Education story must be coherent

Congratulations are due to the students basking in their A-level achievements today, but those communicating the education agenda need to do some serious remedial work.

Over the past few years the education system has rarely been out of the news - for the wrong reasons. From claims of massaged exam results to SAT incompetence and academy school controversy, education has received a bad press. There is no single point of focus for these PR failures. It's not simply about the effectiveness of government, schools or local education authorities. It does raise questions over whether these bodies are telling a coherent story. It may be that the pace of reforms since the 1980s has left the public unclear about what it should expect from education. The media have added to the confusion, claiming that change has led to a dilution of standards. As a result, the education debate focuses on whether the mechanics of delivery are working, rather than on the bigger picture. To tackle this perception problem, three things must change.

First, government - locally and nationally - must define and sell a convincing story about the need to deliver the best education for a vibrant, multicultural nation that is facing immense challenges to retain its leading role in the world. There must be an absolute focus on why initiatives such as Building Schools for the Future will deliver higher standards.

Second, there has to be better communication between the agencies responsible for education. Few council PR teams hear from the Department for Children, Schools and Families from one year to the next. There should be a better flow of information between the two tiers to support central initiatives and act on local concerns. And councils must offer more support to promote the achievements of their schools.

Third, politicians and media should declare a truce in the arid debate about whether exams are easier than in 'their day'. It is surely impossible to compare Latin O-level with Computer Studies GCSE.

Perhaps the next generation of PROs, fresh from the education system, can help change the terms of the debate and tell a new story about the value of education.

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