Last Friday I had lunch with Michael Gove MP. Well, not lunch in the sitting down at the same table and passing the butter sense, but a big networking lunch where the speaker was the Secretary of State for Education, the Right Honourable Michael Gove MP. I’ve thought long and hard about posting about it, but with time to reflect, here’s my letter to him:
Dear Mr Gove
I attended the St Albans Chamber of Commerce Networking Lunch at which you were speaker. I was there in both a business sense (I have my own business and was representing one of my key clients) and as a parent of two children of primary school age who have additional medical needs.
There were several points that you made that I completely agree with. The culture of ‘instant gratification’ needs to end, employers need employees who can write and spell well, have a good grasp of maths and are prepared to, and want to learn. Having a degree does not mean an automatic entitlement to a job, let alone respect in the workplace. Businesses need resourceful, industrious and flexible candidates applying for jobs – as you said, they need ‘character’ and at the moment, this just isn’t happening.
I agree things need to change and appreciate that changing anything within the education system is incredibly hard because there will always be children in the midst of examinations. There is no point for a really clean break but I do think that being able to give enough notice for a cohort to finish what they’ve started has to be a better plan than changing things mid-way through. Change is important – in business if we were not monitoring our competition, our business strategy and our results and changing things accordingly we would be accused of stagnating.
The Education system seems to find change very difficult. Schools operate at a far slower pace than businesses do – they are bogged down in bureaucracy, paperwork and boxes to tick. Making sweeping changes quickly is not something schools ‘do’ and by implementing them as a Government policy very fast will alienate those who are, as you said, doing such an amazing job on the front line.
If you alienate those who are teaching the next generation of business men and women, the next generation of teachers, healthcare professionals and public servants, things cannot improve. Changes need to be made in a consultative way, implemented with support and monitored to see the results. If those results are not as they should be, you should analyse why and change accordingly – not try and ‘fix’ it with another massive set of changes.
Those that are truly affected by all these changes are the children that you are trying to educate. To quote a much used phrase, “every child matters” – as a father yourself, you will, I hope, observed how every child is different. Every child learns in their own unique way – you can prescribe the techniques that should be used for teaching but you must also allow teachers a degree of freedom to adapt that teaching to fit the children in their class.
My daughter, for example, is an auditory learner. She finds visual processing difficult and she also has a medical condition that, amongst other things, affects her speech. Synthetic phonics for her do not work. She cannot say the sounds, she finds it difficult to remember the patterns of the letters and thus her writing and spelling are behind compared to her numeracy levels. She was discharged from the Speech & Language Team saying that more work was needed but with the sub-text that they didn’t have the funding to keep working with her.
My daughter is bright, engaged at school and wants to learn. She knows more about grammar than I was ever taught – that is a good thing. But she doesn’t learn in the way that you want her to. She’s not the only one either – some children are not able to learn and recite dates and times by rote. I also don’t want someone in the workplace who learns like that – flexibility and adaptation are really important – there are few businesses who can teach what they do by rote. Children need to investigate, discuss, understand, experiment with and draw conclusions – learning should be around the needs of the children, not what you believe businesses need.
Some people in business are visual learners, some auditory and some kinaesthetic. Children learn in different ways too – especially those who have additional needs, be they educational, medical or social. As much as you cannot prescribe one drug to cure all ills, you cannot prescribe one way of teaching and assessment to ‘cure’ the education system at the moment.
Please be assured that the NHS, Support Services and the Education System are not working well together to support children with additional needs. Every parent of a child (or children) with additional needs is fighting a daily battle to get their children adequately supported in school. I use the word ‘adequately’ because at the moment, the possibility of “well supported” seems impossible. Teachers are working their hardest but there isn’t any joined up thinking. Instead there is resentment, a “can’t do” attitude and an unending sense of frustration. For some children their experience in school is tortuous – that start in life is not going to bring a positive impact in the work place over time.
I would urge you to bypass your advisers and to actually come and talk to some parents of real children in real schools. Teachers as well – those who are teaching 30 children who all have their own unique needs and ways of being them. Those, like those who teach my son, have to administer medication and have never had any input from the school nursing services to support them. Those who support the children in mainstream school with autism, epilepsy and a myriad of conditions of which I suspect you will have never heard.
Ask them about learning styles, why child centred learning does have a vitally important role and watch as children enjoy hands on, kinaesthetic learning that stays in their memories. Watch as a teacher tries to inspire children to learn and regurgitate dates and facts without understanding the importance of them – if indeed the importance was ever there.
Then, talk to employers about what they want their interns, school leavers, graduates and other staff to have in terms of their skill sets – their motivation, their ability to problem solve, to be flexible, ethical and responsible in the world of work. Build your policies, curriculum and syllabi from there – encouraging every child to flourish in their own way – albeit with a solid grasp of the basics of life, but as them – not as a government formed information storage unit lacking the ability for independent thought.
Author of Cheetahs In My Shoes
Mother of 2 children with additional needs
Start Up Business Owner