So I have been asked to be on the panel for a debate this weekend - A first for me. Anyone who knows me knows that I am not a great fan of public speaking; in fact I have struggled with nerves greatly in the past. People are always surprised when I say this and I have had comments like "but you teach all day - that is just like public speaking." Well let me assure you that, for me, it absolutely is not the same thing! Anyway, I refuse to allow this to hold me back in life so I continue to push myself to speak publically as often as possible. A wise woman once said to me to just speak from the heart and everything will flow - so this is what I try and do. I digress... The debate is about whether schools should aim to prepare students for work or life. What is school really for?
I am struggling with this question if I am honest. I know the easy answer is both and I am going to go for that easy answer. I feel that if we prepare students for a working life that they love and have a passion for that is based in an excellent education then we are preparing them for a happier life. We spend so much time at work as adults and life can be very bleak if we don't enjoy it and have no way of changing that. We need to enable our student to be able to choose a job they love and to change it if or when they choose. I don't think that is too much of an ask.
Curriculum and Qualifications:
Schools should give young people exactly what they need to be successful and happy in life and that does involve having the ability to choose what they do for a job. This in turn means that our students deserve to leave us with a good set of qualifications that will open doors which ever direction they choose to go in. The curriculum we offer our students will determine their future possible options in life. We have a duty to ensure we are never limiting any of our students. In my personal view, every student should absolutely study an academic curriculum until they leave us at secondary as well as vocational if they so choose. We need to ensure that they all have the core academic knowledge and skills that will allow them to sensibly choose the right path for their future. They are too young when they choose their GCSE options at 13 to decide for their entire pathway for life so it is our duty to ensure they do not limit their future options at this point. I don't know about you but I changed a huge amount between the ages of 13 and 18 and I am so glad it was simply an expectation for me to take an academic route as I'm not wholly sure I would have taken it otherwise!
I know there will be some who say that some students simply cannot manage the academic route. While I recognise that there may be some extreme circumstances where this is the case these are few and far between. I say to them that it is our job to create the climate in which those students can succeed and that is the end of it. Shame on us if we limit them at that young age. We need to know our students inside out so we know exactly what we need to do to enable them to be successful. We need to reconsider the way subjects are delivered and bring them into the 21st century. We need to reconsider the way subjects are examined and bring them into the 21st century. We need to invest heavily and improve our careers educations in schools so that students really are able to start thinking about who they are and what they might want to go on to do when they leave us. I feel that all students need to have a core base of the same academic knowledge, skills and qualifications. So yes we need to reconsider how we do that to make it work because in so many schools at the moment it is not working. And this is not just down to the school itself - it is the system in which we are forced to work. Suffice to say we need to change our approach to make things work in our school for all of our students. We have a duty to make it work for them.
When they leave us students should all be in the position to have the option of going to university if they choose to. If, once they leave us, a student has a great set of qualifications under their belt and they choose not to go on to university but pursue a different route - good for them. I would want them to know the real benefits of a university course, for sure, but is that the only route to success in life and work? No. There are multiple examples out there of non-university educated highly successful people. The point is, they would always have the option of going to university if they so chose at some point in their life even if it is not as soon as they leave secondary school - because they have those qualifications under their belt! It is about having the choice.
In order to create a school in which all our students can prosper it is vital that we employ the right people in our classrooms and that we train them appropriately and frequently. We need to invest more funds into education. We need to give teachers more time to plan and prepare good quality lessons and mark the huge amount of work that is produced when good quality lesson are taught. Our teachers are completely overworked and expected to do what is very often an impossible job. This already means we loose good teachers and we discourage others from entering the profession and this will only get worse as time goes on if we don't make a change. We need to give teachers better quality accredited, recognised, regular and on-going CPD. We need to reward our very best teachers and use them wisely; training them to train the next generation of teachers.
Our school leaders and headteachers need to have the absolute belief that our students can succeed and if they are not yet all doing so then we have not got it right yet. Yet is the key word here. It is vital that all senior leaders and headteachers continue to analyse what they are doing and revise it until we get it right for the students in our school. If the senior leadership team don't believe that the students can be successful under the right circumstances then there is no hope. This needs a separate blog post really so I will leave it at that for now.
Schools should also be a place where young people explore and develop a sense of self, form opinions and consider their place in the world. We are all there to provide an academic education for our students - that is what we trained to do. As for whether it is a teacher's job to build and shape character and moral purpose in our students - of course. For me this is a non-negotiable. Our young people look to us for example as they grow and develop. We have the privilege of spending precious time with our students when they are at one of the most pivotal points in their young lives. We absolutely have a duty to champion kindness, honest, compassion, resilience, empathy, understanding love, responsibility and acceptance. We absolutely have a duty to challenge prejudice every single time it rears its ugly head in the national press, the playground or the classroom. It is a sad truth that for some of our students school is the only place they will get this guidance. If a teacher does not believe that it is their job to do this then I don't want my child in their classroom and therefore I most definitely don't want them working in my school with my students. No it is not only the job of teachers to play a part in shaping students character - That is a community effort. That is everyones job - all of us adults all of the time - because they are our future.
It is a challenging subject matter and I am no more an expert than any other senior leaders out there. What I do know is that what I have said here is from my heart. It is what I want for my child and it is my hope that we will be able to move towards this in every school in the future.
We must enable our students to find their passions through our curriculum
We must ensure our curriculum offering never limits our students in their future life.
We must have a good quality, nation-wide careers provision from an early age.
We must insist that our teachers see building character as an important part of their job.
We must create the environment in schools whereby all of our students can be successful.
We must give our teachers the time they need to do their job well.
We must provide our teachers with good quality, accredited, ongoing recognised CPD.
We must support our senior leaders and Headteachers be the very best they can be and insist that they wholeheartedly believe their students can be successful and know that their jobs is to find how we do that - no excuses.