Friday 4 March 2011

The Purpose of Education

In some ways, it is easier to start with the reverse; the purpose of education is not about getting the maximum numbers of students past a particular marker, for example, achieving 5 or more A* to C grades including English and Maths. This should be an outcome of an effective education system but not a key driver.

Targets and league tables have become very important in making sure we raise aspirations and I am a supporter of the way in which they have driven the raising attainment agenda but I do believe there is much more to education than this.

I came into education 30 years ago because I have always been intrigued by the way in which we learn. What has kept me in education for so long is the joy which comes with improving the life chances of our young people by supporting them in becoming better learners and overcoming the challenges which this presents. Learning is not a fixed concept. Nor is it something which is delivered and received; it is a collaborative process which is constantly evolving. It is the research and discussions we have around learning that underpins an effective learning environment.

I listen to people like Sir Ken Robinson, Professor Tim Brighouse and many others and am energized by their views which provide the backdrop for debates within my school. I have just read ‘A New Kind of Smart” by Bill Lucas and Guy Claxton; I thoroughly commend this to anyone involved in education.

Who should be involved in these debates? In my opinion, all those involved in the learning process. Most importantly the students themselves; schools which are making the most progress are involving the students in dialogues around learning and curriculum provision.

We need to model what effective learning looks like. This involves using research to provide us with ideas and trying things out which may involve some risk. The most effective learning takes place when we are on the edge of our comfort zone.

There is no doubt that what lies ahead is of concern. I am worried that the governments’ White Paper ‘The Importance of Teaching’ makes scant reference to the word learning. I fully support the view that we want our students to receive a world class education and to achieve the very best they can but the mechanism proposed in the White Paper seems to date back to a bygone era. The most effective way to stimulate and engage students is to provide them with a curriculum which captures their imagination and gives them the skills they will need in later life

So what is the purpose of education? In my opinion, it is to provide our young people with the skills they will need to become confident, independent decision makers who will be able to shape our future. I’m not sure that many would disagree with this. It is the way in which we prepare them for this role that is of utmost importance and that has to involve a collaborative view of learning and a commitment to continuing to research how we make this happen in our schools.

Rob Thomas


Thomas Tallis School


Doug Belshaw said...

Wow! Which I'd been a teacher in your school. Great stuff Rob, thanks - love the bit about students confident, independent decision-makers. :-)

Jon said...

I like the emphasis on research here Rob. Do you think there's a way to foster this professional debate about the purpose of education at Tallis specifically? Perhaps we could attempt our own version of the 500 words project? It might help to shape the visioning process so that we move to the new school with a shared understanding of our collective educational philosophies.

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