The Great Education Debate comes to Warwick
PUBLISHED: 10:51 17 March 2014 | UPDATED: 09:52 18 March 2014
The Great Education Debate is a national movement organised by ASCL (Association of School & College Leaders) to get employers, parents, young people, politicians, & teachers talking about the future of education. Sarah Windrum was invited to attend the debate at Myton School, Warwick on March 14 and some great questions from students made for a lively debate!
Firstly, I cannot speak highly enough of the students and staff at Myton School. I arrived early with no clue to where I was going and a sixth form student kindly showed me where to sign in and where to go for the debate. I was greeted by Mr Owen warmly shaking my hand and forgetting his official job title! A student gently reminded him he was Head of Post 16 Pastoral Care and you could see that he did his job exceptionally well just by observing his interactions with students for those few minutes before everyone else arrived. Myton’s headteacher Paul MacIntyre then explained to the visitors the journey of Myton from a Grant Maintained school to an Academy to a new Leading Edge school before he welcomed and introduced the panel and the debate began.
The panel was a great mix of parents, employers, young people, politicians, and academics following the aims of the Great Education Debate perfectly:
Chris White - MP for Warwick & Leamington and Governor at Myton School
Kate Lee - Chief Executive of Myton Hospices and Governor at Myton School
Paul Blacklock - Head of Strategy & Corporate Affairs at Calor Gas
Lynnette Kelly - Prospective Parliamentary Candidate
David Hazeldine - Retired Headteacher of North Leamington School
Hannah Cook - Head Girl at Myton School
The first question was for each member of the panel to state what they believed to be the two most important purposes of education. A range of good answers from providing young people with more opportunities (Paul Blacklock) to giving young people transferable skills (Hannah Cook) and guiding young people to reach their potential (Chris White).
The next question focused on inspiring teachers and all members of the panel had great stories to tell. I have my own, as I am sure we all do. I went to a state school just outside Portsmouth and when I began my A Levels my English teacher talked to me about applying to Oxford or Cambridge. Like Paul Blacklock, neither of my parents had gone to university, and I am the eldest of four so it seemed like nothing more than a pipe dream. This teacher coached me through the application and the interview process and gave me every advantage I needed to push myself forward. I got accepted and went to Oxford and graduated with a First Class Honours degree. I wrote him a letter after I graduated, as he had changed schools by that time, and he will always be part of the reason I am where I am today. I now help fund an Outreach programme to encourage more state school students to apply to Oxford and if you would like more information on this please contact St Hilda’s College Outreach Officer on 01865 276884 or visit www.sthildas.ox.ac.uk/admissions/admissions-outreach
But it’s not just about academic results. As Kate Lee, from Myton Hospices said, the role of education is to produce high quality candidates who can walk into an organisation and strengthen it and also for these individuals to have a social conscience and a sense of social responsibility. And I believe we are very lucky in Warwickshire that our schools do just that. I recently interviewed for an apprentice on the IT side of my company and we had some fantastic candidates from across the county. What struck me so positively was how many of them had a strong knowledge of the real world of business. That is something Oxford didn’t teach me. It taught me to communicate effectively, it taught me to construct an argument, it taught me to write but it did not teach me about the pressures of running a business, how to motivate people, or how to lead.
There does need to be focus on GCSE results. That is an important measure. Rightly or wrongly, I won’t interview someone with less than 5 GCSE Grades A-C. I have limited time and that is a quick way to start cutting the pile of CVs. Chris White pointed out to the room that in 2010 there were 407 schools in the country with less than 40% of children achieving these grades. In 2014, recent statistics show that figure has been reduced to 154 schools. This is crucial. Education is about giving all children the best start in life and the chance to reach their potential and they will be hampered from doing that if they don’t get the basic level of qualifications. We are all different with different aspirations and ambitions and I would be the first to acknowledge that Oxbridge is not for everyone; but without those GCSE qualifications life for young people will bring a series of huge and unnecessary hurdles to overcome.
The final thought at the Great Education Debate was for each member of the panel to give their one wish for our education system. Again some great points from improved careers advice (Hannah Cook) to 21st century learning (David Hazeldine) and Paul Blacklock’s mandatory cooking lessons! But for me I would like to see education remove any barriers young people may have to fulfilling their potential. As Chris White concluded, only then can we look back and think of school years as the best years of our lives.
For more information on the debate, which is a national movement, visit: www.greateducationdebate.org.uk