Secondary schools have become an increasingly diverse and rather chaotic gathering. It seems to be held together (more or less) by Ofsted and the examination system, with huge emphasis on league tables and exam grades to the detriment of creativity and imagination. The result is the imposing of great stress on youngsters in the later secondary years.
Maintained education has ceased to be enjoyable beyond primary school. I would address the marginalisation of local government in education — good local education authorities had much to contribute, not least the support and advice of teacher colleagues. In addition I would seek to build bridges between the profession and the Department for Education: they are currently pretty strained, and the reliance on headteachers rather than a team of senior teachers narrows the concept of accountability.
There also seem to be wide differences in educational standards among academy chains as well as among community schools — indeed, there is not much awareness of the school’s relation to the community it belongs to. That would also need to be addressed. There would be much to do, but few jobs in government are as important, or as rewarding, as education secretary: it is a role that requires energy, imagination, and a commitment to improving the life chances of all our children, regardless of background.
Shirley Williams is author of Climbing the Bookshelves (Virago, 2009)