“We are moving back to a ‘sheep and goats system’ that will stratify society in terms of attainment and potential,” said Ros McMullen, principal of the David Young community academy in Leeds.
“We need to be able to measure improvement and this requires an objective measure where students’ attainment is judged against an unmoving standard, not one where only a certain percentage of students are allowed to hit certain grades. People should be talking about this.”
To streamline their policy goals, the group created a six-point plan for reforming education:
1) Schools should be assessed in a range of ways, not just judged by the numbers achieving specific grades and levels in examinations and tests respectively;
2) Ofsted should be replaced by local partnerships that would hold schools to account and help them to improve;
3) The curriculum and assessment should be taken out of political control and given to an independent agency (under licence for 20 years);
4) The government should encourage small families of local schools in preference to large national chains;
5) “Norm referencing” in exam grading is not fair, ie capping the number of students who can achieve a certain grade. There shouldn’t be a cap on what individual pupils can achieve;
6) School accountability measures should encourage collaboration between schools and explicitly develop systems leadership.