School Days

It’s not surprising that education causes such a raucous political debate; next to healthcare, it’s probably the thing that matters most to most people.  If you’re a parent, there’s a good chance it’ll be number one on your list of public policy preoccupations.

When I’m not at my computer, one of the things I do is act as chair to the governing body of a local primary school. Being a governor is a great way to find out what’s really going on in your child’s school and I have to say that I personally have learned a vast amount about current educational practice as a result.

Keen to learn

Keen to learn

What soon becomes very apparent is that the information about school results published in league tables will only give you a very partial view of a school’s capabilities, not least because many schools are adept at making sure their results look as good as possible, even if it means preventing less able pupils from taking exams they might very well have passed. To me, that’s the opposite of what a school should be doing.

In contrast, the school where I’m governor has devoted hours and hours to ensuring that a small number of children from chaotic backgrounds have been able to stay in mainstream education. The chances are that such children will only pull down the school’s average attainment levels. But nevertheless, for some individual children, having adults in their lives that care enough and are skilled enough to provide the support they need to stay on track at school is literally a life-saver.

Neither the school, nor the teachers will get much credit for it and parents looking at the raw data will only see that a certain cohort has undergone a dip in its results. All the same, as far as I’m concerned, that’s exactly what I want our schools to be doing.  Of course exam results are important, but they’re only a part of the picture.

School children in Afghanistan

School children in Afghanistan

The education of our children matters hugely to society at large. The ultimate well-being of all of us depends on well educated, well socialised young people emerging from the school system. For individuals, education is the one thing that no-one can take away from you. I’ve never ever regretted the time I’ve spent learning new things and the ability to analyse and think is probably the single thing I value most. Education is what sets us free.

It’s easy to grumble about the education system in this country. All the same, things could be very much worse.

This is what a superhero looks like...

This is what a superhero looks like…

I was hugely delighted that this year’s Nobel Peace Prize has been awarded to Malala Yousafzai, the young Pakistani girl who was shot by Taliban militants for insisting on her right to go to school. To me, she’s one of the greatest beacons of hope in the world today. If humanity is serious about tackling the very many problems we face – from fundamentalism and superstition to climate change and incurable diseases like Ebola, we need as many people as possible to have access to good quality education. For girls, this is particularly important if they’re ever to achieve real equality. Three cheers for Malala and her campaign to ensure that every child on the planet can go to school; you definitely have my vote!

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4 Comments

Filed under politics, Women

4 responses to “School Days

  1. Great post Veronica. You made a number of true points.

  2. Well said, Veronica. I’ve spent my entire adult working life in education; 20 years in secondary schools as a teacher with almost half of those years spent in middle management, followed by almost 10 years at Local Authority level dealing with admissions and then training and development of school staff. I now work in a secondary school as a Learning Support Assistant. In my opinion, one of the most destructive pieces of legislation that was ever brought in is league tables. They have led to teaching-to-tests, which does not do anything in the way of building resilience and independence of thinking in either pupils or teachers; even the most idealistic, egalitarian school leaders need to have considerable confidence and courage to focus on anything other than ‘what Ofsted wants’. I’ve worked in many schools and haven’t seen that courage truly demonstrated anywhere. It’s one of the main reasons I left teaching, and one of the main reasons I can’t stay away from the front line! Bravo to you for being prepared to take on the role of governor – I did it many years ago and know it’s a challenging role when done with commitment.

    • Thanks for your comments, Julia – you’re always very perspicacious! We’ve just had the Ofsted inspectors in, which was fairly traumatic for everyone at the school, not least the head, who literally only started in September. I’m very glad to be a governor, but appreciate it’s only a tiny contribution compared with the huge amount of work teachers do.

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