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:
- Self management
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
- Reduce the number of exams;
- Teach the 8 aptitudes;
- Base league tables on value added only and try to make them about the whole school experience rather than just the academic performance;
- Change universities to improve pastoral care.
In questions afterwards he got the politest kicking I’ve ever seen administered.
He 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.