Revolutionary Times

Can’t we get it right?


Back to school…When I see those words I now don’t just think of ‘a return to school’, but of a ‘going backwards to school’. As kids sharpen their pencils, clean their shoes and parents spend hours covering books with sticky back plastic – what they are preparing for is an anachronism, a throwback, a land that time forgot. Our whole schooling system is out of date. This is how and why – and even what we do – about that.

Despite decades of reform, as successive Secretaries of State for Education try to prove their worth by meddling from the top down, our schooling system has essentially remained unchanged since Queen Victoria. It advanced for a while before slouching back. Kids sit in rows, shut up and are force fed dollops of cold lumpy facts. They Gradgrind out exam results in the global race to be best of the best. But it’s a race that can never be won because there is no finishing line.

Meanwhile parents sweat blood, hunting down the best nursery, the best primary, the best secondary and the best university, all to get the best job. And all to what end? To buy stuff we didn’t know we need; to impress people we don’t know with money we don’t have. It’s not as if there are any jobs that can repay their huge debts – and certainly no homes they can ever afford to live in. Then – leaving nothing to chance – they top it all up with tutors and extra classes to pad out the CV of their investment.

Kids are just pressured to hell. Anxiety and insecurity go through the roof. At the margins school is still a laugh, a place to learn how to be social; but those margins shrink, as the cold hard logic of the global race inexorably eradicates room for anything other than exam performance.

And you know what? It’s not working. We are not producing well-rounded, adaptable, nimble adults, but instead kids who can jump as high as they are told – to regurgitate what they have just swallowed and then forget it all. Teachers teach to the test – hoping they can push a D into a C – and everyone one else can go hang. Teachers’ professionalism and autonomy is mistrusted in a world that only knows targets and markets.

Even the CBI knows the education system isn’t fit for the 21st century. The workplace of today and tomorrow is about networks and relationships, team working, flexibility and sociability. What matters is how you relate to others, not how far you can stick your fingers down the throat of your mind. The point of school is to help us learn how to live with other people – not beat other people.

Providing an education is our most important social act. It should be open, fun, democratic, collective and personal, based around new technology and the total access everyone has to be the best ideas, lectures and learning material on the planet. Let’s go forward to school – but properly.

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