The replacement of Mr Williamson as Secretary of State probably wasn’t much of a surprise. There isn’t a manual on how to handle a pandemic, but some issue were pretty obvious from really early on. Strategic thinking isn’t easy, and UK corporate management has not always managed it, so we shouldn’t be surprised that some Ministers don’t find it a real challenge.
Anyway, we have a new Secretary of State, and here are some of my top issues for him to consider.
Consider raising the free transport age for students from 16 to 18. The leaving learning age has now encouraged staying-on, and it is time to help the levelling up agenda by ensuring 16-18 year olds receive the same treatment in terms of transport as when they were at school. There would be a cost, not least because some 16-18 year olds attend further education colleges some distance from their homes, but the present arrangement affects the choice some 16 year olds make about what to study.
Finally remove the ability of schools to handle their own in-year admissions and create a common local scheme, as for September admissions. This would help both parents and local authorities ensure a place for children forced to move during a school year. Schools might also review their induction arrangements for such children to ensure they aren’t overlooked and set up to fail.
Take a long hard look at the teaching profession in the light of the market review. Make objectives clear. Can we construct a system than ensures enough teachers in the right places for all schools using a preparation route appropriate to the individual, whether they be a school leaver; a new graduate or a career changer. Encourage more under-represented groups into teaching and ensure the preparation course is financially fair to all and not a burden to some while others receive a salary.
Make the term teacher a reserved occupation term so that those banned from teaching cannot still use the term. teacher
Make a teaching qualification less generic. For a start, make it the right to teach either primary up to eleven or secondary not below eleven, and abolish the ‘middle’ level route. In the longer term make it more specific in relation to subjects and specialisms within the primary sector. And do something about qualifications and staffing for the growing SEND sector where there are often more unqualified teachers than in other sectors. At the same time review training numbers for educational psychologists and other allied professions that support our children and their schools.
Look at what funding might do to small primary schools now the birthrate is falling. Decide whether keeping schools in rural communities is a sensible idea or whether government is prepared to see many closures as school become financially non-viable due to restrains on per pupil funding.
There are no doubt many other issues, not least the future of expensive public examinations at age 16 and the content of a curriculum for the 21st century in a multicultural society, along with issues about school meals, uniforms and the developing gender agenda.