If I were Prime Minister: I'd make schools about learning skills, not facts

Our series in the run-up to the General Election – 100 days, 100 contributors, but no politicians – continues with the Founder of the Self Esteem Team

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The Independent Online

If I were Prime Minister I’d be exactly like Margaret Thatcher...but without the helmet hair, appalling disregard for the needs of the working classes and the swinging brick for a heart.

What I mean is, I’d stand for something. Today’s party leaders remind me of bumble bees in a jar, constantly banging against the glass of public opinion, watering down their policies, pleasing no one (apart from the super-rich).

I’d take great joy in standing firm on the issues which, I believe, would make this country a better place. First of all, I’d abandon all efforts to pay off the National Debt (Greek style). The quest to reduce ‘the deficit’ has provided a convenient excuse for the current government to introduce policies which take money from our country’s most vulnerable (despite them having done nothing to have caused it). I’d close legal tax loopholes, meaning it’s no longer legal for the wealthiest businesses and individuals not to contribute meaningfully to building and maintaining our society. I’d also ensure people with ‘normal’ jobs could actually afford to live, by increasing the minimum wage, introducing rent control in cities and giving the ‘Big Six’ energy companies a proper bollocking.

But all of this is because I’m a typical Bleeding Heart Leftie Liberal and no doubt the above policies would cause some kind of unanticipated chaos. I’m not a financial expert (shocking, I know).

I can, however, speak with some authority on the subject of education. My team have worked in more than 250 schools, with over 45,000 teenagers over the past eight years, in both the state and independent sector. I’ve seen first-hand the devastating impact of Gove’s ill-thought out reforms, on teachers and students alike.

There is an inherent social mistrust of teachers, aided in no small way by media rhetoric which wrongly brands them ‘lazy’ and assumes that they clock off at 3pm and have six weeks of unencumbered holiday every summer. Most teachers are, in my experience, really good at their job. They’re also desperately overworked, attempting to deal with ever-larger class sizes as well as the constant swathes of largely-futile ‘reforms’ to the curriculum which are driving them to distraction.

The truth is, our current education system needs to be scrapped and started anew, in a way that encourages every child to fulfil their unique potential from their very first forays into its clutches. This would involve multiple-headache inducing amounts of paperwork and people power, but the results would be worth it.

There are infinite ways to be intelligent, most of which aren’t recognised within a school environment. Testing children using linear academic criteria from the age of four, then diagnosing them with myriad behavioural ‘issues’ (many of which they are then medicated for) if they don’t ‘make the grade’ is a short cut to limiting their potential. It’s true that every child needs to learn to read and write. They also need to learn how to be healthy, happy, resilient and to apply their own initiative in unfamiliar situations (instead of mindlessly memorizing ancient poetry).

Tony Blair might have claimed his priority was ‘Education, education, education’ but what he really meant was ‘everyone should go to university’. Not everyone either wants or needs to go to uni. What they do need is a school structure which gives all young people, many of whom are currently flailing under multiple social and economic pressures and battling myriad mental and physical health problems as a result, the best possible start.