As debate rages on (as it will continue to do so) over Gove-ian plans for education and the nature of examinations, I fear that the true meaning of education has been lost.
You do not have to research for very long to find the great and the good expressing the view that education is not doing the job that needs to be done. This is not to say that it is all hopeless and every child should walk away from school tomorrow to find something else to do with their time. Yet it is clear that the system we have and the priorities we dictate to young learners need a serious overhaul. And pretty quickly.
Headteachers, teachers and learners are caught in a system with the flexibility of a nineteenth century automaton. It seeks to categorise its students like the clothes in Philip Larkin’s 1961 poem, The Large Cool Store:
The large cool store selling cheap clothes
Set out in simple sizes plainly
(Knitwear, Summer Casuals, Hose,
In Browns and greys, maroons and navy)
Conjures the weekday world…
Every parent recognises that their child is an individual. And every child deserves access to an education that appreciates that individuality and works to bring out the very best in the child. Children are not like Larkin’s clothes, to be ‘set out in simple sizes plainly’, each defined within a broader category (‘Knitwear, Summer Casuals, Hose’) and being channelled helplessly in a direction that countless others have been channelled before them.
No. Children deserve better – now more than ever.
The situation is not helped by the currency governments have created by which we judge schools and their educational value and success; league tables and exam pass statistics – neither of which are deeply enriching, whichever way you look at it.
The diet of examination subjects children are forced to consume can fail to serve their best interests or the best interests of the workplace. League tables are horribly flawed [the reasons and wherefores would far exceed the word count for this blog!] – yet politicians and parents use them up and down the country to make decisions on the effectiveness of schools.
Education needs to be flexible and it needs to be wholesome. The true meaning of education is to ‘draw out that which lies within’ – developing the individual inside out, not forcing knowledge in.
Reading ‘A Rich Seam: How New Pedagogies Find Deep Learning’, I came across a comment that really made me think: ‘Study after study and TEDtalk and TEDtalk highlights how the high-pressure focus on surface content knowledge measured through traditional exams pushes students and teachers out of school.4’
I read the footnote: ‘This frustration is captured by the rapper Suli Breaks in his YouTube video “I will not let an exam result decide my fate”.’
I found the YouTube video, and this is what I heard:
‘We all have different abilities, thought processes, experiences and genes / So why is a class full of individuals tested by the same means?’
Challenging the status quo is not easy – but it can be done and change can happen. At Cheadle Hulme School we are introducing change and challenging the long held view that content is king: our Thinking Skills Curriculum for Years 7 & 8 is founded on the belief that a modern education is about skills, not solely content.
We know that the teacher’s role is evolving – it has to, as technology means that children now have ‘freedom to learn and a freedom to contribute and participate on a global scale’¹. Young people are no longer reliant on the teacher as the fount of knowledge; the teacher’s role is to help young people in ‘mastering the process of learning’².
The true meaning of education is about individualised learning; drawing on each person’s interests, developing their engagement with the world around them and equipping them with the skills that will see them flourish as contributors to their communities and societies. That is our aspiration here at Cheadle Hulme School – to truly educate by striking the balance between academic study, co-curricular engagement and social enterprise.
Head, Lucy Pearson
¹Will Richardson quoted in ‘A Rich Seam’ Fullan & Langworthy Jan 2014
² How New Pedagogies Find Deep Learning; ‘A Rich Seam’ Fullan & Langworthy Jan 2014