What constitutes a good education?

EducationBy Andrew Manley

On the world stage there are still millions of children who do not have access to education.  According to UNICEF’s website:  ‘Universal access to quality education is not a privilege – it is a basic human right.  There are over 59 million children of primary school-age, who are being denied their right to education’. (January 2016)

But is it enough to simply provide access to education?  Should there be a standard to the education provided?  And what should those standards be?

In the UK we exist in a society that is rich in information, you would think answering such a question would be easy.  After all we have OFSTED reports, school prospectuses, results and performance tables… the list goes on.  But is it enough to measure a good education in the form of reports and statistics alone?

Why do we still have hundreds of thousands of young people who are not in education, employment or training?  If in the UK we seek a world class education as a means by which we deliver a ‘good education’ then such outcomes surely should not exist.

Until recently, I looked at these very same issues through the lens of a primary school head teacher where daily buzz words included: ‘the pupil voice’, inclusion, narrowing attainment gaps and equal opportunities.  My goal was to work with my staff, parents and governors to provide this ‘good education’.  The school’s results suggested we indeed provided an Outstanding education (in OFSTED speak), but I was acutely aware that for some pupils, life in school was hard and a ‘daily hell’ as one parent once put it to me!

Typical answers to what makes a good education I have heard over the years include: ‘being able to read and write’, ‘ending up with a good job’ and ‘a good grasp of knowledge’.  However, when we try to answer this question our frame of reference often starts with ‘what was MY education like?’ and ‘how did I turn out?’ I certainly can cast my own mind back 20-30 years and recall events and experiences from my childhood where I distinctly remember learning ‘facts and figures’ but I also can remember those who couldn’t grasp the basics.  I can recall those who were gifted in sport or music and those who never were chosen for teams in PE.  And I can remember those who had been deemed ‘special needs’ and the TEACHER-led way of ‘dealing with the child’s issue’.

If we are honest and seek justice in our education systems, we have to acknowledge that some pupils ‘hate life at school’ and find it extremely difficult to access education in our very literacy based curriculums.  Reasons for such difficulties and negative emotions may be varied but a few I have observed over the years (and regrettably not intervened in) include: negative experiences by parents passed on; lack of resources to support a pupils learning needs; ‘shoe-horning’ pupils who are switched off by reading and literacy intense lessons that require extensive use of such skills (especially those with identified special education needs such as dyslexia); and pressure on pupils (and staff) to perform well in tests and exams.  One result I have observed is a hierarchy of ability and opportunity from a very early age.  A value that is defined by your academic ability and where the use of phrases such as ‘school is just not for me, him or her’ are frowned upon.

I passionately believe education must be for all and that it should allow individuals to reach their full potential.  But I equally believe that education must be accessible in ways that see recipients being empowered and built up in what they CAN do and not what they CANNOT do.  For some this means an education that does not rely on literacy ability alone.  Instead I believe education should seek to equip our young people to express themselves meaningfully; to engage in issues that affect themselves and others; and to empower them to feel they can learn and achieve regardless of their attainment in school.

To this end, in 2010 my corps partnered with The Lighthouse Group’ – an education charity designed to help young people and their families ‘Transform Lives for Good’.  Through behaviour coaching, we trained 3 volunteers to go into schools on a weekly basis and work with some of the most vulnerable and disinterested pupils in my school.  The results were amazing – the simple act of providing one 1:1 weekly coaching with children who were finding school difficult made the world of difference, not only in terms of their attainment, but for me it transformed their attitude to education; this at the primary phase of their education rather than waiting for secondary school where it could all go wrong! These volunteers were not experts, simply people willing to give up some time to be trained and then an hour per week per pupil to engage in 1:1 behaviour coaching.  This a few years later was embraced by the Salvation Army’s Children’s Ministries department.  Could you or your corps make a positive, transforming difference in the lives of vulnerable young people? Perhaps the TLG’s Behaviour Coaching programme with the SA Children’s Ministry department could be the way forward.

I fully agree that young people should be prepared for their ‘role in the society’ to which they belong but too often this role is distorted, shaped – even forced upon them – to the point where they can no longer by who God plans them to be, instead they are a product of what society ‘needs’ at that particular time.  Perhaps this goes some way to explain an earlier question of why so many young people are not in education, employment or training.  Does a ‘good education’ not produce young citizens that are allowed to grow and develop into people they, and who God, wants them to be?  Our UK society would claim denied access to education is an injustice but to me injustice in our education system is a deeper issue than just having access to it.  What is a good education to you?

Andrew Manley is a second year cadet at William Booth Training College in London, and will take up his first appointment in Berwick in July.

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