Out and about again, 3Di Associates are going to an event on Saturday, organised by Compass. The title for the conference is “Radical Approaches to Education” and we shall be reporting on the outcomes of the conference next week.
To prepare us for the conference, the organisers very kindly sent out a suggested reading list; one of which is a brilliant article that we’ve been meaning to comment on for several weeks.
Please take the time to look at this article since there are some incredibly thought-provoking comments throughout. Although the author, Neal Lawson, is writing about the English education system, there are universal truths here that will surely resonate with many in the world, including the United States which appears to be having similar problems in identifying and implementing an education system fit for the 21st Century.
For those who might want to have a brief summary of the document, here are some important quotes from it with a small interjection from us.
Neal Lawson is saying that we really need to have a look at what we want from an education system in the 21st Century. He says that over the last thirty years, there hasn’t been much difference in what each of the political parties are saying and doing about education, and much of the reform has been led by Neo-Liberal ideology, which in itself is seen to be flawed due to the existing shape and structure of the economy. Do we really want to educate our children for the sole purpose of finding a job? Can this really be the point of learning? And if so, do all of those of us over a certain age stop learning as soon as we leave our chosen educational establishment?
At the heart of his argument is the need for engagement in a local and democratic process. On looking at our current education system he says, “No one voted for it or sanctioned it, and I suspect few want it”. Instead, we just took it and got on with it, even though we knew it was ideologically flawed and unworkable. (Incidentally, the Cambridge Primary Review was explicit in its focus on local management of education as a collective of schools working together, and ensuring a curriculum was driven locally).
“The puzzle of this cross-party coalition of ideology finds clarity in its evidential failure. The power of the coalition is that it served the dominant political economy of neo-liberalism. People would be shaped on a learn-to-earn consumer treadmill, thus enabling them to compete and shop in a global economy. Aspiration would be narrowly defined and individually attained.”
(Please note that when he is talking about a coalition here, he’s talking about a coalition of cross-party thought, not just the existing governmental coalition.)
This is so true. Education has become product focused. We talk of clients and stakeholders, of inputs and outcomes. We talk in monetary terms instead of remembering that we are dealing with real lives, real people and the real future of our country. Aspiration is attainment, not achievement for these people.
“Einstein who warned us “we cannot solve our problems with the same thinking we used when we created them”. Next comes the recognition that we cannot view education in isolation to the economic, social and political culture in which the system fits. As such, education plays an almost unique role, not just a big part of the means by which society reproduces itself, but a platform from which society can actually transform itself . . . the onus must now be to come up with alternative – a new consensus for education in a good society.”
As we and others have said in the past, the jobs that many of our current five year olds will do haven’t even been invented yet so how can we have an education system that is based on the economic and work climate of today? Surely we need to base our education system of a clear set of values for learning rather than comply with an already outdated system of economics.
“If it’s not about the production of addicted consumers, then the basis of educational production should not be consumerised or marketised. Likewise, if we think that everyone who has a stake in the education system should also have a voice in the creation of the education system then we can kick largely into touch the old bureaucratic model of the mid decades of the last century.”
So if it is agreed that education goes further than consumerism or market forces, then what should we be looking at, and it certainly seems that a centralised form of governance is not fit for purpose, which makes the Academies system look remarkably short-sighted.
“While heads, teachers and inspectors tick the boxes of the standards regime there is a growing hole in the heart of our education system – a hole in which empathy, compassion, responsibility, creativity and the enduring and genuine identity formation of the young people of our country is squeezed out.”
What a great sentence! What a sad indictment on our education system that these clear set of values are not the main underpinning of whatever we do in education. We need to return to this as a matter of urgency. We need to think about what we want for young people now as well as in the future, and surely we can all agree that an agreed set of values is the best basis for enabling and sustaining a “good society”.
“Our education system is there to help us learn to live and collaborate together. It is the prime collective means by which we are socialised. And as such, its focus is relational, emotional and human. And if, as they should be, means and ends are to be united, then the way our education system functions should be relational, emotional and human. This “learning to live together” is the most precious gift we can bestow on young people. The art of life is to know how to live it with others.”
And where does our current system focus on the “relational, emotional and human”? Of course we have to learn how to work together but fundamentally, we have to learn how to live together. Without this, there is either anarchy or exploitation.
“The focus for this new comprehensive vision will not be the solitary school, but the local area. The challenge of the future is how schools and local institutions collaborate to ensure everyone learns about their life in common and that through a cooperative local system all maximise their potential and their capabilities.”
Within this we should be looking at local accountability, local support and guidance and the engagement of all those who are affected by education, including parents and indeed the students themselves.
“This new comprehensive vision will have to be supported by more specific educational strategies – for example, it should be underpinned by a common curriculum and a unified qualifications framework. This means not a divide and conquer Bacc of academic and technical varieties, but a unified Bacc that dusts down the Tomlinson report, which recommended the end of the academic divide and radically updates it”
The Tomlinson report was significant; sadly overlooked by politicians but embraced in the main by educationalists. It was akin to a model that has worked effectively for nearly a decade in Finland and would have put an end to the divisive system of the either/or mentality of vocational versus academic. We need to return to it urgently.
“A new comprehensive vision and new education coalition will not emerge solely from Labour because it paved the way for much of the Gove agenda. What we are witnessing is its logical conclusion. Instead, the braver elements of the Labour Party must make common cause with social liberals, parents, localists, businesses, vocationalists, the teaching unions and other professional groups to develop, flesh out and popularise this new vision.”
We have to be brave, and we have to be brave together – united, resilient and resolute. We are indeed calling for a slow revolution, but not so slow that we submerge once more into a quiet voice of dissent. Gove has been enabled to do what he has done and intends to do because of the foundations laid by New Labour. We can’t get away from this fact, however, painful it might be for certain Labour politicians to admit to. Accept mistakes, say sorry and open minds ready for change.
Neal Lawson concludes, “The goal of our education system cannot be to produce more hedge fund managers that carve up the country in their interest, divide the few from the many and then wreck everything we hold dear. The failure of that economic system means the end of the education system that flowed from it. It is time for something new and something better.”
Let’s hope we manage to assimilate those ideas as a starting point on Saturday and move on together from there.