I was asked by an eminent educationalist what I, in my capacity as a teacher, was the purpose of school. My reply was sharp and to the point. The purpose of school, I said “was to ruin education”. This of course required further explanation. This short post is a summary of what I feel school is doing to education, what successive governments and their ill informed policies have done to this profession, and indeed what school leaders believe in doing the ‘right thing’ when it comes to strategic leadership.
Schools are a necessary institution in order to expose young people to a rich canvas of opportunities, both academic and social. They are deigned to ensure that the next generation are able to become effective citizens in the complex society of modernity. The so called ‘soft’ skills – those facets of humans, oft quoted as being essential for a thriving society, are not necessarily directly taught. Indeed some observers suggest that these skills are simply by products of a decent education. Honesty, compassion, logic, lateral thinking, empathy, listening – these anymore can be entwined into a teachers repertoire, yet seldom does a student sit in a silent school hall and espouse these skills. Rather it’s the recall and application which is gleaned and ultimately valued. Schools base their own performance on how well students do in these exams compared to their peers. Therefore, to ensure the ‘bottomline’ grows we (school leaders, teachers etc) focus all of our attention and endeavours and energy in developing these skills. Effectively bypassing what would be considered a ’rounded and balanced’ education in favour of drilling kids to pass exams. Schools that sit in the uncomfortable bracket of not being quite good enough will always suffer to these ends, schools deemed good will have to maintain these results for fear of falling foul to the blanket scrutiny of a rigid inspection system. And even those schools who are considered to be outstanding have a perpetual eye on the results. Results from a set of timed examinations conducted individually in a totally silent room or space. I think of few workplaces where individuals are so isolated in articulating their knowledge and intelligence.
The current education system is based on the crude industrial models – developing a literate workforce to fill jobs in the growing economies of manufacturing. As a country whose employment structure is predominantly tertiary – services to others – being isolated in a silent hall hardly prepares anyone for the challenges ahead.