Thinking about Education

Something a bit different for a change today inspired by a compilation of essays on education, The Connected School from ncb.

If you are put off by a blog about schools, by all means look away now; but having been involved in direct work with families in schools for over 17 years, this is something that I feel strongly about; and of course children spend a huge proportion of their lives within the school gates. We need to get this right if we are to foster healthy, happy learners. For those anxious for a link with child to parent violence here, I would draw attention to the way that many children have been found to bottle up their stress at school, taking it out on parents once they reach the “safe” confines of home.

On this election day, I have been calling to mind the infamous “Education, education, education” speech of Tony Blair in his listing of priorities for action (here). His 2001 manifesto speech promised more of everything – quite exhausting to read now. While it is certainly the case that academic results have shown remarkable increases over the years, (through pinpoint targeting and the phenomenal work of teachers and pupils, often at weekends and through the holidays), standards are not even across the country, school places are short in some areas, controversy is rife about who should teach and in what sorts of schools, and there remain those that would argue that we have lost sight of things of greater importance in the education of our children.  The most recent government in particular, has both specified in some detail what should be in the curriculum, and simultaneously moved for schools to be able to determine their own direction. Some would argue that the whole thing is a mess.

Of particular concern though to many has been the impact on the mental health of both pupils and their teachers. Whether through OFSTED inspection or assessment at every stage, the levels of stress within schools are now said to be at unhelpful and unhealthy levels, contributing in themselves to problems with teaching and learning. Against this background, we have an increase in children coming to school inadequately fed, clothed and otherwise nurtured, as indices of poverty rise. Some schools have always fed the hungry, cobbled together a school uniform, subsidised school trips and even organised informal food banks. But media reports these last weeks suggest this is now happening on an industrial scale. As calls for a broader PHSE curriculum, a greater focus on emotional literacy, a more trauma-informed approach to the school environment increase, those involved in education can be forgiven for starting to feel there is no time left to actually impart information and learning. The mistake of course is to believe that these things detract from learning, whereas the evidence suggests that children cannot learn unless these other things are in place.

As we approach a new government, and potentially more shake ups – let’s see them as opportunities rather as problems in themselves – this is a timely piece of reading, exploring the importance of relationships: with peers, with adults, across agencies and with the wider community, at both a practical and philosophical level; and the need for consistent and long term funding.


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