Taking back control of education

Written by: Graham Moore | Published:
Image: Adobe Stock
I consider myself an educationist, and have been since 1989, despite having worked in the health ...

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What is the purpose of education? Graham Moore discusses the culture and relationships that are vital to what most teachers see as the true goals of education. He offers a range of ideas, and ultimately urges school leaders to put aside accountability and ministerial diktat and ask ‘What if?’

So I have recently turned 52 and having lost three really close friends in the first six weeks of 2016, I am obviously turning inwardly and reflecting upon my own mortality.
In the first few months of a new year, I asked myself questions that had previously gone ignored. Do I have a will? Are my wife and family protected adequately if I should check out earlier than expected? Is my pension enough to see me through comfortably?
Not a great way to start the year nor indeed an article on education.

When faced with these stark realities though, one also reflects on the state of our world – its fragile climate, failing economies, growing tension between major countries, rising mistrust of anyone other than our own creed, to name but a few of the challenges we face as a global community.

As a lifelong educator, I naturally come to rest upon the bigger questions in education and the current challenges facing our schools, teachers and most worryingly our young people, their futures, their lives, their world.

It is in this space of deep reflection and introspection that I compare and contrast these issues with the current educational narrative. With every instinct I have been given I feel there is neither relevance nor resonance between both contexts.

I remember a day earlier this year when, through the vehicle of social media, I read a startling array of articles about education:

Sir Michael Wilshaw stating that a good set of grades was better than developing skills, reports that many children aged 5 to 7 are suffering from stress at school due to an overload of tests, politicians telling us that Britain is way behind in PISA tests, school leaders forced to obsess over RAISE Online, teachers never seeing their own children because they are working so hard and so many hours, primary school students being taught how to avoid being radicalised online.

Some of this news shocked and horrified me, while the rest was just “noise” – patronising rhetoric, soundbites and jargon aimed at making schools and teachers even more accountable. But at what cost?

Nero fiddled while Rome burnt and our politicians are guilty of the same. Why are we allowing these administrators to dictate how our education process should be defined?
I love education. I love schools. I love teachers. Most importantly I love our young people and what they bring to our schools. As I get older I want answers to these questions and more:

  • Why do we have to continue using an outdated curriculum built around a set of disconnected values and subjects created by our Victorian ancestors?
  • Why are we still “measuring success” based on an IQ system that was found to be flawed months after its inception?
  • Why do we continue to set, stream and label our young people based on their ability in literacy and numeracy?
  • Why do we continue to allow parental income to create and define so many gaps in provision and opportunity?
  • Why have we so scandalously and systematically refused to embrace, use and add to Gardner’s theory of multiple intelligences?
  • Why, every summer, do we line up our young school-leavers, as they embark upon their first footsteps in the adult world, and one-by-one list them from top to bottom according to their ability to remember and regurgitate a set of facts that they will hardly if ever use again in their lives?

In a previous article for SecEd on modern school culture (The importance of relationships in school, SecEd, February 2016: http://bit.ly/1PtbZxu), I stated that the most frequent question that I am asked when I am in schools is: “What is the most important thing in teaching?”

It is only now as I enter my third decade of working in schools that I have the confidence and conviction in my own experiences to answer simply: “Relationships”.

In these past months, having lost three very dear friends, I conclude, according to the greatest teacher of all – my own experience – that there is nothing more important in life, let alone education, than “relationships”.

I was once told that the most powerful questions always start by asking: “What if?” So, indulge me: if relationships really are that important, I ask you the school leader, the teacher, the member of support staff at the chalkface of this wonderful and valuable profession: “What if?”

What if?

What if we built our school cultures around happy, loving, successful and sustainable relationships? What if we put people, their lives, their futures and their happiness at the very heart of the education process?

What if we were encouraged to innovate powerful lessons from the first day of school life in how to be happy, mindful, calm and peaceful? What if we built our curricula around modern values and human needs such as dignity, equality, integrity, respect and trust, worrying less about GDP and the economy?

What if we taught our young people about the importance of healthy relationships? How to communicate with each other without fear, violence, prejudice or ridicule?

What if our schools had one core culture, in which every human being was highly and equally valued regardless of age, status and ability? What if both our young and older people were regarded as equals and staff and student voice had parity of esteem?
What if we could convince the huge number of teachers and adults in schools who are understandably disillusioned with the system to stay and help find new and exciting innovations and alternative ways to educate our young people?

What if we could nurture a new generation of school leaders who see beyond grades and progress and who are brave enough to take risks and push back existing boundaries and paradigms to help create new school experiences for their young people?

What if we could educate our young teachers in how to create emotionally and psychologically safe learning environments? What if failure was valued as highly as success? What if risk-taking and innovation was regarded as “cool”? What if teachers loved their jobs and students loved school?

A culture of HAR-mony

There is a current obsession with acronyms in modern schools, especially when linking a tenuous and spurious set of clichés to create a “mission statement” using aspirational words such as “achieve, endeavour and succeed”.

What if we created a life-changing and world-changing acronym that could be adopted in every school in the country to help create a culture of “HARmony” in which Honesty, Awareness and Responsibility were the key pillars of every school.

Throughout my life, every problem I’ve ever witnessed in the world or experienced as a dad, teacher, leader or citizen, has been caused by a lack of one or more of these three things: Honesty, Awareness or Responsibility.

Think it through yourself, every issue and situation has its roots in the absence of one, two or all three of these values. What if we could build our schools around these and in doing so help build a better, more caring society?

What if HARmony could be used not only as a central context through which to establish global ethics and values, but also used as a central context for a new curriculum. What if lessons could be replaced with “learning experiences”, teachers were to be called “facilitators” or indeed “co-learners”. What if strong and authentic emphasis could be placed on HARmony to ensure that the relationship between student and facilitator was one of deep trust and mutual respect, thus eliminating the age-old clash between youth and adult culture?

What if the entire school setting could be turned on its head so that adults no longer had to “police” and enforce rules and laws, rather every person, young and older, within the school was taught how to check their own behaviour against how Honest, Aware and Responsible they had been? What if real attention could be paid to establishing an emotional and psychologically safe learning environment using HARmony as the key benchmark?

What if one-hour periods defined by bells could be replaced with whole mornings or afternoons of multi-layered, multi-sensory deep and immersive learning about life, the world and the inter-dependency and co-existence of human beings?

What if the students of a school with HARmony at its core, could learn with and from other students much older and indeed younger, as age-centric groupings would be viewed as an irrelevant and limiting paradigm.

What if learning experiences could start and finish within the school environment but would include and incorporate the local community, environment and businesses?
What if these outings were a weekly, if not daily, occurrence rather than students having to wait months, if not years, to go on a “trip” or having to wait until year 10 to do one solitary week of often meaningless work experience? What if schools partnered with local businesses and community stakeholders to provide regular input and mentoring sessions to add value and depth to the overall learning experiences of each young person?

Changing our attitudes

“Woolly-minded liberal” I hear you whisper under your breath. How would we measure progress in such a system? How could we make our teachers accountable? How would we know which schools were failing? Our children need to “learn”. They need rigour. They need to show progress. Schools need to add value. How would Ofsted inspect schools?

My youngest son, when he was eight, came home after school one day and asked: “Dad, why don’t Ofsted measure how happy kids are at school?”

My reply was simple: “Because they can’t.”

Einstein himself said: “Not everything that counts can be counted and not everything that can be counted counts.”

So what should we measure? How do we know students are engaged and making progress? We have allowed the development of an entire secondary pseudo-industry based around school inspection. This illusory necessity haemorrhages millions of pounds of key funds from already stretched school budgets, which could be far better spent on much more important aspects of education.

Education, indeed society in general, is slowly emerging from centuries of hegemony, in which we have allowed ourselves to be dominated without question and resistance.

What if it were time to really start challenging the status quo and insisting on removing Machiavellian and cancerous paradigms from our education system. This would allow us to create a process in which young people were happy throughout their time at school while simultaneously preparing them for the demands of adult life as global citizens?

At the moment all the questions in education are being asked and defined by Ofsted and politicians – this must change. It is up to us all now to ask these questions, beginning with “What if?” It is us as a profession that can find solutions to the minefield of problems that currently exist. It is of equal importance that all stakeholders receive the opportunity to ask “What if?” – teaching staff, support staff, parents and most importantly, the young people we all serve.

  • Graham Moore was a teacher for 13 years in a tough comprehensive school in Kirkby, Merseyside. During this time he was a form teacher, year head, director of sport and senior teacher with responsibility for teaching and learning. In 2004 he co-founded humanutopia, where he now creates and runs innovative courses and experiences for students and staff in schools across the UK. Visit www.humanutopia.com

I consider myself an educationist, and have been since 1989, despite having worked in the health field for the last 30 years. I studied at a teacher training college and was quickly disillusioned with the buearocracy of education, but might be attracted back to teaching (facilitation), even if only some of Graham's vision can be realised.
Over my 30 years within the health sector, I have interviewed many people and can honestly say that qualifications are possible the worst predictor of success or suitability for a role. An assessment of multiple intelligences is by far more reliable than qualifications, yet we continue to be fixated on the easily measurable.
We must strive to make the important measurable, not measurable important and at the same time change the system of education, and bring it in line with the 21st century.

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