'Teachers are bit-parts in an education system run like some kind of 19th-century exam factory'

Teachers stumble along following ideological diktats issued by ministers and Ofsted officials who live in the past, writes one celebrated primary headteacher

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Our education system is caught in a time warp – teachers work in the past. When are we ever going to have the long-awaited conversation about education in the 21st century and the direction it needs to take?

We stumble along, following ideological diktats from individuals who live in this past (ministers and Ofsted) and who believe that there was a "golden age of education" that they are going to rediscover.

It means that not only do we live in the past, we also occupy a system that has become narrow, polarised, restrictive and divisive.

This, at a time when our society is facing enormous change driven by technology. Our primary pupils are going to inherit a world of automation, artificial intelligence, the impact of climate change and mass economic migration – and yet have an education system based on the “good old days” of the 50s and 60s.

Wear that jacket, tighten that tie and make sure the shoe colour is the right shade of black.

New ideas

Schools are "exam factories", with pupils lined up in militaristic rows, spewing data into the corporate machine. Accountability is now the sole catalyst for change, not the needs of our pupils. Is it any wonder we have staff and pupil wellbeing issues and a profession that few people want to enter.

We urgently need new ideas. We also need to create a climate within schools whereby these the ideas of the modern world are acceptable and encouraged. We need to scrap the fixation on the past, review teaching methods and stop comparing schools and countries with each other.

Let's start a real education debate, one that will allow us to ascertain what our pupils need in the new world. Let's talk again about personality and attitude and resilience as the positive and essential attributes they are.

Individual needs

There are a few schools that have been bold and embraced this approach and incredible learning has been achieved. The pupil's learning is based less on a curriculum and more on the pupil's passions, on their skills and their individual needs. Sadly too few schools have the confidence to adopt this philosophy and instead follow the "one size fits all" approach. The fact remains that these forward-thinking schools achieve confident, globally-competent, future-ready citizens: the type of people our employers call out for.

This education conversation needs to start now, with parents, employers and educational professionals and with the government listening to what is needed rather than telling us what to do.

We are in danger of losing another generation of pupils to the strictures of the 19th century.

Colin Harris led a school in a deprived area of Portsmouth for more than two decades. His last two Ofsted reports were "outstanding" across all categories

To read more of Colin's articles, visit his back catalogue

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