It has been quite some time since I have put pen to paper to update my blog. There are many reasons for this, but the most obvious is that it’s just not a priority amongst the multifarious tasks that fill up my weekly ‘to do’ list. It feels a little self-indulgent to pen my thoughts when other pressing matters await my attention. I’m sure it is the ‘little extras’ that keep me occupied!
However, to not take the time to write something at this time could be regarded as a dereliction of duty or, worse, as an act of cowardice.
I applied to be a teacher on returning from Romania, where I worked with other Venture Scouts to build a hostel for street children. I had finished university, I was recently married and I wasn’t sure what I wanted to do moving forward. The DOE were in the midst of a national campaign to recruit teachers and I thought I would apply and see what happened. No moment of epiphany, no mission to change the landscape of education and improve young peoples’ lives. My rationale was simple, I enjoyed spending time with young people and I thought teaching was something that I might be good at.
It was a different time; a different era. Education was on the up. The mantra was ‘education, education, education’ and money was flowing in like never before. They were halcyon days, when optimism abounded and opportunity was everywhere. Technology was just starting to appear in the classroom, pedagogy was moving forward, it was an exciting time. Especially exciting to be involved in a school that was clearly going places with a visionary Head who was an expert at finding pots of money to develop the infrastructure and the curriculum.
It was a time when providing the very best for all children was seen as an investment in the future of our country, a way of developing society for the better and not a cost that was a burden to the exchequer. Perhaps we had it too good? Perhaps we weren’t educated in the tools of resilience needed during a period of austerity? Perhaps we should accept that the new normality is a diminished education, a less compassionate society where children will have to learn at the school of hard knocks? Perhaps they will all manage to pull themselves up by their bootstraps and turn into caring, compassionate adults who want to be of service to others?
Perhaps Heads have got it wrong and it will all be OK? Sadly, I don’t think we have.
As we have been saying in a relentlessly reasonable manner, unless we invest in children through our schools, sixth form colleges, high needs budgets, social and mental health care, then we will not only have a diminished education but a diminished society. After all, you reap what you sow.
Of particular sadness is the disappearance, or significant reduction, of the Arts in so many schools. Music, Drama and Art enrich our lives, challenge our orthodoxies, push us outside our comfort zone and encourage us to become rational, thoughtful and creative human beings. What price would industry put on a workforce swelled with young people who were creative, resilient, flexible, articulate and confident communicators? What price would society?
Over recent years, schools up and down the country have slashed budgets, reduced staffing, renegotiated contracts, changed the curriculum and increased revenue to balance the budget. Heads are saying that we can do no more without having a seriously detrimental impact on the communities we were called to serve.
I for one am saying enough is enough. Either we change what we want and rightly expect for our children and from our schools, or we agree that education is an investment and not a cost. We agree to overturn years of underinvestment and step into a bold new era where we all work together, teachers, politicians and parents, to create a system that allows us to be world leaders in developing and supporting young people.
What a heroic vision and noble undertaking that would be!