Following the thought-provoking keynote speeches that we outlined in our previous post about this conference, there were a range of workshops to choose from. Education is an extensive subject and the workshops reflected that, despite the fact that an afternoon session on “teaching and learning” needed to be cancelled due to the unavailability of its facilitator.
We attended sessions on “Wellbeing and Education” and “Creativity and Learning for the Future”. We should always be careful not to reinvent the wheel. Both of us commented in our separate workshops about the fact that there are existing pieces of work that could be revisited in order to have an extensive look at these two areas.
‘Every Child Matters’ was a blueprint for work on wellbeing. As we have said previously, this was an excellent document but its flaw was in its implementation. So much emphasis was given to one aspect of “Enjoy and Achieve”, i.e. academic attainment, that the other carefully thought-out objectives took a back seat. A young person’s mental health, their ability to communicate effectively and their need to feel safe are all integral to learning. This is their entitlement and we would do well to return to this document to see how it can be delivered as policy in the future.
(Please note the “archive” reference on the DoE website).
And talking of the future, “All Our Futures” was another document, commissioned by the government in 1997, and chaired by Sir Ken Robinson, to look at how creativity and the Arts could be developed in schools. Creative Partnerships was an outcome of this report but once more, in many schools it was side-lined due to the pressures of league tables and the need for exam success.
Mr Gove, at another recent conference we attended, said that good schools were maintaining their work in the arts, and that is correct, and pleasing. However, schools that are under the cosh from Ofsted and the Secretary of State concentrate so much on the provision of the statutory subjects that the arts can be a serious victim of neglect. Ironically, it’s precisely the children and young people who attend these schools that probably don’t have as much access to the arts out of school hours as those attending the “good” or “outstanding” schools.
The conference concluded with a thoughtful speech by Prof Ken Spours from the Institute of Education, who is the Compass Education Group Convenor.
He offered five points from the day that we need to look at when considering a better future for education.
1. Values and Purpose of Education
4. Professional voice
5. Education and social policy
We will now offer a brief summary of Ken’s comments, followed by a comment or two from us.
1. Values and Purpose of Education
Ken said that we need to look once more at what we are aiming to achieve through our education system. He felt that we need to focus on values and really get to grips with what education is all about. We need to consider “democratisation”, “fairness” and “wellbeing”.
Our comments: Firstly, it is so empowering and exhilarating to be in a room full of like-minded people with the will and skill to make change happen. This resolve must be maintained.
Secondly, Ken Spours is quite correct. Education policy has been taken over by people that consider it purely in terms of “preparing children for adulthood” and within that preparation a heavy focus on attainment of qualifications. Thankfully, there are more thoughtful people working in our schools who know that education is a much wider concept but the constant battle between their educational ideology and those who make the rules, is incredibly damaging for our young people.
Not only do we need to look at the value of education, we need to look at the values that we are imparting to our children and young people. By ignoring what people erroneously call “soft skills” of personal and social development, we are not giving children the values, the skills and the attitude for development – as a child and as an adult.
Those three words at the end of this section are vital. Democratisation of learning is vital. Fairness is not going to happen with an EBC examination that leads to a hefty minority of young people ‘failing’. At the age of 11, children who take the 11plus and don’t succeed in gaining a place at a grammar school, feel as though they have failed. We can’t keep doing this to children.
Every school and every governing body has a duty to “promote” the wellbeing of pupils. How is this happening? How is it being recorded? It goes much further than providing the odd after school activity.
We currently have a fragmented education system, said Ken Spours, and will continue to do so if Mr Gove has his way. Ken said that he felt we needed a “unified, common and expansive” curriculum. We don’t divide thinking and doing in real life, so why do we do it within our education system? The EBC offers nothing but exclusion.
Our comments: We concur. What we need is what has been suggested in yet another ignored document which is as relevant to the secondary sector as the primary sector it was written for. The Cambridge Review suggested that there should be a flexible national curriculum with at least 30% of time allocated to local learning; agreed and developed by the school according to the needs and interests of the pupils.
Where is the time currently for a child to bring something into school, like a bird’s nest, and learn about it? Where is the time for a young person to watch something on television and research it for themselves under the facilitation of a teacher to guide and enable their learning?
The National Curriculum should be a guidance document that allows people to be creative and imaginative, enabling young people to learn through their own interests as much as those others deem to be important to them.
Dare we mention Finland and Shanghai again?
We all need to work together, and as Ken Spours said, we have people on our side that we hadn’t considered to be natural bedfellows. The CBI, for instance, have made their aspirations very clear as to what they want from education. Ken said that we need to look at the democratisation of local authorities that is quite different from the previous and existing powers of local authorities.
Our comments: Attending an event like this reminds us that we are not alone, as do our readers of this blog. We need to act now. Whilst we are totally committed to a “Slow Revolution” in learning, we also need to be on hand now to advise those who may be in power in a couple of years. We need to unite, and we need to be calmly explicit about what we want for our children and our education system.
We need to collaborate between phases, learning from one another as well as collaborating with others who have a stake in education, such as health professionals who are so eager to support the health and wellbeing of our pupils. We need to collaborate with independent schools, academies and free schools too, so that we are all clear as to the expectations for the future.
On the issue of local authorities, we feel that they have a very relevant role to play. Strong coordination of support to schools works, as ILEA demonstrated so effectively. It worked for children and it worked for professionals too. Local authorities should be critical friends not enforcers of government doctrines. This balance needs to be reversed immediately.
4. Professional voice
Ken’s comments were straightforward. We need a professional voice back in the debate.
Our comments: We’ve had our tongues severed as a profession, and it’s time to make amends. The work of people like the Heads Round Table is a tremendous step in the right direction but we need to ensure that this voice is heard by the policy makers. We actually need to go further than this and ensure that the policy makers are educationalists not politicians and professional civil servants.
The professional voice should count at national and local level, and also at a school level. That is part of the democratisation process. It’s the teachers in the classrooms that know their children and young people, and they should have a significant say in how they are schooled.
Mr Gove has said that he is not in a war with teachers. He values them. But you can’t value someone if you don’t enable them to have a voice. You can’t value someone if you won’t let them speak. That is what Gove is doing and it shouldn’t be tolerated.
5. Education and Social Policy
Ken Spours quite rightly said that education can’t transform society on its own. There must be collaboration with other areas of social policy. To this end, Ken said that Compass was working together to campaign for a Commissioner for Education.
Our comments: The idea of a Commissioner for Education is an interesting one, and if it meant that education was returned to educationalists, then we would applaud such a proposition. But the real issue is how that Commissioner would work with others in social care, health and housing; all of which are significant to education and vice versa. Like Ken, we welcomed the news from John Cruddas that the Labour Party is committed to three policy reviews: Social, Political and Economic.
Whilst education clearly has a place in all three, the fact that it is not being looked at in a silo is a positive move.
We would love to see these policies developed using a multi-intelligences model too as we believe it would give an excellent framework for ensuring that social policy, for instance, is developed with due consideration for the holistic needs of the people.
The conference was a time for reflection and thoughtfulness but it also emphasised the need to act now. The Labour Party is going to be spending the next six months working on the policy reviews. Stephen Twigg has demonstrated his receptiveness to alternative ideas, yet still holds on to the notion that league table accountability is the only way to demonstrate that education is working.
We look forward to working with Compass in the future to see if we can collectively demonstrate an alternative way of thinking that could be an election winner for someone who might be the next Secretary of State for Education.