What do we need from our schools?

Tony Blair has this week given evidence to the Times Education Commission to defend his target of sending 50% of children to university. Having delivered two webinars this week helping parents to think about choosing secondary schools for their children, I am mindful of the dilemma for parents in choosing the right 11+ option for their child and the impact this has on their future prospects. 

The cry from many is that education needs investment and a ten-year plan; after the departure of the School Catch-up Expert, it seems less likely that radical change will happen. However, we should not be disheartened or fearful of what is ahead. Sir Kevan Collins’ approach to recovery was not about narrowing options, but allowing all children to re-engage with sport, music and the arts. Breadth in the curriculum is as important as depth. As parents, this is a fantastic opportunity to think about what should be important to instil in your children. Equally crucial, to support schools that encourage children’s creativity and curiosity. 

Exam-focused teaching

Lucy Kellaway, a British journalist turned teacher, finds it deeply frustrating that the emphasis on testing outlaws curiosity in the classroom. Exam-focused teaching –  a useless life skill – takes up an inordinate amount of time and discourages thinking. The other problem with exam focus is it presupposes the failure of so many young people. How many stories do we read of exceptional and creative minds that have started innovative and successful businesses? Too often these leaders claim that they were failed at school. This is not to say that they could not have thrived at school, it is more that the curriculum did not lend itself to their way of thinking.

An education system that does not develop metacognitive skills is not adequate. Especially as we know that the children of today need higher level thinking skills. According to a recent YouGov poll, less than a third of parents believe that schools prepare their children adequately for either work or life. 

So you might be asking where do you as parents fit into this? 

Thinking Matters work in both primary and secondary schools. It is never too early to start creative thinking, particularly if you believe in the concept of lifelong learning that is enjoyable and meaningful. Their mission is to equip schools with the tools to develop independent thinkers and learners and ensure Metacognitive actions are embedded across the whole school. Their research, with the EEF, has highlighted how ‘thinking schools’ enable their pupils to make 9 months more progress than their peers. 

As a nation, we have improved in the latest international school rankings! In the PISA results, the UK has moved from 22nd place to 15th for reading, however we are 17th for maths. It is worthwhile looking around and identifying what more successful countries, on the PISA charts, prioritise. According to a recent article, in Singapore: “the structures look quite old-fashioned. You see students sitting behind desks. Teachers have a lot of authority.” The education is, however, far more creative than in the UK. According to Andreas Schleicher, director of education at the OECD: “If you go to a British classroom, they learn the routines. If you go to Singapore, they study one problem in a lesson. The idea of the lesson is to look at that problem from as many different angles as you possibly can, to have groups of students coming up with different solution strategies.”

Let’s get thinking

Metacognition is about being a better thinker – ask yourself: how do you know that you know something? In the education world, metacognition aims to get young people to see ‘beyond’ what they know; essentially learning how to think reflectively, critically and creatively. A child might be able to trot out the correct answer to a problem, but metacognition is the ability to say how you got to that answer and why it is correct, or incorrect. Normalising failure is important. Metacognitively aware learners are not afraid to make mistakes, they know it’s a learning process and gives them an opportunity to rethink and evaluate the process.

Surely what we want for our children is a curriculum that equips them to learn and adapt their skills to whichever situation in which they might find themselves. We want our children to be good problem solvers and independent learners. We want them to feel confident in themselves and their potential. Encouraging creativity and innovation allows children to find their voice. By exploring and visualising, they will adopt these habits regularly and see themselves as a problem-solver or a designer.

Someone sweetly summed up what we are aiming to achieve at Meta Prep, was about teaching ‘children to fish, rather than just giving them the fish’!