I think what we’ve done is that we’ve turned education into a race, based on the notion that we live in a highly competitive global economy, and that every other aspect of life must become part of this same competitive race. And actually what we should be doing is completely reassessing that approach.
"What I’m arguing is that we should have a fundamental redesign of education. Unfortunately, I think we’re a million miles away from doing that."
Rather than trying to do everything as fast as possible, we should recognise that education is life-long, and that slow and deep is better than fast and superficial. We should spend our time providing a broad, rich curriculum, in which people genuinely adopt an attitude to learning which equips them for the rest of their lives – a very different set of principles to those which currently underpin the system, and a completely different approach to what we have now. So perhaps most fundamentally we should start with examining those principles.
If we took as our starting point that the whole system should focus on addressing those with the greatest needs first, then actually the system would be transformed for everyone. Education is often seen as something to help you participate in this race that we call life – but if it’s a race, we’re not all starting at the same point, and it’s hugely unequal in the way that people can access it.
We have an education system that reinforces that notion of life as a race, but actually it reinforces all those inequalities too, so it’s not a race that is any way fair. Therefore what I’m arguing is that we should have a fundamental redesign of education. Unfortunately, I think we’re a million miles away from doing that. So, as it is, lots of people who work in educational institutions are left trying to do the best they can within a system that doesn’t really support them.
Part of the problem, in a sense, is that we don’t discuss and debate education in the way that we should. The system wasn’t perfect in the past, but historically we had a system where schools were part of a local authority system with some sense of democratic, social and community accountability. We’ve now moved to a model where schools are encouraged to behave like businesses, parents as consumers, and there’s a ‘take it or leave it’ attitude to what’s on offer.
What we need is a much deeper debate within the country about what we want. We’ve stopped talking about what really matters in education. And that is deliberate, because I think there are people – in some cases it’s politicians, but there are others as well – who want to promote particular agendas, and don’t want to be open to real debate and discussions. So what we really need is to organise a great debate in the country about what we think education is for, and what we think it should look like.