Royal Grammar School

Newcastle

The Morning After

The Morning After


I guess many of us feel somewhat sleepless today. Most must have lost at least some sleep to the Election, though none as much as those candidates and their agents who will have been up all night: indeed, as I write this, a few candidates are still waiting to hear their result.

So, despite all my predictions of a hung parliament and my praise for coalitions (on the ground that they demand compromise, negotiation and cooperation rather than confrontation), we will have a new government with a slim Conservative majority.

Whatever your particular politics, I guess that means we are spared weeks of horse-trading, and can look forward to some stability. In general, for those working in public services (including those, such as education, which operate in both the public and the private spheres) stability is probably a good thing, and preferable to constant U-turns.

I’d like to hope for a little more, though. There’s nothing wrong with government seeking ever higher standards in schools: that’s surely its job. But the last administration, particularly under Education Secretary Michael Gove, was obsessively driving an agenda that it grandly called Reform. In truth, that wasn’t so different from the previous lot, who didn’t give it a name but constantly lurched from one “initiative” to another.

As a result, under both previous governments schools have been harried and hounded: that’s not the way to get the best out of a dedicated workforce that works with people, not raw materials, and sees the job as a vocation, not merely a means of earning a crust. There must be space for vision and creativity, space which is crowded out by a culture of targets and benchmarks.

In the independent sector, of course, we stand aside to some extent from all that. But we are nonetheless over-regulated. No one minds being accountable (and certainly not for the safeguarding of children):  but we are spending too much time and resource on checking that we are dotting all the Is and crossing the Ts of ridiculously complex regulation.

One place where the last government failed to act decisively was in the reform of A levels: they fudged and delayed. Now we know we will make the change to linear A levels (not a bad thing for the RGS, but of dubious benefit to the country as a whole): sadly the three-year transition is a fudge and a mess arising from government indecision and prevarication.

We’ve just heard that the new Progress 8 and Attainment 8 measures that are hitting state schools (measuring how much progress, for example, children have made between the ages of 11 and 16) will not be applied to independent schools. This presumably means we will be excluded entirely from government performance tables.

Frankly, we can live with that. If parents want league tables, I’ve no doubt that the newspapers will continue to produce their own each August. Much as I dislike such tables, I have to admit that those quick, if rough-and-ready, tables produced by the media are in any case more accurate and less misleading than the long-delayed government equivalent.

The last administration tended to some extent to turn its back on the independent sector: it often felt as if we were being disowned. Perhaps this new government will be more confident, more ready and willing to embrace private and public sectors in every walk of life, including education. 

Instead of making grand speeches about educational apartheid, I think it’s for government to bridge any perceived gap. They’ll certainly find our sector in general and the RGS in particular ready to participate.

I hope they will.

Bernard Trafford
Headmaster