Having a philosophy of education is something that a lot of people and schools talk about but I am not convinced that many have really thought it through. It is not their fault – the pressures of change, government initiatives and league table put pay to a lot of thinking – there simply isn’t time!
The best schools, in my experience at least, have an x-factor. It is something in their DNA which determines their character and it pervades the entire student body – well, at least most of them .. hopefully.
What’s your measure?
It seems to me that a philosophy of education is closely related to the metric chosen – how are you going to measure it’s success? PISA tables, other government league tables, inspection criteria, value-added data are all options. Perhaps even the Bhutan metric of happiness should be suggested? – why not, after all!
All of these options are formulaic (except perhaps the Bhutanese!). Take judging the quality of teaching and learning by inspection criteria, for example. So much here is influenced by the vogue of the time. It was citizenship, then it was specific learning issues (SEN), then it was English as a second language students, then it was SMSC (spiritual, moral, social, cultural). Perhaps the most legitimate metric is value-added and there are some pretty good measures out there. However, these are complicated by all sorts of variables – the dreaded bell-curve of normality comes to mind.
Every child is known
So, where does this leave us? All of these methods are valid but they hardly represent a philosophy of education – an overview of teaching and learning that is worthy. No, any philosophy of education must begin with the need to know the child. It is not that every child matters – it is that every child is known and nurtured. Teachers are teachers of individuals – they are not teachers of classes. Teachers are agents of inspiration and engagement – not just for the knowledge needed for now but for the mindsets that are needed for the future – the world of unknowns.
Communities of learners
The very best schools are communities of learners – both teachers and students involved in a learning journey – both have their own continuing professional development programme, if you like. These are not exam factories. They are not just ‘nice’ places to be – in fact they will often (not too often perhaps!) take their staff, students and even parents out of their comfort-zones.
So, what is the metric? That’s tricky. Any school that claims that it has the answer in a nutshell is probably a bit dubious! However, when you are part of a genuine community of learners, you know it – these are the best schools and you will know their philosophy of education is sound.
5 questions to ask:
- Are the teachers really on a learning journey or are they just fighting through the syllabus?
- Are the students known by the leadership and management of the school or do they slip away into the sea of numbers?
- Is the sense of adventure in learning, tangible? Can you feel the excitement?
- Does the school consider the future of unknowns in their provision for the learning needs of now? This is quite likely to involve their engagement with the digital world but this is certainly not the only factor.
- There is a world of learning to be accessed – do the students and teachers reach out? – to their immediate community, to the wider world? It’s not all about what is taken – it is also what is given.