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Send out the child-catchers


A story in today’s paper and a post on Slideshare create an interesting juxtaposition. Links in post below.

Two messages popped up in my inbox just now. Nothing unusual about that but their juxtaposition seemed significant.

The first alerted me to a story in the East Anglian Daily Times headed “Over 200 parents prosecuted last year for failing to get children to school”. This tells how Suffolk County Council and Suffolk Police took to the streets Ipswich to tackle truancy in “a positive way … “. Their co-ordinated sweep through the town centre, retail parks and housing estates of Ipswich collared 43 truanting youngsters, of whom 10 were immediately returned to school to face their music while eight parents were issued with £60 fixed-penalty notices.

The article goes on to identify a strong correlation between poor attendance and poor academic achievement. Suffolk is near the bottom of league tables in both.

Then other link was to a summary of quotations from a TED talk by educationalist Sir Ken Robinson in which he considered the relationship between how children most effectively learn and the environments in which we expect them to do so. He identifies three principles on which human life flourishes, and suggests that they are contradicted by the culture of education under which most teachers labour and most students have to endure.

1. Human beings are naturally different and diverse.

  • If you sit kids down, hour after hour, doing low-grade clerical work, don’t be surprised if they start to fidget.
  • Kids prosper best with a broad curriculum that celebrates their various talents, not just a small range of them.
  • The arts aren’t just important because they improve maths scores. They’re important because they speak to parts of children’s being which are otherwise untouched.


2. Human life flourishes in curiosity

  • If you can light the spark of curiosity in a child, they will learn without any further assistance, very often. Children are natural learners.
  • Curiosity is the engine of achievement.
  • Teaching is a creative profession. Teaching, properly conceived, is not a delivery system.
  • The role of a teaching is to facilitate learning.
  • But …
  • The dominant culture of education has come to focus not on teaching or learning, but on testing.
  • In place of curiosity, what we have is a culture of compliance.
  • Our children and teachers are encouraged to follow routine algorithms rather than to excite that power of imagination and curiosity.


3. Human life is inherently creative

  • … one of the roles of education is to awaken and develop [the] powers of creativity. Instead, what we have is a culture of standardisation.
  • Education is not a mechanical system. It’s a human system. It’s about people.
  • The real role of leadership in education … should not be command and control …
  • The real role of leadership is climate control, creating a climate of possibility.


Sir Ken concludes:

“You take a school … you change the conditions, give people a different sense of possibility, a different set of expectations, a broader range of opportunities, you cherish and value the relationships between teachers and learners, you offer people the discretion to be creative  … and … schools that were once bereft spring to life.

The presumption that there is a direct cause and effect between school attendance and achievement is based on an assumption that the education that is provided in our schools is fit for purpose and designed with the needs of all children in mind. Apparently not, and so, at least partly out of a genuine concern for children’s safety and well-being, we send out the child-catchers, corral the children back into school, fine (often poor) parents and occasionally send a few to prison.

Perhaps this is the time, in the 21st century, where work, leisure, possibilities and opportunities are in a process of continuous and radical change that we should seriously re-examine the purposes and processes of education, not just within schools but across the system.

Of course, that isn’t likely to happen under a centralised regime that is exclusively focussed on testing specific subjects and arranging education provision in mechanistic ways that give the best chance of improving test results rather than providing a good education that develops young people’s whole potential.

If you’ve not seen it, do take a few minutes to watch Sir Ken’s insightful and entertaining talk. The link is below.



East Anglian Daily Times report on truancy 

Sir Ken Robinson TED talk “How to escape education’s death valley”

 Gerr Reynolds’ presentation

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