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Mark Malley’s Education Manifesto 2016

Posted on: 05 Feb 2016 by CEO

The British school system is good, but not great. Much is made of the fact that we languish in the lower echelons of the top 30 when it comes to PISA rankings, however this, to me, is just a sideshow. Singapore, China and Hong Kong dominate these rankings, but that does not necessarily mean we should ape their methods; and we couldn’t even if we tried. What we can do is strive to ensure that every child is given the opportunity to succeed; the support to find their strengths; and the confidence to flourish.

I am privileged to run Bellevue Education, one of the UK's largest group of independent schools in the UK. I also set up an Academy Trust, which is now the largest Free School only trust in the UK. I do not claim to have all the answers when it comes to developing our school system, but I am immersed in education and can see what works, what doesn’t and where the gaps lie. If the government is to build on its most recent resolutions to create a world-class education system, this would be my advice:

Leadership. Identify talent early and nurture it. The best schools always have tremendous leadership, however the teaching profession has often been hopeless at finding tomorrow’s leaders. Gimmicky programmes and qualifications are not the solution; attracting, retaining and supporting great people is a good place to start.

Inspections. If I could, I would rip up the inspection system and start again. Inspections are far too inconsistent and too often inspectors don’t have the time (or experience) to really get to grips with what a school is doing well, or where its weaknesses are. I would rein in Ofsted and have them work more closely with schools instead of scaring the living daylights out of them.

Teacher training. The late 1990s through to mid 2000s were the halcyon days of teacher training; whatever universities were teaching back then, they should start teaching it again. That period developed bright and innovative young teachers and we need more of them. We should also look to New Zealand; I’ve rarely seen a bad Kiwi teacher.

Marry the three Rs with a more creative curriculum. Creativity and learning are not mutually exclusive; the discussion is too often polarized. Creativity grounded in knowledge promotes independent, self-starters who are confident in themselves. Too many children quietly drift through school without making any impact; we need to find things that children are good at and allow them to flourish.

Continue to make schools autonomous. Schools can cater to their local market and offer parents choice. This is a sure way to drive up standards.

Let’s concentrate on teaching and learning in schools. There are a whole host of significant societal issues that need to be tackled, but expecting schools to solve them is not the only answer. Teachers must be allowed to teach and spend good quality time with children.

Vocational opportunities. When it comes to education policy, this is perhaps the biggest failure of government over the past 40 years. Too many young people leave school with few qualifications and no sense of what they can do next. Government programmes are over regulated and too clunky; we need to let SMEs develop programmes directly with schools and school leavers.

Independence, confidence and creativity. These should be the building blocks of a great education but too many children instead have these attributes knocked out of them at school. Being able to follow instructions will only get you so far in life; coming up with ideas and having the tenacity to see them through are life skills that we need to nurture.

Teachers. It feels like I’m stating the obvious, but teachers must like young people. It continues to surprise me that some do not. Being in a class with a group of children eager to develop is a thrilling experience. Every day, teachers have the chance to spark an interest in a child, get them excited, give them confidence in their abilities, teach them something new.  Teaching is not just a job; it’s a privilege.

Schools should excite and engage children and young people; should prepare them for the world ahead; should open up worlds and concepts to them; should give them the tools, strategies and knowledge they will need in the future. When every child in the UK has an education that gives them the best chance in life, their results will speak for themselves. Then the government can tear up the PISA rankings and know that what the British education system is delivering is so much better than a position on a league table: it’s delivering a truly great education.

Mark Malley - CEO, Bellevue Education

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