SCHOOLS DETAIN CHILDREN for 6 hours a day, five days a week, 39 weeks a year. Learning is imposed; subjects are often something the student is not interested in, with little discernible relevance to their lives. In spite of the best efforts of teachers, unhealthy power dynamics foster deep resentment, with a sense that education is a necessary suffering to be endured, rather than a beautiful gift to be enjoyed.
ZERO TOLERANCE POLICIES on dress code, eating, movement, speaking, and many other areas which have no impact on learning, are dictated and enforced unilaterally in order to promote conformity and compliance. Draconian punishments for seemingly minor infringements cement the impression of school as juvenile detention.
STUDENTS ARE GRADED in summative examinations, sitting for hours, regurgitating force-fed information, in formats devised by teachers to best hit pre-predicted grades. Exam preparation classes often take place over student holidays. Why? Because a school’s impact is “reflected in results from national tests and examinations that meet government expectations” (Ofsted Inspection Handbook 2022).
LOCAL NEWSPAPERS LEAD with pictures of a handful of the most successful students, headlines boasting schools’ numbers graded at the highest levels. Yet four in five students report that tests, assessments and exams make them feel bad (YouGov 2020). Homework and exam pressure which emphasising grades, without taking into account student wellbeing, is a leading contributor to soaring numbers of young people in mental health crisis (YoungMinds 2020)
TEACHERS WORK HARD to make content engaging and meaningful, but their excellent skills and their extraordinary commitments to young people are hampered by an archaic education system in which around 70 percent of students report feeling sad or anxious at least once a week and nearly a quarter of them have negative feelings every single day; a system in which only two percent of 12-year-olds claim they never feel anxious and sad (YouGov/Bernardos 2018).
HIGH QUALITY EDUCATORS, skilled in teaching, knowledgeable in their field and dedicated to young people, are frustrated in their chosen profession. Our education system’s narrow, pressured funnel of conformity restricts teachers’ autonomous teaching and personalised learning, reducing education to a bureaucratic exercise of manufacturing exam results. One in three teachers plan to quit the classroom within five years because of increased workload and diminishing respect for the profession (NEU 2021).
TOTAL EDUCATION REFORM is necessary, which empowers schools to put young people at the heart of their own learning process; reform which frees teachers to engage students with self-selected, meaningful, relevant content and activities; reform which emphasises finding-out more than knowing, self-directed learning more than following instruction, and imagination more than information retention.