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A refreshing perspective for education

Michael Lewis is Principal of Riverston School in London and, is Visiting Professor at Anglia Ruskin University in Social Innovation.

The Cambridge review of primary education presented a damning inditement of the curriculum. It states ‘many children are under excessive pressure…from an overcrowded curriculum, a high-stakes national testing regime and the backwash of teachers anxiety about league tables, inspection, and the punitive nature of school accountability’. In addition, peer pressure on children from faux fashion, a dumbing down celebrity culture, bad language, violence and reality TV make raising our children today with ‘decent’ personal, social and community values a truly herculean feat.

The challenges of the twenty-first century and the solution to our present economic woes will only be met by a rigorous education for all that promotes personal discipline, intellectual curiosity and independence of thought. Parents should not be blinkered into selecting schools simply because one’s best friends are going there, or because the schools league table position is a social asset. Of course, literacy and numeracy are essential and many pride themselves on their energetic teaching of the 3R’s, but unless teaching is focused on real individual need, any ‘learning’ will simply be in a vacuum. Too many children are bored, unchallenged, sidelined and simply fail to see the point of school – why else are so many young adults still illiterate and innumerate with employers and universities having to provide basic skills courses? In developing countries, children are thrilled just to be at school and be given the opportunity to learn. They take huge pride in their uniform and appearance, whilst in the UK too many teachers start the day arguing with pupils over indifferent attitudes and what is appropriate behaviour and dress. The recent attention of the use of mobile phones in schools is a clear example that the tail is wagging the dog!

This agenda is not about restoring the teaching methods and practices used in the 1950’s –  though perhaps why not? It is more about abandoning techniques and philosophies that have shown not to have worked; its about celebrating the importance and innocence of childhood – time to play creatively; engaged in art, sport and music; time to socialize and become confident; to marvel at science, literature, mathematics, languages and history; to develop independence, personal leadership, logical thinking and problem solving skills, and reinstate pride into the value of learning for its own sake. Surely all schools should strive harder to cultivate such values!

Written by:
Michael Lewis