The Pearson Report offered five lessons for education policy makers.
It’s an interesting phrase – “education policymakers”. This phrase shows just how steeped we are in the idea that education is controlled and directed by policy makers rather that educationalists.
That’s not to say that policymakers can’t be educationalists. They can be, and should be.
The five points below aren’t necessarily new but it’s good to see them highlighted once more in an international study. What we now need to do is identify whether these ‘lessons’ are being considered as part of the current educational reforms taking place. We have to consider whether we are on the right track, and we would strongly suggest that there is more loss of face in continuing with a policy that is wrong than in admitting that there needs to be a change in direction.
1. There are no magic bullets.
The lack of clear correlations found in the study shows there are no simple solutions. Throwing money at education by itself rarely produces results, and individual changes to education systems, however sensible, rarely do much on their own. Education requires long-term, coherent and focus
ed system-wide attention to achieve improvement.
Reading reports about changes in educational systems in other countries shows that progress didn’t happen with a wave of a magic wand, with or a magic bullet. It’s taken years, sometimes decades, to move from an agreed philosophy of education to implementing it for the greatest effect for students and society.
Changing just one aspect of education isn’t going to help either. Just changing a curriculum and an assessment system isn’t going to alter the fundamental issues of what education should be about. Neither can you separate education from the societal issues of the day. Inequality, inadequate housing, poor mental health and poverty all have a marked effect on progress and achievement.
2. Respect teachers.
Good teachers are essential to high-quality education. Finding and retaining them is not necessarily a question of high pay. Instead, teachers need to be treated as the valuable professionals they are, not as technicians in a huge, educational machine.
This is stating the obvious and yet we still don’t sufficiently value the teaching profession. Taking policy decisions away from teachers proves that this is the case. As we said in a previous blog, you wouldn’t expect civil servants to tell a heart surgeon how to carry out a complex operation, so why should we accept lay policymakers telling us the best course of action on how to educate the hearts and minds of our young people?
Neither is it just about increased salaries. The profession is relatively well-paid these days but the levels of respect and trust has diminished. Interestingly, the respect for teachers seems to have evaporated at precisely the same time as their autonomy was taken away from them. Is this a coincidence?
We need to value teachers, and their professional judgment. We need to trust them to know and value our children. We need to enable them to create stimulating learning environments.
3. Culture can be changed.
The cultural assumptions and values surrounding an education system do more to support or undermine it than the system can do on its own. Using the positive elements of this culture and, where necessary, seeking to change the negative ones, are important to promoting successful outcomes.
This is a really key point. The culture of education can change and indeed has to. We can’t alter education without looking at the outcomes we wish to achieve – and that means being absolutely clear about our values and expectations. Ask any parent what they want for their children, and nine times out of ten the answer is that they want them to be happy. They want them to be numerate and literate too. They want them to be able to find their ‘element’ and develop their particular talents and abilities.
We need to return to what we understand as the ‘values’ of education, and it is this that should drive change. We need to be positive about education. We need to value it in a way that goes well beyond the accumulation of examination passes. This is what other countries have done, and this is what has made their education systems both successful and sustainable.
We need a slow revolution.
4. Parents are neither impediments to nor saviours of education.
Parents want their children to have a good education; pressure from them for change should not be seen as a sign of hostility but as an indication of something possibly amiss in our provision. On the other hand, parental input and choice do not constitute a panacea. Education systems should strive to keep parents informed and work with them.
Parents do have an integral part to play in education, for let us remind ourselves that education goes beyond the hours of schooling. And parents need support in this.
We do need to involve parents in the decision-making process in schools, both on an individual and national basis.
Recently, we read a blog from Alastair Campbell who referenced his partner’s involvement as a school governor in shaping change at their local primary school. It was this primary school that was visited by the BBC this week to demonstrate all that is good about primary education in this country. She had the will, the experience and the determination to help to affect change.
Parents need to be listened to, and parents need to be supported in understanding how to support their children in their education both in and out of school. They shouldn’t determine policy but they should certainly be part of a partnership for change.
5. Educate for the future, not just the present.
Many of today’s jobs, and the skills needed to do them, simply did not exist 20 years ago. Education systems need to consider what skills today’s students will need in future and teach accordingly.
Whilst we agree with this, we also need to state very clearly that our education system should also aim to “prepare” children for childhood as well as what they might be doing in the future.
Our aim in education shouldn’t be totally driven by a need to equip children for a future life; and a life that we seemingly have no idea about. We need to skill our children. We need to open their eyes. We need to provide them with an education that enables them to enjoy learning and choose to learn for themselves. We need to give them opportunities to be active, creative learners, and not mere recipients of factual fodder.
We want our children to be children, and to revel in the excitement of learning.
A question we’ve asked before but is this really too much to expect?
This report is welcome in so far that it demonstrates a possibility that education in this country is not as dire as some people might suggest, but we ignore its findings at our peril. As we have said, the findings are not surprising and neither is the ability of those in power to ignore them.
We can’t be complacent and think that we’re doing “ok”. We need to look at what we want from education.
It really is time to act, collectively, to ensure that the piecemeal interventions from the current government are not implemented, and if they are, then we need to continue to look for viable alternatives now, and not at a time when there’s yet another change of government.
Just a thought.