The purpose of education is to make itself self-sustaining. To make it so valued and its exposition so crafted that each generation will yearn for more – for themselves, for their fellow citizens. And, most vitally, for their children. It is about reducing ignorance to a stump; levering up choice and flexibility of personal option; and filling the soul with occasions of pure pleasure at making connections and discovering insights that recast the moment, a life, – of existence. And then, channeling an urgency to pass it on.
I teach in a school with one of the most varied of social spectrum you will find. From the children of farmer millionaires to some of the most deprived families in Yorkshire. People move here from east Hull because there is cheaper accommodation, for goodness sake. But in over two decades of teaching at the school you soon realise the single most important factor in student achievement. It’s not based on affluence, or whether the child is FSM, or from a single-parent family. It’s not based on KS2 TAs or CAT scores. It sighs through each parents’ evening we hold. These occasions are the ones I feel most proud of my school: a hall full of parents whose DNA you suddenly see cavorting within that familiar student’s face; the guardians who have a measured, sober presence as they absorb your report on the child they have chosen to look after; the grandma, or sister, or occasionally, brother – who has taken on the role of bringing up this intensely-listening student on the seat beside them. We are the team. A collective. The pincer-movement of care between waking up, coming to school, returning home and going to bed of each of these children. I love these occasions. I love these people. I get intensely proud of the purpose we’re engaged in, together. And, if you’re lucky enough to teach in the same place for long enough, you see a student return years later as a parent and laugh in that easy – but not easy – familiarity of a returning tutee. All grown up and with your own children now passing through. But not quite able to flip away from how you were at your last meeting in a classroom saying farewells before the first of the exam trial. These are the ones who will pass on the code.
It’s the ones who stayed away. The names on the appointment list that remain unticked. The tired raise of the eyebrow with a colleague at the student whose parents you really needed to see, but who – again – failed to attend. This, is the purpose of education. To reduce this negative equity in seeing any point in education to a level where it ceases to be passed on to the next generation.
The biggest differentiator of those students that we can work with to establish their talents and supercharge their progress, is the attitude of their parent(s) or carer to education. If it’s deficient, then the sharpest intervention in the world will find it hard to gain traction. The students with the most significant need are the ones growing up in a household that sees little point in the whole business. So that has to be our purpose. Not to let it transmit itself to another generation. To bind each student to an experience of teachers, support staff, pastoral care and good guidance such that they, in their turn, will look at their own children and say ‘School is important; your education is important, and I got so much from it that I want you to get the same, if not more’.
How we break that cycle doesn’t lend itself to quick fixes. But it’s what should drive our purpose with each student. To give them the best lessons we can. To acknowledge them as an individual worthy of time, patience, care and numberless forgiven re-starts. Never giving up, never losing hope, and realising that their education doesn’t finish at 16 or 18 (- despite the seeming intransigence of tables, grades, scores-on-the-doors), but will be a lifelong continuum that we are only nurturing (if we do it right).
The blight of education is the empty chair at parents’ evening. The purpose is filling it. We have lost with some of the present generation of parents. The aim must be to make sure we win with the next generation. They’re the ones sitting in front of us on Monday morning.
This post was written as a contribution to the September 2013 #blogsync hosted by Chris Waugh aka @Edutronic_net http://blogsync.edutronic.net/