Last week I wrote about the four pillars of a new educational strategy and funnily enough only three appeared in the published version so I have been worrying all week about a three-pillared edifice.
The three were important – the need to promote emotional intelligence, experiential learning focusing on creativity and encouraging service, and developing children’s ability to focus – but the fourth underpinned them all.
It was recognising that every child has the potential to be brilliant in some way and schools need to ensure teachers are free to allow it to shine. It is this focus on the individual that in the end matters most to a child.
Schools are a bridge for most children between the home, where the child is loved and knows it is very special, and the world where the adult needs to operate effectively without being loved or very special. Teachers will not love unconditionally but can affirm the uniqueness of every individual.
The knowledge that someone in the largish institution that is a school, cares about them, is important in motivating a child and developing a sense of their own identity.
This is partly about attitude – teachers’ belief that every child has an inner goodness and greatness to be nurtured but nurturing takes time. It requires one to one conversations and ongoing interest. It is time rich.
As school budgets in the state sector are about to be slashed with the likely consequence being larger class sizes, particularly in the sixth form, this fourth pillar is going to become increasing hard for teachers to address.
Add to budget cuts, the pressure of the proposed new GCSE and A Level curriculum that will focus teachers’ as well as school leaders’ attention on revising schemes of work and timetables and you have schools that are not going to be child-centred enough.
It is obvious that to bring out the best in a young child there needs to be a lot of individual adult attention. Learning to read is a good case in point.
But if a child is to be encouraged to grow into adulthood understanding themselves, forming a strong moral framework, glimpsing the wonder of the world, learning to love their fellow men, they will continue to need personal adult attention through their school days. We cannot set a generation of children adrift.
We need new ideas to move education forward away from a target setting culture that currently holds sway towards a holistic view of a child’s development and the role of schools within that.
* Sarah Evans, Principal, King Edward VI High School for Girls