Education Lecture

So it’s been just over a year since I became a school governor in my attempt to continue to play an active role in our civic life.I have to say that I’m not sure I’ve made an impression, perhaps because it’s so much less involved than other governance roles I’ve done (plus I’m still the new boy). And I’ve managed to miss a couple of meetings due to work commitments, which can’t help.

If I were to say what I have pushed this year it has been to try to get better management information and improve governors’ formal interaction with pupils.

Anyway, I did make it to the federation’s annual education lecture, hoping it would be an improvement on last year’s.

This year we had Dr Anthony Seldon, who was trying to convince us that schools and universities are limiting the potential of young people that go through them.


He argued that education should be about broadening the horizons of those that take part in it, but that todays schools close minds. He said that education is too top down, driven by the aims of government, business and universities, which are about delivering young people who are ready to move into employment.

Dr Seldon said that we should try to teach young people 8 aptitudes:

  • Linguistic
  • Mathematical
  • Creativity
  • Sporting
  • Moral
  • Spiritual
  • Self management
  • Interpersonal

Instead he suggested what young people face is instruction rather than a liberal education and information instead of knowledge.

He admitted that league tables have had positive effect on teaching, but said they have been damaging too because they concentrated schools on first 2 aptitudes.

He said that young people are now unwilling to learn for non-examined subjects.

While there had been improvements in the quality of education in the last 10 years he suggested that the government have wasted a lot of money because they are led by targets. In his view you can’t compare one school against another, because of the different demographics of their intakes.

He told a story about going to see one admissions person in an Oxbridge college and asking about how seriously they took the personal statements by pupils (the bit where they get to try and say what interests them beyond the academic) and being told that they had no impact on how that college chose its applicants. From this he concluded that all universities place little value in non-academic breadth.

Dr Seldon had 4 positive proposals

  1. Reduce the number of exams;
  2. Teach the 8 aptitudes;
  3. Base league tables on value added only and try to make them about the whole school experience rather than just the academic performance;
  4. Change universities to improve pastoral care.

In questions afterwards he got the politest kicking I’ve ever seen administered.

'Portrait' Yr11 acrylicsHe was picked up by someone who said that their experience was that young people were getting a much broader education than he allowed for; that access to art (right is an example of a Year 11 piece of work from the Aske’s website) and music was much better now than 15 or 20 years ago. Another gently pointed out that league tables provided a semblance of accountability for schools. And the person who runs the Duke of Edinburgh Award scheme pointed out that it provides many if not all of the 8 aptitudes that Dr Seldon thinks are missing from our schools.

For myself, I thought that Dr Seldon spoke entertainingly but that his argument was full of holes. He didn’t convince me that he knew the state sector well, that he hadn’t used the barest anecdotal evidence to make quite sweeping generalisations, or that he wasn’t behind the curve on what is driving thinking about young people in government.

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About Andrew Brown

I live in Lewisham, South East London, and spent 9 years as a Labour councillor in the borough between 1997 and 2006.
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9 Responses to Education Lecture

  1. Before I left Askes, there was much wrangling over what the benefit of becoming a City Technology College would be. At the time it was feared that the focus on science would displace the arts. Having read the Wikipedia entry on Anthony Seldon: ‘In 2006, Professor Seldon introduced Happiness Classes (or positive psychology) to Wellington College’ it seems a quaint argument to talk about the curriculum in these terms. It sounded like an interesting lecture. Society and ‘culture’ are moving so quickly these days it is imperative that any teaching must include a variety of coaching pupils to become better deliberate thinkers, this as opposed to reactive thinkers. This is necessary in order to cope with the rapid changes in the 21st century. We also need to address the fact that people are guided by feelings all their life, no matter what they know about the world, and managing those feelings, harnessing them to keep a constructive and resourceful state is also a skill which must be learned so we can apply ourselves. Perhaps schools deliberately limit the potential of their students in order to create scarcity in capable and resourceful labour which could revolutionise society.

  2. Andrew Brown says:

    I think the language that Seldon uses is more flamboyant than you would find DCSF civil servants or ministers using, but the wellbeing classes that he has at Wellington don’t seem all that different in concept to SEAL (Social and Emotional Aspects of Learning), which is well embedded in Primary Schools and just being rolled out to Secondary Schools.

    I visited a school in West London a little while ago where a big part of what they were thinking about was how to teach the pupils how to become active learners, rather than passive recipients of the information fed them by teachers.

    It’s these sorts of experiences that make me think that Seldon doesn’t have a very rounded view of what’s going on in state education.

  3. Andrew Brown says:

    Yeah, well there we go. Martin Powell-Davis, and his friends in the Socialist Party, dislike change; that’s a surprise! And they don’t like academies either, there’s another surprise!

  4. rferguson says:

    Andrew. Keep us updated on how the school governor work goes. There aren’t enough windows into this important area of civic life. My Dad works in a school and the insight in to governance there are intriguing.

    For example, what is the legacy of students’ experiences of school governance? I would suggest that instances of the student body being aware of their school’s govenors are rare. Does this remoteness have any bearing on future interactions with decision-makers? Or is this a non-problem for students that has little bearing on their present circumstance?

    Is it a concern for governors?

  5. Transpontine says:

    I think you’ll find the concerns about the Askes/Monson merger go a bit wider than the Socialist Party, try asking parents at any of the other local primary schools

  6. Andrew Brown says:

    I do understand that (being one of those parents myself), but, in my view, Martin and his friends concern is ideologically driven, where as parents and governors have different drivers.

  7. Lone Ranger says:

    My pointer to the South London Press was because you are a governor and the article mentioned governors of other local schools had expressed concerns.

    Now a concerned governor has written to the paper…
    http://icsouthlondon.icnetwork.co.uk/southlondonpress/letters/tm_headline=school-merger-farce%26method=full%26objectid=20218315%26siteid=50100-name_page.html

  8. Andrew Brown says:

    That governors of the primary schools in the area have concerns about this isn’t news to me. And while I can understand the worry that if the merger goes ahead fewer children from other schools will get into Hatcham you’ll have to admit that it’s already a massively oversubscribed school.

    The thing I’d like to ensure, whatever decision the council reach, is that the intake to Hatcham remains relatively reflective of the population it serves.

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