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.
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.
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.
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!