It shouldn’t take a pandemic for us to reconsider the purpose of education. It didn’t take a pandemic for many of us to reconsider the purpose of education. Those of us who’ve been unhappy and sometimes apoplectic about the direction of travel over the past few decades have continuously called for the abolition of SATs, of the anachronistic GCSEs, and of performance tables that have driven many schools to teach to the tests and exams and thereby reduce their practices and their aims of education to the most narrow and restrictive paradigm.
We’ve also been calling for governments – Labour, Coalition and Tory – to do the right thing and make PSHE and Relationships Education (and learning about wellbeing) compulsory across all schools. Relationships Education is at last going to be statutory in September 2020, and it’s far too late. Damage has been done. The training has not happened. The children and young people of this generation have even more trials, tribulations and traumas to deal with on account of the pandemic.
We’re not saying that PSHE lessons would have been the entire answer to managing our emotions and feelings during this epidemic, but it sure as hell would have helped.
Shame on all those who flunked the opportunity to mandate for such changes. Shame on those who led children and young people to believe that “standards” and high-stakes exams were the “be-all and end-all” of education.
They weren’t. Exams, testing, Ofsted gradings and judgements were not/are NOT the be-all and end-all of education.
And now we have an opportunity to redress the balance and progress with a more profound set of aims for education that are meaningful for the 21st not the 20th or 19th centuries.
A superb article in the Guardian, written by Niamh Sweeney – a health and social care teacher at Cambridge Sixth Form College – outlines very clearly our collective need to reinvent an education system that’s fit for purpose post Covid-19.
Schools Must Never Return to Normal
“When we come out of social distancing and isolation, children and young people and their families will need help to manage mental health, self-esteem, friendships and relationships.
Education will need to change, too. We cannot simply return to the status quo.”
“When we go back to school everything will be different – and it must be different. We need to ask ourselves the fundamental question: what is the purpose of education?
When the time is right we, the profession, the experts, must start formulating the answer. We must be ready to enter a new reality of an education system that values the professional judgment of teachers and leaders.”
She’s right but we must start planning for this now, not when the schools re-open. We have to consider this before the Department of Education re-imposes its worn-out dogmatism – its approach to schools, children and learning that is all too frequently created by those who have never done a day’s teaching in their lives.
“We cannot continue to have a system that has nearly 3,000 children with special educational needs and disabilities lacking a permanent school place. We cannot continue to have an exam system that leaves a third of pupils labelled as failures.
The use of education as an ideological and political football that fails the most vulnerable must end. We cannot continue with a toxic exam system that is based on rote learning and an out-of-date curriculum chosen by whoever happens to be the education secretary, and an exam system that has been responsible for a dramatic rise in child and adolescent mental health illness.”
It’s time for the government to trust the experts, and not just a chosen few who still advocate, believe in and support a 19th century version of education. Their days and their education philosophy were outdated before they even gained legal status – even more so now.
Other countries, like Finland, New Zealand, Canada and Singapore for example, have been showing us the way for decades – modelling an emphasis on learning rather than teaching to tests, clearly demonstrating that exams are not required with the grim and relentless regularity we have in this country.
Here are just a few of our previous posts on subjects relating to this that emphasise how we and others have been considering a re-invention of education for a considerable amount of time.
A 3Di model for learning
Teaching and Learning beyond exams
Tony Little, former Headmaster of Eton on abolishing GCSEs
The purpose of education
Singapore’s model for education
The CBI’s view of a core skills based education system
The Rights of the Child
The biggest question now is how do we come together in some way – in conjunction with the National Education Union and other drivers of a more progressive education – to ensure that we have a model of education that empowers, unites and fulfils the needs of our children and young people now.