The number one shift in education that I wish to see in my lifetime is that we finally make a decision as to what schools are for. No really! What they’re really for. Together. Perhaps as a nation, a government and maybe even as a profession. I say this because it is the question that, when answered properly, can support us to really do everything we can for the kids in our care.
At the moment we’re conflicted. Not me you understand and probably not you. (I can’t imagine the average Daily Mail or Express reader has strayed to blog syncing!) The rhetoric of education in Britain has always been surrounded by the spectre of accountability. The fact that a redistributive tax system effectively “gives” “our” money to schools means that we should know what we’re getting and how good that “product” is.
I happened to chance into my Headteacher’s office last year, just as he was finishing a meeting. I hadn’t realised and so turned apologetically and headed back out of the door when he asked me to come in and introduced me to his guest. The gentleman was a representative of local businesses, an entrepreneur himself, discussing with the Head what we, as a school, could do to support students who progressed particularly towards some pretty big car manufacturers in the community. He used my name and shook my hand and fixed me with a stare and told me that these manufacturers were pretty unhappy with the literacy levels of some of the apprentices coming straight from schools. He asked what I thought we could do to help alleviate this problem. The problem of employers having to train their employees. So I told him.
I told him that schools weren’t production lines for car manufacturers and that school should provide a broad balanced “bit” of everything that allows kids to find out or start to find out who they are, what they love and what they might want to do in the world. If car manufacturers want them to be able to write better reports, then perhaps that should be part of the apprenticeship.
It was the wrong answer. Or at least not the one he wanted.
We want schools to provide a stimulating environment where students learn the “best” of everything, gain as many opportunities to be creative, nurtured in art and literature, history, languages and the sciences amongst many others. However, we also want these institutions to provide a workforce of people whose thoughts are not too troubled by depth and who are literate and numerate enough to drive the wheels of industry and commerce without troubling them too much to shape the workforce themselves. We want schools to do everything and more, measuring possibly the most variable input, through almost purely data driven methods. But maybe we’re production lines for car factories.
I’m fresh off an MA module that focused on Curriculum Development so I’m as au fe with this subject as I’m ever likely to be, hence the more than usually authoritative manner.
The truth is, we have swung for years from wishing for a utopian system that wants kids to have everything, that’s then hamstrung by the fact that this is costly and even the fact that we may not actually want people to have too much education for fear of the wheels of the economy coming off when they realise what’s going on. One government even legislated against state involvement in schools to stop the next government attempting to influence children in an explicitly socialist way! Class, accountability, fear and a healthy dollop of good old fashioned British victim complex has meant that we now find ourselves in a situation where the current education secretary promotes a system where failure is as a consequence of teachers and schools and their lack of ambition for their students. His discourse is that of all students being exposed to the “best” of everything. Difficult to disagree with until you distil the fact that the “best” has to be decided upon by someone. Who is best placed to decide this? A socially awkward conservative with a mastermind complex and the head of a doll? It looks that way.
If we can decide what schools are for, what they’re really for, then these arguments can stop.
I’m impatient I suppose. I don’t want all schools to be technical colleges with boys doing technical drawing and wearing tool belts whilst the girls learn how to touch type or sew. I also don’t want schools to be impenetrable towers of academia. I’d quite like schools to move with the times and provide students with the opportunities that they need to realise their ambitions and, if they haven’t got ambitions, help them to find it. I’d like schools to recognise that standards come from high quality experiences of learning and not drills and I’d quite like politicians to leave them alone.
I’m not outside the accountability argument. Besides the NHS, the state education system in Britain has to justify its existence to the taxpayer. I am one!
My poorly thought out solution to this is that education should be outside of party politics and the short term tenier of the average education secretary. Instead it should be held in trust by an all party group, elected possibly, appointed definitely as a result of their educational background, research and experience instead of their need to impose their own image of what education was like when they were at school.
Based on this logic, I’ve been to the dentist many many times, but I’m fairly sure it’s not me that you’d ask to remove your wisdom teeth?
What are schools for? No really, what are they FOR?