Saturday, 14 February 2009

A future built on excellence and equity

Equity and excellence are surely the twin foundations on which to build a world class education system.

Dr Simon Field, a Belfast man, now a policy expert at the OECD, published an interesting report last year entitled "No More Failures, Ten Steps to Equity in Education". The report draws on the experiences across the OECD countries and makes ten specific recommendations for equity in education.

They are:

1- Limit early tracking and streaming and postpone academic selection.
2- Manage school choice so as to contain the risks of equity.
3- In upper secondary education, provide attractive alternatives, remove dead ends and prevent dropout.
4- Offer second chance to gain from education.

5- Identify and provide systemic help to those who fall behind at school and reduce year repetition.
6- Strengthen the links between school and home to help disadvantaged parents help their children to learn.
7- Respond to diversity and provide for the successful inclusion of migrants and minorities within mainstream education.

8- Provide strong education for all, giving priority to early childhood provision and basic schooling.
9- Direct resources to students and regions with the greatest need.
10- Set concrete targets for more equity, particularly related to low schools dropout and attainment.

The report expands on all of these drawing on a massive amount of international data. It makes a compelling argument for investing in equity and links that investment to excellence at all levels. Throughout its 150 pages the importance of intervention to support parents and children from disadvantaged backgrounds is stressed again and again.

What is obvious from the expedience elsewhere around the world, our system has failed and the current deregulated system makes a bad situation potentially catastrophic.

Earlier in the week I suggested some common principles around which discussions could be held between politicians interested in finding a solution. BBC Radio Ulster had an interesting documentary about this issue yesterday. One theme ran through the interviews with parents, teachers and experts like Tony Gallagher who blogs here. Everyone agrees we are in the worst place possible. They all seemed in favour of initiatives to support greater equity across our education system and all shared a desire for excellence in education, be it primary or secondary, academic or vocational.

The challenge is to engage in a positive and informed debate around shared principles such as these and to draw on the work of experts like our own Simon Field.

I'll blog again on some of the report's specific recommendations and on the experience in Finland which went through its own change process in recent years.

In the meantime I hope this offers some food for thought for our policymakers.

1 comment:

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