This post is part of the January #blogsync project. Other blogs on the theme are available here.
Dear Mr Hunt,
I imagine that reading these posts will be far from revelatory to you. I imagine – indeed hope – that many places you go have teachers offering you advice about how you could make a better fist of being Education Secretary than the current incumbent. Consequently, I suspect that what I have to say will not shock or amaze you. But I also reckon it’s worth saying again and again, because it matters.
Almost every intervention that currently happens at secondary school is too late. The same is true of a large number of interventions in junior and primary schools.
Frankly, the fact that we automatically pay hundreds of pounds more every year for the average secondary school student than the average primary school child is nonsense. If we were serious about closing the gap, or social mobility or any of those other much-announced labels, then the investment we’d be making in Early Years education would dwarf that of secondary schools.
And I say this as someone who has never taught young children. I’m not asking for more money for me: I am only too aware that by the time children reach junior school, much of their future pattern of attainment has already been set. The children who are most likely to fail to meet the 5 A*-C grades at GCSE, the students most likely to become NEET, the students who won’t move on to further and higher education can in most cases be identified by knowledgeable infant and Early Years teachers.
What is more, in many cases, they also know a great deal about what could be done to support them, to allow them to catch up, and to avoid them ending up in the dreadful situation that faces too many of our young people. If we really want to make a transformative change, then don’t invest in free schools, or academies, or private schemes, or universal free school meals: invest in Early Years and infant education.
Provide every infant and primary school with the funding to employ highly-qualified and experienced Early Years teachers over-and-above the standard ratio, to provide small group, individual and intensive support and intervention for those children who really need it. Invest in systems that aim to have every child – every single child – working at expected levels by the time they are 7. Not by simply demanding higher average results, but by making clear expectations of support for those children who most need it, and providing the financial and structural support for it, whether that’s before school, or in the early years of schooling.
If we get that right, then everything else will become easier; keep getting it wrong and we’ll keep paying for it year after year. We may all have laughed about the title of the DCSF (“Cushions and Soft Furnishings”), but the reality is that education is about a lot more than which exams we think are important at the age of 16. It’s about children and about families too.
It doesn’t take a genius to know that the stability of anything depends on its solid foundations; it might take a brave Education Secretary to act on that obvious knowledge.
P.S. I’m not averse to a pay rise myself, naturally. I’d welcome more funding for junior- and secondary-aged children too. But if you’re stuck for priorities, let them be supporting our youngest children and their families so that we don’t end up trying to turn things round too late.