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Last week, the UK government's March 2016 budget announced that it would promote education by dedicating money to 'free schools from local authority control', as if this is self-evidently a good thing, and will result in better situations for our children. At least we presume this is the reasoning; perhaps there could be other reasons.
Having just had some delightful discussions with Canadian colleague Dr. Patricia Tarr who introduced me to new and extremely thoughtful guidelines being developed by a regional authority, Alberta, I was yet again appalled by current political thinking, and left struggling to contemplate if our government could ever understand, or care about, the worlds of children and learning.
Here is something from Play, Participation, and Possibilities: An Early Learning and Child Care Curriculum Framework for Alberta: "[We are] inspired by a vision of strong, active, and energetic childhood communities—places of vitality—that welcome and invite the participation of children and their families. It is a framework of possibilities situated in the social and cultural experiences of families in local communities. Each child's care, play, learning, and development are nurtured as educators work within a practice of relationships, appreciating family, social, and cultural practices and traditions and embracing a strong capable image of the child, as a mighty learner and citizen. ... We view the child as a mighty learner and citizen—strong, resourceful, and capable. This image affirms each child's right to be listened to, to be treated with respect, and to participate in daily decisions that affect him or her. This understanding of each child as a citizen and as a strong, resourceful, and capable learner shifts the intention of our interactions from "doing to" a child toward "participating with" each child. This image of the child—a mighty learner and citizen—calls on us to continually re-examine our own practices, our interactions, and our assumptions about children, childhood, learning, and play. "
I highly recommend it to both educators and politicians (and Mr. Osborne, you will see that it is not a matter of 'control' but also of care, cohesion and connection. ) Click on the link - it's free.
Very much thrown by this massive gulf in comprehension by political leaders who are nevertheless keen to wield power over children and education, and wondering if things could ever be different, I heard radio interviewer Libby Purves yesterday ask: "Was there a definite moment [in the history of whaling] when people thought 'these are wonderful, intelligent, extra-ordinary animals and we must save them?" - the answer gave a powerful direction:
A school in our network are keen to develop the change work they have started, and are seeking a sympathetic new educator:
"Bolton Brow is a thriving convertor Academy which offers an incredible range of stimulating, quality experiences. Our pupils are individual, well-motivated, talented and spirited. They make good progress, attain well and deserve the best. We are seeking a full-time nursery Teacher, to begin in September 2016.
- Be highly dedicated and inspirational teacher who is passionate about the learning of our youngest children to join our committed team.
- Be self-motivated with an open approach and willingness to make a contribution to the school's continuing improvement
In return we offer the successful applicant:
- A supportive environment to a new member of staff in which professional development is valued. We encourage creativity and innovation and offer the freedom to explore this within curricular and extra-curricular activities.
Our closing date is Thursday 17th March. Please read on, and spread the word."
Shortly before Christmas 2015, the Education Committee decided that they would address this question. ("Now that's a good idea", thought many.) They invited public responses, identifying three questions of the enquiry:
- What should be the purpose of education for children of all ages in England ?
- What measures should be used to evaluate the quality of education against this purpose?
- How well does the current education system perform against these measures?
They received many responses, and you can see them - and read them all - here. The collection of submissions is a powerful set of documents, and worth publishing separately as a case study, we think. (In this article we are giving you an additional link to our original submission, it having been edited to conform.)
In our submission we began, as others also did, suggesting that they actually should begin by asking a preliminary question: 'What are the characteristics of learners?'
To be followed by their question And Then: 'so, what should education look like'?
We really hope that the portfolio of submissions will cause the group of MPs to think widely, and we are sure that some of them will.
In their first meeting last week (see the following video from the Parliament website) Gateshead MP Ian Mearns endeavours to steer Michael Wilshaw away from his 'performance indicators' back to the subject of the enquiry: