FORMER Education Secretary Baroness Estelle Morris has spoken of her fears that political interference is harming schools as she joins in a University of York department’s 50th anniversary celebrations.
The ex-minister’s public lecture at the university tomorrow, part of a year-long calendar of activities organised by its department of education, will focus on the balance between continuity and change in education policy.
Ahead of the fully booked 50 Years Of Education lecture, Baroness Morris, who began her career as a teacher in Coventry in 1974, feels politicians are “in the wrong place” over education.
She said: “The Health Secretary doesn’t put policies in place about the antibiotics a doctor should prescribe, so why are education policies all about what happens in the classroom?
“Government should not be making policies about how children are taught to read, how they sit or how much homework they do. It feels like schools are being told what to do, with people waiting for them to fail, which shouldn’t happen. There is a big argument about at what age children should start school, which politicians can look at. But one argument has been about which party most enables children to read Jane Austen books.
“The minute politicians think they have the right to talk about that level of prescription, constantly changing becomes too easy and you get one ‘good idea’ every week or month.”
Baroness Morris believes it is “wrong and dangerous” to consider academies as “automatically making a school better”, saying: “There are good and bad academies and free schools – it depends on good leadership and good-quality teaching – but I think teachers are thoroughly fed up with politicians in education. They have allowed themselves to become far too involved.”
She feels the Government can make a difference in vocational studies – “a huge problem as we are way behind” – and “getting schools in the right place” and ensuring there are sufficient pupil places.
She said: “It is good Government to put an independent mechanism in place which stores information about what works in education, as The Lancet does for health – build a middle layer and take the politics out of it.
“I’ve never lost belief in the power of education as a lever for change, and that’s why politicians get so involved in it. It’s not about whether one party is right or wrong, and it’s time politicians and educationalists sat down and decided who should do what.”
• More information on University of York department of education 50th anniversary events is at york.ac.uk/education.