New buildings were meant to transform schooling when they arrived in the early years of the century and they’re especially popular at Open Evening time. Parents educated in the buildings of the Thatcher years goggle. ‘We didn’t have all this when I was at school’ they marvel. Didn’t they? I spent my first year teaching in a room with broken windows in south Birmingham, but we did a pretty good job. I committed myself and my own children to a school with 16 dilapidated prefabs and outside lavs because the teaching was rock-solid. Tallis made its name as a school of exceptional creativity in a collapsing building. Its good to be warm and safe, but its not enough.
The same goes for technology. iPads not books! Carry your DT coursework on a stick! Email your homework! Look at all the books in the world online! Read around the subject! Become a digital native: all that’s great because we educate young people for the world we’re in. ‘Classes of 100 being taught remotely and poverty ended by a computer on the wall in Kolkata’ was an odd exemplar for the digital classroom: freedom and flexibility, everything you ever need to know, at the press of a switch.
I’m not a neoluddite. I resist powerpoint but I couldn’t do without either of my phones and I’ve thought onto screen for 20 years, but digital or analogue isn’t what matters and my response to the above is hmmm. Schools exist because education happens at the point of empowerment between teacher and child, when he has to think hard and take a big step or a little step over the threshold into a bigger world of ideas, with a trusted and savvy adult giving a little prod in the right direction. Its human interaction between teacher and child that brokers a new vision of the world, where the young learner takes everything we’ve got and makes it just the start of a new understanding. Hard to see, but perhaps that’s what the Victorians wanted too.
And yet today I’ve seen funding proposals that freeze the blood. Cuts into the future for all schools that’ll change the way we teach and endanger the very thing that has worked for generations, the relationship between teacher and learner, between adult and child in a community of endeavour. Our budgets are dominated by staff costs and we have no other savings left to make: if funding falls classes get bigger. If funding falls subjects get fewer hours. If funding falls there’s no flexibility to rescue the awkward, the disaffected, the bewildered, the terrified because there’s no one with time to spend on them. Hear me well: this isn’t Tallis, its everywhere.
You know I think that education involves learning stuff and that children like getting cleverer. They enjoy learning how to manipulate the facts that decode the world. They need those lightbulb moments and they need them with people who could still capture their attention and change their world with pencil and paper. Schools aren’t wasteful but people are expensive and highly educated ones doubly so. There are no more economies of scale to make that aren’t an outrageous assault on the education of the people. We can share business and HR functions, we can economically procure ourselves until its one book between 6 and coats on in the classroom, but we can’t economise on teachers. 30 in a class up to year 11 is big enough. How big do you think an A level class should be? Double it.
We were proud to welcome 1800 guests to Open Evening. Most of them liked what they saw and were impressed by the public investment and state-of-the-art kit in our beautiful building. I can’t guarantee much as we look into an austere future (no matter what Mr Hammond says) but I’ll commit myself to this: I’ll get the best teachers and the wisest humans we can afford and make sure that your child is enabled to understand the world and change it for the better. With or without money, there’s nothing else to do.