This question was answered by Andy Buck, a former geography teacher turned headteacher turned leadership expert who has written multiple leadership books and now works with senior headteachers across the UK to improve schools and the school system.
Jamie Lawrence, Managing Editor, HRZone: Are we putting our children better able to survive and thrive in the world?
Andy Buck, former headteacher and leadership trainer: That’s a really hard question to answer – the world is changing so fast. Children are leaving better educated than they ever have. But if you listen to the CBI, they’ll still say young people aren’t equipped with the skills they need in the workplace.
This is interesting because countries like Singapore have moved their education system to be more like ours – they value the creativity and entrepreneurial talent that exists in British society.
The question is: what is the responsibility of schools and what is a societal responsibility? You can’t separate the two and the power of society in these things is massive.
Take these two countries – the place of education and doing well in Singapore is very different to the UK. In the UK – it’s a trite generalisation, of course – but I’ve certainly heard people saying, especially in some parts of London, where it’s predominantly White British, that they really value the school but they don’t value the education quite as much.
Meanwhile, in Singapore, they aren’t as botheed about the school, they just want the kids to get a great education and qualifications.
So it’s a hard question to answer. There are some great things happening in the curiculum, with a focus on knowledge, pupils understanding stuff in depth and in great detail, and remembering these things.
We moved away from that too much over 30 years and it’s brilliant we’re coming back to that. It’s no good saying ‘you can look it up online’ because children’s sense of place in society and their social capital comes from them holding their head up when they go for an interview – they need to know some stuff.
But at the same time we mustn’t squeeze the curriculum at the expense of the arts and creative subjects that allow us to bring out the best of children in the broadest sense. With the best will in the world people are different, with different interests and things they care about, and so giving proper attention to vocational and arts education is really important.
We have more good schools now that we ever had. Schools with great climate and culture that help children to become good citizens. Children’s success does not flow from innate self-belief – self-belief flows from experiencing success. Success comes first.
Great schools create culture and climtae where children feel successful and that success is celebrated in a positive way that builds their self-esteem and resilience and when difficult things come along they believe they can do something about it.