I have made three education speeches this week. I am never quite sure what I believe until I try to articulate an idea and then see if it sounds interesting and convincing. In preparation for my lecture to the SSAT I wrote a post about the divisive nature of political debate about schooling; I was planning to make this the theme running through my speech. But a couple of days later, when I tried it out, it fell flat so I had to rethink.
Anyway, there have been two ideas which have gone down well this week and that I want to explore further. The first is the radicalism of Michael Gove’s plans for the curriculum. I have identified seven distinct ways in which the Shadow Education Secretary wants to reverse current trends, from reinstating the classical canon of liberal knowledge against the pursuit of ‘relevance‘ in the curriculum, to freeing schools to concentrate on education and not have to get involved in the wider (excuse the jargon) ‘Every Child Matters agenda’. It is clear that few in the education world are aware of Michael’s views and intentions. So, taking up an offer Michael accepted when he was here recently, I plan to write a post next week asking him to confirm or clarify the key aspects of his policy.
The second theme has been around our idea of ‘schools without boundaries’ . This comes, in part, from our work on the Manchester Curriculum and will form the subject of an RSA report later this month. The idea in essence is that we should make the work of schools, and the wider project of developing the next generation, the task of the whole community and not just parents and schools.
This is not only about opening up what happens in schools to the outside world nor just about mobilising the resources of public sector, cultural, sporting, civic and business organisations to support the work of schools, important though this is. The idea is also based on an insight derived from sociological and behavioural research.
It would be wrong to say that schools can do nothing to raise the aspirations and attainment of disadvantaged young people, but it is equally unreasonable to expect schools alone to counter the effects of inequality and exclusion. The key independent variable concerns attitudes to learning. Studies of fast developing countries, of the relative progress of ethnic minority cohorts in the UK, and of parental influence show that positive attitudes to children’s learning amongst their family, peer group and wider community can be more important than simple socio-economic factors.
Taking into account holidays and weekends, school pupils spend 80% of their time out of school. If there is little in that 80% that values and reinforces learning at school, it is unlikely that children will be receptive in the other 20%. Emotional receptivity is vital to the brain’s ability to learn. This is why inculcating a commitment to young people’s development in the wider community is so vital to the success of schools and why it is worth schools making the effort, and taking the risks, to open up what they do and seek to make education a whole community endeavour.