There have been many arguments, articles and theories as to what the point of school is.
From the education reformers who want us to move from the industrial model of school, to those who want to gently radicalise the system from within, whilst being cognisant that the current school system serves a purpose for adult hood. To students, parents and educators who full on hate it.
As a parent who has had experience of our children being home schooled, privately educated and in state schools, and as an educator who spends quite a bit of time speaking and facilitating workshops in schools for students and teachers, here are my few thoughts as to what the point of school is.
For me the primary purpose of school is to provide a place for knowledge. No matter what model of schooling I think there is something about an environment for students to be able to navigate the world by learning things. When we home schooled, my wife would make it quite immersive and relative by letting our eldest calculate things, read things and work out things for herself. Something we extended to our youngest whenever we travelled or went shopping etc.
I am not a fan of constant testing but I understand the relevance of exams. At some point there has to be some kind of testing to demonstrate the understanding of knowledge, and even more importantly how we set up students to cope with stress, decision making and thinking smart. Granted things like SATS, GCSES and A Levels here in the UK and seriously cause stress for students, I think it is more about how the process is managed as opposed to getting rid of testing all together.
I also note that while digital products have replaced the need to remember as much we used to, getting students to love how to memorise stuff, even for the short term, is a great exercise in self discipline. For me exams are important but can be reformed. I think it was great when GCSES and A Levels were modular and not just constrained to a two hour test, and given the right circumstances, the introduction of digital devices to tackle tests may not be such a bad thing.
However I am strongly opposed to those who would diminish the relevance of exams.
One of the greatest things for me at school was in meeting people from so many different backgrounds. Granted if you go to a selective school by gender or faith, or even if you live in a demographic dominated by one culture or class it can be limited, but there are very few places where the formative mind of young people can meet and experience so many different people on a daily basis.
School sports, music performances, drama clubs, IT clubs, art and design, youth leadership, enterprise clubs and so many other extra curricular groupings allow students to embrace activities that are not just about passing tests and exams. But about cohesion, exploring and self discovery.
Granted there are some students who won’t or do not get involved in wider activities but the fact remains that for most students they do exist. I found this was harder to find/create when home schooling our child but increasingly software and sites exist to highlight and provide resources to serve this part of schooling.
Preparation for Citizenship
I love that as well as teaching to the curriculum schools will help to prepare students for civic engagement. Whether through career based programmes such as work experience, interview skills and business challenges. Or debating clubs, government and politics clubs or financial education workshops. For me the skills that can be learned through these platforms are immense, especially for students whose parents are unaware of the ever changing world of work or who don’t get the opportunity to manage money from home.
One of the key areas that is really hit and miss in schools that I have witnessed is on health. Mental health. Relationships and sexual health. Some schools excel on this, others fall woefully behind. And yet in a non judgmental space, delivered by professionals not to far off the age of student cohorts, this could work a treat. It’s this great service by schools that make them worthy of recognition.
I think that a lot of pressure is placed on schools to fill that gap on civic engagement, and while I admire schools being able to do this in addition to teach the curriculum, in all fairness parents, guardians and community groups should be playing just an equal role.
I believe that schools should be an open space for students to think about future pathways for both learning and for the kinds of work they want to do in the future. I mentioned this in citizenship but I think given how many people have often complained how poor their career advice was, part of the point of schools is to ensure that this work is aligned with subject knowledge for students. Working in partnership with business, local government and non profit organisations it is critical that expose students to as many possibilities and pathways to their future success. Whether through just awareness or work experience. Regardless of which route they ultimately take.
I think the purpose of school is to help students develop academically and socially and when done well is a massive help not just to students but the communities they come from. There are flaws but I think in the main it serves as a great institution.
Of course mainstream education will always be tainted by the hand of politics in a way that private and home schooling never will be, but I think as part of a triumvirate, alongside parents/guardians and the community, it is a fabulous tool which helps to shape our teenagers into the adults they are to become.
That doesn’t mean we shouldn’t keep working on reform, but let’s celebrate the purpose it serves whilst moving towards making it less test focused and more about the whole development of teenagers.