I am very proud that East London Science School is hosting our event “Choosing Knowledge” at the Wellcome Trust on Saturday 11th February. We have a host of excellent speakers and some you might not have heard before.
There is no doubt that the debate about what schools are for and how they should do it has reached a new intensity. There are a growing number of people arguing for knowledge-led schools as an antidote to the mechanistic accountability driven system that has existed for too long. We have as a profession collapsed into thinking there are limits on what we can achieve with pupils and teachers in the classroom. Too many still believe the attempt to impart knowledge is at best a hindrance at worst a barrier to pupil achievement. This race to the bottom has seemingly no end. However, for some of us this amounts to an abandonment of education to technocrats and blind men.
Halting the slide is an immense task. At every turn there are excuses and naysayers. That is why a few of us are attempting to turn back the tide.
I have learnt very simply that the act of trying to teach pupils the knowledge that we value and cherish as a society has the effect of completely changing the conversation we have about education and transforms our understanding of what we do in the classroom. When I set out to create the East London Science School I did it first and foremost to prove that if we try to educate children we can succeed.
Believing we can teach children may sound almost like a tautology but nothing could be further from the truth. Teachers are routinely told not to talk too much and to use a multitude of techniques to prove that pupils are learning – by themselves. The act of teaching is seen as its opposite stopping children from learning. Schools have become the last place you will find adults ready to take pupils on a journey into our immensely rich cultural heritage. To expect teachers to teach pupils because they are subject specialists with a passion for their subject is either seen as a romantic ideal or unimportant. If we so devalue the knowledge which schools should cherish and pass on from one generation to the next then it is little wonder we find it hard to teach pupils.
When I introduce candidates for teaching posts to the school I always stress that the most radical part of our vision is that we offer the same education – curriculum – for all pupils no matter what their background or ability. That is we believe we can educate them all. I don’t say this lightly as I know it will challenge all of us to our core. It will demand that we leave behind the excuses that we can all too easily give to pupils to explain away why they fail. It means that when we look at ourselves we have to hold back from making our own excuses for why these pupils or that class will never understand. But I stand by what we say for every child that enters our school. We will teach them all. To fail to do so is walk away from the potential of education to change lives and give hope.
But I am not a fool. I do not believe this is easy. I do not believe there is a box of tricks or a bottle of fish oil we can use to make this happen without any effort.
I do believe it will be a struggle. A struggle worth fighting for. One that each and every person involved in will can gain a huge amount from. But it will be hard work. If you want to turn back the tide then you better not think you can just wade in and hope for the best.
That is why I expect to learn so much from talking and listening to everyone who gets involved in our event. I respect each and every person involved hugely and know I will be challenged to think about how we achieve our collective goals. How we make sure that schools and teachers give every pupil an education to be proud of. An education that will stay with them throughout their lives and hopefully open doors that would have remained shut if we didn’t try to educate them all.
I hope to see you there.