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Peter Tait Education

A TRIBE APART

Uncategorised Posted on Mon, April 12, 2021 11:56:17

A recent documentary on Channel Five filmed the experiences and impressions of a group of six members of a remote village in Papua New Guinea on visiting England. At the outset, I feared that the documentary was setting out to replicate some of the most unfortunate social experiments of the early 19th century, in which peoples from other cultures, whetherNorth American Indians, Aborigines or Maoris were brought to England as curiosities, to be
taken around the grand houses of England and to be feted by the good and the great. (This was a strategy that backfired as when the King and Queen of Hawaii succumbed to measles). Thankfully, the programme avoided any such embarrassment apart from its unfortunate title (‘Meeting the Natives’) and allowed us a
glimpse of our own culture and society through their eyes.
By the end of three programmes it was hard not to feel humbled by their observations, particularly on our attitudes to family and the elderly, to consumerism, our work ethic and our faith. The clarity of their perception and the lack of any cynicism in their speech, gave their observations real poignancy and relevance.
Their views of London were particularly interesting; their experience of the Underground (‘London is a double city; one city is underground and the other is on top) and the ‘joined up houses’ were simple visual observations; more revealing was the conversation that took place on the London Eye when their guide pointed out St Paul’s Cathedral, with the comment that
‘three hundred years ago it was the biggest building in London’.This fact was quickly picked up by one of the group who said that the Spirit House must always be the biggest building in a village, so what were these buildings at Canary wharf that had appeared that were now bigger than God’s house – what had replaced God in importance? Later, they visited St Paul’s (where the Chief was so impressed by the soaring architecture that he was moved to comment ‘I believe this building was created not by man, but by God’) and Buckingham Palace where the Chief was
disappointed not to meet the Queen for, as he said, he was also a Chief and because of his age, he was unlikely to come back to England again. They were unimpressed by the supermarkets,
seeing no reason for buying anything they did not need and were dismissive of the work ethic they saw although many things amused and intrigued them. Their visit to an Old Folks’ Home elicited a good deal of disapproval which was explained by one of the group who said, ‘when I was a baby, my mum and dad looked after me when I walked around naked; I must pay back’.

As they were leaving, having made a huge impression on their hosts, they were asked what was their over-riding impression of Britain and they answered, it was the lack of respect that people showed for each other.
Sometimes, with all our trappings of civilization, we appear to have lost our way, along with the ability to ask the simple questions of life, questions that are often also the most profound. As we peel back the layers of western civilization, and particularly the values we espouse, it is hard to escape the feeling that the very word ‘civilization’ needs redefining. Sometimes it takes the eyes and observations of others to better see ourselves and the world
we have made.




Uncategorised Posted on Mon, November 16, 2020 11:42:09

Changing the Paradigm: 

Education for an Ethical World

Te tīmatanga o te mātauranga ko te wahangū Te wāhanga tuarua ko te whakarongo.

The first stage of learning is silence The second stage is listening

Education is on the cusp of very significant change – no surprise at a time when society, capitalism, western democracy is in a state of flux, a period of the most rapid social and technological change ever, of increasing environmental concerns about sustainability and climate change, of biological and genetic engineering and increasing social inequality.  Stephen Hawking wrote of the inevitability of self-designing beings, a bio-hacked super race that will transcend our biological bodies  – Yuri Noah Harari’s ‘Homo Deus’ – and already we can see the impact of the application of technology in the field of medicine: pacemakers, artificial hips and knees, 3D body parts, the artificial pancreas, use of implants to administer electric pulses and drugs, robotics, data mining and medical imaging, and yesterday the world’s first genetically edited baby. Everywhere, technology is driving change at a pace that is not allowing time for the ethical decisions that should accompany it. We watch on in wonder, unsure how to make sense of all the new knowledge and uncertain of how we can prepare for what is to come and prevaricate – and nowhere is this more evident than in our schools.

The fact that we have had the same model of education for over a century isn’t in itself the need to change – change for change’s sake is never a good idea – but society is facing challenges that make us question the traditional school model as old jobs disappear and new ones emerge with quite different skill sets, as old values are undermined by expediency and greed as the social and economic divide widens.  Education should not be complicated, but like an old anchor it is covered in barnacles which are not easily prised away.

Our response must be through education, always, but education with a different premise, not predicated on a business model, but based on a human model values and societal need.

At the end of World War Two, the sum of human knowledge was doubling every 25 years; now it is every twelve months and soon to be every 12 hours so it is pertinent to ask  and keep asking if we are teaching the right knowledge? I remember finding an old exercise book of my father from the early forties and seeing a lesson on ox-bow lakes and realising I was taught the same lesson, more or less and then taught the same lesson myself. Nothing against ox-bow lakes but we increasingly have to decide what we should teach especially when knowledge is only a google search away.

At the same time, the role of schools has shifted from imparting knowledge to taking on board the societal responsibilities to provide social, emotional, pastoral and psychological care of children. Schools are now charged with educating children – young children – about modern slavery, terrorism, knife crime even, as recently suggested, teaching young children to recognise the symptoms of cancer – subjects that were once the prerogative of parents and to be raised when they felt appropriate according to the emotional readiness of their child – and we wonder why we have created a generation more anxious, more worried than any generation before.

As changes wrought through technology continue to threaten great swathes of employment by requiring quite a different skill set from that predicated on academic achievement, we have to return to the question, what is education for?

The challenge facing education is that it is trapped in its own paradigm. Fuelled by binary debates about how we measure progress, about formative versus summative assessment, a knowledge rich curriculum versus a skills-based curriculum and so on fed by an avaricious and self-serving education industry. There are literally thousands of education publications and educational consultancies, all with their own target markets, advising parents and schools, feeding into more than 400 education conferences held each year, funded by advertisers of everything from textbooks to laptops. It is a huge business dominated by vested interests –one of our examination boards Edexcel – is owned by the education publishers, Pearsons who publish a vast array of revision textbooks to supplement their courses – and usually dominated by funding issues and money. Change to curricula happens, albeit slowly, because, as teachers know, the cost of even changing one topic to another in one GCSE course depends on being able to resource it. But that should not be the impediment to answering the pressing question, ‘what is the best education we can give to our children?’

But in asking why we need to change, there are more fundamental reasons for a new paradigm. The crisis in society is not just because of the forces of change and technology, new knowledge and a changing job market, but something far deeper. 

Helen Clark, the former New Zealand Prime Minister who led the United Nations Development Programme from 2009 to 2017 recently wrote “In designing a  curriculum, start with human values + a common moral code. Stress the importance of ethics, empathy + dangers of self-interest. If we look at what’s wrong with our society, it’s in our failure to replace traditional codes of family /church with anything meaningful.”

When we look at changing our education system, we assume we start by changing the pedagogy, the curriculum, the school type, by tweaking the data we use and how we measure outcomes. But this is not where we should begin. Schools are a reflection of our values, our aspirations, our communities, our society. If we don’t get the premise right, if we don’t have the right moral principles and know why we are doing something we will be hi-jacked – as has been our education system – or caught in some bureaucratic inertia.

So what do we do  – how do we change our traditional school system from a pyramid predicated on university where those that fall by the wayside aren’t even mentioned. On the day that the 1.5 million students who sat A Level had their achievements splashed all over the media, where were the unheralded 3.8 million who did vocational courses or others who just survived through school, unrecognised and unrewarded, because the system did not measure their intelligence or talents? How do we get away from our focus on content that is dictating the pedagogy. As exam pressure mounts we see more tutorial centres being established creating what has been labeled  a ‘shadow education’ that is one operating outside of schools. We already have a huge tutoring industry with an estimated 24pc of pupils in England have used a tutor over the past year, with that figure rising to 40pc in London. The market is worth £6.5bn in the UK with 2.8 million pupils being tutored at any one time. ‘And parents are going for it.’ Add to that an increase in home educated pupils up 27 per cent this past year, with many more likely to be “hidden from sight” and the drift towards what we call surface rather than embedded learning and we can start to see what a crisis looks like. It’s a system that teaches us more about memorising than learning, more about status than impact, an industrialised system of education adhering to a taxonomy of subjects designed for a 20th century job market with only a trickle going to university. A system in which 20% of our students leave school functionally illiterate & innumerate and 64% of teachers last less than five years before quitting their jobs. This is what a crisis looks like. It is a system that was criticised by one of my past students who left her senior school with outstanding grades, but felt that school’s focus on examinations and ‘. . . on memorization, ticking boxes and ironing out children’s idiosyncracies’ had left her deeply frustrated and concerned.  

As we keep turning the screw there are other unexpected costs for which our education system must take some blame. We are in the midst of a mental health epidemic in all its manifestations of self-harming, of depression, of eating disorders and isolation often bound up with the unhealthy focus on self-esteem rather than self-worth. It is a war zone with the mobile phone on the front line. Meanwhile the constraints of the Ebacc on creative subjects and pressures resulting from a slimmed down curriculum are ‘fast turning the UK into the most philistine nation in Europe’ . Since 2010 entries in Design and Technology have fallen by 154,000 (57%), whilst entries in Creative Subjects have fallen by over 77,000 (20%) with 2,600 fewer drama teachers & 2,100 fewer art & design teachers since 2010 – and this, at the very time we need creative people in our workforce. The same with the numbers learning European languages that have plummeted. Mary Myatt warns us that we will ‘deprive our young people of intellectual, artistic and physical nourishment’ if we don’t get our curriculum principles and planning right.

Why has this happened? In the first decade of the 21st century, we doubled expenditure on education from 40 billion to 80 billion & there were no tangible improvements.

Since then, we flat-lined. Why? Because we didn’t have our priorities right. What we have is a school system based on exams whose purpose is put them in rank order for their various institutions, courses, careers. How sure are we that pushing all children through a system predicated on exams is what we should be doing? Increasingly many are not. About half of university admissions officers say they do not believe that students arrive “sufficiently prepared” for higher education, that they lack independent learning skills, are ‘unable to remember facts’ and have ‘a ‘Google-it’ mentality’ unable to even manage their own time or workloads.

Employers are saying much the same. That while exams may suit a cohort of well-taught, compliant, children, intelligence and employability are something else. Recent research from Google – a company which initially hired only brilliant computer scientists – revealed in January this year, the seven top characteristics of its most successful employees were soft skills: coaching, listening well, making connections with others to solve complex problems. Raw STEM ability (Science, Technology, Engineering and Mathematics) came last. Only two weeks ago, the Headmaster of Stowe School, Dr Anthony Wallersteiner wrote

“We’re working with an exam system that is not much changed from Edwardian times. The truth is, making students sit alone at their desks does little to prepare them for a world where they will be working digitally, flexibly and collaboratively. Tomorrow’s school leavers and graduates will require a range of skills, not just scores: over their careers, they are likely to have an average of 17 jobs in five different fields of employment. Core skills like mathematics, writing and science will remain key but modern employers demand new ones like collaboration, coding, digital literacy, fluency in languages, critical thinking, creativity and entrepreneurial skills. The most successful schools of the future will regard preparation for work as more important than preparing pupils for A-Levels and that ‘schools need to address the needs of the so-called “phigital” generation who see no distinction between physical and online worlds and will enter a rapidly changing, largely digital workplace.’

He finished with a word of warning for schools that they could find themselves cut out of the education process altogether by impatient employers offering their own online courses. All of which is almost clichéd so often do we hear it, but that doesn’t make it less true. As Anthony Seldon  noted ‘To prosper in the new age future, our children must not behave like robots. They must not learn like robots. Not work like robots. The real robots will do all that.’  Yet my contention is that in designing a new paradigm of education we need to focus first and foremost, not in making good employees, but in making good citizens.

A new paradigm for education has to tackle the contentious subject of measurement that dominates our schools and strangles our teaching and learning and muffles our students. Another former pupil wrote of her time at her senior school ‘I have vivid memories of beginning secondary school; I was shocked at how my new peers did not seem to have the same independence as me, both inside and outside the classroom. Not only did I ask more questions than them, but if I were to respond to a teacher’s  request or statement asking “why?” I was perceived to be both troublesome and a disturbance to the class.’

We have to see education as something other than just loading and measuring, especially given the narrowness of what we are measuring – in other words, we need to redefine what success looks like. Wellington College attempted to broaden its teaching by focusing on the eight intelligences: personal and social, creative and physical, moral and spiritual, logical and linguistic. The irony, however, is that schools merely pay lip service to the first six and only concentrate on the last two which are the two most easily replicated by machines as algorithms and artificial intelligence are outperforming human beings on most aspects of logical and linguistic intelligence. (So) the very skills around which we have designed our schools and our exam system are the very ones that will be rendered redundant within the next twenty years. We need to find different ways of measuring children, those that have a gift in one subject, but are failed by their singularity of purpose, those who don’t respond to our traditional ways of measurement, those whose time has not yet come, but need the chance. It was that well-known dyslexic, Albert Einstein who made the point when he wrote

‘Everybody is a genius. But if you judge a fish by its ability to climb a tree, it will live its whole life believing that it is stupid.”  

Meanwhile, schools are struggling to make sense of it all. Gordonstoun has just released a report commissioned by Edinburgh University on ‘Out of classroom learning experiences’ OOCLEs that extols the benefits for education in the round and of the whole child. Other schools are extending their own offerings although they are inevitably drawn back into the bottleneck that are national qualifications. Until we change the way we measure children – a truly horrible phrase– we will continue to ignore their talents and compromise their futures.

Just as the digital revolution with its fusion of technologies is rapidly changing our world, it will also inevitably change our schools. Recently, the Chief economist of the Bank of England warned that we will need a skills revolution to avoid ‘large swathes’ of people becoming technologically unemployed’ as AI makes jobs obsolete and create widespread hollowing out of the job market, rising inequality, social tension and many people struggling to make a living. But that is all dealing in the here and now, within the current paradigm.

Which is why we need a new paradigm. It’s not just because what we have may not be fit for purpose or because technology is changing us or because our curriculum is redundant, all of which may be true, but because the premise is rotten.

Recently a story was doing the rounds on social media of three men who left a restaurant without paying. A few days later the restaurant owners received a letter containing the money due and a little extra with an explanation that they had left to find an ATM machine and then realised the last train was about to leave so were unable to do so. 

What is remarkable about this story is that it is ‘remarkable,’ as if such behaviours, such actions, don’t fit with what we now perceive to be normal. As such it highlights the place where society is, that when ethical behaviour occurs, it is seen as extraordinary.

When looking at writing a new framework for education, it is evident that this is the right place to start, not with content, nor skills, but with values and behaviours. After all, the absence of any ethical framework, and the dearth of societal values, is evident in every walk of life. We can pick any profession: law, accountancy, the pharmaceutical industry, industrial farming, property development, sport, the Church – the list is almost as long as is the list of jobs. Stripped down, we don’t take long to find examples of worker exploitation, cost fixing, drug taking, sexual abuse or putting profit above people by ‘using’ tax loopholes. There is no moral imperative at work. We saw it when the boil was exposed (if not properly lanced), with the behaviour of politicians, bankers, fund managers and venture capitalists, whose criminal actions and self-interest were exposed through the expenses scandal and the banking crisis. The fact that so few were held to account merely reinforces the impression that we are living in an ethical wild west, a view that hasn’t changed since. Recently, the founder of the parent company of Cambridge Analytica, Nigel Oakes called for more regulation admitting that he operated for years ‘without much of an ethical radar’, before going on to defend his decision by saying ‘It’s above my pay scale to decide the ethics of this.’ Not so. Ethics are beyond the contents of the purse and should apply to all of us at every level of society.

But the fault-lines go much deeper than this. The behaviour of the big four accountancy firms who earlier this year were accused by MPs of “feasting on what was soon to become a carcass” as it emerged they banked £72m for work linked to collapsed government contractor Carillion in the years leading up to its financial failure highlight the rotten underbelly in which everything was alright as long as it turned a profit. One time-tested way of doing so is to strip and ravage the environment and natural resources, preferably off-shore, by over-fishing, by the ruthless destruction of forests for palm oil to shore up UK pension funds, by dumping waste, the proliferation of off-shore tax havens, car manufacturers ignoring safety concerns to boost profit; over charging and failing to honour commitments by tradesmen, by professionals rounding up their hours; misusing expense accounts; misleading advertising; child labour; zero hours contracts; mis-selling; unpaid internships, currency fraud; tax optimisation and so on. ” It is frightening that 25% of UK employees still perceive corruption to be widespread in their businesses and 42% believe their senior management would act unethically to help a business survive. 

When Artemis, (self-titled as The Profit Hunters) boasted that their ‘global hunters’ spend their lives carving through the atlas for opportunities for profit, we need to understand that such companies are the product of our economic model and that any subsidiary interests or concerns, environmental or moral, are subsumed by the goal to maximize profits. 

Self-interest rules and it can come as no surprise then if you ask children what they want to be when they grow up that the most popular answer is rich and famous for that is the model they see every day. Is this what we want our children to aspire to? And where are ethics in all of this?  Worse, where is it leading us as a society?

We need, somehow, to move the Titanic. The obsession of governments with GDP – gross domestic product – as a measure of economic activity is deeply flawed as is well-known, measuring both good and bad economic activity, from farming to drug dealing and gun running, but taking no account of voluntary work or raising a family, implicitly favouring built in obsolescence and having no truck with such green-tinged schemes as recycling. Having a philosophy that relies on endless growth with no ethical boundaries continues to undo us unless we can educate the next generation about sustainability and the ethical use of our planet and looking after each other. Simon Kuznets, Nobel Prize winner who developed the measure before the war, had quite different aspirations, intending GDP to measure economic welfare and well-being, (but being ignored in the post-war US-UK plans), mitigating against the unequal distribution of gains and ensuring we were not growing at the expense of our environment. We know from the role models all around us that if we are not on our guard we will be scammed, ripped off, tricked into signing up for deals we don’t want, confronted by insurance scams, by subtle changes to bank rates, pension providers, by cold calling, unethical behaviour by fuel companies, car dealers, by mobile phone companies, by small print, by the very people we should be able to trust –  professional people, our leaders of industry, bankers and politicians.

With the spread of fake news, nanotechnology and artificial intelligence, ethics takes on more importance than ever before. The need to be able to make decisions that are not based on economic or personal self-interest is compelling. Waste, such as the amount of foodstuffs thrown out by supermarkets (over 200 000 tonnes each year) is simply unacceptable on a planet with so much poverty. Recently, the big food chains have made an effort to reduce waste, increase donations of food to food-banks and cooperatives by building up partnerships with local charities, but it is the tip of an iceberg that is founded on waste and obsolescenceNor should we excuse the fashion label, Burberry who destroyed more than £28m worth of its fashion and cosmetic products over the past year to guard against counterfeiting or mail order companies that put returns into landfills. No waste is acceptable and even planned obsolescence, deemed good for economic activity, is short-sighted and harmful. We simply cannot afford to treat our planet and our society in this way any longer or allow government, acting in our name, to behave unethically (selling our waste to Thailand, investing in dodgy environmental areas, and selling arms to countries who ignore human rights. Which is why I am a trustee of the charity Operation Future Hope which looks to address such crucial issues as conservation, sustainability and the regenerative environment through education. And throughout, we need to keep asking the question: what are our ethics and are we, and those who represent us, acting in accordance with them? 

Nor is education ‘clean.’ We have schools gaming the system by using different exam providers; or indulging in sharp practice in school recruitment through inducements and undercutting other schools; or setting up campuses abroad to bring money back to the UK; or stopping students moving into the 6th form or from sitting exams for fear that they will negatively affect league tables (more than 20% of teachers were aware of ‘off-rolling’ in schools they had taught in) – all common practice and all unethical. Plagiarism is at a level where schools now feel compelled to purchase software to identify it; while cheating, by students and teachers, has risen fuelled by the drip-down pressure of league tables. Essay mills, a business reputed to earn billions of pounds worldwide has resulted in some 50,000 students being caught cheating in the last three years alone. The recent de-valuing of academic entry to university even raises the question as to whether it is be ‘ethical’ to encourage students to pursue a university course simply because with lowered conditional offers, they will get in, in part due to the due to the rapacity of universities fighting for survival (and who themselves are acting unethically?) When are schools charities and when are they businesses? How many schools see overseas students as ‘cash cows?’ How ethical is selective schooling  knowing that it produces winners and losers with all the consequent baggage?  It should concern us, all of it. For when schools lose their moral compass and their understanding of what they are here for, then we are in a moral mire.

Then those things that affect the individual: selfies and the narcissism and insecurity they engender, the epidemic of loneliness amongst the young, the closing down of communities, the loss of collegiality, a society that prizes acquisition above welfare. And on this frontline we have the mobile phone that is dominating our time and attention like no other single device in history as we check our phones every 12 minutes on average and spending between two to three hours connected each day. What is that doing to us and how do we manage it? And in the debate between self-esteem and self-respect, between self awareness and empathy, between self and community too often the emphasis is on looking after yourself and taking what you can, with self-interest and avarice its drivers. A wee bit colourful? Perhaps. But if we are to change society, and to equip the next generation to make the ethical decisions that will be required of them to manage technology, to look after the environment and to counter the atomisation of society through social media, we need to act. And where better than at the very start of our education system?

So how to change? How do we try to instil the importance of making good ethical decisions from a young age. How do we make children think of themselves as part of a whole? How do we embed kindness and empathy, appropriate behaviours, manners and attitudes conducive to making good citizens?

How do we move away from measurement to the immeasurable?   How do we move from values into ethics, that is moral principles that govern our behaviour, that demand we make judgments about good and bad, that we see our values in the effect that have on others, on our environment and on our communities? 

This isn’t an issue solely for schools, but for all of us. Children need role models and particularly parental guidance as they mimic the example, language, values and behaviours of their parents (think using mobiles). As adults, we need to be more environmentally conscious, more ethical in how we act , more charitable and more community minded – we know that. Schools, likewise should not just talk their values, but walk them in their corridors, in their classrooms and on their playing fields. The answers lie in early education and developing the right attitudes to learning, about identifying children with their larger community and by encouraging them to look outwards, not inwards, to understand and look after their classmates, their community and their environment and all who inhabit it. The value of service to fulfilled lives. And this generation are up for it. They want change and they are right to question those who tell them otherwise. That’s why we go back to the why question.  Why do we teach what we do? This week Stephen Tierney argued that the debate over the “real substance of education”was not about having a broad and balanced curriculum or having a well-conceived set of standardised and externally assessed examinations but “a life well lived.” He’s right of course, but I fear it is a little harder for Ofsted to measure

There are a few green shoots: the announcement of the head of Ofsted to downplay academic grades in favour of character development;  the announcement by the Singapore government that from next year, exams for primary years up to age 8 years will be abolished in a series of changes aimed at discouraging comparisons between student performance. 

So what will this new paradigm look like? How do we engender third world attitudes into first world countries. How do we grow an education system predicated on citizenship and values rather than one driven by measurement or GDP or academic qualifications that apply to the few. How can we get cross-party consensus to give education more autonomy from political interference? How can we get governments and communities to prioritise education? How do we convince the many vested interests involved in education that change is necessary? And how do we ensure we are giving children what is required to develop and live fulfilled lives in the future?

All big questions and I suggest it is by returning to the question I asked at the start, the one I always ask: ‘What is the best education we can give to our children?’  and then work out we go about it? Which is at the heart of the new paradigm.

In writing a curriculum for the first years of school, I started with four key attitudes: first, the idea of being part of a group of moving the me out of the middle of the circle and establishing the sense of belonging is so important, by extolling mutual benefit, of service and charity, of tolerance and kindness; second, of learning to have a respect for the environment and the world we live in sustainability, climate change, conservation ; third, of understanding the joy of learning, of being creative and the desire for knowledge and understanding being something they want to do rather than have to do so they grow up accepting that education is both a privilege and a joy, but also a constant in their lives, noting also the advice of Dr Tomas Ellegard that ‘there is a lot of research that suggests if you want a more academic child, start academia later”

And last, the right attitudes to self – health, well-being, fitness, understanding yourself, growing self-respect through words and actions, developing the creativity and sense of purpose to do things for a purpose. 

We already know that schools take on many different roles and functions for their communities.  Inevitably, as Simon Noakes observed, ‘’Schools will evolve into social spaces for human interaction” –not defined by walls and buildings where education will be delivered in communities by a wide variety of providers. Hence, while many parents might see the first function of school to get their children out of the house and with their peers for an extended part of each day – and that is important, schools will take on an ever wider brief, where pastoral and social care, health and well-being are minded; and where through a marriage of the curricular and co-curricular, of vocational and incidental education, schools will become more relevant to the society they serve. More and more, education provision will be accessed from homes as well as schools, from tutorial centres and universities. At the same time, the new players: google, amazon and Apple will seek to become new education providers, rivalling government and independent providers. There is a difference between e-learning and screen time however, and we recognise that technology is a huge social experiment on children and that according to a recent report by Nellie Bowles in the New Yorker, persuasive psychologists working for tech companies, such as Apple and Google, ‘compete ferociously to get products into schools and target students at an early age, when brand loyalty begin to form.’ She goes on to describe these tools as ‘phenomenally addictive’ designed by psychologists ‘well-versed in the field of persuasive design’ that is influencing human behaviour through the screen.  We should pause to consider why schools in Silicon valley are limiting or banning technology in some of their schools while child care contracts demand that nannies hide phones, tablets, computers and TVs from their charges. Or as Katharine Birbalsingh Head of Michaela Community School tweeted rathermore forcefully: “I say this to parents at school. The fat cats make their billions off giving your children the latest tech gadget while they fill their houses with books”.                                                                                 

Yet while some things may change, others may stay the same. We need to root out some of the ideas that have been allowed to creep into education, even the constant changes in language, theory and terminology, so that topics become unintelligible to parents – I’m thinking of new methods of maths or such grammatical terms such as causal connectives and fronted adverbials now required for SATs – or perhaps confusion is the intention? Of all the schools I have taught in and teachers and methods I have seen, when it comes to teaching children to read, to learn their tables, spelling and writing, nothing has compared to the rigorous and yet sensitive teaching by an exceptional teacher in the first school I ever taught at with its emphasis on practice, on developing memory, on repetition, on high expectations. She worked wonders with children who we would now label as having severe learning difficulties and by ignoring the difficulties, transcended them. Children came out of her class with the rudiments in place, with a standard of work that constantly surprised them and a self-discipline and pride that stayed with them. It is proven that direct instruction has consistent, positive effects on student achievement. While we need to change what and how we teach, discipline and rigor will remain at the heart of learning, aided and abetted by high expectations and a sense of purpose. 

In the short-term we need to do away with league tables and find academic alternatives to A Levels – T Levels with teeth –and develop our vocational offering. We need to recognise that measuring and ranking students on applied intelligence to a prescribed body of knowledge is the antithesis of the fluid and flexible education our children will need in the future.

We hear so much about AI and technology, yet there has been no greater waste of resources and time over the past twenty years than the amounts schools have spent on technology – and this is unlikely to stop soon although education is the most resistant fortress of all. We know technology can embellish lessons and add to the learning experience, mill knowledge banks and gives lessons greater applicability and relevance through virtual or augmented reality. Yet for every teacher who uses it well, there are as more for whom it is a distraction, something that gets between the teacher and the learner. But change is coming as recently signalled by universities who will no longer accept hand written exams, by an increase in collaboration through cloud computing, the rise of the autonomous learner, coding and multiple learning stations,. . The state of Utah has been rolling out a state-funded online-only preschool, now serving around 10,000 children.  It’s happening and we should be wary. What would be more helpful would be for algorithms to allow teachers more time to teach – that is rather than being a teaching tool creating different ways to teach that they will allow more time to teach, so schools are not tied to producing copious amounts of data and policy. With the large number of policies required to be on school websites – and for parents who don’t know, most schools even have a policy on policies, the human resources of a school are under ever increasing pressure. If new algorithms can help schools to manage admissions, policies, data accumulation, reporting, with pastoral care and record keeping, then teachers will be able to get on with their teaching.

Second, as teacher shortages grow, we need to look at what alternatives there are to our traditional methods of delivery. In many countries correspondence courses have been around for half a century or more. University degrees through distance learning, and now e-learning, and links to lectures through you-tube courses are commonplace. Yet it seems incredible that we are not utilised e-learning in all schools with e-learning will be the heart of our provision delivering a broad curriculum. This may involve subtle changes in the role of teachers so they take on a role akin to that of a tutor, but that is happening already. There are a number of learning platforms driven by algorithms that promote personalized learning by analyzing students work, pinpointing gaps in their knowledge, providing precision reporting and insights into the student’s learning style and identifying specific abilities and areas to improve. In the future, the ability to measure ability by sophisticated algorithms will likely be the death of exams as we know them.

We will need to cut back on content to allow for other learning, of skills and the means to access new knowledge. Traditional subjects will be assessed for the relevance of content. New subjects like sustainability, a hybrid of economics, philosophy and geography will emerge; old topics like trigonometry and glaciation will be marginalised while some subjects may be cast out altogether. Traditional subjects may not change although as in the case of History, we may decide to distinguish between the history that explains where our country is today in relation to the countries we connect with and the history that centres on our island’s narrative and extolling the national mythology. Economics should take in to account the Resilience doughnut so we start to measure economic activity by assessing the cost of its effect on diversity and the environment for we need to educate our young about the environmental ceiling that consists of nine planetary boundaries, as set out by Rockstrom et al, beyond which lies unacceptable environmental degradation and potential tipping points in Earth systems. Mathematics and the Sciences will need to constantly trawl their content to update and incorporate new knowledge. And we will need to be more flexible, ready to embrace change cautiously and always without compromise, by revisiting our question, ‘what is the best education we can give our children?

Taking into account what we know of adolescence and sleep, it may be that schools will still start at 8.30 am as they must, albeit not for learning purposes, with the first 90 minutes given over to creative arts or physical activity. Core teaching time could be restricted for no more than three hours: 10.00am to 1.00pm, with its focus on the effectiveness of engagement. In the afternoon, there may be a hybrid approach of some traditional classes delivered in classrooms augmented by a wide range of subjects available on on-line platforms including academic and vocational training depending on age. Extra-curricular should be brought inside the walls; outside of the core subjects, diversity, personalised learning will become the norm as the model evolves. And evolve it must.

There would be an emphasis on creative arts and the skills that are required for this new world – music, art, design, drama, coding – and an emphasis on imagination and enquiry in all subjects. And languages, we must encourage languages, even more so as we slip out of Europe. A new survey last week found that half of young people feel that their education has not prepared them for the world of work’ – which is why we have to change the paradigm to provide the diversity and flexibility and skills required. As a counterweight, we need also to blush when we hear the label the snowflake generation for this is something we have created. Young adults, in turn, wll need to learn to be patient in their ambition, more flexible, prepared to spend time to learn, to understand the importance of loyalty, service and hard work and personal sacrifice in a quest not to make money, but to make a difference. Even if we haven’t told them so, at least not yet

To achieve this, we need to make sure that education reflects our beliefs and values as a society. This is the why to which we return, the ethical premise and the values, behaviours and attitudes which underpin our lives. At present, we are playing catch up at the very time the glaciers are melting and technology is taking us on a white water ride.  Our moral principles have been compromised by not being explicit enough and this has allowed big business to ride roughshod over the environment. With climate change and conservation marginalized by those whose profits are affected and who therefore have no truck with those who fight for environmental change and for regeneration. This is why we need a new paradigm: it is not just about integrating technology or changing a curriculum, integrating new skills or growing emotional intelligence. It is also about fighting for our future by providing our children with an ethical framework on which to build a sustainable society for the future and to give purpose and direction to their lives. 



Lessons from Lockdown

Uncategorised Posted on Tue, September 01, 2020 09:39:40

‘Those old, derided classrooms, with ordered desks and a teacher at the front, now resemble for many the warm embrace of the familiar. Let’s look forward to returning to what we know, and what our students value. Let’s work tirelessly towards the day when the laptop is shut down, the face mask is taken off, to reveal a very human smile. Today, the personal is radical. The revolution can wait.’  David James  TES

The last six weeks have been an extraordinary period in our history, fraught with challenges and no more so than for children. As lockdown has continued, schools have been challenged like never before to find different ways to educate their pupils and students. What never seemed possible before, in terms of moving lessons from the classroom, quickly became so with a remarkable increase in teacher (and parent) training, on-line programmes and curricula and a rapidly growing number of providers. The pity was it took a virus to force us to look at what is possible and how technology can make a difference to learning after twenty years tip-toeing round the edges. 

Of course, it has not been straight-forward. There has been justifiable concern of growing inequality during the lockdown, especially for those who respond best to the discipline of a classroom and the presence of a teacher or whose home circumstances mitigate against learning. Schools up and down the country compelled to go on-line have been forced to re-invent the wheel or to choose from the smorgasbord of courses on line – or both.  New courses like EtonX and an extended BBC bitesize (delivered through the Oak National Academy) have changed the landscape.  Parents have struggled through their own limited knowledge of technology and especially when space and the number of children have restricted learning opportunities. And many students, no doubt, used to education being about push factors, about imposed structure and discipline, find they are rudderless without the means to motivate themselves. That said, I suspect that most parents and guardians have used the time locked up at home to consciously or unconsciously rethink what they understand by education and, in passing, will have developed a grudging admiration for their children’s teachers. Possibly their children will be learning about getting on with parents and siblings or other family dynamics and be better able to discuss what’s happening about them; VE day and Captain Moore, or climate change and the connectedness of the world. Or perhaps there will be making fresh observations from their daily walk, seeing old things anew – and all of that will have immeasurable benefits. Through all of this, there have been lessons we can learn, a few of which I touch on below:

1.      Schools are, first and foremost, social communities where children grow up and experience that journey with their peers – and teachers. It is the social experience that dominates their day; in their minds, education is what is happening when they’re making other plans – to paraphrase John Lennon. 

2.      The importance of education out of the classroom, through families or friendship groups, in growing values, attitudes, tastes, habits, passions has been more evident than ever before.

3.      Schools are not just in the business of educating children, but their parents and communities also. By building better links with parents through technology, we have changed the relationship between home and school and the idea of schools being their for the whole family is something we should build on. Many parents are now much better connected to their children’s schools and may even understand what their children are learning. Better communication and explanation can only help take this further so parents feel better informed and involved and don’t just exist as critical outsiders.

4.      Parents and children will have experienced the realisation that education isn’t bound by four walls. Many children and families will have experienced education without the limits of a curriculum, whether by pursuing creative activities, through walks, banter, debates and a reappraisal of what they feel is important in their lives.

5.      We have a curriculum that needs reforming which may involve changes to the way we teach. Lockdown as led to questions about why we teach the way we do and why do we teach what we do, ie who selects. The changes need be dramatic, but in the wake of the failures of national and international responses to the pandemic and the inevitable changes in our economic activity that will follow, we need to reassess what we teach children. This need for an appraisal  of our curriculum is long overdue even before covid19, but debating the cost of human lives in when to end the lockdown (which is really what the debate is about) is focusing minds. 

6.      Eton College’s pledge to raise £100 million to improve equality of opportunity was an initiative that received a lot of publicity and rightly so. However, we need to do more about challenging selective education and understand that students can become better rounded people as well as high achievers in non-selective schools (something we seem as a country to be set against despite it working well in many other countries). We need to weigh up what is gained and lost by selective schooling and not muddle the issue by factors such as poor discipline or class sizes.

7.      We have found out that there are other ways of assessing students, even if not yet that reliable or desirable.  But we shouldn’t just revert to the norm. Simon Henderson made that point  when he wrote, ‘If teacher-assessed grades are broadly considered to have worked then we should look again at our national exams and see if they are really necessary.’   Maybe the time isn’t right, but the school closures have asked the question whether we are making any concessions to the way children live and learn and whether there is a better, more accurate and more inclusive way of assessing learning. 

8.      This has been an opportunity for schools to look at when they start teaching in the morning. Many schools in lockdown have shifted their school day; others realised that students were accessing lessons much later in the day and well into the evenings and have adapted their programmes so students can work to their own timetables. Some schools have indicated that they are going to keep to this when schools re-open. Evidence is growing that children would benefit from an hour of exercises / yoga , music or other cultural / sporting activity before starting formal lessons at 10.00am

9.      Schools are run on the basis of minimum hours / days in class.  Students learn at different paces / times and perhaps (another lesson from lockdown) so we should stop measuring time by the number of hours spent in a classroom rather than by the quality of learning. Three focused hours of core learning each day could be enough to allow time for a more diverse personalised curriculum, other on-line or on-site lessons, vocational training or a range of cultural and recreational activities.

10.  As we begin using i-phones to track the spread of coronavirus, we should accept that i-phones are here to stay until they are replaced with even more sophisticated technology – and start to teach children to work with them, to use them as teaching aids and not set against them

11.  Most children will be pleased to get back to school, even if only for social reasons. But there will be a significant number who will not welcome a return. There could be a variety of reasons, but three main ones I would suggest will be (a) social acceptance, bullying, learning difficulties, issues with mental health exacerbated by classmates, discipline issues and the camaraderie of the peers.  (b) The relevance of the curriculum and what they are learning, especially for those who learn differently or have learning issues and (c)  the feeling that they can achieve much better without classroom distractions and discipline issues. ‘Disruptive learning’ isn’t a fad; it’s a reality in many classrooms as group work is defined by the attitude and behaviour of the worst member of the group  Some students have stated how they have enjoyed lessons from their teachers on google classroom more than the same lessons delivered by the same teacher in the classroom. Many feel they can learn better without interruptions and at the best times for them. We cannot change classrooms just for the few, (and nor should we), but we can listen, learn and adapt.

12.  We have learned a good deal more about how children learn when the content is relevant, interesting and personalised. So many children have been learning so many things, from learning a musical instrument to gardening woodcraft, astronomy and cooking skills – and enjoying it.

13.   This is the time for other ideas such as Kate Raworth’s economic doughnut, decolonising the curriculum and the recent activities of extinction rebellion to be considered. Our curriculum is overloaded – perhaps it is time to revert to cross-subject groupings such as sciences / social sciences / humanities, even a modified trivium? Whatever we choose, we may need to move away from some subject boxes (should Geography and History exist as separate entities without Economics, should Philosophy and Ethics play a more central role in schools?  We have learned that schools can operate off-line and some very well indeed. Rather than throw this advantage away, we have the ideal situation for bringing in more blended learning, where a greater range of subjects can be offered in all schools. To say that ‘teaching remotely is a pale imitation of what we do’ is to dismiss how useful distant learning has been for those who struggle with school. By using remote learning flexibly as an integral part of teaching, schools can be more inclusive – surely an important aim of education. The role of teachers has broadened with some showing they are better producing on-line lessons that they are in the classroom. This could be the time to allow teachers to become on-line providers and tutors, providing the personal support for on-line courses

14.  We have learnt that there are many in the forefront of education who would choose to ignore all the above. They are ideologically resistant to change, using the club of professed excellence to snuff out new ideas often driven by self-interest. They do not welcome debate and speak in binaries. That is not how change will happen.Their bubbles have contracted the longer the lockdown has gone on. 

15.  Lurking beneath this pandemic is a far greater crisis with potentially far greater consequences: climate change. We need to change our behaviours, our ambitions, our idea of co-existence if we are to survive this – and this needs to be reflected in our schools. We have to stop thinking about education as creaming off the top so schools can boast about their clutch of Oxbridge places and start teaching children to value jobs that have social worth: nurses, carers, cleaners, fire and ambulance workers, drivers, teachers and doctors. Schools need to be for all, not for a diminishing minority who profit from an out-dated curriculum and inadvertently contribute to growing inequality.

And, no, the revolution cannot wait. Despite the siren call of the classroom desperately awaited by many children and even more parents, we will be all the poorer if we have not learned some lessons from the lockdown. What is exciting is that a growing number of schools are changing. Despite all the debates and articles that deal with education only in binary terms, we have to accommodate new ideas for the sake of our children. Going back now to how we did things before would be both wasteful and retrograde.

6th May 2020



The Case against Selective Education

Uncategorised Posted on Mon, June 22, 2020 10:54:40

‘Everybody is a genius. But if you judge a fish by its ability to climb a tree, it will live its whole life thinking it is stupid.’  Albert Einstein

‘The object of education is to prepare the young to educate themselves throughout their lives’   Robert Maynard Hutchins

‘Likely as not, the child you can do least with will do the most to make you proud.’  Mignon McLauglin

In 2015, I was invited to contribute a chapter to a book being published by Civitas entitled ‘The Ins and Outs of Selective Secondary Schools: A Debate. A number of well-known educationalists and writers including Geoff Barton, Alan Smithers, Joanna Williams, Fiona Miller and Peter Hitchens and the two MPs, Nic Dakin and Graham Brady who contributed to the publication, Launched in a Committee Room in the Palace of Westminster with speeches by David Davis and Tristram Hunt, it felt like the start of a serious debate about selection in our schools.

I felt very much an outsider in the debate, being neither English nor having taught in a UK secondary school. Indeed, I assumed I was asked to contribute based solely on an article I had written several years earlier entitled ‘Unnatural Selection,’ the same title I used for my chapter. Then as now, I started with an apology for writing on one of educations sacred cows, acknowledging that what I wrote was ‘mere rhetoric that . . .  could never dent an immutable belief system’ adding that ‘. . .  I make matters even worse by using examples from off-shore thereby breaking another cardinal rule, of presuming that other countries do things better than we do.’

The debate, after a spark of interest and an exchange of views, duly fizzled out and apart from plaintive bleating about grammar schools and the iniquity of the 11+ so it remains: Unresolved, put into the too hard basket, the property of lobby groups and theorists, politicians and teaching unions. In re-visiting it, I want to return to the premise I adhere to in everything I write on education, ‘what is the best education we can give our children’ – that is individually and collectively.

Naturally in what I write there will be caveats, the most significant being that we shouldn’t confuse a failure of discipline with a lack of ability. Like a few other educationalists (Mary Myatt being one such voice), I have always seen our approach of dumbing down to children who struggle in class or who are subject to interventions and differentiation, or even withdrawal is wrong.  Rather than being unable to cope, I am convinced that many, especially those who struggle with written communication are merely bored, bored by being pandered to, bored by the irrelevance of the curriculum, and bored by having to respond in a predetermined way. Seldom is it the complexity of the concept or information that holds back children from learning; rather it’s frustration with the tedium allied to the lack of equity, understanding  and opportunity for all children to flourish.

Second, I want to challenge the view that doing away with selective schools is an attack on excellence, on intellectual rigour, on catering for our brightest and most able children. Of course, that is what some people choose to see, for that is all they’ve ever seen. Sometimes, the alternative is incomprehensible. Yet rather than dumbing down, getting rid of selection in education can, and does, lead to a raising of standards. Children respond to challenge and to high expectations; we often fail to realise just how high we can aim and because of the paucity of our curriculum and methods of assessment, how to reach them. That is our country’s loss.

I want to keep my argument to two main points. There is plenty written elsewhere on selection and I don’t want to just go over well-trodden ground. Some assumptions have to be made, particularly on the importance of discipline (preferably self-discipline) in learning, and that is much more achievable when education is seen as relevant and equitable. The second is that while this applies particularly to the debate in the state sector, particularly competitive entry to grammar schools, it is also relevant to independent schools that need to look at the merits of inclusivity and the breadth of the offering.

My first is that selective schooling is unfair and wasteful, primarily because it ignores the concept of readiness, but also because it fails to properly consider other factors, such as home background, language  acquisition, other learning traits, ambition, aptitudes and specific learning needs. Despite new tests designed to level up other considerations, the system by which children are ‘selected’, usually based on a test or series of tests, is too narrow, favouring a conformist, traditional approach to learning, discriminating against those who learn differently or who have other abilities; and second, that selective schooling fails the education of those who are the beneficiaries and, as a consequence, denies us the opportunity to  produce well-rounded and socially aware students from whom they have been separated and who have different backgrounds, different ways of learning and different abilities to share.

When we ignore the whole concept of readiness, as selection inevitably does (and the younger it occurs, the greater the social and personal cost) we fail a whole cohort of children. This is not only a casualty of selection into schools, but selection within schools which is applies to both state and independent schools that adhere to an inflexible system of streaming and setting. I have seen too many children of 10, 11 and 12 who were far from capable of passing a rigorous entrance examination yet who, five years later, achieved outstanding grades – and predictably so. No-one can teach us anything in life that we are not ready to learn. Sometimes, the lightbulb moment doesn’t come until university or later in life.  Closing doors on our young (for that is what we do with selection) is wasteful and unfair. By using such a rigid set of tests to measure academic ability at a fixed point in time along with some predictive test to measure ‘potential’ we ignore all that the test doesn’t measure: work ethic; mindset; ambition; opportunity and incentive; abilities other than academic; creative thinking; and so on.  Now we are beginning to see children with certain learning difficulties being sought out because of bespoke skills and aptitudes they offer, offering insights and a creative mindset that isn’t part of the mainstream, and essentially, conformist curriculum. What a pity we don’t recognise these same abilities in our schools.

My second point is significant if we look at the other societal cost of selection, of rewarding conformity over creativity. In the Margaret Thatcher Lecture of 2013, Boris Johnson used the measure of IQ to assert that people were ‘very far from equal in raw ability, if not in spiritual worth.’  The latter comment is problematic, especially if, as implied, it is linked to the first. Johnson’s assertion betrays a belief in academic intelligence, that successful human beings are measurable, by their IQ which forms the basis for selection in schools. Yet it is disturbing to see how some ‘intelligent’ people, streamed from their peers at a very young age, become immured, believing that their academic ability entitles them to the spoils of influence and power, outside the normal conventions and values of society . We only have to look at the Bullingdon Club to see how remote many such people become. We can also look at the way intelligent people are often short on emotional intelligence and lack both common-sense and tolerance. Some leading politicians and public figures provide apt examples of people who try to intellectualise social problems. That is the way we have made them. That is the way we have indulged them. The reality is that you cannot know about people unless you are one of them and don’t live in gated communities. A reliance on academic ability at the expense of other traits and experiences, and in isolation from a cross-section of other peers with all their views, behaviours and backgrounds fails them and so long as they run this country, fails us all 

In my chapter of the book, I gave examples from my own teaching practice in New Zealand where schools are not selective and yet very able children did as well as children in selective schools elsewhere, referencing two of my history students who went from their New Zealand school to Cambridge and end up with 1st class honours degrees. How much better off they were, I thought, having been in schools with other student who had a range of abilities and talents, interests and views, and not all of them academic. How much better they understood their communities and the talent that abounds in their less well-achieving classmates.  I have known far too many students who achieved through dint of hard work or in fields that were immeasurable; so many who changed dramatically when they got the bit between their teeth; so many whose attitude and ambition made a mockery of their IQ. Children who had their own high expectations of themselves when their schools had told them otherwise.

We need to change. The system we have of winners and losers, of league tables, of acknowledging some talents and ignoring others; of catering one way of learning and failing to recognize its shortcomings, has to change.  I’d love to see more independent schools take the lead and become properly non-selective. I’d love to see bursaries not being restricted to the brightest and the most talented students from local state schools, but the average student, even the struggling student. We have to stop placing a value on children and a level of expectation based on something we label as intelligence. Surely seeing who lines up under the banner of ‘essential workers’ tells us that. Selection denies both the opportunity for the vast majority of children while producing collateral damage on those who are the beneficiaries, limiting their relevance and voice. We don’t have to look very far to see the consequences of seeing life as an academic exercise and people as data; we need to get the humanity and empathy back into our society and it is our schools that provide the gateway.



Education – The New Education

Uncategorised Posted on Thu, April 30, 2020 09:57:25

Phase One: The First Five Years

It is almost impossible to summarise what a changed education landscape should look like without being challenged to provide the research. After all, every point is a provocation. Perhaps that is the point because if we don’t get the debate moving along, we will continue to fail too many of our children. 

  • The school day keeps its current shape
  • A change is instigated in school culture: behaviour, aspiration, ethics, expectations.
  • Children are taught to see the relevance of education –hence, ipso facto, it must be relevant
  • Music and physical education, drama and fitness/ sport activities, including pilates, dance etc are offered at the start of day music
  • Formal lessons of core subjects start at 10.00am 
  • No external assessment until 11 (ie no EYFS or SATS)
  • Move away from selective education – some setting allowed within Years 11 – 13
  • Gradual abandonment of GCSEs
  • Use of external providers for remote learning to cater for a wide a range of interests and abilities as practicable (universities, vocational, freelance providers, sharing amongst schools)
  • Obstacles, such as excessive accountability for pupils’ performance, classroom disruption, loss of teachers addressed with more focus on classroom management and pedagogy.
  • Gradual separation of societal and educative functions of schools (also be reflected in staffing)
  • Blended education offered between internal and external providers in the afternoon sessions
  • Staff to include teaching, tutors and facilitators with a commensurate reduction in the number of teacher assistants above Year 5
  • Core subjects (especially English and Mathematics) stripped down to utility value, ie less focus on peripheral grammatical terms, (determiners, fronted adverbial phrases, ellipsis), less emphasis on written comprehension, text analysis, more on interpretation, writing skills, accuracy of written language, oral language; in Mathematics, less focus on algebra and calculus in KS 1 – 3, more on practical mathematical skills, tables, measurement, money.
  • Significant curriculum change outside of the core subjects with less focus on teaching for assessment (more practical science, practical geography, ecology, more music, art)
  • Main homework up to Year 5 should be reading (only other homework should be retentive work, spelling, languages, tables, formulae) 
  • Ethical underpinning of the curriculum  – an understanding of the anthropocene, re-wilding, climate change, ecology and regeneration
  • Absorption of History and Geography into Social Studies up until age 14 years
  • A root and branch review of what a school should look like (including how to incorporate technology – and the mobile phone – into teaching
  • An overhaul / reduction of PD / CPD and new terminology to provide a period of continuity with a focus on pedagogy.
  • Focus on classroom management, growing expectations, improving engagement with a focus on relevance and ownership. 
  • Extra funding required to augment a reductionist approach to education to ensure the lesson is not cluttered by distractions
  • Less focus on cognitive load theory, knowledge rich curriculum, learning and retrieval practice, modes of assessment etc 
  • More focus on intellectual risk taking, innovation and problem solving.
  • Homogenising of school types (grammar, state, independent)
  • A healthy scepticism of the economic model and business of schools  
  • In all things, schools need to visit and re-visit the central question: ‘what is the best education we can give our children – here and now?’

This is to fuel discussion and debate. It can do little more. Don’t look for gaps because they are everywhere – for instance, nothing on careers, EYFS, phonics, pastoral care, vocational qualifications etc, but they covered in the debate on petertait.education   I am happy to footnote any points and to apologise for any serious omissions which will be numerous. 

Phase Two: Where we are heading

In five years, education may well be dictated by factors other than academic and pastoral measures, including considerations of the environment, health, cultural and economic factors. Change will be exacerbated by the current pandemic that is altering the social and economic landscape as I write.  And yet while it is hard to see education out of the shadow of Covid19, we must do so.  What is paramount is that we change the culture so people think of community above self (as already happening) and we look at how to make education available to all, either as blended education or, as a default position, to  all children via the internet. The list below is predictive, but looks to draw together some of the best thinking out there and to provide a basis for debate.

  • Schools will continue to visit and re-visit the central question: ‘what is the best education we can give our children?’
  • The shape of the school day will be modified and compartmentalised according to societal / community need 
  • The role and function of educators will change to accommodate a greater degree of separation of roles into tutors, facilitators, classroom, assistants, auxiliary, specialists roles each with more specific defined roles.
  • Ofsted will be closed down and different measures used for employing worth based on human values / attitudes and behaviours as well as educational achievement
  • The status and well-being of teachers to be prioritised by Government
  • All education will be available remotely for all students. While the emphasis will be on classroom teaching, individual programmes will be the norm and all school programmes will be blended as required. Courses offered by schools will include courses offered by all sectors and all providers, as deemed appropriate
  • A national virtual school that offers all academic and vocational courses will be established, particularly to promote marginal subjects (languages, etc)
  • Education will be geared to need and will be pared down to a required core before any specialisation (similar to the Trivium). Functional skills will be honed before specialisation
  • Creative subjects and general health will be prioritised
  • STEM subjects and digital learning will be implicit (cf explicit) parts of learning
  • Assessment will be on-line. By the use of better algorithms, summative assessment will be greatly reduced and national testing confined to the final years of school.  Assessment will change from measuring learning peaks to assessing deeper understanding
  • The rationale of education will change from academic achievement to utility and inclusion.  Through acknowledging readiness and better data, doors to career choice will remain open, longer.  
  • At present around 15% of the population are diagnosed with special needs. By 2025, it will be accepted that all students have ‘special needs’ and that the delivery of education will be tailored accordingly, both in mainstream and on-line classes.
  • The most important and fundamental change will be in the culture of education which will be a shift from the selfish premise of education, based on individual achievement to a much wider interpretation of what makes a good citizen, sic, a fulfilled human being. This will mean a shift from a ‘me’ culture to a ‘we’ culture.
  • The doughnut economy will lie at the heart of our curriculum with its emphasis on regeneration, conservation, and a redefinition of economic value.
  • GDP will be widely discredited as THE tool to measure national prosperity and growth. Planned obsolescence will be seen as both redundant and wasteful. 
  • Only external exams will be at the top of secondary schools (nb GCSEs no longer exist)
  • Further curriculum development to ensure creativity and thinking is at the heart of learning
  • An adherence to what has worked in education: rote-learning, memory work, communication skills (written and spoken) will still underpin education
  • League tables banned along with any competitive advertising based on examination results
  • Curriculum to focus on key skill – oral and verbal communication, digital skills, reading and mathematics up until end of Year 6.
  • Broad subjects to be integrated into broad groups: Humanities, Sciences and Social Sciences up until the end of Year 10.
  • Pathways from Year 11 onwards   
  • End of selective schools
  • Funding heavily apportioned on decile point based on areas and intake (10 = best areas / schools / minimal funding) 1 = most deprived areas maximum funding)
  • No private funding of education. A focus on the integrity of schools, curriculum and purpose.  Which means increased national funding.
  • Part of the cultural change (linked to careers and choices made at Age 16) is an emphasis on service occupations over self-service, value measured in other than monetary terms (a redefinition of value and worth)
  • A change in the way education is perceived by the young: no longer adversarial, but helpful, useful, having a purpose, challenging, relevant, tailored to their needs

This is, of course, predictive and only opinion. But it is an attempt to add flesh to the words of all those that write ‘time for change’, ‘we cannot go back to how things were’ etc. While these are sentiments I agree wholeheartedly (and sad it has taken a world pandemic to get to this point), we cannot simply dismantle a system of education without proposing what can take its place. This involves looking anew at our system, and preferably from without rather than from within, with all its vested interests and roadblocks. This has been a significant part of my work on the curriculum page of my website at petertait.education.

Once again, I am aware many areas (pastoral and careers for instance) have only been alluded to, but rather than point out what’s missing, help me fill in the gaps. I am happy to footnote any points and apologise for any omissions / errors that are herein. 

Appendix:  Clearing out the Curriculum: Finding that Blank Page  (Published between Phase One and Phase Two)

You don’t have to look far to find advice on reshaping the curriculum. Out there, in the edu-marketplace, are literally thousands of educationalists, academics and consultants explaining, interpreting and defining the national curriculum by delivering courses and workshops, each offering nuanced opinions about content, planning and delivery, resources and results.  Behind them exists a subsidiary industry producing text-books, apps, journals and resources, tutors and teachers tweeking pedagogy as they go.  And that is before we move from the generic into the specific, the subject domains, each undergoing its own process of revisionism and development as they must, justifying change along the way. For defending your subject in the battleground of choice is no easy task. Sexing up your subject, at school, at university, is part of the game. Enter ‘curriculum’ into twitter and you will see how widespread the industry is. And it is an industry.  

Curricula should always be subject to constant discussion and change. But the problem with the plethora of new theories, endless research and advances in neuroscience is a new vocabulary and a profession as often confused as they are bemused. It becomes a huge anchor on the imagination and an impediment to change. It is a pond that is struggling more and more to find room for all the subjects and ideas (so many lessons a week; so many hours in the timetable, so many different demands), for the pond is a finite space inhabited by only so many fish. And at the same time, more and more is being asked of schools and teachers at the very time that blanket weed and algae are slowly suffocating the life out of it.

In looking at where we are going with education, we need to abandon this model. We need to forget about its premise and content and ignore what we have always done, even the building blocks and subject domains. We need to stop tinkering with a model that is at the whim of political and industry machination and accept it is redundant. And for many reasons that is not easy.

Forgetting what we know of education we should ask a single question, ‘what is the best education we can give our children in the here and now? What do they need to know? What should they know? Forget subject domains. Forget topics and material that are taught because they’ve always been taught and schools have the resources and the qualified staff to teach them. Forget the cries of industry who call for the primacy of vocational skills; forget the classicists and historians who argue that only by understanding the wisdom and ruination of the past can we plot our onward journey; forget what we know of technology as well as traditional teaching pedagogy; forget grammaticians who argue for the terms children need to know for KS2; ignore the mathematicians who feel algebra and calculus are necessary for all. Forget what schools look like and how they work. Ask that question ‘What is the best education we can give our children in the here and now? and keep asking it.  Put everything we think and know to one side and ask what are the skills and knowledge, the values and ideas children need, now, today? Forget about assessment which for too long has drained the life from learning. Forget the adversarial nature of education, the role society has given it, the way children and parents view it.  Forget about the idea of university being the natural outcome, towards which schools are skewered; forget all that.

And ask instead not only what could be done to make our curriculum more relevant, more applicable to a world that is dynamic yet increasingly rootless. Maybe some for the change will not be so drastic, that some blocks will remain, perhaps even skills like rote learning and handwriting, but only by asking (and then answering) the question will we know. 

Everyone has something to say on education. There is much good work that is going on with educational research about how children learn that is crucial in shaping our views and understanding. But teachers are in danger of not knowing where to turn as the pressures of their job are compounded by ambiguities about ‘what is education’ and ‘what is the appropriate pedagogy.’ Within the current paradigm, ways have been found to clean the pond and restock it, but it’s still a pond. Perhaps a better analogy would have been an ox-bow lake, left behind as the river has passed by with its different channels and meanders. We need to get out of the stagnant waters and back into the river to make our curriculum more dynamic. I have already proposed some thoughts about a transitional stage for education in a previous blog, but as to what happens after that it is difficult to predict other than change will be slow and laborious – which could be calamitous, not only for children, but for society. Nevertheless, predict we must and turn our focus forwards rather than holding onto the direction of travel so far. Self-interest, inertia, issues with funding will not be easily overcome. Nor will be the interests of an expansive and profitable education industry: the producers of teaching aids, books and resources; those who run conferences, sell CPD, organise subject associations, print journals and whose opinions on social media hold undue sway. They are not just going to step aside unless they feel confident in a new direction. But they should also take a step outside the pond, clear their heads and start to think more about what they are contributing to and whether they truly believe in it. Many of them say that our children are not happy, nor are they well-provided for. If we ignore the need for change, we will be guilty of sacrificing our them for a curriculum that has less and less relevance to them, that has built-in pressures and is driven by often irrelevant outcomes, a system that ignores their personal needs, their mental health and well-being and even the need of society for good citizens. We owe them more than that.



A New Paradigm of Education – and how to get there

Education Posted on Tue, July 16, 2019 12:30:01


‘State schooling both today and when I was a child seemed stuck in a Victorian-era paradigm . . of becoming a good worker and getting a good job.’Akala

The hardest part of deciding on a new paradigm of education is in questioning and, where necessary, jettisoning what we have always held to be sacred and undeniable – the acquisition and accumulation of knowledge, the need for a curriculum divided into subject domains, for a requisite body of skills to be taught, of rigorous and regular testing to sort and filter children according to ability; of schools and the teacher to be at the heart of education; of an adherence to IQ and a belief that significant deviations are abnormal and need special interventions; and a belief that what we do in our schools is equitable and delivered without bias. Added to that is the insinuation that social media is pernicious and dangerous and the mobile phone is the frontline in a battle with today’s youth and we have the perfect storm.

So where to start? How about the statement that our education system is founded in the need for social control and conformity and rewards those that mimic it; that today’s schools and our whole education system is profligate and wasteful of talent; that our education benefits the status quo by rewarding the same outcomes as the previous generations; that social media and the internet is not the bugbear it is frequently portrayed, but an opportunity in waiting; that there is no need for selective education just more opportunities; that education, as offered in our schools, is serving the needs of a decreasing number of children; that deciding how we access knowledge and what we choose to learn is more important than ever; that technology must be used rather more smartly than just enlivening the education experience through immersive teaching; seeing why we must replace an adherence to GDP by an ethical understanding of the world we live in; and why education needs to be life-long, not adversarial, but desirable and available for all.

The current system is failing. Its goals are wrong, its premise driven by competition and accountability, by vested interests including teachers’ unions, a system directed towards, and determined by the requirements for university entry even knowing that most will not go there. The social stratification of education that sees BTecs and vocational courses pushed down the order as more rigorous testing and accountability determines schools’ offerings. True, many subjects don’t need to significantly change other than in the way they engage with students, but others such as History need a complete overhaul. Nor do we need to eschew high expectations, a good work ethic, memory, even repetition, because these are implicit in all learning. We need to guard against bias and the best way of doing that is to ensure a new paradigm is diverse and fluid, that it embraces e-learning and changes in the way we teach. We need to open our minds and think anew.

A root and branch review of our education system needs to be delivered not from within the current paradigm, but from without. After all, of all the many impediments negating change, the education industry with its numerous splinter theories, books and courses to sell, detox clinics to market and conferences to populate is not going to let unfettered change happen without a fight. We need to look at what has changed in our world and respond accordingly: a pending environmental meltdown; an obesity epidemic; a mental health crisis; the doubling of information every year; rapid advances of technology; new areas of knowledge; a changing workplace; disintegrating communities – and respond appropriately.

In the end it comes down to the age-old question I have used throughout my career in education as a teacher, head and now as a trustee of a multi-academy trust and school governor: namely, ‘what is the best education we can give our children in preparing them for their world and how do we achieve it” We just need to think of how best to answer it – and I don’t think we can do so staying in our current paradigm.



Mental Health and Well-Being

General Posted on Mon, May 13, 2019 15:41:25

A Tsumami is coming – a Mental Health Warning.

At the recent TEDXSherborne, it was sobering listening to the experience of a father talking at about the effects of depression and mental illness upon, first, his son, and then his family. The illness had started with his son’s anxiety about examinations and, without early intervention and the necessary expert help, soon deteriorated into severe depression before affecting other family members who began to suffer mental health issues of their own.

Andrew Grundell spoke bravely of the pain his family had been through and argued that things needed to change to avoid a ‘mental health tsunami’ – one that would overwhelm individuals, families and communities. His response was a call to action: early intervention, making use of the deep lived experience of families, better funding to speed up the process of referrals, access to specialist professionals and placing the patient at the centre.

It was tough to listen to, but so much tougher to live the experience and hard to avoid asking why, why this has happened? What has brought us to this point that mental health at epidemic proportions? What are we doing that has led to 1 in 4 suffering a mental health issue? More worrying, what is happening to our young: 50% of all mental health issues are established by the age of fourteen years with suicide is the biggest cause of death for those aged between 5 – 19 years. What are we doing to protect them during these most vulnerable years?

The very next morning, the Chair of the Exams regulator, Ofqual, was in the news stating that examination stress is the result of students being more “mentally fragile” and that stress was not the result of high-stakes exams. It was hardly cognizant of a landscape in which examinations now have a range of stakeholders: Teachers, HODs, Schools, parents as well as the students themselves, and that the drip down pressure of expectation and accountability this has generated has been hugely deleterious. We have to acknowledge that dealing with mental health issues by providing the changes that Andrew is asking for is crucial, but also important, I would suggest, that we take our heads out of the sand and look at the causesof anxiety in these most vulnerable years so as to prevent it getting a foothold: the language we use; the way we dump the detritus of modern life on young with no acknowledgement of their emotional and intellectual readiness; the way we sell education as being about winners and losers by our ‘one way for all’ approach; the pressure of exams and of self-image, fueled by social media; the effect of unstable home life, poor role models, poverty and the effects of marginalisation through race, faith or gender.

Well-being is the new buzz word in schools although the term itself has been about for some time now. Attempting to build self-confidence in children by talking about self, however, is not without risk as self-analysis can also lead to the early signs of anxiety and marginalisation. We are making children grow up too quickly and the results are plain to see.

An approach or course of treatment that works for one person might not work for another. Renowned psychologist Martin Seligman argues that we should stop treating depression as an illness to be fixed with pills. Last year, one in six people in England between the ages of 18 and 64 was prescribed antidepressants. Instead, we should employ other approaches such as cognitive behavioural therapy, and look at other ways of changing our personal space or environment, that having a dog is better for your mental health than Prozac and that nothing changes if we don’t change our thinking or behaviour. Whether it be cognitive behavioural therapy, counselling, other interventions or medication, the key is early intervention and access to professional help be available when anxiety becomes apparent

Even before that point, we can do more to help our children by changing their environment and their mindset, addressing the conditions in which anxiety is allowed to grow. Connecting with the environment, for instance, is one age-old way to ease anxiety and release tension. Not only does a walk in the countryside allow time to pause, observe and reflect on the wonders of the natural world, but it also gives time to focus on the more important things in life, family, friends and communities. With the pace of life as it is, old fashioned hobbies or interests may not have the same appeal they once had, but the idea of engaging with nature in some capacity or another, whether it be in rewilding, conservation, or even bird-watching is gaining currency. We should not underestimate the links between our physical and mental health and the world as we imagine it, and the natural world in which we live.

To stop the threatened tsunami of mental health will take a concerted effort by all stakeholders. Already, we know there is an urgent need to improve our mental health system through better funding, early intervention, getting rid of the stigma that is associated with mental health and how to get more specialist help. But as well, we need to work harder at identifying the causes of mental illness and, whereever we can, pre-empt them.



Common Era or Common Entrance: A Talk to the Oxford Group of Prep School Heads, 24th January, 2019

Education Posted on Sat, January 26, 2019 13:08:44

I must say I am surprised to be back talking about Common Entrance. It’s thirteen years since I spoke to the Senior School Academic Deputies and Directors of Studies about Common Entrance at their conference in Lisbon in 2006 and various conferences thereafter. Although I was a director of ISEB – embarrassingly when I took my own school out of the humanities which I felt were dry and simply asked children to regurgitate knowledge without any analysis or thought – I couldn’t help but feel that significant reform was needed – and I am pleased to note since then, most subjects have had a thorough overhaul and it is a different examination, albeit with the same constraints.

But in the aftermath of the decision by the three schools, Westminster, St Paul’s and Wellington College that led to this discussion today, please indulge me for a minute while I offer a reminder about senior schools and the use they made of common entrance when it suited them to do so.

They really had it good! They didn’t have to prepare papers, supervise exams, justify their marking of exams, pay for any of the costs and, along with GSA and IAPS got a cut of some 80k, money taken from prep school parents and schools for their convenience – what a service!

But that wasn’t enough. CE didn’t evolve quickly enough, some subjects were content laden and soulless so that despite the convenience of what CE offered them, despite the wonderful bargain it represented, senior schools started to get edgy about filling their lists and hence looked at new ways of assessing their intake through entrance tests and scholarships that got earlier and earlier so they could get the jump on their rivals. It had nothing to do with education and complete disregard of how prep schools were structured. The action of three schools was no surprise, only disapponting in that the school decided to make a story out of it for their own ends. The irony is that it has taken this long after the conference in 2011 on Common Entrance: Fatally Flawed or Fighting Fit at Wellington College in 2011 at which Sir Anthony Seldon was hugely critical of Common Entrance for Wellington College in particular, to move. But we shouldn’t get hung up on their decision.

After all, is Is there anyone here on any of the Boards of those three schools?

And How many prep schools are even acknowledged when the these august schools get their raft of Oxbridge places, due in large part to your work in prep schools pushing them close to, or beyond GCSE level on arrival?

Deciding a new curriculum isn’t about Common Entrance –it’s about what is the best education that we can give to our children. So forget senior schools. They are so constrained by exams, so desperate to retain their league table place, under siege from the Charities commission, the press, defending IGCSEs, establishing schools abroad etc they don’t care. . . . nor should you think they act in our interests because they don’t. If they could get all their intake from primary schools they’d do it as it would tick more public benefit boxes. If their roll drops, they lower their intake to Yr 7 entry as had happened in parts of London without any discussion – or if they may go to co-ed from 11. Either way, when times get tight, self-interest rules.

All of which can be very liberating if prep schools use this freedom to ask the bigger question of ‘what is the best education we can give to our children?’ and place it inside a bigger question, which is how do we survive in a new marketplace without our traditional raison d’etre?

Before answering the question of a new curriculum, however, I do want to acknowledge the work being done at ISEB to widen consultation and to lead change.

I appreciate that many here will want the status quo albeit as an exit exam not an entrance exam – in which case an examination that will require common marking – something I’m sure ISEB will pick up on. And also that talking about Common Entrance is akin to talking about Brexit with its various constituencies. But we should be happy that CE has a future for those schools who want it. On the other hand, I hope that ISEB may look at what it is examining by working with prep schools to help influence a curriculum that sets prep schools apart, is more relevant to our needs and gives our children an intellectual robustness, new attitudes and values that will help them in a brave new world.

So what form would this new curriculum take? It would need to be more than tinkering. More than adding a few new trendy subjects. More than the Prep School Baccalaureate offers. Some schools have already looked at History, Geography and Theology and added some of the human sciences such as psychology and economics, but more than that. More than bringing in languages or public speaking and debating. More than creating extra-curricular clubs or activities to diversify the offering.

None of that would be enough to create a curriculum that would be truly distinctive, bespoke to prep schools, relevant to what is going on in education while also embedding environmental and social responsibility into every subject.

Yet here we are in 2019 with the opportunity to create a different curriculum

When I began looking at what a new curriculum could look like from age 4 – 19 years I started with something that resonated with me in an article on what children wanted to be when they left school and the two most popular answers from the children were rich and famous. And I reflected on the alumni of the independent sector and the way they represent us and wonder ‘are we teaching our children how to think ethically and of others rather than self – of community or the planet rather than GDP and wealth? And when we consider the growing influence of infotech and biotech, of nanotechnology and unbridled social media and technology, of the need for ethics in weapon and medical research and of the ethical vacuum in politics, in industry, in law, in financial services, whether we are doing enough to make good citizens, as a sector, let alone as a country (i)

As a response to my own question, at present, I’m involved in producing a curriculum for Years 7&8 predicated on ethics and sustainability, and as a trustee of a charity www.operationfuturehope working in environmental education and re-wilding school grounds, giving talks to schools and thereby teaching children to think about their world and their future in a more ethical way. In that curriculum we ask some fundamental questions including:

1. What are our human values?

2. How do we make decisions? Designing a flow chart.

3. Fake news and critical thought.

4. What is philosophy

5. What is anthropology

6. How well do we know our world?

7. Trees and birds – know our own world

8. Climate Change

9. Setting up and running a weather station (P)

10. Making our own power through solar panels (P)

11. Economic models and the economic doughnut

12. Responsibility

13. Re-wilding

14. Conservation – our responsibilities

15. Our local environs

16. Animal conservation

17. What can we do? Activism is a dirty word.

18. History and myth

19. Financial literacy and business ethics

That way, we can encourage children to see themselves as part of a family, but not centre stage, to get them to think about their communities and their part in those communities. We should encourage them to be thinking globally, from a young age for that is the future. Without denigrating the huge impact of ‘Every Child Matters’ in safeguarding, sadly parents took the maxim to mean ‘ my child matters more than anything or anyone else’ thereby placing the child at the hub of the family rather than as one of the satellites moving about lunar parents. While I might agitate that ‘Every Pensioner Matters’, the truth is a better message would have been ‘every person matters’ or in extremis, ‘every sentient being matters.’ We’re not quite there yet! But this generation are up for it and want it to happen.

Clearly we don’t want to throw out what works or jeopardise what we do well now and that is our academic and wider education offering, those subjects we do particularly well, our core subjects, classics and languages, but we should see if we can use our independence to create a curriculum that is more relevant to the issues that affect us all – and most important seek to change the attitudes to learning, to the environment and to each other.

We cannot join just extend what we do, and add an extra language, a few human sciences, more drama and art and music, debating, coding, a little technology, and call it a new curriculum, because it’s not about adding new content or replacing old with new. Last year there were 213 suggestions in the press about what should be included in our curriculum – the largest groups being in health, finance and technology – and we all know the curriculum is the dumping ground for new ideas. But on the other hand, when we look at a list of some of the most advertised jobs in 2018 – Data science manager, engagement managers, senior mobile developers, Cloud solutions architect, strategic sourcing specialist – and the skills they are crying out for: creativity, critical thinking, flexibility –we do have to ask what we are teaching and why. For instance, we all know about ox-bow lakes: my father was taught about them as was I – and those I taught had more of the same. When we look at the various domains of Geography, a subject which has expanded in recent years in all its domains: human, economic, spatial, physical, environmental – we realise we have to make decisions about what to keep and what to off-load knowing it will still be there at the end of a google lifeline. The sum total of knowledge is doubling every year and we cannot keep expanding our curriculum by adding more. In any new curriculum we have to choose who inhabits the framework and ensure that it is better / more relevant / more appropriate than what it’s replaced.

In writing a new curriculum, we should consider how we should respond to the four biggest challenges facing us: Artificial Intelligence, climate change, terrorism, mental and physical health. Ias as ector, I worry about our conservatism and our hypocrisy as educators, pushing our children harder and harder and catering for burnout by employing counsellors, force-feeding information into children so they grow up content rich, but unable to process all they know. I am a believer in knowledge and skills working together – one cannot exist without the other – but not of front-end loading that happens in GCSEs and A Levels. Less can be more and prep schools should focus on understanding and utility of knowledge rather than the amount.

I wondered what David Attenborough would suggest as a curriculum? Many here no doubt promote forest schools and Green School awards, but we can get children thinking differently about green issues – one reason why the conservation and environmental education of operation future hope with its focus on regeneration attracted me. How many children live their school values in their behaviour and attitudes and in their day to day living? And how many will continue to do so after they leave? Ask those at Canary Wharf, consumed with careers and the acquisition of wealth and weep.

Getting the framework is key as is determining the purpose and function of a curriculum. It may well be a curriculum based in greater part on the human sciences and the creative arts, but it has to carry parents and senior schools by ensuring they are getting more, not less. So the packaging is important.

There are so many ideas out there: promoting languages / lectures / Lamda courses for a year group, ESB, Grade One Music Theory for a year group / courses in critical thinking, more focus on Oracy, especially debating; studying the Human Sciences such as anthropology and psychology; Tackling health issues like Obesity through exercise; Climate Change; Artificial Intelligence, fake news; understanding Biotech and infotech / coding, literature / economics / Art History / Doughnut economics, how to use technology to advance rather than enhance learning (and area where we all follow like sheep); looking at our school grounds as learning environments through re-wilding, labelling trees, ornithology, expanding the creative arts: drama, music, art, technology, TED talks, e-learning and so on and so on. The challenge is how to present a new offering into a manageable whole with a sound rationale while protecting what we already do well? What will this curriculum look like? And once the premise has been established, can it be rolled out across prep schools like a smorgsbord with various options from the preceding list, but all grounded in the same premise.

And if we choose to proceed, how do we embed the values we teach; how do we reduce the content, but increase the levels of thinking and understanding; how do we get away from the addictive algorithms and an education mindset wrapped up in binary debates; how do we give children a better understanding of the world they are inheriting so that when the tech giants – Amazon and Google launch their own on-line schools – 5 years 10 years at most is what I’m told – we are already there, with children who can think ethically about the world and act accordingly.

Which takes us back to the question ‘What is the best education for our children’– not what would senior schools like which would improve their results at GCSEs. Recent polls suggest parents do not believe schools are equiping their children with the subjects or the skills they need in life and want more attention paid to soft skills, coding, and finance skills. Nor does industry think we’ve got it right. Nor universities. We should listen more closely and take a lead.

It’s not about doing more, it’s about changing a part of what we do and doing all of what we do, differently. Listen to senior school teachers bemoaning the content-heavy syllabi, schools criticised for starting GCSE preparation in year 9 and rejoice that we don’t have to go there!

Years ago, I wrote to every one of the Russell group to ask what they looked for and they were all that they said – independent and creative thinking, ability to write coherent paragraphs, communicate clearly attainable at prep schools. We can market ourselves on the fact that we do what senior schools are patently unable to do. My New Zealand experience was that if you have had a good prep school education you can handle everything, in spite of senior school! Perhaps that is what we should be striving for? And marketing ourselves on?After all, schools don’t need the validation of baccalaureates, endorsements, certificates? Years 7&8 are the best years to teach and they can handle high-level thinking. High expectations, a good work ethic and a pupil buy-in can move mountains, but it needs to ensure that what is learnt is going to offer children a future.

It will take cooperation amongst prep schools, but that should be happening anyway – after all, prep schools are an endangered species – and changing the public perception of what a prep school education is able to give children might be the way of securing our future. We would keep our standards, and raise our expectations while promoting those things we do well: teaching children to listen, to question, to respect other opinions and the natural environment, to show manners, to become independent learners, to develop memory while seeing the world globally from a premise not predicated on GDP, but on community, service and ethics.

Of course, we have the hoary old chestnut that is assessment. Perhaps because it is my experience from New Zealand where there were school exams, but no entry exams, that I realised that motivation to learn doesn’t rely on the threat of exams, but the joy of learning. Idealistic? Not in my view, but in the UK it would require an enormous change of culture. Perhaps algorithms will help us out by measuring what is currently immeasurable. Perhaps ISEB has some ideas?

But this is an opportunity to do something prep schools have been too reluctant to do – celebrate their independence without craving the validation of CE or anything else. And by answering the question, ‘what is the best education we can give our children in the here and now?’ prep schools could become exemplars for other schools that have neither the courage nor the opportunity to do the same. And it could start with the schools gathered here who decide to make prep schools the first choice for parents, not the last.

Of course, all the above entails a great deal of work. It needs a structure. It needs a premise. I have given over considerable time looking at what a new paradigm of education would look like and also, a new curriculum on my website. It is a work in progress and is on my website for anyone interested.

It would be an opportunity lost if, in creating a new curriculum, we do not look at changing how children think and feel about the world and their place in it: to teach children more about community than self, about the importance of making choices ethically rather than through self-interest, of seeing themselves as sentient beings, looking after their own space. Then we can put together a curriculum that challenges children and extends their knowledge, strengthens their core subjects and repackages others (like History and Myth) while embedding a whole new range of skills necessary for their life after school.

Imagine if prep schools became known for the fact that children who attended them had an international perspective on the world, that their education was predicated on an ethical view of the world, that they were independent, curious, practical, community minded and creative human beings ready to lead us in another direction. Then a prep school education would be known not for a meaningless set of grades or for feeding exam factories, but for producing children with the skills and values that society needs more than ever.

(i) See previous blog ‘Changing the Paradigm: Education for an Ethical World Leweston Lecture Autumn 2018



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