Concerns about the wellbeing of our education system persist regardless of the Easter break.
Following a meeting in the House of Commons earlier this month, a letter appeared in the Guardian calling for a “change of direction” for our schools.
All points were perfectly valid and should be considered by policy makers of every political persuasion.
We do need (in summary from the letter),
- Collaboration not competition between schools
- Qualified teacher status to be respected with opportunities for continued development
- Equity in funding for schools, enabling equal entitlement for our children
- Inclusion to be truly inclusive and not merely a code of practice
- Professionals to lead and direct educational policy
- A curriculum that recognises the value of creativity and the arts
However, we are dismayed by the lack of focus on wellbeing as we strongly believe this is an integral part of education and schooling. Academic achievement is an absolute and important aim but so too is a young person’s ability to live well by being emotionally, socially, spiritually and physically intelligent with a strong understanding of who they are, what they’re good at and what they like/enjoy (personal intelligence). A commitment to and desire for lifelong learning should also be a key aim for education.
It’s also worth mentioning that there’s no reference to academies and free schools in this wish list of change, yet many of the bullet points above are solutions to problems that have been exacerbated by the fragmentation of education as an outcome of the introduction of these new schools.
The meeting at the House of Commons was organised by a group called “Picking up the Pieces” – http://www.pickingupthepieces.org.uk/index.html .
You can read a follow-up blog from John Bolt here:
His summary of the meeting is as follows.
- The National Curriculum should be what it says – a curriculum for all children in all English schools. It should be an entitlement, as originally promised, broadly based, balanced and with clear room for creative and imaginative subjects and personal, social, health and relationship education.
- Inclusion and equal opportunities need to be at the heart of education provision. This is about SEN and disability but it’s also about meeting the needs of all kinds of children.
- A fair admissions code should operate for all schools in a geographical area and should be implemented by a locally elected education service. No school should be its own admissions authority.
- All schools should have the same responsibilities and powers and receive funding according to a common formula that enables them all to fulfil their responsibilities on an equal basis.
- All schools within a clearly defined geographical area should co-operate and share best practice with the support and guidance of a suitably resourced democratically elected local education service. Educational planning and service delivery that meets the needs of all children resident in an area requires a properly resourced service locally based and with good local knowledge. Best practice should also be shared between education services.
- The inspection and monitoring of English education must become supportive and be capable of focusing on school improvement when necessary. Standards should be agreed through a national consultation process and inspectors should be trained to help schools attain them.
- All front line staff in children’s education should have qualified professional status. Continuing professional development should be an entitlement for all staff and those currently without qualified status should be given appropriate training to obtain it.
Having not being present at the meeting, it’s not possible to say whether these points are in order of importance according to the frequency of comments made. However, it’s extremely heartening to see the comments about a broad and balanced curriculum with PSHE and relationships education right at the start.
The other key comment we’d like to make about this list relates to the second point regarding inclusion.
Of course we need to ensure that the system is inclusive. Of course it should accommodate all children and young people, particularly those with specific needs. Yet without being facetious, don’t we all have specific needs? Aren’t all of our children unique? Does our education system truly allow for individuality?
If our education system doesn’t accommodate the unique needs of every child then it can never be truly inclusive.
There’s the child who is academically capable, who enjoys academic study, writing, reading, passing exams. There’s the child who just wants to read – absorbing information but not necessarily wanting to regurgitate it for others. There’s another child who’s happiest and most productive with a paint brush in hand or a musical instrument to play. There’s another who likes to sit and solve problems. Another child talks things through and enjoys looking after people – and another who needs silence.
And so the list goes on.
We want all of our children to be capable of communicating through writing. We want all of our children to know how to read and to be mathematically competent. We want all of our children and young people to be computer literate, including the ability to programme. We want our children to develop their inquisitiveness, be it scientifically or through studying people in history. We want our children to have the opportunity to express themselves in whichever creative form suits them most. If we don’t enable this to happen through what we are offering, by means of curriculum and personal learning opportunities, then we are not really providing an inclusive education system.
Our children and young people are not all the same. Yes we want aspirations for them – guidance as to what they need to achieve (standards) but we want more than this. We want to enable them to individually flourish.
This is not a plea for anarchy. Personalised learning doesn’t mean that a teacher has to prepare thirty different activities for every session in the day, but there has to be more knowledge and understanding of the individual needs of the child, rather than the individual requirements of an examination system that so frequently suffocates the real enjoyment (and purpose) of learning for the individual.
A fair, collaborative system with qualified professionals being supported by advisers and inspectors is absolutely important, as is the need for a framework for learning, but so too is the fundamental and rational interpretation of inclusion, i.e. a full understanding of the needs of the individual that is reflected in what is offered to them educationally.
One final point, John Bolt quotes Peter Mortimore’s challenge to politicians . . .
“that political parties seem to lack the courage to really challenge many of these big ideas. They’re doing their best but they seem to lack the courage to go the full hog and really challenge and say “This is not the way that we want our society to develop. This is not the way that we want our education system to serve it.””
Perhaps Dr Mortimore was showing respect to the venue and its parliamentary hosts but the reality is that they are most certainly NOT “doing their best” and if this is “their best” then they most certainly do need to be challenged. And we as educationalists also need to challenge ourselves to ensure that the needs of the individual are fully accounted for in a truly inclusive educational system.