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Topic 6: Improving Schools - Allan Siao Ming Witherick

December 4, 2009 6:21 PM
By Allan Siao Ming Witherick, Embassy Liaison for the Chinese Liberal Democrats and District and County Councillor for St Albans, Hertfordshire in EU Chinese Journal: Shadow Parliament

Topic 6: What should be done to improve both the quantity and the quality of public schools?

The Chinese Community has always been placing education at a very important position. Thus the latest figure in England might upset some of the Chinese parents here. The figure showed that, between 2007 and 2008, there were 86,020 parents appealed because their child did not get into the school of their choice. It shows more than 6,000 increase if compare to 2006/07. Also, the pressure to schools can increase due to immigration and recession. Clearly, to improve both the quantity and quality of schools is currently the important issue - How can we achieve that? And what should be done before any new schools could be built up?

Everyone agrees that education is fundamental to improving both the individual and the community that they are part of. Education has always had a high value in Chinese culture.

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Allan Siao Ming Witherick

So if everyone agrees that a good education is essential why do we see such differences in the quality and standards on offer? Why is it that parents apply for schools which are some times far away from where the live, yet at the same time we find some schools can't cope with the number of children who actually do live near by?

Parental preference for schools, we should be honest, it is no longer "choice", is important. There are however two great issues facing parents today:

a) What if the school of my preference does not have enough places?

b) What if none of the local schools are of a good standard?

For the first question we need to consider how much flexibility should there be in the school system. On one hand we do not want to have empty classrooms just in case a parent wishes to send their child there, but equally we must avoid the situation we have seen in places such as St Albans where one class was filled almost entirely with younger brothers and sisters so that no new families could join the school - even if they lived next door.

The second question is why people choose those schools in the first place. If it is because that school is doing well, then surely our concentration should be on bringing the other schools up to that same standard, not overcrowding the schools with good reputations. Sometimes though that is part of the problem, a bad reputation is harder to get rid of than a good one.

Coupled with this is a restrictive curriculum which manages to let down those who need help and doesn't stretch others whilst money which could help young people now is instead frittered away in Childrens Trust Funds which give too little too late whilst a proper education could make a real difference.

So what is the Liberal Democrat response?

Sorting out the mess requires more than just "report cards" for each school.

Introducing a Minimum Curriculum Guarantee would provide a reduced standard curriculum and give teachers great flexibility to actually teach in a way that their pupils can engage with. It would include a better level of language education.

Provide more extended school days (after school clubs), one to one tuition and Saturday classes to help both the brightest, and those who need support. This will include a focus on helping improve those from poorer backgrounds whilst removing some of the targets which result in teachers focusing too much time trying to get D grade pupils to C grade just to make a school look good.

The current Academies system has been shown to have many flaws, while at the same time giving those schools which become academies flexibility which other schools can only dream of. We would use these lessons to enhance all schools.

And finally we would seek to pay good teachers more and remove those who let our children down.

With all of these things in place, and more, we hope that we can reduce the number of parents choosing a school just because it produces good grades- as the overall level of ALL schools should be improved.

Cllr Allan Siao Ming Witherick (whose name means Dawn of Intelligence!) has previously been a Vice-Chair of the Governors at Lancot Lower School and currently sits on the School Board for the LINKS Education Support Centre in Hertfordshire. He is a District and County Councillor in St Albans and Hertfordshire.

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