By Nige Armitstead
Read time: take as long as you need ..
When I finished teaching, almost a year ago now, I wrote a long letter to an imaginary teacher in one of those books you can buy which are empty for such a purpose. At the end I wrote under the heading ‘Visions of the Future’. It was a personal wish list for education. Here is a shortened version of it. I hope it offers some food for thought. Perhaps it will spark more and better ideas…
1] Educational Psychology
There is a deeply thoughtful and creative problem solving at the heart of an EP team. Educational psychologists carry that intellectual dynamic within their service to schools. It is the hallmark of their input to work being undertaken with children who need help in order to learn. There is a partially but not adequately realised potential for educational psychologists to have a more general and greater positive impact on education. My suggestion is for educational psychologists to have a development and leadership role for an embedded thinking curriculum across all local authority schools. (NB. I was also an educational psychologist!)
2] Economics should be a core subject.
Economic literacy is now far more important than mathematical knowledge. A required standard of numeracy, and some useful mathematics, could be taught as a core subject up to the age of 14. Thereafter the core subject should be economics. An economically literate society might vote more intelligently at election and referendum time. Economics could be the avenue to strong minded independent thinking about the world (cf next heading). In thinking about the world students might involve themselves more in its big issues, and hence become more engaged students generally. It will take time, but we should work towards economics becoming a core subject.
I wonder if this word is misused when it refers to the inculcation of young minds with beliefs that draw them into slavish adherence to fundamentalist and violent agendas. Surely the word for that is brainwashing. Radicalisation is the way we can stop it happening. Encouraging young people to become independently willed, rationally minded, shrewd judges of opportunity and circumstance must surely be desirable. We may find that this kind of radicalisation leads to greater challenge from students, but perhaps only when we ought to be challenged, and possibly for the good.
I appeal to politicians that they should back away from schools and education, which they fail to understand and tend to misjudge. Instead they should concentrate on enabling the teaching profession. Teaching is a vocational art, involving people with special personal qualities allied to a positive idealism and specialist training. It is the noble profession: ethically pure and intensely responsible in creating opportunity for other people to better their lives. It is the cradle of a better world, one in which the wisdom and compassion of teachers jointly sponsor a greater possibility for humanity.
5] Schools exist within communities
There are a variety of communities around a school: the parent community, the local community, the sports community, the intellectual community, the business community, the music and arts community, and the civic community to name but a few. Also religious communities may have much to offer, provided they can do so without indoctrination agendas. Schools should draw on, and contribute to, their communities as much as possible.
6] The academic year
For a while each school day the buildings are overcrowded. Then for two hours of the normal working day they are undercrowded. For thirteen weeks of the year they are empty! The teaching commitment within term time is over concentrated: teachers stagger to holidays as recovery opportunities. Too much time is spent during term in exhausted coping, which is bound to lead towards compromised well being. Long holidays are no compensation for this. When the holidays arrive, seasonal pricing arrives with them. We punish parents for taking students out of school for holidays during term. We all need it to be different. I suggest that teachers would be far happier with a lower intensity job more flexibly rostered over the week or fortnight; with shorter holidays with the facility (shared by students) to take two weeks of them outside a demarcated official school holidays, whilst not being taken during a small number of critical periods for curriculum delivery (which would vary between schools). Well, that or some other kind of reform, but something better than now for sure.
7] All children should learn to play chess
It involves strategic thinking, decision making, levels of analysis, risk taking, and the ability to judge potential dangers by seeking to view the board from another person’s perspective. We British voted to leave the EU in order to ‘Make Britain Great Again’. How absurd. It would have been far more effective in the long run to teach all our children to play chess.
8] An honours system
This idea would be easy to dismiss quickly on grounds of political correctness, but give it a fair think through first. I suggest five badges of honour which students can display on their clothing. The badges would cover (a) Participating; (b) Thinking; (c) Leading Learning; (d) Resilience, notably in relation to private study, and; (e) Positive Contribution. Notice that none of these depend on academic ability. With all five badges earned then at some point after the start of secondary school the student would be awarded a scholarship. This would involve some hand out of privileged resources, access to specialist courses for scholars run by the educational psychologists and others, along with an expectation that they would step up to an enhanced role in the classroom as leaders in learning. Clearly there are some ways in which this will seem elitist, selective, making public some students who are not achieving within the honours system, and promoting a notion that some students are held in higher esteem. I would reiterate that this a system in which all can succeed, and the public nature of it would make those who are not succeeding more obviously in need of help rather than hidden in the grey spaces of classrooms as they often are at present.
9] Management is a service
The important work of a school is done by teachers in the classrooms. The role of managers is to provide a service of facilitating teachers in various ways, including
coaching them in their quality of performance. Management is not something which should be done to teachers, it should be done for teachers. Fine that managers are paid more – they are doing an important job. But let’s all remember whose shoulders really carry the educational world and show teachers the respect they deserve.
10] Teacher retirement
There are some teachers who see the word ‘retirement’ begin to shimmer in the distance and find themselves unable to locate any other direction for their attention. To them I say, take heart and remember that you have been a teacher, and therein lies much to be proud of. There may have been difficulty and challenge along the way, but you were able to rise to that and you have done well. Your work was your vocation. Yours was the noble profession. You have helped to cradle a better future for humanity. Look to finish with your swan song – something that will help you bring a beautiful closure to the end of your amazing career.