Adding Values

13 Apr

Ever since the Education Reform Act received the Royal Assent back in 1988, much energy has been expended in improving the outcomes in education.   This is displayed in a market-driven model.   League tables are the order the day. They are determined on the basis of test and examination results.   Annually and with boring regularity, The Sunday Times informs it readers about the 50 to 100 best state primary and secondary schools.  It carries out a similar exercise with private schools.  These are judged on the basis of – surprise, surprise – test and examination results.

Governors are exhorted to secure value for money in the provision of services. The litmus test is where a school features in the league tables.  If the annual expenditure is steep and the test/exam results poor – heaven help the governing body because Ofsted will come down on the school like a ton of bricks. At an increasing number of schools, governing bodies carry out benchmarking exercises on the purchase of goods and services.   The aim is to achieve more for less, to buy the maximum number of high-quality goods at the cheapest rates.

So, within the education system, everything that can be measured is being measured.  However, the most valuable things in life cannot be measured, cost nothing and are priceless.   The air we breathe is free; love is free; freedom is free.

It may surprise some that a similar situation exists in education.   How can you measure the ethos of a school?  How do you calibrate the satisfaction and feelings of safety that pupils experience in a school?   How can we assess the happiness that pupils and staff experience when work is well done?  What yardstick can we use to determine the depth of positive influence that a teacher may have over a pupil who was once disaffected but is now highly motivated?

The concentration on measurable outcomes has been at the cost of the immeasurable ones. Many immeasurable outcomes are often determined by the processes we use to achieve outcomes.  Means are as important as ends.   Both are controlled not just by a work ethic but also the value system which an institution lives by.

I suggest that there are four key values for schools to espouse.   You may well add to them.

The first is that children are of paramount importance.   All adults who are employed at the school are there because of the children. We owe it to them.  They are not only our futures but also the drivers to our current life and work.   Whenever there is a conundrum that has to be resolved in school, action is required. The action must be predicated on the basis of what is in the best interests of the children.   Sometimes, the best interests of children are pitted against the best interests of the staff.  On other occasions it is the interests of the children vying with those of their parents and/or carers. The interests of the former must always trump the other two groups, unless, of course, giving temporary succour to the short-term interests of staff and parents promotes the long-term interests of the children.

The second value I suggest is that individuals are as important as society.   Margaret Thatcher famously claimed that there was no such thing as society – only the individual.   In the halcyon days when Communism was widespread, the Mao Zedong and Josef Stalin promoted the notion that individuals must sacrifice their wants and desires to benefit the larger community.  Of course, Mao and Stalin ensured that their own powers and interests reigned supreme.   Both, Thatcher’s and the dictators’ positions were untenable.

So is it the case that (only) individuals and ‘single bodies’ matter? Not really. The cravings and greed of individuals resulted in the stock markets crashing in 2008.  The growth of academies and Free Schools has gone hand-in-love with the belief that going-it-alone will enable institutions to thrive.   Rather belatedly, the government is coming to realise that many schools are weakened by the process of doing so and are exhorting them to collaborate.   One of the key reasons why London schools have been doing better than those in other parts of the country is because of the London Challenge with brought schools together to work in the best interests of all.  It takes a whole village, after all, to educate a child.

Over time I have come to realise that while I do need solitary periods to read, study and engage in introspection, I also crave for the company of others – a desire to interact with them, to learn from them as well as how they live and to explore whether I can make a positive difference to make their lot better.  Within a school setting, an excellent teacher doubles her/his joy if, on top of delivering an outstanding lesson, shares strategies with colleagues to help them do the same.

But individuals – as individuals – are equally important.  Individuals invented cures for cholera and smallpox, the light bulb, the steam engine and the locomotive. Marie Curie discovered radium and polonium.

My third value is one where all humans have equal access to opportunities to develop and are treated fairly.     There are, of course, myriad interpretations to “fairness”.   Is it giving all their due or does it mean giving them what they need? What is a fair salary?  Should a fire-fighter’s or nurse’s work be less valued than that of a venture capitalist, a banker or a lawyer?

In the late 1960s a group of women demonstrated in Dagenham against the unfair treatment they received.  Their demonstrations spawned the Equal Pay Act 1970.   However, even though female employment has reached an all-time high in 2014 of 67.6% in the UK, on average, women continue to earn £97.00 a week less than men.  Also, only 24.5% of court judges are women. There are eight women (21.9%) out of 38 judges in the appeal court and just one – Baroness Hale – out of 12 Supreme Court justices (8.33%).  We still have a long way to go.

The lot of people with disabilities and special needs and those from ethnic minorities has improved considerably, but there is much to be done yet.

And now for the final value. Those that are at the cutting edge of developing a school – i.e. headteachers, staff and governors (in conjunction with parents and carers) – have a responsibility to operate with civility, selflessness and integrity.   Such qualities must be practised rather than preached.  It is curious that in politics, the Tories “preach” morality and their politicians are often caught in the wrong beds.  Labour adherents, on the other hand, are keen to distribute resources and wealth equitably but are often exposed for fraud.

The school funding that the governors and headteacher control, as also the school itself, is held in trust for the pupils. The unwritten rule is that it must be used in the best possible manner in the pupils’ interests.   The education we provide is to give our youngsters opportunities to flap their wings and fly high.   And what is more, all adults in a school setting must walk the talk.  If teachers wish children to be polite, they have to polite to the youngsters – first.   “Thank you” and “sorry” must trip off the tongue when needed and not sounded grudgingly.  The final watchwords – based on this value system – have to be “Do what I do.”   What is not tenable is “Do what I say.”

Before closing, I commend the poem by the founder of The Quantum Life Institute, Diana Loomans, to the reader.  It is underpinned with the values that I wish all of us can espouse.

“If I had my child to raise over again,

I’d finger paint more, and point the finger less.

I’d do less correcting and more connecting.

I’d take my eyes off my watch, and watch with my eyes.

I would care to know less, and know to care more.

I’d take more hikes and fly more kites.

I’d stop playing serious, and seriously play.

I’d run through more fields and gaze at more stars.

I’d do more hugging and less tugging.

I would be firm less often, and affirm much more.

I’d build self-esteem first, and the house later.

I’d teach less about the love of power and more about the power of love.

It matters not whether my child is big or small.

From this day forth, I’ll cherish it all.”

The ideas captured in the poem are compelling.   What can be more valuable?

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