Discovering Dr Anthony Seldon : oh! how much I agree…

Look what I found for you tonight! the fantastic preface of An end to factory schools: An education manifesto 2010-2020 (Centre for Policy Studies) that by the way you can entirely download by clicking here. It is one of these text that I completely understand, views that I completely share and you know me, I can’t prevent myself from sharing. Dr Anthony Seldon you are amazingly right and like my favorite man on earth, Sir Ken Robinson! you are giving very good insights and practical solutions.  

Here you will find the Schools should be places of engagement and delight. Instead, students often resent and insufficiently value them. Parents should be actively engaged in and full of gratitude for the schools that their children attend. Instead, they are often indifferent and even unco-operative. Teaching should be a profession which the brightest and most energetic should aspire to and fight to join. Instead, it is hard to get top graduates to apply. And when they do, it is hard to keep them in the profession (which is a profession in name alone). To be a head should be the apex of every teacher’s dream. Instead, such is the encumbered nature of the job, many heads’ posts remain unfilled.

Too many state schools in Britain in 2010 have become factories. Results (at least on paper) have improved. But at what cost? Reluctant students are processed through a system which is closely controlled and monitored by the state. No area of public life is more important than education to prepare people to live meaningful, productive and valuable lives. Yet our schools turn out young people who are often incapable of living full and autonomous lives. At the same time, employers condemn students’ lack of academic and personal skills while universities find that the end products of schools can be little more than well- drilled automatons who do not know how to think independently about their academic subjects.

Five reasons why education needs to change

The traditional model for education is no longer working.

1. Finance. The unprecedented increase in spending under Labour on schools of £30 billion a year, at an annual average rate of increase of 6.8%, has failed to improve standards commensurately (measured by exam results and attendance rates), according to the Office of National Statistics.1 Conventional funding streams from government will come under great pressure in the immediate future. But money is not of itself the solution to the problems facing our schools: many of the proposals made here do not require extra funds.

2. Holistic development. Schools have major responsibilities for developing the whole person, not just their intellect. The traditional model of large, de-personalised and exam-focused schools is appropriate neither for the academic, cultural, moral, spiritual, physical and emotional development of young people, nor for preparing them for a fruitful life.

3. The demands of tomorrow. The new world does not need container loads of young men and women whose knowledge is narrowly academic and subject-specific which they can regurgitate in splendid isolation in exams. It needs people who have genuine understanding not just in one but in several academic domains, and who comprehend how these different fields relate to each other. It needs people who can work collaboratively, with advanced interpersonal skills, as opposed to those who have been tested merely on their ability to write exam answers on their own. It needs problem solvers rather than those who just hold a large body of data in their memories. It needs employees who will have mature thinking skills, able to understand the complexity and the interaction of intricate systems, people who are able to think way beyond standard and formulaic patterns. It is no longer good enough to continue to argue that ‘the twenty first century, with its accelerating pace of change, will be unknowable’. We have already seen enough of it to be able to know that we need dramatically to adapt our schools.2

4. Information and communication technology. ICT is revolutionising the classroom and learning more than any other development in the last 200 years. It has already had a profound effect on administration within schools, but has barely touched teaching and learning. Today, many teachers are still using it merely as a more sophisticated version of chalk and blackboard. In the new era, teachers will no longer be the fonts and dispensers of all knowledge, but rather expert collaborators assisting and guiding the young in their own research and academic development. Learning will become much more centred on problem-solving, collaborative activities, the mixing of ages and advancing at a pace suitable for each child. This quantum shift will be profoundly liberating and enriching, but has yet to be made in most schools. We have yet to get fully to grip too, with young people’s intimacy with digital technologies, and the influences it has on the intellectual development and cognitive skills. Bringing the curriculum and exams in line with where students currently are with digital technology, let alone where they will be in ten years, is a major challenge. All that said, some of the best teaching and learning will remain utterly divorced from anything digital.

5. Research on the brain. Although still in its infancy, research is already reaching some important conclusions about learning. These are discussed throughout the booklet, but a sample of the points made are as follows. Emotional receptivity, humour and human warmth are powerful facilitators to learning. Arid teaching and lecturing from the front of the classroom is not optimal (and further suggests the computer will never take replace the teacher). Physiological cycles and environmental factors on the brain affect learning and how the mind takes in and stores information. Active and practical learning, research shows, is more effective than passive, because the brain is more stimulated. Pupils can often learn more from teaching each other than from teachers. The young can be taught at school about resilience and self-discipline,3 which is a powerful shaper of the effectiveness of that person when they become an adult. The research shows us that ‘IQ’ is not fixed, and that children hitherto dismissed as ‘low ability’ can learn and improve: this finding about ‘neuro-plasticity’ has profound implications for schools. The more that educators can learn how the brain functions, the better they will be able to cater for and stimulate students.

Schools in 2010 are full of remarkable teachers, and hard working students who, sometimes, achieve extraordinary results on slender resources. But the present reality falls far short of what schools could and should be.

If one unifying idea draws together the ensuing chapters, it is the need for more trust throughout education.4 Government needs to trust schools, heads and teachers more. Parents need to be trusted more to choose the school for their children and to be far more actively involved in their children’s schools. Governors need to trust heads more. Heads need to trust teachers more. Teachers need to trust students more. Parents need to trust their children more. Students need to trust adults more. Mistakes will be made, but that in a free society is how learning occurs, how progress is made.

Many of the same phenomena addressed here apply to universities as much as they do to schools. There, too, individual students are obliged to meet the requirements of a pedestrian exam monolith, creative teaching is sacrificed to instruction and transmitting the right or approved answers and students have an increasingly narrow quality of all-round education as higher education increasingly loses sight of its mission to educate the whole student.

Delight, gratitide and stimulus can readily be recaptured throughout education if the prescriptions made here are followed. To educate the young to lead a full and whole life should be the sovereign duty of every school. It is one which should no longer be ducked.

 


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