Saturday, April 07, 2018

A Response to the Labour's Consultation on Education Policy.

The Labour Party is asking for our views on their education policy. Given that it looks as if Labour will almost certainly form the next government, this seems an extremely important thing to do, particularly for home educators who don't appear to get any sort of a look in in the current draft policy and yet who could contribute so much!

Partaking in the consultation also seems like a good idea because it will help inform the Labour Party about why home educators think Lord Soley's Bill a bad idea.

It is possible to participate in the consultation without being a Labour Party member - you just need to register as a guest from the front page, find and read the education policy and then press through to making a submission on the policy.

Below an example of a response, with the consultation questions in blue and key points in the answers in red:

 Have your say – give us your thoughts on the questions below:

* What should a National Education Service be for and what values should it and the draft charter embody?

 The National Education Service absolutely must not become even more centralised and controlled by the state than it is already. The danger of calling it a "National" service is that it encourages the idea that education policy is controlled from the top by the state and that this state-mandated provision must be rolled out to every learner in the land. Whilst this may seem laudable, such an approach risks making the education service even more macro-managed and therefore highly unresponsive to the needs of individual learners with all their multitudinous differences.

The education system in this country is already failing all those learners who do not fit perfectly into the current schooling system, what with it's top/down directives, national curriculum, rigid targets, implacable Ofsted inspections, hierarchical school structures and national exam system, but the fact is that it isn't just unconventional learners who are currently being failed. Even those pupils who apparently fit the nationally determined schooling system could perform far more effectively in a more personalised education service which actually answered the questions they are interested in exploring.

In other words, get rid of the word "National" and instead call it a "Personalised Education Service". A Personalised Education Service could be made possible because of the advancements in technology and learning theory.

In almost every other sphere of human activity, the advancement of technology is resulting in huge and positive innovations and yet education is so mired in centralised slowness and antiquated and entrenched ideas about how education should be managed, that it is demonstrably failing to keep up with the pace of change. This is infuriating as so many pupils are being unnecesssarily failed when we have the technology at our fingertips! Labour policy should be at the cutting edge of innovation so that this country becomes a trailblazer in the use of technology to offer a properly personalised, properly engaging education to all learners.

Khan Academy, and Duolingo could provide some sort of model to work with here. These websites crunch the data as a learner uses the site, thereby working out precisely where the learner is at, which bit of vocabulary he has forgotten, which tiny section of trigonometry is currently stumping him and without any further ado, will focus in on the weakness so that learning can be strengthened in exactly the area that he needs. A learner doesn't have to wait for the rest of the class to catch up before the teacher can progress to the next level, nor does he have to slow down the whole class while he clarifies a point with the teacher. He also doesn't have to wait weeks to get on to the bit of the subject that genuinely interests him as he can just switch to the next chapter with a tap on the enter key.

We could combine the power of tech with the latest information from Learning Theory, as detailed in books such as How We Learn, to maximise learning and information retention.   We should take lessons from thinkers such as these. Sites such as make use of new discoveries about the workings of the brain in learning theory to help learners retain information far more effectively than can be managed through classroom teaching.

The learning that can be managed through technology is just so infinitely more efficient, it would be deeply irrational not to use it. We need to be finding ways to make this happen in schools with teachers being able to access the power of these sorts of systems to make learning so much more efficient. Who cares that the child is learning about perfect numbers and mersenne primes from a Numberphile Youtube video rather than his own teacher. If that is what is grabbing his interest, he will be learning! We will have to do this as it is the only way that humanity will have any chance of keeping up with machine learning and we will need to combine this approach with other initiatives such as the "Hive Mind" approach to solving problems, which also should be an approach that is built in to school learning.

* What amendments, if any, should be made to the principles outlined in the draft charter for the National Education Service?

It would be great if "properly appropriate, personalised learning" could be added to "high-quality" in point 5 of the principles, ie:

 "Every learner matters, so the Personalised Education Service will be committed to tackling all barriers to learning and providing a high-quality, personalised education for all".
* What additional principles should be considered for the charter of the NES?

See addition to principle no. 5, as described in the point above. It would also be worth including a principle which would explain why a personalised education service is worth having! Perhaps something like:

 "Every learner is different. We aim to offer a truly suitable education by tailoring the education to fit the learner."

In the introduction, Labour should explain why personalisation is so important:

Personalisation maximises human potential: young people will be able to find out what they are genuinely interested in learning and do not have to waste years struggling to engage with subjects that are of no interest to them and that do not match their skills. Learners can also develop their area of interest so that they become highly skilled since it will be possible to specialise from a far earlier age than is currently the case.

The fact is that the world doesn't need "broad and balanced" any more. Very soon, the growth of knowledge will be doubling every 12 hours and generalists won't be able to keep up. However, home educators, who for many years now have helped their children pursue their specific interests, can be if some help here, in being able to offer a model. In helping home educated children to pursue their interests, home educators have seen how these learners can develop their skills in particular areas to a degree that school children with rigid broad and balanced time tables do not have the time to do. The home education community has produced expert coders, linguists, musicians, mathmeticians, ballet dancers, physicists, writers, engineers, artists, chess players, lawyers, farmers, vets and doctors who were able to refine their skills in their area of specialism from a young age because they were free to focus their attention as they saw fit.

As as adjunct to personalisation of education, it would be worth adding another principle that would underpin this, ie: that

 "Education is about the autonomy of the learner and about choices about the "who, what, when, where and why" of learning."

There cannot be genuine personalisation of education if the state macro-manages policy. Educational choices must be made by learners themselves and these choices include not only what a person learns but where they learn it. Home education must therefore have a protected place in Labour party policy.

* What barriers currently exist to cooperation between education institutions, and what steps can be taken to remove them and ensure that cooperation is a central principle of our education system?

To continue with the theme of meeting the needs of individual learners. Labour policy should allow the educational system to become far more flexible with regard to where the learner is able to meet his learning needs. It would be helpful if the budget could follow the pupil far more flexibly than is currently the case, and if he were able to access a range of different resources, whether this be through schooling, flexi-schooling, virtual school, hospital school, EOTAS provision, MOOCs, home education, or any combination of these.

It would also be useful if schools could be more flexible with their opening times as there is a significant amount of evidence to show that school results for teens improve with a later start time.

One of the most frequent criticisms of the personalised education is that it would be impossible for employers to know if a job applicant is capable of working for them if they do not have a standardised bit of paper saying they have this or that grade in a subject. This problem is honestly so easily solved, that it should not pose any sort of issue. The fact is, as it stands, a lot of employers are saying that many young people, even with all the requisite exam results from the current schooling system, are not actually up to the task. Instead of producing these bits of paper that most likely have little to do with the actual work they are going to do, it would be relatively easy for a young person to build up an online portfolio of the work they have done, with data from websites collated to provide evidence of ability, and with dissertations and other work also included and checked for plagiarism. The problem of lack of motivation and poor self management skills would also be overcome as each learner would be responsible for their own learning.

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