Today has been a day of new experiences. Usually (well, for the last four years, anyway), I spend Monday afternoons with Year 5, rattling between classrooms and disturbing lessons and attempting to persuade reluctant children that what they actually, really truly want to do is come out of their nice, warm classroom where they are learning something interesting, and come and sit with me, in a draughty old corridor that smells quite a lot of wee and do the thing (reading, usually) that they really hate because they find it hard. Today, though, was different. Today, via the Wonder of the Internet, I watched speeches at the Conservative Party Conference. The Minister for Education, to be precise.
Now usually, you wouldn’t catch me sitting through speeches at a political conference (I’m not very good at listening to speeches anyway, even if I agree with them; I keep feeling the need to either contribute or wriggle), but, seeing as this was about education (and I am watching the car crash that is the grammar school question unfold before my fascinated gaze) and I am no longer employed to be the spoiler of children’s Monday afternoons, AND seeing as keeping up-to-date with edupolitics is part of my new job, I indulged.
One of the most interesting things, to me, anyway, when I watch Justine Greening, is what she skims over. She couldn’t get away with making no reference to grammar schools, even though she dressed it up in terms of ‘good school places’ (I mean, who wouldn’t want one of those for their children?), but there was no dwelling. To my ears, it’s a case of, ‘yes, yes, moving swiftly on, people, nothing to see here’.
And the other interesting thing, to me, anyway, is what she dwells on. I noticed it the first time I watched her, answering questions before the Commons Select Committee on Education. She does that thing that people do when they are enthusiastic about something, when there is something that they are really interested in, something that they care about. She sits up, and she lights up like a candle and she goes all fizzy.
When she talks about FE and apprenticeships, and giving children opportunities to find out about the world of work, and doors upon which opportunity may knock, she loses the pained expression of a woman stuck defending something she can’t quite convince me she believes in; when she speaks about opportunities and learning about careers or jobs that children might not have known existed, she gets that enthusiastic little glint in her eye. I reckon that’s the reason that straight after her speech she sat down and interviewed a lady from the CBI.
I reckon that’s why, when she talked about a country where anyone can succeed, she asked about the basic skills that young people need in order to participate in the workplace, like the ability to communicate, work with other people, to understand that when a job needs doing, that someone needs to do it and do it without being babysat through the process. It seemed to me that what they were talking about, two women in positions of power, were the ways in which we help our children to be adults.
And that’s when I start feeling sad, and frustrated. Because this week, with my facebook and twitter feeds flooded with discussion about Down’s syndrome, I can’t seem to separate the two. Helping children to be adults is a mighty thing indeed – and they are right, involving employers is a good start (although I would caution against a purely utilitarian view of education – it’s that kind of thinking that makes people start asking how viable a life with an extra chromosome is because of the cost) – but why does it seem to be only some sort of jobs that are worth having? That only some sorts of careers, like those in STEM, are worth educating for?
Work brings dignity. It confers adulthood. But where is the job for my son? And who will help him get it?