Last week I was at a meeting of headteachers from all over the country. One of the main topics of discussion was the education policies of all the main political parties, given that there is a general election looming this spring or summer.
In between all the arguments about funding (which I cannot help thinking is going to be cut whoever wins), different types of qualifications, changes to the ways schools are set up and governed or run, and so on, I tried to look for signs of what I think really matters in education. From the politicians, there are depressingly few such signs. Every party is in the debate to prove they can run the system more cost effectively, or produce better exam results, or keep more young people in full time education. None of these things are bad things to aim for. Some talk about continuing to improve the quality of education for the socially disadvantaged, a fundamentally good thing to do.
But you rarely hear politicians talking about things you can’t measure, the really important stuff. Like young people being happy, fulfilled, discovering deeper meaning in life, learning to live in a community, having a stable family life, and, dare I say it, making choices which are morally right, rather than just expedient in the prevailing values of the day. And yet it is all these things, or rather lack of them, which causes so much malaise.
Did anyone see the recent Channel 4 programme with Kevin McCloud about people living in the slums of Mumbai? Easy to romanticise what is undoubtedly a really hard life, but it did show that you don’t necessarily need wealth to be happy – but you do need strong family and community bonds and strong shared values and beliefs.
Maybe our politicians are simply missing the point with so much of their education policy – it’s not necessarily wrong, it just isn’t enough by itself. You can’t reduce society, or people, to wealth and qualifications.
I am going to visit some schools in Ghana in West Africa over half term as part of a charitable project I am involved in. I am expecting to see very different priorities at work there, and will report back on my return, with pictures! If I can get the technology to work, I might even put some on this blog during the week.
Yuk – as I write these words, there is sleet falling consistently outside – let’s hope that’s all it comes to – none of us want to finish this term as we started it!