I Don’t Blame the Parents….

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I’m thoroughly enjoying reading Guy Claxton’s brilliant ‘What’s The Point of School?’ At last, someone has written a book which can bring parents into the debate about what kind of schools we want for kids. Because Guy has not only gone to the heart of the problem, he’s done it without any impenetrable jargon, and with gentle humour, as befits someone with his philosophical and spiritual interests.
And he has served to remind all of us who spend our lives in discussions with academics, policy-makers and school leaders that we become so focused upon the details that we often miss the bigger picture. The views of parents are almost always missing from these discussions, or if they are, they’re mediated through political point-scoring (as in ‘parents tell us that they want comparative information on exam results’). But what else can parents talk about?

We’ve effectively taken the words out of their mouths, by determining what makes a ‘good’ solely on the basis of league table positions and examination results.

Somehow, we have to find a way to answer Guy’s question through the inclusion of parents, and with language which will not exclude them (I beleive that’s one reason why they’ve gone for the numbers argument. That’s why I’m supporting the Open Source Alliance for Education in its campaign to highlight more progressive, yet high-achieving, models of schooling. The starting point for the alliance (currently consisting of third-sector charities and trusts, but soon to be widened) is the RSA’s Charter for Education, and I’d urge you to read it and give it your support, which you can do here.

Malcolm Gladwell tells the story of researchers who asked people what they looked for in a perfect cup of coffee: most highlighted a strong aroma, smooth, dark taste – the usual. However, when they made coffee for themselves they almost always came up with a weak, milky preference! The genius behind Starbucks’ Latte concoctions was in making it socially acceptable to ask for a weak, milky coffee.

Parents have been so harangued about the inviolability of the stats that they’ve become the equivalent of strong coffee – we’ve all come to believe that’s what a good school is all about. What we have to do is convince them that the things they value at home – that their kids are happy, confident, curious, chatty, optimistic, well-balanced individuals – are socially acceptable yardsticks to present to our school inspectors, and our government.


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