Home Page A vision of education for a changing world 02/04/10

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Matthew Hancock
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Hart of the Matter

Not that I believe any of this star signs rubbish, but Taureans like me are not supposed to be very keen on change, and I have to admit that is not a good starting point in the 21st century.

Change is all around us, particularly in Haverhill, but if there is one place where change seems to be a continual state, it is in the field of education. In many ways it’s not a bad thing because dealing with continuing and increasingly swift change is going to be a vital skill for the next generation.

Whether the changes of the past 20 years have affected those pupils who have experienced the direct effect of them, only time will tell.

At least in Haverhill there now seems to be a game plan, an objective, at last. I have always been a champion of Haverhill schools and the excellent work of individual teachers, but I have also seen some of the shortcomings of education in the town over the years, and one of them has been lack of coherence, and a sort of drift from one idea to another.

It probably stemmed from the local authority, and individual schools, having painfully grappled with the change to local management of schools two decades ago, had been firefighting for so long it had been difficult to take a strategic view.

But Suffolk has been forced by the Government in recent years to overhaul its educational system in order to achieve acceptable results. The Schools Organisational Review (SOR) began some time before it became public in 2005, and is still going on. Haverhill was in the first phase and is pioneering each stage.

When the SOR first seeped into the public domain, I was working in another place and we highlighted the ‘all-through’ school option. It seemed an interesting, dramatic and, in many ways, obvious way forward. Most reaction initially thought it was just mad.

The SOR consultation process was fairly cosmetic and it was clear decision-makers already had a pretty clear idea what they wanted to do across the county – go back to two-tier. So a transition towards that is supposed to be happening as from next year.

Meanwhile an expert has been putting his mind to education in Suffolk. He has put a report to the Government and now its recommendations have been mostly approved, one of them being that Castle Manor should be fast-tracked into an academy, becoming an all-through school for 5-19s.

There are a lot of unanswered questions raised by this, but in general it should see Haverhill led calmly and rationally (or kicking and screaming) into the 21st century.

Because we all have ideas about school based on our own experience, it is difficult for teachers and educationalists to explain change. If we had a good experience of school, we don’t see why it should change. If we had a bad experience of it we think it is a waste of time and money and kids are better off getting out into the real world.

Not many people had a bad experience of school and yet saw how it could have been so much better and more beneficial.

Also, we were being educated for a different world – and that is the case even for pupils of as recently as three or four years ago.

In my schooldays, you were educated for your life as a human being and then, if you were lucky, someone tried to point you towards a job where you might be able to use some of those skills.

That all changed as joblessness became a serious issue, and vocational education became all the rage. You were then educated to do a particular job and, to the despair of people like me, many academic things which did not serve an obviously productive purpose, began to be phased out – Latin, history, literature, etc.

Now we are faced with new challenges. The chances that any pupils leaving school now will find a job for life, or even 20 years, are almost nil. It is not impossible they may eventually have to find a new job every year. Therefore they will need wider skills and better preparation.

As one who believes in the cyclical nature of life, this does not surprise me. After all, an all-through school is what Haverhill had before 1959 when Haverhill Secondary School (Castle Manor) opened. It was called The Cangle, and at one time it was the largest school in the UK, with over 1,000 pupils. It is true the top achievers were being creamed off to Sudbury Grammar School, but it was nevertheless the heart of the community.

The town is bigger now, so it will need two all-through schools, but the community dynamic is just as powerful.

The expert who carried out last year’s review, and advised the Government, had some hard-hitting things to say about Haverhill – the sort of things that we don’t like to face up to nowadays, in our egalitarian society. I won’t quote them, but you can read his report online as it is now in the public domain.

It tells you a lot about education in Haverhill, about Castle Manor and how far it has travelled recently, about the challenges it continues to face and about the much-praised way it is meeting them. This week’s announcement certainly seems to be a hopeful step on that road.

David Hart
David Hart revives his personal take on the week in Haverhill, covering everything from major town developments to what we do with our rubbish.
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