The Good School is to be Assessed…by?

When you look at Scottish Education at the moment (indeed UK education) I get the feeling that we do not ask ourselves what the purpose of school actually is. If you follow our current thinking it would appear that it is fundamentally founded on the belief that schools are doing well if their pupils achieve a set of excellent examination results, as if this is the sole outcome; the holy grail. The logical conclusion is that we must ensure our pupils’ heads are filled with the required knowledge to allow them to pass a series of examinations. Well of course we want that, but is that really the limit of our ambitions for our young people?

At the moment, ‘education’ is being damaged by the mindless obsession with testing that actually curtails an individual’s imagination and, in many ways, damages their originality of thought. Our students need to be allowed to develop their creativity and their critical thinking. We need to look at the education systems of other countries and learn from their successes. Scandinavian countries, in particular Finland, have been out-performing us for considerably longer than a decade. If you look at their systems of public education, you see one vital component which is different to our own. Examinations or tests, of any kind, do not kick in before the age of 16. This means that education from 6-15 is allowed to develop without the worry of “passing the tests”. As I said in a recent blog entry, outcomes-based learning is deeply worrying because it is inherently flawed. How dare we pre-determine the learning outcomes when exposing children to the wonderful world of knowledge – each child will achieve differing outcomes because we learn differently and because our interest and fascination can be piqued by wildly-differing content. That is to be applauded; that is the holy grail.

So schools should concentrate on educating their pupils rather than schooling them. We need a period of ‘educational enlightenment’ in the United Kingdom, driven by ensuring our young people have skills and knowledge that occur naturally in a system that is full of awe and wonder and engagement and enjoyment. At the moment, teaching and learning is becoming increasingly ‘forced’.

It is my contention that we must worry less about Government’s obsession with meaningless assessment data and concentrate more on individual development. We must never be afraid to dissent. If HMIe ask about a lack of ‘success criteria’ in lessons, ask them to justify their inclusion. From my experience, HMIe are not used to being grilled themselves. I am fed up with the notion that a good education is somewhat simplistically illustrated by a series of As in examinations. Examination results are a by-product of great education, not the end product.

Education should seek to develop individuals into people who are tolerant, cultured, have high self-esteem combined with a selfless humility, who have knowledge and skills that allow them to create, problem-solve, analyse, reflect and consider. This is not pie in the sky. This is absolutely achievable for all of Britain’s children, but we need to radically alter our view of education’s intrinsic purposes. Teachers are crying out for schools to be places of genuine engagement and learning once more that are, most importantly, properly resourced and supported.

I take you back to the hugely influential, indeed revered, Scottish Advisory Council on Education that stated, way back in 1947, that ‘the good school is to be assessed not by any tale of examination success, however impressive, but by the extent to which it has filled the years of youth with security, graciousness and ordered freedom’.

I yearn to hear words of that nature from those in power today.

Rod Grant