Anyone who thinks an education system can, or should, solve social inequality needs to think hard about what ‘inequality’ and ‘education’ mean. I read with dismay this week at the increasing gap that exists between the wealthiest and poorest in our society. It now exceeds the US, which takes some doing. The richest earn 130 times more than the poorest. In Scandinavia it averages 29 times. Education cannot be held responsible for this or be accountable for a solution. We must instead recognise that life is harder for some, and always will be, so we need to stick to the knitting (quality learning) and raise the bar even higher on aspiration.
I wrote some time ago about the importance of understanding the need to promote strength of mind, strength of body and strength of heart in the school. This is, in part, driven by the need to address inequalities by firming up ‘character.’ We have to look beyond excuses, and look for solutions. We are not doing young people any favours if we sugar coat their lives. So, yes, we expect students to do PE in the rain. Children do not dissolve. Yes, they must follow the rules. ‘I don’t like my teacher’ will be met with ‘tough luck’: try harder to please them. Teachers are trained and trusted professionals who, whilst building exceptional relationships, are there to teach mathematics, history, P.E. and so on. They are not there to parent. The behaviour of children is the responsibility of the parent (assuming all adjustments are made for additional needs). Parent voice was very supportive of this at the recent session. We cannot carry the weight of society on our shoulders.
But the kind of resilience required to achieve what I have described does not come from rigour and enforced compliance alone. From this, there will always be those that rebel. Alongside the three ‘strengths’ must come a purposeful curriculum that is ambitious, but also personalised. We will also require enhanced links with the community to help us carry the burden, and it will require even more effort and hours of work. We must never stand still and be happy with where we are. Instead we should remain ambitious, industrious and reflective. The secret to excellence is knowing when things are going wrong and taking personal responsibility to rectify them. Alongside the ‘no negotiable’ approach must run the work we have started with Humanutopia. Equal attention in the emerging curriculum must be paid to the four elements of academic progress, emotional resilience, physical development and creativity. Then we will be as strong as we can be. We will never run out of things to improve.
Creativity is the one element that must be nurtured. The world around us is rapidly being directed by algorithms. Humans have the ability to build cars that can make their own decisions, apps that can simulate human emotions, programmes that can synthesise diagnoses to replace GPs and robots that can make their own decisions to kill during warfare. The industrial revolution replaced human brawn; the technological revolution is replacing brain. But it has yet to reach or replace human imagination and creativity. Young people are growing up in a world and in an education system that isolates them. Social media has a lot to answer for. It promotes everyone’s ‘perfect’ life and is destructive to young people’s mental health. The Arts are the antidote. Through the Arts, there is no failure, only iterative steps to success. The Arts promote team work, eye contact, good body language, confidence, laughter and an undeniable sense of what it takes to be human.
In that vein, well done to everyone involved in The Railway Children. It was the most fantastic school production and certainly one to be very proud of. The students were outstanding in their roles, well-rehearsed and disciplined. The technical side of things was also superb, including the wonderful set. But no play comes alive without a talented and dedicated director. So well done Eva. Watching this play made me so proud to work with you all and a timely reminder of why schools must never cut the Arts from the curriculum.