My education experience was a mixed one, due to changing family circumstances, not uncommon I imagine. I went to private kindergarten, state primary, private boarding, state secondary then University. I decided to get off the education rollercoaster at that point and jump into the workforce. Phew, no more school complexities to navigate. Until it was time to educate my own children. The head teacher of the primary school we visited recently talked of the school’s desire to ‘educate children for jobs that don’t even exist yet’. He referred to the rapid rate of technological change during the last ten years which is unlikely to slow down in the next ten years.
“The skills our youngsters need for the jobs of tomorrow are leadership, innovation and the confidence to embrace change.”
We were treated to presentations from eco-warriors, an award-winning video that the children had made about bio-diversity, and a physical education demonstration of the traffic light game. (Quite a good one to play after a few glasses of wine, but that’s not for this post!) The school’s last Ofsted report was ‘excellent’ so much so that the school doesn’t need to be inspected when the next one is due. But this doesn’t mean that the school is resting on their past successes. The assistant head said they had already made huge improvements to enrich the curriculum since the inspection. You could feel the frisson of excitement from the parents in the room. So that’s one primary school that is clearly doing something very right. But what lies ahead for these five year olds as the education secretary presents his white paper’s proposals? The key points that the Education Secretary proposes are:
1. Revolutionize teacher training processes
2. Focus children’s performance on academic skills
3. Give headteachers more powers to remove poor performing staff
4. Pay off student loans of graduates to consider a teaching career
In his own words:
“The best schools systems recruit the best people to teach, train them intensively in the craft of teaching, continue to develop them as professionals throughout their career, groom natural leaders for headship positions and give great heads the chance to make a dramatic difference.”
Reading between the lines, Mr. Gove advocates a teaching system which attracts the best in and makes it easier to get the poorest performers out. Thinking back to the head’s parent talk, I think this is on the face of it a sound approach. I believe that ultimately a teacher’s primary duty is to their children. To ensure their charges leave their lesson, with more understanding about a subject than they went into the classroom with. It follows then, that the headteacher’s duty will be to ensure that his or her staff’s primary duty is the children. Sometimes a head teacher’s focus or loyalty appears to be split between counsellor, manager, mentor, financier, mediator and caretaker.
Is a head teacher’s role easier if their beam is focused on the children? I suspect Gove is considering the empowerment of the head teacher as a means to strengthen their psychological advantage against the considerable might of the unions. It’s early days, but the education system is an issue that most of the electorate has an opinion about, an opinion that usually goes along the lines of ‘they should do things like they used to! Let the teachers get on with teaching etc. There is a lot to be said for traditional teaching methods, but I’m also inspired by the vision of a classroom that equips young people with skills for jobs that don’t exist yet, the idea of the classroom as a laboratory, incubating young, fertile minds. So with one ‘child’ about to embark on the higher education journey, her college peers protesting loudly and (some) violently about the changes in University tuition fees, and the other child taking baby steps in a primary school bursting with ambition, I look on with interest and continued fascination about education in the UK.
© Suzy Rigg