Dr Robin Precey
Chair of HSE
Ex-head teacher and University lecturer
The recent fiasco of reinforced autoclaved aerated concrete and crumbling school buildings can be seen as a sad metaphor for the state of English education today. Talking to school leaders, teachers and staff as well as pupils, there is a growing consensus that our state education system is not fit for purpose. We have a workforce that is highly committed and driven by the moral purpose of helping children grow as human beings. They have risen heroically to waves of crises as they have hit schools – Covid, post-Covid, examination fiascos, reducing budgets, inept ever-changing political leadership and now crumbling buildings.
Staff and students are working in a system that is falling down. How can this statement be justified? There is ample and convincing evidence of:
Inequality. In 2014 the then Secretary of State for Education (Michael Gove) wrote in the New Statesman “We have one of the most stratified and segregated education systems in the developed world, perpetuating inequality and holding the nation back” 10 years later, the gaps are widening as witnessed by the 2023 A level results. The class ceiling is being reinforced not shattered.
A curriculum and assessment system that is tied to the nineteenth century and not preparing children for the rest of the twenty first century and beyond.
Increasing mental health issues with children
A dire staff recruitment and retention situation combined with low morale and poor pay resulting in on-going strikes.
A leadership crisis with smart headteachers having to play the Standards Game and be subversive to teach what they believe should be taught and are running scared from uncaring Ofsted inspection teams.
A bleak future for students encumbered by average student loan debts of £45,000 and a faltering, uncertain economy.
The necessity of schools is the product of circular logic. As Illich (the theologian and philosopher) says “Institutional wisdom tells us that children need schools. Institutional wisdom tells us children learn in schools. But this Institutional wisdom is itself the product of schools” Education is necessary but getting the purpose and processes right is fundamental to human flourishing. Currently schools are mistakenly and immiseratingly focused by central government on making economic success contingent on the ability to produce certificates. This is reinforced by Inspection, league tables and competition for children to boost budgets.
Education must be about much more than this.
Fundamentally it should be about relationships. The R-word should be at the core. At Human Scale Education, we have been working out what this means philosophically and in practice for over 30 years. Currently we have identified and are responding with solutions in 6 areas that are major live issues in our crumbling system.
The training of teachers in terms of what they can do now and, in the future, to enhance relationships in schools.
Training leaders on how to create a relationship-focused school.
How to set up your own school on HSE principles.
How to improve a sense of belonging in schools and to help students find and live with their identity e.g. in terms of transgender children.
How to respond practically to help students and staff improve our Environmental Intelligence to help the catastrophic resource and climate change issues we all face.
How to influence political decision – making with a critical General Election next year
It is important that central government turns our education oil tanker around before it enters even shallower water and hits even more jagged rocks. But just as important are the grass roots changes we can all make in education to adopt a more Human Scale approach where people really DO matter and are not just cogs in a machine. We know what to do and others such as Wales and Estonia are way ahead of us as a nation. Applying the analogy of Satish Kumar, a founder and patron of HSE, we need to help to ensure that the tributaries of change build into a mighty river to change the destructive policies that exist. We are working and wish to work more with like-minded schools, charities, local authorities, academy chains and anyone else to create a new education system that puts RELATIONSHIPS at the heart of all that we do in schools.