Dark days ahead call for new sense of daring

Amy Winston

Well, it's that time of year again. After five years of tears, tantrums and tirades the Year 11s have waved us goodbye.

Those last few precious weeks - squeezed more than ever before because of the bank holiday bonanza - were spent frantically cramming the last drops of curriculum into their heads. Have they learned everything they need to know? Have they listened? In many cases the sad truth is that no, they haven't. But as always, the only really important question is: have we done all we can to prepare them?

Only after the dust settles and time (plus a glass or two of red) has soothed the mind can you start to think about how to answer that.

Many years ago, when I was at pupil, I was fortunate to have the type of headteacher that everyone needs. His enthusiasm and passion for learning produced a school bristling with creativity. On our last day he handed each of us a quote by Theodore Roosevelt: "For better it is to dare mighty things, though chequered by failure, than to live in the perpetual twilight that knows not victory or defeat."

In the light of our current economic climate, never before have Year 11 needed such inspiration so much. But are we inspiring our pupils to take risks? Or do the demands imposed by our current assessment and curriculum systems only result in us teaching pupils how to pass exams?

Now I'm going to tell you a secret (if you ask me in front of anyone I'll deny I said it): Ofsted inspectors are right about something. They love to see pupils challenged.

Pupils gain most when they are "daring mighty things" in the classroom, engaged in the type of learning when they are at the forefront, making decisions, analysing problems and evaluating strategies.

By 2020, 70 per cent of jobs are expected to be ones that do not exist now. "Daring mighty things" should not simply be a philosophy - it is the only way for our leavers to keep up with a rapidly changing job market.

It is not just the type of work that's changing. Rising unemployment and the decimation of the public sector will make finding gainful jobs even harder. Darwin was right. The only way they will survive the employment jungle is by being the most adaptable.

For those leavers continuing in education, the picture is no less bleak. Students from poorer backgrounds will find it hard to justify being #163;24,000 in debt before any graduation caps have been thrown in the air.

Has the changing job market and economic crisis shaped our educational policy? Is adaptability at the top of our agenda? Or are we still following a throwback grammar school dogma, preparing students for a job market that no longer exists?

At a time of such social upheaval, it is about time the Government realises that unless it invests in education we will be in deep trouble. Time and money need to be spent talking to teachers in order to rethink the curriculum and behaviour policy in schools, in order to send our Year 11s out ready to "dare mighty things".

Amy Winston is an English teacher at a comprehensive in the West Midlands.

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