I’ve never indulged in such nerdiness before, I have to admit. I’ve usually got far more important things to be doing (like cleaning the bathroom, or something), however, when I realised that the Education Select Committee were meeting to discuss the purpose of education, and their two witnesses for questioning were Sir Michael Wilshaw and Sean Harford (of Ofsted fame), AND that it was on the telly, in between other appointments,I tuned in. And very interesting it was too – particularly the reporting of the event in the education press.
So, I thought I would (for your reading pleasure) collate the points that struck me, as I was watching – so that you don’t have to.
1. SMW is, like, really, really, really keen on Leadership. It is the solution to everything, from the teacher recruitment/retention crisis (we ought to advertise the very great financial rewards for those who make Leadership their career) to the constant conundrum of raising standards in our schools (we need good ones). Leadership determines everything. Apparently.
2. Ofsted is a burden upon schools. Mr Harford, the ‘soft and fluffy face of Ofsted’ (if you will pardon my lightheartedness) made a surprisingly candid admission to the committee. I’m not sure whether he meant it was an emotional and stressful burden, one that drives so many decisions in schools, or a financial one, but he’s right. It is.
3. SMW doesn’t know much about special educational needs and/or disabilities, and either does he see this group of children and young people as fundamental to improving our education system or closing any gaps (as far as I could see). When asked about the value of tracking certain groups of students to check how they were getting on, he chose to focus on the children who get A-A* at GCSE, and why more children who get L6 at primary weren’t going on to get top grades in subsequent exams. Catherine McKinnell raised the issue of barriers to learning, and those children who benefit from a practical education, but the conversation didn’t seem to go anywhere. There was talk of dumbing down from Mr Harford, for those students who go on to functional skills courses, and much frowning about careers advice in general. It seems that if you get a D in English at 16, you should be able to get a C at 19. So that’s alright then.
4. SMW is very much a secondary school head teacher. This is what he knows about – and this is what he thinks all educational establishments should be (I suspect). You can tell this by his suspicion of primary school results (are they teaching science and art?) and his statement that all 16-19 education should be in schools, rather than FE colleges which are, he says, ‘in a mess’. His certainty has the tendency to obscure very real questions, I think, about primaries and FE colleges and the pressure they are being put under and the nature of the children and young people they serve and their needs.
5. How easy it is for people who know what they are talking about to bamboozle those who are feeling their way into understanding of our education system and how it works. There were some questions from MPs who had clearly listened to teachers in their constituency – and yet their questions were brushed aside by talk of ‘good schools will be doing what they should anyway’ – which sounds so glib, so true, so unassailable, that it is difficult to question.
Which leaves me with the last two interesting observations.
6. When questioned by an MP who actually knew what she was talking about from within the system, no less, Marion Fellows, it was possible for a mild mannered Scottish woman to get her gentle point across. Some children hate school and the FE college can be a new start for them – and change lives.
And last, but not least:
7. It all ended in a rather jolly way, with everybody having a sort of Scooby Doo chuckle at the end. How terribly nice – and how many important questions, for me anyway, left unanswered. I’m no further on. I still don’t know what any of them think is the purpose of education – other than to ensure that more children get A*s.