The IOE blog has asked colleagues from across the Institute what’s at the top of their wish list. We are publishing their replies during the run-up to the election.
School leaders and leadership
The new Secretary of State faces a potentially combustible set of issues in England, especially if they are a Conservative charged with introducing more grammar schools. The new funding formula, piled onto the tight funding situation already facing many schools, will also occupy the headlines. Behind these issues sit some fundamental questions about where the system is heading – Local Authorities have been decimated since 2010, but the new model of Regional Schools Commissioners is far from established and less than half of schools are yet academies.
The emerging Multi-Academy Trusts are facing serious challenges, with limited evidence of impact overall and a continuing stream of bad news stories about the conduct of some, suggesting that the governance framework is still in doubt. School leaders are being asked to form stronger networks and become ‘self-improving’, but the evidence from my research with Rob Higham (for the Nuffield Foundation and Education Development Trust – see here), which will be published in the summer, indicates that the pressures of accountability and school markets makes this challenging at best. All of which may cause increasing numbers of school leaders to question their professional commitment and parents to question the legitimacy of the wider system.
Artificial Intelligence (AI) needs to be awarded special attention as a matter of urgency. In order for society to benefit from the potential of AI – from personalised cancer treatment to workplace automation that increases productivity, it is crucial that we attend to the needs of education. To be blunt, none of these potential AI benefits will be achieved at scale unless we address education and AI now.
The new government’s top ICT in education priority should be to support and promote evidence-based educational technology development, as exemplified by UCL’s EDUCATE project. This project aims to create a ‘golden triangle’ between teachers and learners, educational technology companies and educational technology researchers. This should ensure that the UK produces the products and services that have the greatest impact on learning and that the education technology sector can grow in a sustainable and responsive way.
Especially in the light of last week’s incident, our education system needs to be an important part of our defenses against a growing risk of cyber attack. Everyone needs to understand enough about computers to protect themselves and some will need to know enough about Artificial Intelligence to build the next generation of systems that will deliver AI’s potential benefits and defend the population against attackers.
At a time of growing concern about young people’s mental health, the new Government needs to recognize the valuable expertise of educational psychologists. They should be in a position to continue to provide a front-line centrally-funded service, free at the point of use, like an NHS for schools. Every child should have access to an educational psychologist.
But in some parts of the country we no longer have ed psychs working in schools in a proactive and preventive way. In fact, there has been a 13% reduction in the number of EPs over the past 10 years, and insufficient numbers are being trained to sustain the workforce and provide access this important service to all maintained schools. Instead, Theresa May has talked about developing a mental health first aid kit to enable teachers to screen children. This is a very complex process and is beyond many teachers’ expertise, it will be an additional burden that will interfere with their ability to do their jobs.
The policy of delegating budgets to schools – especially when combined with sharp budget cuts – is a key reason for children’s access to this vital service being jeopardised. My concern is that, in response to public concern about rising mental health issues, the government will probably be tempted to invent something new and will fail to invest in the skilled professionals and infrastructure that’s already in place.
Photo from League of Women Voters via Creative Commons