Why Education?


Well, there’s a question.
I’ve been asked to be a voice in a school at a presentation for parents:

The core purpose of the event is to help potential applicants to consider more fully what they should ask themselves as they look into the breadth, depth and format of u/g courses available in the UK; and to help parents to understand more fully what students need to be doing doing now and during summer holidays, to strengthen their applicant profile. The sessions also reinforce understanding of personal skills, traits and level of academic ability that universities are looking for.

And so I’m starting way, way back, not at the philosophy per se but at the history that brings me to be back in Dorset over 50 years after I left it.

Schooling began for me in the Reception Class in Blandford Forum, all high-up windows, and time in the sandpit and water tray. I narrowly escaped being registered as Christopher, a hazard I encountered from then on until I hit twenty, for some reason. My friend Paul was crying and I had to be brave for him, something I felt a bit unfair, since I rather wanted a quick cry, too.

Maths and I parted company the following year, when I was kept in for not learning what I would now call number bonds to twenty. Reading and I were already best friends; my mum and dad bought me the next reading book in the scheme we used –The Tip and Mitten McKee Readers – whenever I needed it. I learned to tell the time, learned to hate jigsaws, became a dreadful non-completer throughout my life (as a consequence of the 300-piece jigsaw incident), got engaged to Susan in the year above (it didn’t last)…. I had a wart on my right hand, and still find myself curling my right hand if I’m thinking of directions. My infant career ended and I moved to Blandford Junior, only to make a much bigger move quickly when we moved to Harlow in Essex, but not before learning to hate carrots and football and that I was a bit “behind” for not being able to tie my shoe laces.

And here began my interest in education. No high windows in Harlow New Town. We had books for problem solving, cuisenaire rods (which I never mastered), and the ability to go back to a water tray I had forgotten for three years. I went into the infant wing to help with reading – only to be puzzled by ITA. I learned more about unfairness, I learned some French, some pottery, misread C S Lewis, murdered the descant recorder (but I still play) and got the best school report ever:

Nicholas is a mine of useless information; if he can find a job where he can use all this stuff, his fortune will be made.

And at the end of what would now be Y6 but then was Top Juniors, we moved to Burnley, to Todmorden Road Juniors. I suppose my name is in here somewhere, but I see the school’s closed now. Two months I wouldn’t wish on anyone, despite the kindly interest of Mr Brown, my teacher, who must have seen something worth taking an interest in and who I floored by asking about Elidor. High Windows. Maths in the morning, Maths in the afternoon. Tech drawing for the boys, sewing for the girls. The cane and being beaten up after school.

So my interest in education  began from a very practical standpoint. Why is this school like this, and that school like that? Are they all aiming for the same thing?

And what I’d really like to say at this talk I’m giving is this:

If you are interested in what makes schools the bizarre mixture they are of workhouse and adventure park, or if you are interested in engaging with small, lost people who can’t tie their laces – or gnomy little lads who hide in books, or – erm – overconfident recorder players – then education is for you. It could be the mixture of theory and practice that is an Education Studies course; it could be a more profession-facing course like a BA leading to Qualified Teacher Status.  But think about why education has the power to fascinate, to engage, to challenge, and maybe think about why is still has that power over me, as I near 60. Just don’t model your UCAS statement on this blog post.

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