THE START of another school year swiftly follows a catastrophic August blighted by riots and civil disorder. As expected, Britain’s politicians are now bustling about as busily as ever dreaming up yet more strategies for reforming educational standards for the future.
The latest broadside is a ‘war’ on schools that are coasting – with the Prime Minster, David Cameron, pledging to target institutions in affluent areas whose standards ‘haven’t risen as much as they could have done’. What is it about the politicians that they constantly have to resort to words of violence in their attempts to convey a message?
My image of the week (The What on Earth? Wallbook panel 8, Europe stream) goes back to the Elementary Education Act of 1870 when it was first mandated that all children from England and Wales between the ages of 5 and 12 should go to school. From this moment onwards the stage was set for the education of children to become a statewide, political issue. During the twentieth century it became steadily more and more the role of the state to become responsible for the education of our country’s youth.
What we are witnessing are the catastrophic consequences of the misplaced impression, ubiquitous today, that teachers, schools and the state (with all its laborious examination regimes) are what really matter when it comes to the education of young people.
Teachers, schools and the state can certainly help transform the education of children, of that I have no doubt about. But – except in extenuating circumstances – they should never have been tasked with having sole responsibility for a child’s education since, as any adult who takes an active role in the upbringing of their offspring knows, the ultimate teachers for any youngster aged between 5 and 12 are their parents.
Everything from moral standards to table manners and literacy to listening is ultimately learned at home. Children whose parents devote time, energy and enthusiasm to their children’s education – from reading with them outloud, to visiting castles and zoos or, perhaps, going on holiday to see the ruins of ancient (modern?) Greece – constantly do better at school that those whose parents have abdicated responsibility for the education of their youngsters to the state.
What we are witnessing are the catastrophic consequences of the misplaced impression, ubiquitous today, that teachers, schools and the state (with all its laborious examination regimes) are what really matter when it comes to the education of young people
There is no need for research reports or analysis to prove the link – it’s plain obvious – so obvious, unfortunately, that somehow every politician since 1870 seems to have missed the point.
At the heart of ALL education policy should be strategies designed to ASSIST parents in their role as primary educations of their children. Yet, since the Act of 1870, the trend has been one way only: to remove parents from the home, forcing them both into the workplace in a bid to boost the economy and the housing market so they can earn enough to get a deposit on a house with an unaffordable mortgage. Not only does this tend to enslave adults to a life of miserable indebtedness, but worse, it consigns their children’s education to the state-led scrapheap.
Declining educational standards since the Second World War have therefore got very little, if anything, to do with failing schools, lazy teachers or dumbed-down exams. Everyone is looking the wrong way. It is simply to do with the removal of the idea that social responsibility for children’s education begins and ends at home. If politicians want to rebuild our broken society, they could do no better than to abolish the Ministry of Education and found a new Ministry of Home.
Which means a whole new approach is required to prevent ongoing educational failure: Here’s my list of first principles for starters:
- Create a raft of new interventions to support one or other (or both) parent(s) to learn alongside and spend time with their children during their education.
- Do not force kids to go to school, but offer them (and their parents) real financial incentives to take and pass exams.
- Make teachers, schools, colleges and public libraries subservient to the needs of parents and the home in their efforts to help the next generation fix our broken society.