In what can only be described as the most challenging time that all of us, as a collective global community, have ever known and experienced, I am writing this piece (probably to raise more questions than give solutions at the moment) from the viewpoint of a proud Northamptonian who happens to be in a position of responsibility in the local education sector.
Human being and advocate for societal change first, I am proud to be the Director of Primary Education for the Nene Education Trust in East Northants. My role allows me the privilege to oversee six primary-phase schools in Raunds and surrounding areas.
There hasn’t been a day that’s passed us by in recent months where something linked to schools hasn’t been towards the top of the BBC News agenda: everybody has an opinion on schools and in particular teachers and this is ok, right? After all, we provide a public service to our wonderful young people and communities, therefore it is right that we are held to account by the very public that pay for this service.
Many sectors have felt frustrated, upset and perhaps belittled during the national ‘response’ to the global pandemic and, in my opinion, the education sector is no different.
Indeed, on the evening in mid-March that Boris and Gavin made the announcement that schools were to partially close indefinitely, aside from offering in-school education for key worker and vulnerable children, I cried. I didn’t sob… more of a strange whimper… but I couldn’t control the emotion that I felt. A wave of something - could have been delayed shock, I don’t know – came over me and I felt stinging behind my eyes. Uncontrollable. Of course, we suspected the announcement was coming as the press seem to have these things leaked to them in the lead up to the reveal – although as school leaders we find these things out at the same time as everybody else in the nation. But I knew then… I knew at that very moment… that this was going to change everything and that it would get more and more painful before it got better. But it can get better. It simply must.
Change is great and absolutely needed right across the spectrum of education in my opinion. You only have to look at the horrendous, unfair and ultimately downright despicable debacle around A-level and GCSE results to see that our education system is solely focused as an unethical, postcode-obsessed ‘exam factory’ for our young people and that teachers, as well-qualified professionals, are simply not trusted. The system continues to fail our young people year after year by demanding that they conform to what is arguably a backward-looking education structure. Indeed, 80% of young people who are starting their school journey right now (four and five-year-olds) will, when they go into their first job, go into one that doesn’t even currently exist. As well as this, transferable skills are required as our young people will have several jobs in their first few years of employment. We cannot and must not pigeon hole the young people in our society. How is our education system preparing our young people for the life of work? Moreover, how is our system preparing young people for life itself? GavinWilliamson spoke recently about the world-class education system that we are moving towards. In my opinion we are a world away at the moment
Lockdown has proved that people, from across all sectors, can and will work together. We have the opportunity to rediscover the true meaning of community, defined in the dictionary as ‘the condition of sharing or having certain attitudes and interests in common’, or ‘a group of people living in the sameplace or having a particular characteristic in common’.
Back at the end of March I wrote to all staff in the Nene Education Trust. In part of the letter, I said:
“We are social creatures – wired only for love, compassion, connection and empathy. But often we only realise how precious something is – like our freedom - once we lose it. So, when we all get through this, I believe we’re all going to be kinder. Kinder to one another. Kinder to friends, family, neighbours, work colleagues - and complete strangers. I really hope so, anyway.”
I believe that we can move towards a kinder, more realistic education system with genuine and useful end points for our young people. How is it right that a primary school aged child should be formally tested and labelled at least five times during their primary school career? And that secondary school aged pupils sit (what could now be deemed as) meaningless exams regularly throughout their journey, with such importance placed on the results; results that could define their futures? Can we, moreover should we, demand that our young people be treated with more kindness and dignity on their journey through education? After all, learning is an amazing privilege and we have the chance to really come together as a collective – a community – and demand change.
I love working in the education sector. Young people are just incredible and we can do so much more to nurture and harness their talents. The future is very bright – change can happen and I wonder if now is the time to start striving and driving for things to be different. Can we dare to dream for a kinder education system?
Matt Coleman is the Education Lead for the Northamptonshire Schools & Business Alliance (NSBA).
For more information about this alliance and to see how your expertise could benefit the curriculum that we offer our young people, contact Louise Garrod at firstname.lastname@example.org
Matt proudly works for the Nene Education Trust, a multi academy trust in East Northants. NET’s schools include Windmill Primary Raunds, Stanwick Primary, Newton Road School Rushden, Raunds Park Infants, St. Peter’s CE Junior, Woodford CE Primary and Manor School Sports College.