The news in England yesterday was full of revelations about Michael Gove’s plot to replace one set of examinations for sixteen years olds with another set of examinations which are intended to be more ‘rigorous’ – and thereby restore English education to a status he calls “world class”! Mr Gove was summoned to Parliament to give an account of himself. Mr Gove had somehow forgotten to discuss these plans with any of his colleagues in government, let alone with his partners in the coalition. The Deputy Prime Minister, Mr Clegg, seemed very unhappy with this state of affairs, and commented that he and his party would veto Gove’s intentions.
Talk about an omnishambles.
The real problem with all of this are the terms of the debate itself. Even those who wish to maintain the current exam system as it is don’t seem to see that we should be talking about getting rid of exams for sixteen year olds altogether.
You may recall our comments from a recent post:
The Confederation of British Industry has said in effect that our school system isn’t fit for purpose and it doesn’t equip young people with the ‘skills’ they need for life and for work.
Replace the work ‘skills’ with the word ‘intelligences’, and we have to agree entirely with the CBI’s views on this.
“GCSEs encourage “teaching to the test” and may be past their sell-by date, according to Britain’s leading business organisation.
The CBI warns that the qualification is stopping teachers delivering an “inspirational classroom experience” and should be replaced as a measure in school league tables by the A-level.
The CBI, which represents more than 240,000 companies, is also concerned about the 40% of young people who fail to achieve the benchmark of five good GCSE passes including English and maths.
Speaking at the launch of a CBI inquiry into education, John Cridland argued that abandoning GCSEs could help deliver a more rounded education.
“There’s something about this GCSE funnel which produces a prescribed form of learning which seems to be teaching for the test.
“It frustrates teachers because it stops them delivering that inspirational classroom experience, and you see young people being switched off.”
“It seems to me that we’ve raised the participation age to 18 and we’re left with an education system that focuses on 16,” said Cridland.
Many other countries do without a public exam at 16. Finland, the highest performing school system in Europe according to the OECD’s rankings, has just one public exam, at 18, though children are regularly tested at younger ages.
Cridland said: “We need to give school leaders more freedom to motivate, to recognise, to reward high performance, and deal with poor performance, and I would go further, we need to give teachers more freedom to teach. If you have an inspirational teacher why don’t we do what we do in business, back the guy or girl that you trust to deliver excellence rather than tell them how to do it.”
When we talk about the skills and the intelligences that are needed for life and for work we often overlook what 3Di refers to as spiritual intelligence.
Whilst doing some filing this morning I came across a set of articles the Guardian published in February 2010 as part of its series on “Citizen Ethics“.
This downloadable PDF is a superb piece of work and contains brilliant articles by some of our best and most well-known thinkers and writers, such as Will Hutton, Rowan Williams, Alain de Botton, Polly Toynbee, Jon Cruddas, Oliver James and Aditya Chakrabortty – to name but a few.
Madeleine Bunting said this in her contribution:
To tackle the last decades’ myths, we must dust off the big moral questions.
It’s year 10’s English class in a London comprehensive. Forty kids are debating the purpose of a school. “Teaching social skills,” they suggest. Why do you need them? I ask, playing devil’s advocate. “To get a job.” Is that the only point of having social skills? “Yes, what else is there?” One demurs, hesitant and not entirely sure how to express herself. “No, there’s more to life than a job. There’s happiness. Social skills are needed to make you happy.”
It was a fascinating illustration of how deeply the instrumentalist values of the market have penetrated our everyday thinking when kids talk in this way. “Social skills” is the type of phrase management experts dreamed up to put a market value on a set of human characteristics. Cheerful, punctual, able to co-operate, take instructions: these are all marketable skills. But to many of these kids, equipping them for the labour market was the primary purpose of education. Any idea of it as enriching and deepening their understanding of what it is to be human and lead meaningful, contented adult lives, had been entirely lost to view. The one girl who offered an alternative was just as instrumentalist, only her goal was different: social skills were needed for not a job but for her personal happiness.
These were bright and interested 14-year-olds, but if you ran this argument in any other school, you’d probably get pretty similar responses. The gap that intrigued me was the absence of any notion of being a good person, or of the many values that might not be able to command a market price such as being challenging, courageous, truthful, honest, spontaneous, joyful or even kind, compassionate.
As educationalists, we at 3Di regard ‘citizen ethics’ and ‘spiritual intelligence’ as the absolute fundamentals in shaping the aims as well as the practise of education. Consider the words of Rowan Williams:
Out of the abyss of individualism
We shouldn’t leave politics to managers and economics to brokers – or be afraid to reintroduce ‘virtue’ to public discourse.
My point is that, now more than ever, we need to be able in the political and economic context to spell out what our commitments are and why, what kind of human character we want to see. Politics left to managers, and economics left to brokers add up to a recipe for social and environmental chaos, and threaten the possibilities for full humanity. To resist, we need vision; and whether we are religious or not, we need all the resources available for strengthening and deepening that vision.
It necessitates the cultivation of virtue, a word that is hard for many to take seriously. But it’s high time we reclaimed it. We have no other way of talking about the qualities of human behaviour that make us more than reactive and self-protective – courage, foresight, self-critical awareness and concern for balanced universal welfare, which, under various names, have been part of the vocabulary of European ethics for 2,500 years.
The most inspirational article in this series, was, for us, one that was written by
Camila Batmanghelidjh, founder of Kids Company, and before that, Place2Be. In it she sums up what it means to be spiritually intelligent.
The Power of Compassion
Julie was eight when I first came across her as a psychotherapist. Julie discovered something very precious. She understood, early on, that she needed to diminish her own sense of importance so the needs of her younger siblings could be met. The kinder she became, the more energy she accessed. The reward of seeing how potent her compassion was enabled Julie to rise above the victim-position her abusers endeavoured to trap her in. As much as she was harmed, physically and emotionally, they could never corrupt her, because she operated through higher principles of humanity.
I believe the capacity to be ethical becomes accessible to human beings when they shed their consumerist skin, when they peel away the layers of defensive achievement, hurrying to get degrees, promotions, money. When you shed this, you become at one with the intuitive laws through which all things alive are organised. At this point of fusion with the greatness beyond “I”, people get a glimpse of the essence of all important things. Jung called them “archetypes”, the peeled-away fundamentals of life.
Traumatised children often have a unique access into this spiritual dimension. They know intrinsically the fragility of being a person. Julie certainly knew how catastrophic her smallness was. However, she also discovered the space where the rottenness of abuse could not reach her. The space she discovered was a byproduct of her ability to express compassion. Her sense of agency, and her power to fight, came from knowing she could access the unrelenting love that came from just being kind. It’s not a bargain or an exchange. It’s embodying an expression of the spiritual. I think that’s why Julie glowed beneath the dirt. And despite it.
The government has to have the courage to care for the vulnerable without agenda – just for the love of accessing good. This will begin the process of healing, helping the nation rebalance its “emotional economy”. The human condition is only meaningful in the expression of love and care for another.
These are some of the issues and the forms of learning for the strongest and the most academically able of our children, as well as for the weakest and most vulnerable.
We need to keep spiritual intelligence, as well as other sorts of intelligence, foremost in our thinking whilst others rage at one another over precisely what sorts of exams they think should be inflicted on our young people at the age of sixteen.
And let’s not forget it was the lack of ‘citizen ethics’ and spiritual intelligence that brought western civilisation to the point of meltdown in 2008 – the effects of which we’re still dealing with.
“The things in civilization we most prize are not of ourselves. They exist by grace of the doings and sufferings of the continuous human community in which we are a link. Ours is the responsibility of conserving, transmitting, rectifying and expanding the heritage of values we have received, that those who come after us may receive it more solid and secure, more widely accessible and more generously shared than we have received it.”
– John Dewey, A Common Faith, conclusion