'Offering extra doesn't mean spoon feeding pupils or en suite rooms'
Education will only change for the better if educators help form policies that prepare children for the future, writes Malcolm Jeffrey
To call for necessary change in education and in boarding is bold. It is a very difficult thing to instigate, and an almost impossible thing to achieve. This is largely because of the pressure schools are under.
The pressure is created by schools constantly vying with each other for pupils, and the fees they bring in. In the “bear pit” of competition for fee paying pupils, schools must stand out to succeed. Whether by their position in the league tables, or by the boarding facilities they offer. British boarding schools are competing for a dwindling resource (the full boarding pupil) and we are being increasingly held to ransom by an unrealistic set of academic expectations, as well as an unsustainable need for round-the-clock entertainment.
For a long time in both single and mixed sex schools, the emphasis was on pastoral care and academic ambition, based on a balanced view of the average teenager and an understanding approach to the needs of the teenager.
Parents tended to support the regime, if some academic improvement could be demonstrated, but their expectations were more realistic than they are nowadays. Parents knew the limitations of their children and they were willing to listen to the professionals who wanted the best for them. On top of that, parents did not capitulate to every demand from the children and they did not mind if they were left to their own devices from time to time.
Now, schools compete for boarding pupils by offering more and more entertainment (how many of us have put together an activity plan and had it ignored by the pupils, only to have the parent complain that their son/daughter was “bored” and “why did we not put more on?”). There is more and more parenting-in-lieu, and a race to have better facilities than our rivals. All these things cost a substantial amount of money; yet we are striving to make private schools more affordable to a wider demographic.
We are increasingly under pressure to get children to achieve well beyond their ability as well. Whether it is the inflated expectations of a high achieving adult, or the parent who simply does not understand their child’s learning difficulty.
"We continually capitulate to a group of narcissistic, often greedy, short term thinkers."
It is not just how we educate that needs to change, but also our perception of what is needed for the future as well. We must understand what industry will need and we have to prepare for a very different future landscape, from nursery to post-graduate education.
So, what do we do?
I think that we need to be proactive in lobbying governments to make them form policies that allow the education sector to develop for the future. At the moment, and for some time, the sitting Government has just reacted to short-term demands (in a vain attempt to hold on to power and capitulate to the immediate needs of the populace), instead of developing long term strategies to equip those we are educating for the future.
We need to help form the policies they bring in, rather than adapt to their politically driven short-term demands. We need to use our experience, marry it with innovation and take it to the politicians, as something they need to support us to achieve. Our profession has some deeply thoughtful and intelligent members, people who are capable and who can develop ways to instigate change. Yet, we continually capitulate to a group of narcissistic, often greedy, short term thinkers.
The policies they (we) form must include the needs of industry and the technological developments that will be with us soon. Why do we still insist on testing pupils almost exclusively on their ability to memorise information? We need to teach them to be creative in their use of information and to use that information responsibly. In the not too distant future, we will be facing unbelievable challenges, as well as incredible change.
"Outstanding education is not necessarily based on results, but on the overall outcomes for pupils."
We need to offer outstanding education. Not necessarily based on results, but rather based on the outcomes for the pupils who leave our care. More and more, we are looking at apprenticeships and the benefits they bring, we are marrying these to Btecs and A-levels, but it has not yet filtered down to GCSEs and examinations like SATs and Common Entrance. We need to develop creativity, and critical thinking. We must equip our pupils as citizens, as people who are keen to contribute positively to society, not just people who want great wealth and success as a reward for their hard work and determination.
Politicians and educators need to start looking to the future, talking about how we can shape the future to fit us best. If we are going to compete against unbelievable facilities in many of the emerging overseas schools, then we need to offer something more. However, that does not mean that we need to offer a spoon-feeding service for our pupils, or en-suite serviced rooms. We must also develop resilience, self-reliance, and a degree of self-motivation in our pupils. This in turn needs to be supported by parents who wish to wean their children away from being told what to do at every step of the way.
Perhaps the education of a child needs to start with the education of the parent, at the initial enquiry point? To help reset their expectations and their yardstick for success. However, it is a brave head teacher that grasps that nettle.
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