Pitched somewhere between Universal Children’s Day and World Teachers’ Day, Speakers’ Corner hosted a short session on Saturday October 16th on Education, Education, Education …..
The excellent new Speakers’ Corner banners also made their first striking appearance on the day!
John Brough introduced the topic, stressing the need for the ‘new’ government to listen more to those who work at the chalk face of education – and especially to the real experts, students who themselves spend up to 13 years in the system.
At this point two sixth formers (Aimee in Y13 and Michael in Y12, both from King Edward VI school) stood and spoke with clarity, confidence and passion about two aspects of education which matter greatly to them: the lack of rigour in many GCSE examinations (from Aimee) and the need to fast-track more able students (from Michael).
John referred to both these concerns in the course of his speech, imploring Michael Gove, and the coalition government, not to repeat the mistakes of previous governments in focusing too heavily on examinations and qualifications, unnecessary structural change and excessive inspection and micromanagement. Instead he urged them to re-consider the fundamental question of What is education for?
Here are some extracts from his speech:
“As a former headteacher myself, I just worry that despite the undoubted and much needed investment we’ve seen in recent years in educational buildings, facilities, teacher training and support, there is a real danger that Michael Gove and company will repeat the mistakes of previous governments without examining the fundamental question – What is Education for?
I have to confess that I actually groaned, back in the late 1990’,s when I heard the then prime minister Tony Blair utter those famous words:
“Education Education Education”
because I knew that
a) another set of politicians were going to tell me what to do yet again
b) that their focus wouldn’t really be on Education at all – but on whatever aspects would catch the eye and potentially win votes and
c) that we’d be subject to yet more structural change and interference by government – which actually detracts and distracts from the real purpose of education.
So, going back to the key question, What is Education for?
For successive governments it would appear to be principally about maximising examination results – getting qualifications. Education, Education, Education = Qualifications, Qualifications, Qualifications. For sure, qualifications are extremely important but they are one outcome – an end product – of education – they don’t define it.
Of course, exams are important because they assess certain skills and allow universities and employers to make certain judgements. But all too often, they are used by government as a crude measurement of a school’s performance, when high quality education is much more than that. Exams, important as they undoubtedly are, tell us only a little about the quality of a young person. Richard Branson and Winston Churchill were not highly qualified academically, but few would question their quality as individuals.
We cannot continue to regard schools as exam factories. For a start, over-concentration on exams is not improving teaching and learning, does not encourage children to think nor does it broaden their real understanding of academic subjects. Too often it restricts their knowledge to simply memorising and developing exam techniques and model answers which can be easily assessed and score well. It was Einstein who reminded us that:
“Everything that can be counted does not necessarily count; and everything that counts cannot necessarily be counted”.
Education needs to be about developing the whole human being – not least the creative, logical, moral, spiritual and social dimensions. What is not nurtured and developed by the time a young person leaves school may well remain dormant for the rest of their lives. If children are fed primarily on a diet of exam preparation, by teachers who have had their initiative and creativity gradually sucked out of them by an emphasis on instruction, then no wonder that large numbers of children at school are bored, resentful and feel unfulfilled – many lose hope.
So – my message for the new coalition and Michael Gove in particular is to stop messing about with structures, organisation, statistics and an over-emphasis on qualifications, and to start trusting schools, heads, teachers – and young people themselves – to focus on the broader view of education. And that must surely include, incidentally, the urgent development of a first-class apprenticeship system right up to the equivalent of degree level, so that we don’t get a proliferation of young people doing university courses for which they are unsuited and which may ultimately and sadly lead them nowhere. That way, education will truly help to begin to re-engage the minds, hearts and enthusiasm of so many more of our children.
Pete Wilcox brought the session to an end by thanking all the speakers and highlighting the imminent enhancement and development of Speakers Corner as part of the City’s Heritage Project, with a plinth, a stone and a rail to mark the spot much more obviously and proudly! He encouraged the audience to use it! Pete also drew attention to the next Speakers’ Corner event on Wednesday October 20th when Peter Young will give a talk on the poet Philip Larkin (in the Guildhall at 7.30 p.m.)
As Speakers’ Corner strongly signifies the right to freedom of speech, the final words of the day came from the winner of this year’s Nobel Peace Prize – the Chinese dissident Liu Xiaobo:
Freedom of Expression is the basis of human rights, the source of humanity, and the mother of truth.