I wonder reader if you have ever considered who chooses the news? May seem like an odd question, but of all the things that happen in the world on any one day; who and by what criteria are the items that reach us decided? Many years ago, I worked with a colleague who had had a very distinguished career as a photographer with some of the broadsheets and later with fashion magazines. He was a teller of tales, some of them were true and had actually happened. He was sent from pillar to post to get five minutes with a racing driver or a cricketer among a press pack all after a captivating image. He would send what he had back to London where, he told me, inevitably a small group of “Anglo Saxon public school boys” decided what reached the paper the next day. The criterion was simple; what will sell copy.
Now you may wonder, “why is he touching on this point?” One reason may be that the news is almost always bad, but that is not the sum total of our lived experience, not even a tenth of it hopefully. But perhaps it attracts viewers in the same way as accidents attract tailbacks. I had the opportunity recently to meet Floyd Steadman. Floyd had been Headmaster of a number of Prep schools and before that had spent many years as a scrum-half with Saracens Rugby. In a piece of work on unconscious bias he spoke of his experience as a black man being stopped by police; of difficulty at customs when bringing back school tours and being the only member of the school party stopped by officials. In a calm, open and frank discussion he peeled back layers of prejudice that for a long time have hung not only around the black community but around so many. He wondered where all of this was in our curricula. Who chooses what we teach?
Yesterday the Times Education Commission reported on a review of education. Subtitled “bringing out the best”, the report complained about the politicisation of education, the badminton battle between knowledge and skills and which ought to come first, which was more important? In the course of the reporting on this, there was little focus on the content of curricula. The report talked about the notion that education was for business; the skills needed to have people trained for the world and to make a contribution to financial success or realising the potential of Britain.
The pandemic has occasioned a number of possibilities. The first about what children learn and the second about how they learn it. Estonia is lauded for a robotics programme children take from age seven; Singapore and Shanghai lauded for focusing on creativity and The Netherlands for placing wellbeing at the heart of the curriculum. The report tables that 65% of parents think the education system puts too much emphasis on exams with 11% thinking it doesn’t do enough. 56% say they are worried about the effect on children’s mental health while two thirds comment that education doesn’t prepare children for life or work. (I do like the distinction here, but more anon). 85% of businesses say they are expecting skills shortages.
To be fair, the rhetoric around this hasn’t changed much in a very long time. I have an idea! Why not place children at the heart of the curriculum and educate them such that they have developed their intellectual competencies; they have examined a range of human experience; developed their logical processing and creativity; tested their capacity to reason, work well with others, valuing all and appreciating that we can all continue to improve the best version of ourselves? Give them opportunities to be purposefully uncomfortable the better to establish how to cope in novelty and with challenge; allow them opportunity to fail forward; to learn from each other and their mistakes?
It is, to be fair, more than an idea. In a world of change preparing them for business is like asking the time; useful only in the moment of looking at your watch and out of date thereafter. Embley takes pride in following Montaigne. “Homo sum humanae a mei; nihil alienum puto”. Our education is timeless because it keeps pace with the children who are the centre of all we do. Their personal development and the impact of a well rounded curriculum which is always under review, semper reformanda, the better to allow children to experience the rich tapestry of what it means to be human.
We prepare them to be advocates of social change, to make the world a better place, to be ambitious for themselves and their world; to have a genuine belief that the world doesn’t end at the tip of their nose or the bottom of their pocket; that they are more than the sum of their parts and their potential is a work of becoming not concluding, that kindness makes us human and humanises all those who interact with us.
It’s more than an idea, it’s not finished, it’s a way of life in progress, it’s the Embley way. It may not make the news.