In my ideal school, we would teach all children how to garden, the basic principles of four-crop rotation, how to lay a brick wall, how to build things from wood, how to sew and knit, how to operate simple machinery, weld and fix things, and how to care for animals properly. Every child would be taught that art is both practical and beautiful and provides enjoyment and purpose, and that music is one of the best ways of entertaining themselves and others, and thus mastery of an instrument or the ability to sing or dance, is an essential. Some rural and semi-rural societies still operate on these principles. These activities and topics would serve as context for mathematical and scientific learning, keep children active and healthy, provide endless opportunities for talk and for writing, and require children to learn to read effectively to address all of this. In doing so, they would be pointing backward to a cultural past, creating a strong community of learning in the present, and pointing forward to the kind of life that they could imagine living. They would be active, engaged and competent in a wide variety of skills and focal practices. Our energy would come from solar panels and wind turbines and ICT skills would be required to be known to manage these pieces of equipment, as well as to find out more information to assist the learning in this school. Teachers would be recruited from the population that had grown up locally, to afford continuity, and also from overseas, to broaden the educational perspectives or Milton Keynes teachers and children.
I was thinking about this recently, because it is becoming ever more a worry to me that we are not skilling children for a life that they need to live in order to bring peace and harmony into this world.
Yesterday, in the Guardian, there was a piece by Laura MacInerney about the 15th route proposed by the secretary of state to become a teacher (who knew there were already 14 different routes into teaching?): work for an apprentice’s pittance for four days a week and then go to university for the 5th day, and take a silly number of years to complete a PGCE or teaching degree.
Everything, it seems, can be done better if only we can spend less money on it and reduce the budget deficit. I have this crazed vision of teachers, worn to the bone and treated like the unqualified apprentices they are, filling the gap of this government’s delusional teacher-recruitment policy, and reinforcing the public perception of exactly how unworthy of respect the teaching profession really is.
Sorry, but this is appalling news, and is another example of the public-service-on-the-cheap approach that has characterised the current administration’s policies for education and health. It is education-for-maintenance. It will not change the world, except to render it more homogeneous and under the rule of multinationals who want to flog us stuff.
Just as bad, I think, is the huge growth of teacher training rooted in teaching schools and school-centred initial teacher training. This has come to light in a number of recent discussions with NQTs, trainers, and teaching school folk. There seems to be a common judgment that teaching is for one thing – pupil progress – and that the experience of teaching students, in what I have learned from speaking to many of them, is geared principally to that end. This would not be a massive problem except that “pupil progress” is shorthand in primary schools for “pupil progress in reading, writing and maths.”
Colin Richards, always worth listening to, has a column in the TES this week where we worries that because “the curriculum” has been so poorly defined for primary schools, any efforts by OFSTED to “look at the broader curriculum” are doomed to failure. His previous post places the fault of that squarely on the inspectorate. The curriculum is, for non-maintained schools, exactly what they say it is. For maintained schools, it is an ill-balanced see-saw of 200 pages or so, of which 89 pages are for English, 44 pages are for maths, 32 pages are for science and 23 pages are for everything else. This is not the curriculum: it is just the national curriculum for England. And for those many schools (and I keep hearing about them) who pretty much do just English, maths and a bit of science – well, they are actually following it nearly to the letter. A colleague of mine was on a course in Hertfordshire the other day and was amazed that the Y6 teachers of her acquaintance were not even thinking of doing any foundation subjects until after the SATs test in May.
For teachers, then (to return to my main point) to be able to contribute to, develop and teach a healthy, broad-based, child-and-culture-centred curriculum full of human experience and wisdom – well they will need more than a teaching school can give them, I suppose. They will need more than a year to do it. And they will need to be apprentices of life and culture, not just one-day-a-week students living on the breadline and wearing themselves out as starter teachers in schools that only want to teach English and maths.
What on earth are we creating here?