???????????????????????It’s not often that you get two stories on the Radio 4 6.30 bulletin that deal with education – and that then these go on to form the first two features. The first is the concern about a group of schools in Birmingham, including Park View Academy, that are being “Islamified” – a couple of unnamed teachers were quoted in this article. I don’t know where this is going, but it is important for us all to consider. The struggle for free thinking and the freedom of the human spirit against those who want to restrict it, in whatever form, is an ongoing one, and one that this blog tries to challenge both in myself and in others. This story may blow up into something bigger, and I can see the DfE not exactly wanting to let things lie on this one. Sooner or later there will be some intervention. And it will not be pretty. Two worldviews are competing here and the state is currently threatened at an intellectual level by those who hold a different worldview from itself – never mind extremist Islam!

The other story is of course about yesterday’s comments by Mike Wilshaw about the way that early years provision is not getting children ready for school. All that needs to be said on this issue (at least from the point of view of us who believe that nursery education is a replicant for the family) has pretty much been summed up in this article by David Whitebread and Sue Bingham. Their conclusion is:

The
 model
 of
 ‘readiness
 for
 school’ is
 attractive 
to 
governments
 as 
it 
seemingly
 delivers
 children 
into 
primary 
school 
ready 
to 
conform
 to 
classroom
 procedures
 and 
even
 able
 to
 perform
 basic 
reading 
and 
writing 
skills. 
However, from
 a
 pedagogical
 perspective
 this
 approach
 fuels 
an 
increasingly 
dominant 
notion 
of 
education 
as 
‘transmission
and
 reproduction’,
 and
 of
 early
 childhood
 as
 preparation 
for
 school
 rather
 than
 for
 ‘life.’
 In
 this
 paper, 
 we
 have reviewed the
 now 
extensive 
evidence that 
the 
curriculum‐centred 
approach 
evident 
in 
many 
Key
 Stage 
1 
classrooms,
 and
 the
 idea
 that
 rushing
 young
 children
 into
 formal 
learning 
of 
literacy, 
mathematics, 
etc. 
 as 
young 
as 
possible 
is 
misguided.
 This 
leads
 to 
a 
situation 
where
 children’s 
basic
 emotional 
and
 cognitive 
needs
 for
 autonomy,
 competence
 and
 relatedness,
 and
 the
 opportunity
 to
 develop
 their 
metacognitive
 and
 self-regulation
 skills, 
are
 not 
being 
met.

 The
 problem
 is not 
that 
children 
are 
not 
ready
 for school, but 
that 
our 
schools
 are 
not 
ready 
for 
children.

This quote sums up tidily the basic debate here. The questions involved are:

  • Do we regard school as something to serve children, their families and the communities in which children grow up, or something to serve the state and the needs of the industrial economy?
  • Do these two competing visions have to be mutually exclusive, and is there a sensible cross-over point – around puberty, say – where children’s views of learning and their growing ambition are better served by providing the opportunities for them to engage in work that will serve the economy and the state?
  • Does the education of children within the industrial economy actually help them grow as flourishing young people, or is there something deep in the heart of the industrial model that is antithetical to human flourishing? And does the adoption of a “learning for life” model provide enough intellectual resources and communal purpose to replace the industrial model? This would be the stance that Wendell Berry would take – the alienation from a working community being seen as the root of nearly every social ill we face.
  • If Einstein privileged imagination over knowledge, and the Bible privileges the knowledge of God and the growth of character over the acquisition of wealth or personal ambition, how do we as a modern, Christian school position ourselves in this debate so as to bless children as deeply as we want to bless them?

In essence, we want to know how to react (in thought, word and deed) to a government that insists on seeing (for the most altruistic of reasons, apparently) children as in need of more formal learning to get them ready for school. (The cognitive assessments for 4-year-olds in the new Assessment and Accountability Framework are just a part of this).

I suspect that they (whichever shade of the political spectrum they come from) cannot change; for them, as for the media, the economy is all that matters, and their reputations rise and fall by how well they can enable education to serve it. This is a strong argument for returning education to educators and those who have done the “hard yards” of research. In the meantime, it is children we work with, and they must be thought about, spoken of and taught, differently.

???????????????????????Thinking differently, and seeing children differently is where we start. The doctrine of creation has far more to offer us here than a rather tired doctrine of evolution. The intervention of a personal God is a good starting point for considering children as being full of life, of being able to be more divergent in their ways – and to celebrate that, and of being able to receive and perceive spiritually far more readily than we can as adults. God has made man and woman, and boy and girl, for a purpose – to know him and rejoice in hime, to be sure, but to embrace and live a life of service in community, excelling in all that he has given us. Anyone who stops this happening is guilty in some way of the abuse of childhood. Putting a cap on what children can do, say, think, feel as they are growing up will restrict them. To be sure, they will learn how to control the wilder excesses of imagination and action, but it is for us to encourage that. Keeping a doctrine of creation before us will help in every way.

Speaking differently, and speaking with children to release them into learning, rather than speaking so they are forced into a channel, is the second thing we can do. The government may hate this – releasing the imagination and an awareness of God and life is a great gift we can give. It will challenge, and even undermine, some of the ways in which we are told to teach – it replaces the didactic with the faciliation of learning, and the teacher-led with the opportunity of children co-owning their learning – choosing the didactic if they wish, rather than having it forced. But we must speak of it with children and to one another as educators. Speaking of these things will strengthen our resistance to the world that the politicans would delight in.

Acting differently is more challenging. It begins with hospitality, welcome and imparting a sense of guesthood to children. Jesus had this in mind when he said Let the little children come to me and do not hinder them. It is at the root of the Reggio Emilia 100 Languages of Children, and offers children a place at the table of learning from the first day. Again, we must learn and practise the language and actions of hospitality.

Beyond hospitality, and the invitation to children to learn, it involves revelation – we reveal to children, or allow them to discover, the beauty and riches of learning, through modelling it ourselves. Today I gave a Governors’ Award to a Year 2 child with this lovely citation for her work:

For showing joyous and determined perseverance and delighting in the rewards of hard work!

This is much of it. A child who has learnt and displays these qualities has pretty much got all the important things already.

 

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About Huw Humphreys

I am a headteacher in the city of Milton Keynes, where I have been since April 2011, looking to make education effective for the whole child and keeping a distant relationship with the powers that be and their narrowing approach to education... but most of all I am looking to find out what it means to be both a follower of Jesus Christ and a passionate educator in the midst of an unsettled community. I am also a part time musician, part time linguist and lover of history and literature...committed both to freedom to learn and depth of learning for all our children. The views on this blog are all my own, and not in any way those of the school I lead!

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