I am increasingly concerned that lots of people whom I respect greatly in our “Edu-Twitter sphere” seem to be forced into opposite corners. I read lots of articles, blogs and pieces of research – many of which appear to contradict each other – and I find myself in agreement with much of what I read despite contradictions. Education is complex. It is complex because we are dealing with people and people are complex; yet there is enormous pressure within the system to make it simple. We are encouraged to believe that if we get the ingredients right and follow the recipe religiously we will get the desired outcomes. The trouble is that this denies the glorious and messy complexity of the human state.
I thought I’d attempt to list some of the ‘truths’ that we should all be able to accept and which are hugely difficult to deliver on simultaneously
Children require structure and routine in order to feel secure and grow in confidence.
- The less structure and routine children have in their home life the more they need at school in order to be able to flourish.
- For some children with chaotic home lives coping with structure and routine at school can be difficult and distressing.
- It is every child’s right to be able to benefit from teaching without it being disturbed by the poor behaviour of others.
- It is every child’s right to an education, and if their emotional needs are preventing their access to this, then these emotional needs must be addressed.
Teachers need to concentrate on teaching, rather than controlling poor behaviour, and they should be free from abuse in their classrooms.
- The behaviour issues that arise in classrooms may not be a teacher’s fault, but they are a teacher’s problem, and teachers need to acknowledge this and be supported in developing their own strategies to overcome.
- It is a key role of school leaders to ensure that the culture of the school allows teachers to be free to teach and flourish and the climate in classrooms is one of mutual respect.
- Behaviour problems are most effectively addressed where they arise and in most circumstances it is best to avoid undue escalation.
Consistency of application of behaviour systems and processes is essential in promoting security for all.
- ‘Fairness’, and the perception of fairness, needs to be carefully managed as it does not necessarily mean ‘treating everyone the same’.
The curriculum needs to be about transferring key knowledge.
- In order to be able to assimilate and process knowledge there are key skills children need to be taught.
- Basic communication skills are the building blocks – speaking and listening, reading and writing, and numeracy.
- Some children pick these basic skills up very quickly and before formal education; others require them to be formally taught in a highly structured way.
- It is not OK for children to be formally taught skills they already have simply because others require it.
- It is not OK for lack of skills to prevent children from assimilating and processing the knowledge taught.
- As children move through the system they require more complex skills in order to be able to critically engage with and analyse the knowledge being taught.
- ‘Group work’ and ‘individual research’ do not address the development of the more complex skills required to critically engage with and analyse knowledge; these also require formal teaching for most children.
- Creating a thirst for the creation of new knowledge, in addition to transferring existing knowledge, is absolutely essential for the progress of society.
There is core curriculum content which all children should receive.
- Curriculum should be reviewed and responsive to the needs of our community, our country and our world.
- Core curriculum should not be ‘over-loaded’ as a response to current societal priorities; as some things are added, others should be ‘ditched’.
- Government has responsibility for ensuring appropriateness of curriculum and access of children to core curriculum.
- Curriculum development should not be determined by ideological priorities and whims of politicians.
- It is important to ensure that all children are allowed to follow curriculum routes which are appropriate to their aptitudes and abilities, motivate them and provide us with the skills we need in our economy.
- It is important that children are not directed into curriculum pathways which limit their life chances.
We have enough data to be able to make predictions of future academic performance based on prior academic assessment.
- It is important for us to be able to track children’s progress in order to be able to improve teaching.
- Academic progress from a starting point to an end point is rarely linear.
- Economic and cultural factors are hugely significant in children’s academic performance and schools have no control over these.
- There is a wide difference in the academic performance of schools with similar intakes and so a school’s response to its context makes a difference.
- Schools should be held to account for the quality of education they provide and one way of doing this is through measuring academic performance.
- We do not have perfect measures for holding schools to account for academic performance.
- Accountability measures for academic performance contribute to the recruitment crisis.
- Accountability measures for academic performance can lead to improvement.
So there we have it – a list of things that make education so complex. My fear is that because of the inherent contradictions we often decide to ignore some of these, concentrate on those we feel are the most important, or relevant to our contexts, and attack colleagues who have done the same but have chosen different ‘truths’ for their attention.
My point is that we all have responsibility to acknowledge all these and work to develop strategies at system and school level which enable us to deliver on them all simultaneously.