And are we expecting too much from them?
joined Clubhouse the new online social platform which focuses on audio.
Essentially it allows you to go into ‘rooms’ hosted by others members to
discuss various topics. One such room asked the question ‘Do our schools
prepare our children for success?’ and that stopped me in my tracks is that the
bar now? Are we being held solely responsible for the future successes of young
people? And what do we mean by success? This then led me to ask the question ‘What
are schools for?’ Much like the age old debate about the role of the state we
find boundaries shifting.
It takes a village – but that village has got a lot
You may have
heard the saying it takes a village to raise a child and that was all fine and
well when we lived in tight knit communities where people shared childcare. But
now in 2021 the majority of care is given by schools and immediate family. Over
time more and more is added to the curriculum to often teach children many of
the things they may have learnt in communities, through mentors, peers and role
The question is ‘Have
we spread ourselves too thin?’ And whilst the government cannot control homes is
it over inflating the responsibilities placed on schools because it can? And
does that set us up for a fall?
Do we even know what the role of schools is anymore?
attempted to answer this question in 2015 when addressing the Education Reform
Summit. He argued that the purpose was, well broken down into 3 purposes.
Namely these are:
Economic – to
ensure our young people have the skills and knowledge to succeed in a demanding
economy through an effective and rigorous curriculum. In his speech he focused
on Maths and literacy in particular.
Culture – Here he makes the sensible argument that we need to teach young people
the basic tenets of the curriculum for them to engage in culture – for instance
grasping the language to enjoy poetry and set free our imagination. But then
things get a bit fuzzy as he quotes Matthew Arnold
and making ‘all men live in an atmosphere of sweetness and light’ before
talking about how much the arts have been invested in and the need to break
down class barriers.
Preparation for adult life – here he talks about character
education and draws on case studies from the KIPP schools in the USA who no
doubt do incredible work.
To summarise he
argues that schools have ‘Three
purposes – empowering young people to succeed in the economy, participate in
culture, and leave school prepared for adult life’ – and argues that these have
consistently guided the programme of reform by the government.
Let’s take each one of these in turn:
Economic – this is probably the one where most
school staff feel most comfortable so I’m not going to discuss it in any great
length because this is not a blog post about the curriculum. But at a basic
level we all agree that a rigorous curriculum that allows our students to participate
in the economy and be positive citizens in it, is something we can all get
Culture – What worries me here is that he
seems fine with the assumption that a solid education will allow students to
break class barriers. We all know that education can play a huge part but it is
not the only factor. For instance I can try and break down class barriers as
much as I like by educating students but if mass unemployment is still the norm
for parents these class barriers will remain because the economic conditions of
many of these young people will not allow them to prosper. Also if we have such
a commitment to the arts why are they not core elements of Progress 8 like
science English and maths?
Preparation for adult life –
There is now very clear evidence that schools can make a
significant contribution to their pupils’ achievement by finding opportunities
to instil key character traits, including persistence, grit, optimism and
I have no doubt
the above is true. But I also have no doubt that the home and the character
showcased by parents and role models at home play a huge part in students
future opportunities. And we can teach these in school but what students need
is the ability to practice them in the real world.
Far too often I
read reports about the skills young people lack to make them employable. Quite often
the feedback is from middle ages business owners harking on about how the youth of today don’t
have what it takes to be employed and they have forgotten what they were like
as kids. Its natural, I’m sure you’ve heard your parents say how much better
life was 50 or so years ago, yet none of us want to go back there. I have a
friend that lives in Yorkshire and was, probably foolishly discussing Brexit
with an elderly lady in her 80’s. She like many other people voted for Brexit
because she wanted to go back to the good old days. When asked when this was
she said the early 80’s. ‘You sure?’ asked my friend, ‘you wanna go back to the
miners strikes when we experienced mass unemployment and families struggled to
feed their young?’ She then proceeded to hit him with her handbag and told him
to stop being so clever. The point I’m trying to make is it is a story as old
as time that older generations think that youths of the time are less capable
then they were. My experience shows me something completely different. I see
young people able to navigate comples social relationships, online and offline,
caring about the planet, open minded. What these kids lack is experience in the
workplace to put these abilities to use and a chance. Let me ask you would you
hire yourself at 16? Or even 18? I asked my husband this question two days ago
and his honest response was ‘I don’t think I would have hired me at 22.’ My
husband who often manages placement students in their second year of university
has to teach them how to write emails, not because schools haven’t taught them
how to construct emails but because knowledge without context doesn’t work.
They have to know how to address different people in their organisation and
that happens in the workplace not in school.
My worry is each
time one of these reports come out, education ministers start cracking the whip
promising to make qualifications harder, kids more ready for work through a
corrected PSHE curriculum. I’m not saying we shouldn’t promote character in the
curriculum. I’m saying it can’t sink in with the adjoining help of the
So given the
above can schools ever fulfil their purpose particularly if the onus is placed
on them wholly? My answer is no. We’ve all become too accustomed to pointing
the finger at schools rather than acting like a village with schools, parents,
local business and the government acting together to form an empowering tribe for
our young people.
It takes a