This blog trundles on towards its third anniversary. I know this because yesterday I spent an absorbing, though exhausting day at the 5th Annual Conference of Whole Education in Kings Place near Kings Cross.
In its 5 years of existence, Whole Education has made some significant strides in influencing policy, in debating and slowly privileging a range of arguments that the government has been willing to listen to and worked hard at both celebrating and challenging school leaders to bring the widest possible range of educational skill and moral purpose to bear on teaching and learning, on school and systems leadership so that children and young people have the best possible opportunity to flourish.
And it is having an effect. The network of schools involved is growing and whilst yesterday contained strong elements of preaching to the converted, the converts are people of influence and purposefulness and are doing some wonderful things around the UK and overseas. My first brush with this crowd was at the 2011 conference. I then visited a regional event in London about 15 months later, and then the 2013 conference last November. It makes me, apparently, a lurker (possibly an in-house term for people who attend the conferences but don’t join the networks). I love what they are doing, and whilst a lot of it makes me feel very inadequate, it is interesting, and surprisingly, not that repetitive, given that I have been so often.
As is my current approach to conferences, I went with a set of questions, following the great Peter Medawar, who said that one should treat every day as if it were a hypothesis awaiting proof, disproof or further evidence. The questions flowed from three observations I have made from previous WE work:
- the relatively strong focus on the flourishing of the individual as against the common good;
- the relative absence of work that affects the learning of very young children;
- the almost complete lack of awareness of the spiritual aspect of humanity.
As the group is searching for a whole education, I would argue that not to allow the exploration of the full age range, the full scope of what it is to be human and the impact of learning on the growth of communities (not just networks) is a serious hampering of their work. So, the questions arise mainly from those, and reflect those concerns:
- What place or role for the work of God and his Spirit is there in the work of Whole Education? Can it be truly whole without an acknowledgement of spiritual development? Can a place be found for this?
- What is God doing here, in this conference, given the assumption that “my Father is at work to this very day” and in all places, and how can I notice and cooperate with that?
- What in the Whole Education agenda serves the common good explicitly through the articulated need to create better communities? And how is that used to foster social cohesion and community coherence?
- How do those of us working as Christians in and around (lurking!) the Whole Education agenda maintain or even extend a kingdom focus in their work?
- Is there an awareness of the role of parents as chief educators of their children, and ourselves as junior partners?
- To what extent does the liberal-scientific educational worldview allow its pre-suppositions to be challenged, if at all?
- To what extent are the approaches that Whole Education take applied to, or are applicable to, early years education?
I am in two minds how to deal with this. I ended up with 18 A4 pages of notes from the day, and transferring this kind of learning last year took four posts.
I found myself shifting and evaluating throughout the day as a result of these questions, and also as a result of a determination, as in a previous post, not to privilege measurable forms of knowledge and evidence over those that are merely felt, understood, “breathed”. For instance, I found some of the arguments of the great John Hattie less convincing, not more, as the day went on, though I enjoyed everything he brought. Throwaway comments assumed larger-than-expected importance and some much-vaunted approaches to education left me colder rather than warmer. I was inspired, yes, but by those I had not expected to be. So, having flung the questions into the ether, I am going to run away and re-read my 18 pages before I tell you what I found out.