The tide is turning? After the storm-ridden days of the past two months we sincerely hope so, even on another day of downpours. However, there’s a tide beginning to turn in the world of education, and one that we’ve been encouraging for an exceptionally long time. Over the past couple of weeks we’ve commented on a number of recent reports and manifestos that call for significant changes to education in this country – so that the development of core competencies and life skills are seen as important as academic attainment.
Each of these reports has reiterated our concern about the need to see the value of key skills for learning and for life as being as integral to a young person’s education as the skills of reading, writing, mathematics and IT, and as important as knowledge and understanding.
We now turn our attention to yet another report calling for schools to consider the importance of “Character and Resilience”. The interesting point about this report is that it’s coming from the All Party Parliamentary Group on Social Mobility. Here is the manifesto in full: http://www.damianhinds.com/character-and-resilience-web.pdf
We’re delighted to see this report. There are some important messages within – as tweeted from the Social Mobility APPG – “Schools are more than just exam factories” and “What the modern employer is looking for in its workforce is academic achievement AND motivation, team skills, grit etc #character”.
The BBC reports about the manifesto are also worth reading, and we look forward to listening to Tristram Hunt’s comments on the report later today. http://www.bbc.co.uk/news/uk-26127515 http://www.bbc.co.uk/news/education-2611858 It’s clear from today’s news bulletins that Mr Hunt and his party have really grasped these important issues.
At the Compass Education Conference in January, we challenged Tristram Hunt about the use of the term “soft skills”. We’re extremely pleased to see that others too are clearly saying that this appallingly inaccurate terminology is unhelpful and wrong, since the type of skills, competencies and intelligences that come into this category of “soft skills” are possibly the hardest things we have to learn and manage in life. Here’s an important quote from the Character and Resilience Manifesto:
“Indeed, even talking about “soft skills” is something of a misnomer because these aren’t fluffy or superficial skills we’re talking about – this is about having the fundamental drive, tenacity and perseverance needed to make the most of opportunities and to succeed whatever obstacles life puts in your way.”
This is what we’ve been trying to address and promote for our entire careers – summed up within this statement. However, we don’t want vindication. We want action. We want our children and young people NOW to benefit from this understanding, and for the teaching profession to be enabled and encouraged to get on with providing all of our young people with the type of education that has been lost for so many during the past three decades of policy and practice – with a gross and distorted emphasis on high-stakes exams (to the exclusion of all almost everything else) at considerable cost to all. Here are some other key quotes from the manifesto:
- “There is a growing body of research linking social mobility to social and emotional skills, which range from empathy and the ability to make and maintain relationships to application, mental toughness, delayed gratification and self-control.”
- “When we talk about education in this country, our first thoughts often turn exclusively to exam results and academic achievement. The APPG on Social Mobility believes that if our education system also focused more on these so-called “soft skills”, young people would leave school and university much better equipped to face life and its challenges.”
- “A child will not benefit from ‘academic’ learning unless they are in a position to be able to access this learning and such a position is directly linked to a base of skills including motivation, curiosity, conscientiousness and application to task.”
- “A growing body of evidence suggests that so-called ‘soft’ skills may often be as closely associated with levels of educational attainment as IQ scores.”
- “Interventions in the early years must be targeted not only at cognitive outcomes but also at non-cognitive development.”
- “All too often, the development of attributes associated with Character and Resilience – that is, the development of the pupil as a rounded individual – are neglected or, at best, given second billing.”
- “These so-called ‘soft’ skills are not only central to the demands of employers and therefore directly linked to labour market outcomes, they are also instrumental, underpinning the very academic attainment that schools are encouraged to prioritise.”
- “The recent annual report from the Social Mobility and Child Poverty Commission states that “schools need to do more to prepare students broadly for work including assisting with work experience and promoting ‘character’ skills. Schools need to focus on developing those skills alongside improving their pupils’ academic attainment. It is not a question of either/or. Schools need to be doing both.””
- “Encourage a refocusing of schools’ policy to ensure that the development of Character and Resilience and associated skills move from the periphery to become, as it were, the ‘core business’ for all schools.”
- “Consideration should be given as to how the Ofsted framework against which schools are inspected can be modified to take more express account of the efforts and activities offered in a school that develop these key non-cognitive skills.”
This is good news. This is news that every teacher should hear. This is the sort of manifesto that should be taken in hand and actioned immediately. It should not sit on a parliamentary website or in a school staffroom to be read and then simply ignored in order to get on with those pesky exams. Action is needed immediately. Good schools already know this and already work on the basis of the aims contained in the manifesto. And by “good” we don’t necessarily mean the schools at the top of the academic league tables.
We also need to point out that most of the work that schools do to promote “character and resilience” is not something that can be directly taught. It has to be experienced, demonstrated, felt, practised. It’s something that should be integral to every classroom and every lesson in every subject taught in every school. Just as we should all be teachers of language, then so too should we be teachers of “character and resilience” or teachers of personal and social development. It’s something that’s in the atmosphere and the ethos and the corridors and playgrounds of every school, and is the responsibility of every single member of staff.
The other significant issue about this report for us is that it cites examples that we have commented on over a very long period of time. There’s the reinvention of education in Singapore – from the frequently cited exam factories to the “Teach Less, Learn More” strategy and a new curriculum for “Character and Citizenship” being introduced to all schools this year:
“We want to make our education system even more studentcentric, and sharpen our focus in holistic education – centred on values and character development […] Character development is about developing social emotional competencies, and the habits and inner disposition based on sound values to act in a consistent way. Personal values such as grit, determination and resilience enable the individual to realise his or her potential […] These values are intertwined, and are critical to the success of the individual and the society. Hence, values and character development must form the core of our student-centric, holistic education.” – Mr Heng Swee Keat, Minister for Education, Singapore
“School 21 subscribes to a holistic approach to education, geared towards developing the whole child. Arguing that “it’s not enough to teach subjects; we need to teach character”, Hyman warns against viewing children’s exam results as the sole metric of success, stressing the importance of fostering social and emotional wellbeing as well as academic attainment.”
So too is Kids Company mentioned – another organisation that we’ve quoted as being a leader for developing the whole child. It also refers to the CBI “First Steps” document – one that we’ve frequently said should be read and understood by all concerned with education, and indeed with business.
So what now? As we said last week, it’s time to get our heads down, our thought processes aligned and to reinvent our education system for the benefit of those who are learning and those who are teaching. It’s time to right the very wrong.
One final point – where are all the reports and the manifestos that support Mr Gove’s philosophy of education? When an All-Party committee manages to come up with a clear set of recommendations such as the ones contained in this document (which we’ll look at in detail in our next post) then surely the Secretary of State has got to pay attention and take notice? He’s admitted he’s been wrong before. Could it be that even Mr Gove is ready to turn with the tide? We’re not holding our breath. Mr Gove’s heroine certainly wasn’t for turning.
For education to really undergo reinvention in England and indeed throughout Britain we suspect there will need to be an all-party consensus as to the new direction of travel. An important all-party committee has stated its views. It’s now up to our other parliamentary representatives to give their support to those views. And it’s up to teachers, parents and indeed students to speak up and support what’s said in this and the other recent reports on education.