Conference Season is upon us and I get to thinking about something I read in March 2012.
I was travelling with my husband around South America. He’d just finished his PhD and I’d just finished an MA and it was a case of ‘then of never’. So, we got married in June 2011 and went travelling for 8 months afterwards. And on that trip, I learned so much, wrote a lot and got accepted onto my PhD course at the University of Bath. We were very fortunate.
But one of the things from this trip that really sticks with me is a sign I read, just outside a soon-to-be school/medical/community centre in Mindo, a place up in the Cloud Forest. The sign was an announcement from the municipality about an initiative from Central Government. As I seem to remember it, the aim of the initiative was to ensure that everyone in Ecuador had access to a good minimum standard of health care and educational provision, provided and overseen by the State. I think this stuck with me so much because it was at a time when, under the Coalition, schools in England were starting to come under significant pressure to convert to academy status.
It was interesting that a country in Latin America was aiming to provide education under a national scheme, overseen centrally. This, in contrast to a system being decentralised in England. It still jars with me 7 years later; countries that have lower GDPs and smaller economies, which are generally less wealthy than the UK aim for centralised, holistic provision of health and education while countries that are better off economically seem to want to revert to localised, less regulated provision.
The concept of a National Education Service is not so strange or revolutionary: France, Finland, and Germany (State by State) amongst others have nationalised or state-wide education service. These seem to work well from where I sit. Ecuador seemed to be aiming for something thus when I was there.
England doesn’t have a national service. Do we need it? Maybe? I don’t know, perhaps. On the continent they seem to manage a national service alongside private schools so it can work.
There are many types of school. Should we end academies and abolish private schools? I don’t think so.
But whatever we do in England, we need to make sure that it doesn’t detract from the core-mission of schools, which is to educate and nurture our children.
I hope that does not get lost amongst the political rhetoric emerging from Conference Season.