Prof. Angela Thody, an internationally recognised UK expert and researcher on educational leadership, speaks to Kenneth Vella about some of the characteristics and changes in the UK education system, which traditionally has always influenced the Maltese system.
Angela Thody is well known among Maltese education senior leaders and heads of schools. In 2008, she was one of the main speakers at an international conference organised by the Malta Society for Education, Administration and Management. Considered an international expert and researcher on educational leadership, the English emeritus professor has led several other training workshops and sessions for Maltese heads of schools over the years.
The English education system has always had an influence on Maltese schools, so Prof. Thody was asked to comment about the development and recent changes in education in the UK.
She said that while in the past, democratically elected local authorities used to take all the decisions for all schools, such as setting budgets, setting policies, selecting teachers and providing for professional development, the situation today is very different. “Now each school is effectively independent. They have their own budget, select their own staff, establish and implement policies, and are responsible for capital and running expenditures.
“School principals have become very powerful, as have parents and students as they can now choose the school they wish to attend.” (In fact, about four of five parents manage to get their children in first choice school).
Many schools, both primary and secondary, are academies specialising in subjects such as languages, performing arts and sciences. “Apart from this, State-supported ‘faith schools’ have now grown in number and now we also have State supported Islamic and Hindu schools reflecting our diverse population.
Many schools are now private businesses over which there is no democratic control through local governments. Teachers are largely trained directly in schools with just a short programme of university studies. Prof. Thody said the general picture is of much greater freedom and variety in schools, much greater experimentation with school structures and much greater choice and variety for pupils. But this freedom is tempered by the return of a government mandated national curriculum (England had one in the 19th century and then it came in again in scholastic year 1987-1988); by an extensive inspection regime of frequent and regular inspections and grading of schools and publication of results and inspectors’ comments.
Each school [in the UK] is effectively independent. They have their own budget, select their own staff, establish and implement policies, and are responsible for capital and running expenditures
Apart from these, there are also several changes in formats of qualifications, testing at four key stages during a student’s school life and changes in the 16+ and 18+ examinations. Recently there was also the introduction of a standardised national school leadership preparation programme.
With all these changes, does Prof. Thody still consider the English education system as one of the best within the international context?
She said that if one had to analyse the English educational system according to international league tables, on spending on the system, on the success in attracting teachers to the profession and in motivating parents and students of the white-working class boys to continue with their studies, it is certainly not.
However, she added that other aspects still make the British educational system one of the best in the international context, such as its willingness to experiment with new forms of curriculum, school structures and the promotion of progressive teaching to develop individualism.
Also, according to international rankings, English universities are still ranked among the best in the world.
The English education system is still considered highly in matters related to the international attitudes to the A-level examinations in the country; in its attempt to combine social justice and academic outcomes, and in the brilliant special education services offered in both mainstream schools and in specialist schools.
Not surprisingly, there are still a number of education systems around the world copying parts of the British system.
Asked to comment about the challenges UK educators face today, Prof. Thody mentioned the rising expectations of students, parents and the nation of what schools can and should achieve, the recognition that students and parents have rights but don’t seem to have reciprocal duties, whereas teachers have duties but no rights.
Prof. Thody started working as a teacher in the UK in 1965 and for the next 50 years she taught, carried out research in higher education and published books and articles based on this research.
After moving to a polytechnic and subsequently to De Montfort University, Leicester, she specialised in educational administration, management and politics, and worked part time for 14 years at the Open University, Leicester University and the Workers Educational Association.
In 1986, she was asked to establish Leicester University’s first MBA in Education Management. She moved to the newly established University of Luton (now Bedfordshire) and then took up a professorship in educational leadership at Lincoln University, leading doctoral programmes.
That same year she joined the prestigious British Educational Leadership, Management and Administration Society (BELMAS) and edited one of their journals for seven years. She served on its international committee, and as a member of the Commonwealth Council for Educational Administration And Management (CCEAM) she visited Malta and other Commonwealth countries to experience their education systems and deliver lectures. In 1994 was elected CCEAM’s first woman president, a post she held till 2000.
She retired in 2003 and was appointed emeritus professor. However, she was recalled in 2007 and remained Professor of Education until 2015, specialising in research methods and management.
Kenneth Vella is headmaster of Mater Boni Consilii St Joseph School, Paola, a member of the executive committee of the Malta Society For Educational Administration and Management, a member of the board of studies of the Tumas Fenech Foundation for Education in Journalism and the international representative of Learning Scoop Finland.
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