EDUCATION: THE LONG ROAD TO RECOVERY
5 February 2021
It will be a long road, extended even further as a result of an amazing lack of leadership by the Education Department and abrupt Government changes of course for which teachers received little notice.
Alistair Lexden, who has now been a member of the Lords for exactly ten years, invariably seeks to join discussions of education when they take place . At the moment, they are always brief. The House needs a full-scale debate on the many problems that face the entire education system, state and independent, but the business of the House is settled by the Government which is most unlikely to invite close scrutiny of its education record since March last year.
One marked change in the Lords over the last five years or so has been the decline in number of hostile comments from the Labour benches about charitable status. Nevertheless, constant vigilance is needed; misrepresentations of the nature of independent education, particularly its “elitist” character, can occur at any time.
As a former General Secretary of the Independent Schools Council (1997-2004) and the current President of the Independent Schools Association (whose 550 successful schools of varying types form such a significant part of the Council’s membership), Alistair Lexden strives to help the Council and the Association advance one of their essential objectives in 2021: to enlarge still further the partnership that has been forged in recent years with the state sector to the benefit of the entire education system in Britain.
That means of course that they want to do all that they can to assist the recovery of the system when schools reopen. Alistair Lexden has reinforced their submissions to the Government on the ways independent schools want to help. An ambitious £1 billion Covid Catch-Up Plan has been put forward by Ministers. It includes a National Tutoring Programme. That is just the sort of scheme to which independent schools are well placed to contribute. The Government has been asked to prevent bureaucratic barriers impeding their participation.
Above all, the Council and the Association, like their partners in the state sector, are pressing for the vaccination of all school staff as the vital step on the road to recovery. On 2 February, Alistair Lexden asked: “Is it not essential that all school staff be vaccinated at the earliest possible opportunity?” Baroness Berridge, the Lords Education Minister, replied: “ We are working across government to make the case for the teaching and education workforce generally. Advice will be produced and then it will be for Ministers to decide on the next phase of vaccination.” Perhaps the Education Department will be a little more successful on this occasion than in the past.