Whenever I hear politicians promising to spend more money on education my heart sinks, because there’s no benefit in spending more money if what you’re spending it on is more regulation and testing.
The obsession with league tables, targets and standards has narrowed the curriculum to subjects that are testable, and pushed some of the most important things to the margins. It upsets me because the testable things are generally the least useful and exciting.
We all need basic literacy and numeracy skills, but I personally think we can get by quite well in life not knowing how to identify a temporal clause or do a quadratic equation. That specialist knowledge is fascinating for some people, but it shouldn’t be prioritised at the expense of more important things.
Here are some of the important things I would spend money on if I were in charge of education:
- Some kind of meditation, mindfulness or cognitive behavioural therapy. This is probably the most important life skill you can have at any stage in life. We can’t stop horrible things happening, but we can learn skills to become emotionally resilient. It boils down to feeling happy, and happy people tend to be more effective and engaged in everything they do.
- Creative self-expression. The reason this has got squeezed out is because you can’t test and target discovering what’s unique about yourself and developing your own individual style to express it. Actually this boils down to happiness too, because creative work should be a joyful celebration and sharing of our own unique gifts and insights.
- Social engagement. This is another cornerstone of a happy and productive life, the skills of making friends and dealing with people we find difficult, knowing what’s going on in our own communities and taking an active part, and caring for the weak and vulnerable.
I was a ‘high achiever’ at school. I got loads of great exam results that proved to be of absolutely no use to me in later life. I had to learn the really useful stuff as a young adult, but that was quite a long time ago and surely things should have moved on in our approach to education by now.
So why are we going backwards? My theory is that the politicians who decide these things were boffins like me at school, but never got around to learning the personal and social skills, so they still think the most important thing is ‘academic excellence.’
What do you think? Would you put me in charge of education? Or if you were in charge, what changes would you make?