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Education Select Committee Session – 22 October 2014

Chris Smith, Student Impact Coordinator SSAT, writes…

At one point during today’s Education Select Committee session, which saw Nicky Morgan giving evidence on Academies and Free Schools, the Secretary of State argued that the committee were being ‘overly negative’. Graham Stuart, the committee’s chair, pointed out quite rightly that it was their job to scrutinise and question – not to congratulate. In a session that lasted over two hours, it was this small exchange that stood out for me. Let me explain why.

Nicky Morgan was quite right to suggest that it is not all negatives and highlight some of the positives in education. It is all too easy to focus on what is not working when a great deal is going well. For example, never before have so many schools been judged as good or outstanding; Ofsted’s latest statistics show that 80% of schools have achieved this rating and the trend is upwards. This is really great news and it should be shouted about because the more that percentage creeps up the more young people in our country are given a better chance in life.

She also pointed out more positive news. The system is becoming more collaborative with schools actively looking to help each other to improve. She quoted recently published statistics showing that 87% of academies are now collaborating with other schools. This too is great news; SSAT and many others have long advocated schools working together.

These system-wide trends have been reinforced by my experience at SSAT where I am lucky enough to visit a large number of schools and students. So often I am absolutely amazed at the work that those students are doing and how the schools are having such a positive impact on their students and communities. You can watch a brief video about one of these schools here.

But of course, unlike in the Lego Movie, I am not arguing that ‘everything is awesome’. Clearly 20% of schools are not making the grade, 13% of academies are operating as islands, and there are numerous challenges to be dealt with in the education system, many of which were discussed at today’s select committee (I live tweeted from @ssat if you would like to review what was debated).

However, Graham Stuart’s riposte to Morgan’s comment demonstrates that those in power are well aware of all of this and are determined to tackle the problems and drive improvement further. This is a situation that I see in schools every week. No one is resting on their laurels. So although things may not be perfect they are improving and there is the capability and desire in the system to continue this improvement.

Most importantly, it was noticeable today that whatever the topic of discussion, things were always brought back to our young people and what is best for them. That is ultimately what it is all about – the learners. We’ve always put them at the heart of what we do and will be focusing on them at our national conference this year. We’re delighted that there is so much positive news coming from the world of education at the moment, we’re keen for this to be given the air time it deserves and we’re excited that there is the passion, enthusiasm and knowledge in the system to continue to improve the experiences of all of the learners in our schools.

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