For some reason I woke up thinking about school, and what I would change, and decided to write down some semi-radical thoughts. Do you agree with some of them?
1. There should be one type of school with free access for all, funded equally by the state. Private schooling is another way of the elite propagating themselves, and sucks resources and good teachers away from state schools.
2. Kids should go to their local school. They will mix with people they see outside school and with a representative cross-section of their society – ethnically, economically, socially and physically. Letting parents choose schools becomes elitist, plucking children out of their neighbourhood and away from their friends (I speak from experience).
3. Scrap the SATS and league tables – they corrupt true education by encouraging teachers to focus on school results at the expense of child development. Schools are not football teams or FTSe businesses. They cannot be selected or compared on narrow statistics. We would not chose our partners or our holidays or our new car that way. Sometimes how something looks and feels is just as important.
What to teach?
4. Education does not need to be useful. We should teach our children how to enjoy art, history, literature, sport, nature, maths, science – for the sake of enjoying them. The “I have never used co-sines or calculus in real life” is a spurious and dangerous argument. Life is more than the utilitarian.
5. Education should include the really useful. How to use society, how to run a home, how to bring up children, how to form and end relationships, how to plan a career, how to mend things, how to cook, how to keep good mental health, how to lead a balanced, peaceful life, how to love your neighbour.
6. We must encourage the gift. Why make the poet play football, or the athlete learn German, or the mechanic learn biology? Education (and parents) must find out what each child is good at and make them excellent at these. We should not focus on what a child is bad at and make them mediocre. That will make us all miserable and sap our energy. Within the school by all means group children to be taught by ability in that subject, but allow them to choose what they are naturally good at and flourish. The national curriculum should be lean and mean and focus only on essential skills every child needs (such as reading and writing)
7. Education can be too individualistic – encouraging selfishness, competition, self-promotion, self-realisation and the good of the one – at the expense of social responsibility, team-play, family values and the good of the many. School should encourage people to be men and women of value, not just of success.
8. School is not about discipline or control or brain washing. It is not an army barracks or a prison. It is about making people learn that bad behaviour has bad consequences, that good behaviour has good consequences. It is about kids working that out for themselves.
9. Education is about learning the fascination of learning and exploring. Creating a life-time appetite for knowledge, exploration and expression. Not about cramming ones head full of facts in order to get qualifications in order to get more money.
10. Education is as good as its educators – its teachers. They should be trained, remunerated, supported, valued and trusted as vital leaders in society. We need them to be imaginative, energetic, articulate, emotionally intelligent, well-balanced and skilled. They are coaching, training, educating, nurturing and shaping our children and launching them into life.
11. Bad teachers should be weeded out and sacked, they are in the wrong job. Strong organisations have round pegs in round holes and remove those who are passengers. Our children are far more important than businesses. So teachers do have to be assessed.
12. Continual assessment and course work are a better measure of ability than exams. Exams often measure memory, not ability, and exam-technique, rather than creativity and understanding.
13. We also need a broader measure of ability than GCSEs and A-levels. And it is not all about qualifications. It is about learning and development. Many of the most successful people in history have failed at school or have been illiterate.
14. Too many students go to university. University is not for everyone, and is often a substitute for a properly thought out life plan. Ironically the crass politics around course fee increases will reduce numbers and close some universities. But it will favour the rich.
Parents and Timetables
15. Ban homework – there is too much dead time in normal hours to need to force kids to work after school at the expense of other interests and enjoyment. And it can be an easy option for poor or lazy teachers.
16. Too many hours are wasted at school in poor lessons, filling time. School can deteriorate into childcare or detention, pandering to parents who are too busy pursuing careers or want the plus of being a parent without the hard-work.
17. We cannot abdicate our own responsibility as parents in educating our children in life!
18. We must avoid using our children to bolster our ego, pass the exams we failed, or to compete with our friends. That is the worst kind of selfishness and pride and can scar our children for life and breed resentment.