SUBMITTER [As requested by the Committee]
Written evidence submitted by Emeritus Professor Michael Bassey in a personal capacity. I spent most of my working career in teacher training (mainly at what is now Nottingham Trent University) and educational research (I was president and then academic secretary of the British Educational Research Association). In a long list of publications is my recent book Education for the Inevitable (2012) and I will be pleased to provide copies to the Committee members if requested since it is relevant to this inquiry.
EXECUTIVE SUMMARY [As requested by the Committee]
· The great purpose of Education should be to enable individual citizens to be capable of thinking for themselves, moral beings well equipped with the many and varied attributes that they learn in their years of schooling including the wherewithal to earn an honest living and so contribute to the national economy, and able to continue to develop and learn purposefully throughout their lives in a contented pursuit of worthwhile life, liberty and happiness.
· Each school’s elaboration of this “great purpose” should be drawn up collegially by the teachers and governors of the school.
· The best way of evaluating the quality of primary schools is to ask the parents and for secondary schools to ask the students.
· This would enable teachers and governors to pinpoint aspects of the work of the school that need attention and improvement. And that is the real point of evaluation.
· Insight into the national progress of Education should be obtained by a nation-wide sampling of the views of primary school parents and secondary school students, coupled with analysis of test and examination results and with no individual school being identified. This would give a much better insight than is available now.
MY SUBMISSION [In response to the Committee's 'issues']
1. ISSUE ONE: What the Purpose of Education for Children of All Ages in England Should Be
1.1 As set out in the Executive Summary I suggest that:
The great purpose of Education should be to enable individual citizens to be capable of thinking for themselves, moral beings well equipped with the many and varied attributes that they learn in their years of schooling including the wherewithal to earn an honest living and so contribute to the national economy, and able to continue to develop and learn purposefully throughout their lives in a contented pursuit of worthwhile life, liberty and happiness.
1.2 It follows that Education should be recognised as the totality of learning from birth to death, started by parents and others, followed by compulsory schooling provided by the state or by private institutions until the age of 18, and thereafter in institutions or otherwise at the decision of the individual. An educated person can be defined as one who has experienced and benefitted from this great purpose.
1.3 So, what should schools be about today?
· Developing the skills of reading, writing, speaking, listening, thinking, debating,and mathematical skills;
· Supporting the experience and nurture of personal and social development towards worthwhile living;
· Providing abundant opportunities for the acquisition and discovery of worthwhile culture;
· Developing worthwhile survival skills for a warming, resource depleted world.
1.4 It follows from these ‘skeleton’ statements that debate about the purposes of schooling should focus on what is worthwhile. So, what is worthwhile in Education? Here are ten attributes of an educated person expressed as expected experiences of schooling:
· Developing the skills of reading, writing, speaking, listening, thinking, debating, and mathematical skills; (as noted above)
· Learning how to relate to others peacefully, with mutual respect, and becoming a moral citizen with ethical standards and a commitment to community;
· Developing natural talents for creative art including writing, drawing, painting, dancing, making music;
· Beginning to learn of the cultural wealth that one can spend one’s life exploring: science, history, geography, literature, philosophy, art, music, languages, social science, and much else;
· Learning healthy maintenance of one’s body through diet, exercise and sport;
· Learning to respect and protect the natural world;
· Learning how to collaborate and when to compete, when to be obedient and respectful, when to be assertive and to stand up for one’s rights, and how to be tolerant and understanding of others;
· Learning how to go on learning for the rest of one’s life – and to expect to find the pleasure of it;
· Learning to know and value oneself, and
· Through all of this preparing oneself for the world of work, home and play.
1.5 In the primary years, up to age eleven, all of these should feature significantly in the child’s schooling, and this is the merit of the generalist-class-teacher-for-a–year system. In the secondary years, from twelve to eighteen, schooling tends towards subjects and eventually a focus on two or three subjects, thus requiring teachers to be speclalists in one or more subjects while still cognizant of their role in promoting, variously as needed, the above attributes.
1.6 These ten attributes, arising from the ‘great purpose of education’ and the supporting four dimensions, define a balanced, well-rounded and comprehensive school education.
1.7 But schools should not just adopt these statements expressed by a professor of Education, nor – dare I say – by a select committee nor by a government department: each school should write its own set, as indeed many have. If it hasn’t happened yet, the teachers of every primary school, and an elected group of teachers of every secondary school, working collegially and in discussion with the school governors, should draw up statements to encapsulate a collegial view of the purpose of education underpinning the work of the school. From time to time they should revisit their statement and amend it as deemed necessary.
1.8 And that, of course, complicates the process of evaluation.
2. ISSUE TWO: What measures should be used to evaluate the quality of education against this purpose.
2.1 Fundamentally the how and the what of evaluating the quality of education depends upon who does it and why.
2.2 At present what is evaluated in schools is determined by examination results and by Ofsted inspections.
2.3 Evaluation by examination results consists of key stage test results in primary schools (measuring prowess in reading, writing and simple mathematics) and GCSE and A-level results in secondary schools (measuring success in a small range of academic subjects). They are collected by the Department for Education, made available to the press and published in national newspapers as league tables. It is argued by politicians that parents need this data in choosing schools for their children and that industrialists need to see these parameters climbing in order to be sure that the economy will continue to grow in the future, fuelled by a better educated workforce. Sadly the results, year by year, become a political football when government claims credit for successes that have actually been achieved by the hard work of students and their teachers, supported by their parents.
2.4 Key stage tests, GCSEs and A-levels are only a part of the concept of a balanced, well-rounded and comprehensive school education as defined here. They are just a partial indication of whether the young person has gained the wherewithal to earn an honest living and so contribute to the national economy.
2.5 But they have the questionable merit that, with minor variations, school by school and year by year the same factors are being measured and so can be used to compile national statistics and thus appear to monitor national trends in the development of education.
2.6 Evaluation by Ofsted inspections can hardly be used to detect trends because the criteria of inspection are frequently changed.
2.7 Questions can be asked of both of these systems of evaluation (ie examination results and Ofsted inspections) in relation to the forgoing description of education and schooling – and answered tersely, viz:
· Do they show whether young persons are capable of thinking for themselves? No.
· Do they show the extent to which young people have gained moral values in school? No.
· Do they show that they have acquired a love of learning? No.
· Do they suggest that schools are preparing young people for living worthwhile lives? No.
· Do they give evidence that young people have developed worthwhile survival skills for the likely troubled world of their future? No.
2.8 In terms of the ten attributes of an educated person suggested above, only two are evaluated by key stage tests, GCSEs and A-levels.
2.9 So, if we seek to evaluate the many aspects of education as may be defined by a school, we need a different approach. How can the quality of the balanced, all-round and comprehensive education of a school be evaluated and based on the school’s own definition of its educational purpose?
2.10 It may seem a revolutionary idea, but I suggest that the best way of evaluating the quality of primary schools is to ask the parents and for secondary schools to ask the students.
2.11 Suppose that the “statement of educational purpose” of each school is turned into a questionnaire so that each element of the statement can be responded to on a five point scale indicating: “the school does this very well/well/poorly/very poorly/can’t decide”. Towards the end of each school year primary schools give this questionnaire to every parent and secondary schools to every student. (Trust parents and secondary students with that responsibility and in nearly every case they will respect that trust and respond accordingly).
2.12 Collation of results and reporting on them (briefly – not more than two sides of a sheet) could be a task for the school governing body. The report should be available for every parent of the school and for prospective parents.
2.13 This would, of course, give teachers and governors’ valuable insight into some of the work of the school that hitherto they have not been able to obtain. Combining sight of such a report with the results of KS2 tests (primary) or GCSE and A-level (secondary) would enable governors, teachers, and parents to locally evaluate the quality of education provided by the school. It would pinpoint any aspects of the work of the school that need attention and improvement. And that is the real point of evaluation.
3. ISSUE THREE: How well the current education system performs against these measures.
3.1 The measures proposed here would evaluate the academic and non-academic dimensions of a school, as expressed in its “statement of purpose” whereas the present system of evaluation through examination results is limited to the school’s academic achievements. Critics of the present system believe that by evaluating only the results of academic work, the non-academic purposes of schooling, focussed on the development of the well-rounded person, may be neglected.
3.2 The system proposed here, with every school being evaluated against its own statement of purpose, cannot be used to produce national statistics.
3.3 Instead, a nation-wide sampling procedure could be used, which, not identifying any school, could give, year by year, national answers to questions such as:
· To what extent are you satisfied that your child is receiving an all-round, balanced and comprehensive education at school? (A question for primary parents)
· To what extent do you consider your school is giving you an all-round, balanced and comprehensive education? (A question for younger secondary students)
· To what extent do you consider your school is preparing you for your life, including work, when you leave school? (A question for older secondary students)
3.4 This, coupled with (unidentified) analysis of test and exam results, should give parliament an appropriate insight into the state of national education.
4.1 As a personal comment I am delighted that the Committee has asked the fundamental question that I have often urged be asked on the perceived purpose of Education. Without reflecting on this, debate is often spurious.
4.2 My suggestion that “purpose” should be defined by schools rather than by nation, ie atomising the concept, is a recognition of the professional commitment of teachers to the educational development of the children they serve. Put simply, teachers know best what their pupils need, school by school.
4.3 In order to provide national insights into the progress of our educational system the proposals of 3.3 and 3.4 would provide valid and valuable data without impinging on school systems of evaluation.
4.4 Finally I would add a sombre note. What will our planet and our country be like when children just starting school today are in their mid-lives? Are we preparing them for the troubled times that may ensue? Which is why I add “survival skills” to my list.
MB 15 December 2015