Why is it worth exploring your educational values?
Parents who care about their child’s education, like you, ask me what they should look for when they are choosing schools. As a teacher and school leader for the last 15 years, I can provide a list of things that you should ask, resources to explore and highlight some potential red-flags. Although this may be useful, it doesn’t empower you to really explore what you want from a school nor truly engage with the inevitable trade-offs you will have to make.
For this, we need to go deeper, we need to explore your, and your family’s, educational values.
The truth is, we don’t all agree on what we want from a school. This is natural. Education is a complex endeavour and while there are many things we all agree schools should do – the way a school achieves these aims is up for discussion.
Let me go through some examples of what I mean:
Schools should teach young people the things they need to know. There would probably be broad agreement for this aim, but when we ask ‘how?’ It is a different story:
- Do students need a base of facts and knowledge which has been passed down through generations to induct them into the world?
- Do they need to focus more on skills such as teamwork and problem-solving?
- What do students need to know? Who decides what they need?
- Do they need to learn coding and Mandarin as the current trends seem to suggest?
- Should we ignore trends and focus on strong numeracy and literacy?
- Students starting school won’t even be entering the labour market for another 15-18 years, who knows what skills and knowledge will be needed then?
- Should schools even think about the world of work or should schools be a place of learning and curiosity divorced from thinking about future careers?
Schools should nurture the potential of every child. Again, I think we would mostly agree with this statement. But…
- Do we do this through a curriculum which does few things, but allows for mastery?
- Should we instead do lots of things, but to a shallow level so that students can understand what they want to pursue in more depth in the future?
- Should we focus on what students want to do now or should we, as adults, look ahead and try to focus on what we think they might need over the longer term?
Schools should be safe and happy places. This can mean…
- An open, democratic type school which allows for lots of freedom or it could be a school with really clear routines and boundaries so that everyone knows what is expected.
- It could mean a quiet, orderly school or a messy school with lots of things going on at once.
These are a tiny fraction of the debates those in education are constantly grappling with. As both me and my partner are teachers (and very active in the debates and current thinking) we talk about these values a lot.
What I have realised over the last couple of years is that when parents start looking for schools for their child, they don’t know what they don’t know. In other words, they know some things about schools and they know that they need to find out information about schools to fill in gaps in their knowledge (this is where Ofsted reports, league tables and school websites are useful).
However, they may not have realised that there is a fierce debate happening amongst educationalists about much of what goes on in a school. This is problematic for a few reasons, but namely, there may end-up being a profound disagreement between the two parents about what a ‘good’ education looks like and secondly, the Ofsted ‘outstanding’ school which is top of all league tables may be offering a very different type of education than you had dreamed your child would get.
The following diagram might explain this better than my words.
Exploring your educational values
In this next series of blogs, I am going to take you through how to explore your educational values. The idea being that this will provide you with a really strong base upon which you can start exploring the school system for yourself.
I will say clearly now, I am not trying to influence you in any way. I have my own views on this topic – some quite strong views. However, the aim of this series is to show you that there is much more to choosing a school than you may have realised.
All schools are different and there is no ‘objective’ measure of a ‘good school’ a ‘good education’ or even a ‘good teacher’. The trick is to try to find the school which fits your educational values as best as you can – as well as balancing other complex issues such as distance, commute and friendship groups!
In this series I will explore the following topics:
- Values around school behaviour systems
- Values around teaching approach
- Values around the general outlook of the school
- Values around the curriculum
- Values around your view of ‘risk’ in education
I also know that this series may open up issues which you want to explore further – if you would like to arrange a free call to discuss anything further you can submit your details below and I will get in touch as soon as I can.