It is time the likes of Gove and Pollard listened to the teachers

O Levels, CSEs, and grammar schools in Croydon? Having read Councillor Tim Pollard’s recent article on Inside Croydon, SUSAN OLIVER responds by arguing that teachers should put their capes on and become the super-heroes of education they’re entitled to be

Tim Pollard seems very passionate about providing a good education to Croydon’s children. A laudable goal, of course, but the problem is: what’s “good”?

The question about what’s good is an ever-evolving one. The idea of good in engineering is always changing, the same in the field of plumbing, bee-keeping, cooking, music, and every other field of endeavour. People’s definitions of “good” are debatable and often shifting.

What’s good in education? Pollard’s tries to define it in terms of test scores. A good school is one that provides a student with a course of study so that she/he is able to obtain good GCSE results. This, in turn, gives a child good prospects, most specifically a job with good money.

High exam scores and a well-paid job. Is this what education is all about?

The education debate always seems so impoverished. There’s not enough discussion of what good is. We rarely hear specifics. We hear soundbytes, generalities and grand pronouncements but not enough nitty-gritty about what works and what doesn’t, how to get a child excited about science, how to teach writing, when a child should learn how to read, the nuances of art education, and so on.

And then, there are larger issues about the overall goals of education, the balance between academics and practical education, the relationship between school and life, the effects of grading and testing. There are thousands of things to talk about.

So why the lack of discussion?

I’ve noticed that, both in the United States and in Britain, teachers are not encouraged to talk about their ideas or experiences in public. Teachers are basically hidden away and discouraged from being leaders in society. This is clearly a mistake. A lot of energy and talents are being wasted, and I believe it is the cause of the simplistic debate around education.

It seems obvious that teachers should have much more power in what happens in education – they’re the ones who are actually doing it.

Instead, politics fills the vacuum, and the educational debate is inevitably shaped by the clunky wrestling matches of Labour v Conservative. It’s a system that gives power to people (mainly politicians) who, if you ask me, don’t deserve that power.

Education minister Michael Gove: not a teacher. Just a journalist with an opinion

It’s strange that we put so much faith in politicians and take power away from the people who come in contact with our children. Teachers should be a bit more like politicians; they need to put forward their ideas and philosophies in a public forum so it’s not only the politicians we hear from. This is the only way that the education debate will become more meaty.

To give you an example: last week, we heard about Education Secretary Michael Gove’s proposal to scrap GCSEs in favour of O Levels and CSEs. It’s a valid idea and it’s great he can take on big issues. But he’s just one person with an opinion. The only reasons why his ideas are given so much import is because of 1. his position in government and 2. the relatively small amount of ideas put forward in the field of education.

Should one person be given so much power over the direction of a whole industry?

How many other ideas are out there, big and small, that could improve education but we’re unable to hear them because the system allows for so few voices to speak?

We don’t know what we’re missing. We can’t hear the teachers, and thus we under-value what they’re contributing right now. They know much more about education than politicians do. They know the specifics – they’re elbow-deep in specifics every day. That experience and knowledge could, and should be used to fuel a more dynamic industry.

Advancement in any field doesn’t come from “important people” calling the shots. It happens when a lot of people, engaged in the same field and passionate in what they do, participate in a grand, rigorous and on-going discussion about what “good” is.

Certainly, our children deserve to be supported by such an environment.

  • Susan Oliver lives in Addiscombe. She has been wrestling with the issues around education since her high school days (back in the early 1980s) when she read Ivan Illich‘s Deschooling Education and AS Neill’s Summerhill.   Follow her on Twitter at @Beesnbeans
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News, views and analysis about the people of Croydon, their lives and political times in the diverse and most-populated borough in London. Based in Croydon and edited by Steven Downes. To contact us, please email
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