The National Education Service aims to connect all the different parts of schooling. From early years, to primary education, all the way through to universities and adult education, it brings together all of the elements in the current education system. Offering cradle to the grave education that’s free at the point of entry, it could be education’s answer to the progressive initial birth of the NHS.
Today, the National Education Service is only a potential policy. But with shadow education secretary Angela Rayner presenting the NES as part of the 2017 Labour manifesto, it could soon be with us. This would, however, depend upon the results of the next general election. It is, however, also backed by the National Education Union (NEU).
For a society to be successful, it needs a high quality education system that creates and develops talent from within. This is likely to be especially vital post-Brexit. Over recent years there have been doubts about the education system as it is. From teachers and university lecturers strikes, to budget cuts, to calls for the return of grammar schools, it is doubtful whether we possess the quality of education needed to drive our future.
Since the turn of the millennium, there have been many experiments within the education sector. From mass academisation, changes to the testing system, to the introduction of new classroom technology, our schools still haven’t been producing the right kind of students who are there to fill the gaps in our economy. Whilst filling gaps shouldn’t be the ultimate end goal of teaching, it does indicate that our system is lacking somewhat.
This is reflected in the statistics. According to 2016 OECD data, the UK ranks 15th in the world for science, 22nd for reading, and a lowly 27th for math. Clearly, we have issues in our education system. So perhaps it is time for a fresh new approach. Could the National Education Service provide some answers?
The ten guiding principles of the National Education Service
- Education has intrinsic value in giving all people access to the common body of knowledge we share and practical value in allowing all to participate fully in our society. These principles shall guide the National Education Service.
- The National Education Service shall provide education that is free at the point of use, available universally and throughout life.
- The National Education Service provides education for the public good and all providers within the National Education Service shall be bound by the principles of this charter.
- High-quality education is essential to a strong and inclusive society and economy, so the National Education Service shall work alongside the health, sustainability, and industrial policies set by a democratically elected government.
- Every child, and adult, matters, so the National Education Service will be committed to tackling all barriers to learning and providing high-quality education for all.
- All areas of skill and learning deserve respect. The National Education Service will provide all forms of education, integrating academic, technical and other forms of learning within and outside of educational institutions, and treating all with equal respect.
- Educational excellence is best-achieved through collaboration. The National Education Service will be structured to encourage and enhance cooperation across boundaries and sectors.
- The National Education Service shall be accountable to the public, communities, and parents and children that it serves. Schools, colleges, and other public institutions within the National Education Service should be rooted in their communities, with parents and communities empowered, via appropriate democratic means, to influence change where it is needed and ensure that the education system meets their needs. The appropriate democratic authority will set, monitor and allocate resources, ensuring that they meet the rights, roles, and responsibilities of individuals and institutions.
- The National Education Service aspires to the highest standards of excellence and professionalism. Educators and all other staff will be valued as highly-skilled professionals, and appropriate accountability will be balanced against giving genuine freedom of judgement and innovation. The National Education Service shall draw on evidence and international best practice, and provide appropriate professional development and training.
- The National Education Service must have the utmost regard for the wellbeing of learners and educators. Its policies and practices – particularly regarding workload, assessment and inspection — will support the emotional, social and physical wellbeing of students and staff
What impact would the National Education Service have?
First and foremost, the National Education Service would directly impact learning for people past the current school age. In the UK we have a massive STEM skills shortage. We also have hundreds of thousands of people in volatile, zero hours service sector jobs. With the rise of AI, many of these jobs will disappear. This essentially means we need to develop people with different skill sets to take on these new roles — and the existing STEM, nursing, and even teaching roles that are so hard to recruit and retain staff for.
As teachers under the current system, it is up to us to help produce people who are ready to be citizens of the future. But under a National Education Service, it could be people from the current generation who will develop and excel in these new roles — taking the unreasonable expectation and pressure away from our classrooms. From a possible expansion of the apprenticeship levy, to free after work degrees, adults would be able to upskill without taking a financial hit.
Whilst this is all positive on the surface, how would it change how we teach the students who are of current schooling age? One of the biggest impacts would be for the children themselves.
Thousands of kids every year are branded a failure for failing their 11-plus exams. As we know, exams at this age don’t reflect a student’s true potential. Nor is it a true reflection at 18. With free lifelong learning available to kids, they could study subjects that truly interest them. And even if they don’t find their passion in the classroom, they have the potential to upskill later in life.
What the National Education Service would mean for the national curriculum is up for debate. Especially as it has yet to be even trialled in the UK. But with less pressure to do well in core subjects at the ages of 11 and 18, students may have more options to engage with topics that truly interest them. Not only would this likely increase student engagement, it would allow teachers to engage and develop their passions in the classroom.
Two of the biggest assets in the job market not only now, but progressively more so in the future, are creativity and critical thinking. As robots and AI take over manual and computing tasks, it will be creativity and innovation that will be the skills that will be truly valued in the future job market.
With the devolution of curriculum setting from central government to local communities, specific areas with specific industry needs would be able to produce the right talent for their area. Whereas today every book on an English Literature high school course is decided by the education minister, it might not be the case in the future.
There are doubts about how it could be implemented without creating division, but decentralised school systems in Canada and Finland — two of the most successful education systems in the world — have found solutions that benefit all. Whether they would work in the UK is another matter. But the potential for the National Education System to change the way we teach, what we teach, and how far into life we learn is obviously quite exciting.
We are unlikely to see the NES anytime soon. But as a system that could come into action within the next five years, it’s certainly something worth getting excited about. This could just be the change the education system has needed for decades.
If you are looking for a new and exciting teaching role for September, get in touch today!