10 things which could improve education

I’d like to offer the following tentative 10 point charter to improve education at all levels as an initial contribution to the debate about the future of education in England.

1. Build a comprehensive system rooted in equality:
We should all be regarded as being of equal worth and deserving of equal access to educational opportunities. Rather than creating more barriers and inventing new ways to select and segregate, education should be promoting greater equality and inclusion. Publicly funded schools, colleges and universities should have a common status and common funding regimes and should be required to work together and serve the whole community. We need a National Education Service to provide everyone with the opportunity to participate and benefit as equals, with access to a wide range of educational opportunities as part of a lifelong entitlement to free education.

2. Offer a broad liberal education to all as a universal entitlement:
We need to define what areas of knowledge acquisition and skills development we regard as essential for all and use this as the basis for an outline national curriculum from 5-18 culminating in an inclusive school leavers’ diploma accessible to all. This means defining what we mean by an ‘educated’ person and providing a good platform for lifelong learning which can support us in accessing the full range of human knowledge and culture and help us to understand our common humanity and diversity.

3. Inject more democracy into education:
We need to address education’s democratic deficit and create opportunities to debate and shape education policies locally, regionally and nationally. Education policy is the rightful concern of the whole community. Minimum expectations and standards should be set nationally and at local and regional levels those who shape and oversee the education system should be accountable to, and elected by, local people.
Education should help us to make our voices heard, individually and collectively and to play a part in creating our shared world. Our schools, colleges and universities should provide a practical apprenticeship in civic participation and foster the habits of democracy. This means educating about our institutions and the use and abuse of power. It also means acquiring the skills to bring about social change, to debate the world and to use democratic methods to shape it.

4. Give education clear social purpose:
We need to educate for solidarity and to learn to work with others for the common good. Education should develop and support our social bonds, our consideration and understanding of others and our ability to exercise and challenge power collectively. We should all be expected to engage in some service learning or civic action which benefits others. This ‘applied social learning’ could be part of a new mutual contract between the individual and the community to underpin the guarantee of free education.

5. Connect learning and work:
Learning is work and education is not separate from the ‘real world’. What we learn can help us achieve our personal, social or economic aspirations and the links need to be made clear. Every employer above a certain size should offer apprenticeships or paid internships and be expected to contribute to a local educational offer and release their staff to train, mentor or advise others.

6. Educate for global citizenship:
We need to think as global citizens at both the local and the planetary level if we are to understand and address the great global challenges facing us, e.g: injustice, inequality, conflict, disease and environmental degradation. We need to learn to make the best use of the finite resources at our disposal and consider our impact on others, including future generations and other living things. Education should promote an understanding of sustainability and the ways people, processes and resources are interconnected.

7. Encourage action, reflection and connection:
Every educational course or programme should be set in its wider context, supporting reflection and good judgement and making connections between past and present, with other areas of knowledge or skill and with different people and perspectives. We should value and pass on our common human intellectual and cultural heritage. Education should offer us a good understanding of tradition; what is known and has already been achieved while also helping us to exercise our judgement in learning critically from our past to support the creation of new knowledge and insights.

8. Develop a research culture:
Education should encourage inquiry, scepticism and rationalism and help us to develop as critical and questioning beings. We should continually foster and channel our natural curiosity about the world. We need to be capable of questioning the way things are and of exercising judgement based on evidence. We should all have the opportunity to undertake some substantial research and to contribute to at least one ‘masterpiece’, which could be of some benefit or interest to others.

9. Educate for liberation:
Education should empower and emancipate us. We need our schools, colleges and universities to be the workshops of a better future, broadening our horizons and helping us imagine new ways of living, of seeing things and of doing things. Every education provider should regard itself as a school for innovation where people’s enthusiasm for making things better is encouraged through opportunities for discussion and debate, community activity and community leadership. We have enormous unrealised potential which can be released by working with others.

10. Promote capability and creativity:
Making things and changing things requires knowledge, skill, creativity and teamwork. Everyone should have the opportunity to acquire and master at least one skill or craft in depth and “find their genius”. We need to recognise that this requires experimentation, false starts and some failure. We should understand and be open to change in the world and in ourselves. Education should promote the possibility of social and personal transformation and creativity and develop our understanding of historical change and the development of ideas.

For discussion and refining. Feedback welcome.

See also:
Giving young people a stake in their future (July 2017)
Reconstruction in an age of demolition (July 2017)
Shaping an alternative education policy (April 2017)
Going beyond (October 2016)
Education: what’s it all for? (January 2016)

About Eddie Playfair

I am a Senior Policy Manager at the Association of Colleges (AoC) having previously been a college principal for 16 years and a teacher before that. I live in East London and I blog in a personal capacity about education and culture. I also tweet at @eddieplayfair
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