I have been in the garden this weekend, Spring is trying to assert itself in this part of the world and it is time to start planting. Giving plants the best chance to grow reminded me of how compositions develop or how we educate our students. Everything is in place, resources and experience of conditions, to make growing possible. We know the environment and what additional elements are needed for a full crop. Difficulties may occur, be it the weather or pests in the garden, a direction, structure or lack of inspiration in the composition or misunderstandings, non-engagement or lack of application from the students.
Most of these snags can be prepared for and plans to deal with the consequences of different effects can be made when situations change during the maturing process. In the garden or composition there is the opportunity to react quickly to changing conditions, you have control, but in education these changes take longer to sanction because of the way that the curriculum is prescribed and approved.
There are important changes happening in England to the education system, from primary schools to universities, and once they are instigated there will be no going back. Some of these changes have had a great deal of press coverage, debate and protest but some have been introduced without much discussion although their long-term effects will be significant. The coalition government’s rush to change every department in their control has been incessant and the alterations to policy during implementation is sometimes difficult to keep up with, let alone consider and question.
The plants in the garden grow and flower during a period of months, the composition will evolve and finally be realised but the final work is only a snapshot of the composer at a time, the experience of creating will influence the composer and hopefully inform future works. The resources for education are being affected by the systems put in place for funding schools and universities during this parliament. The grand plan for an education system free from local control, and in many cases influence, is slowly taking shape and the results will be in place for many generations.
The recent National Audit Office report highlights the need for many more primary school places in the next few years brought about because of a rising birth rate in the country. A quarter of a million new places are needed by September 2014 and there is not the capacity in some areas for this demand. In the past the local authority would have recognised the need and put in plans to build, expand or convert property to meet the needs of pupils. The financing of these plans is now with central government and comes with some new principles, the Free School or at least Academy model. The plans for the new schools have been drawn up centrally and in a few years we may see identical schools dotted about the country to fulfil the needs of pupils. There are other constraints in the procedure, linked to established schools, land use and building maintenance, which can complicate and delay the process of putting in place what is needed.
A few years ago the changes to fees in Higher Education was prominent in the press and media but the consequences of the changes are only now beginning to be realised. The funding of student places was controlled by the Higher Education Funding Council for England (HEFCE) but the new system for student loans has negated this function. With such fundamental changes happening to a process based on legislation, a revision to or new law should be written and debated to define the process for the future. No new legislation is forthcoming from the government and HEFCE are now trying to control the new system based on old legislation that does not align with current practice.
The descriptions in the last two paragraphs do not seem to be the ideal situations for growth. Interlinked or continuously changing systems are often inefficient and incur extra expense and the results are not as good as those achieved from a consistent approach. What has happened to research, planning, consultation, revision and collaboration in the very important subject of nurturing and growing the next generation? At the moment it seems lost in the speed of change, I hope we do not lose another generation with it.