Of the many litres of newspaper ink that have been spilt analysing the potential consequences of the UK’s impending departure from the European Union, comparatively little has been used to predict the consequences for education.
Up to a point this is unsurprising. Trade and border controls may well seem more pressing. Education is rarely at the forefront of political thinking or diplomatic negotiation. Education is also one of those areas of life where the nations of Europe have maintained their own approach, kept their own systems and done their own thing. There hasn’t been an attempt to create a pan European system, no single exchange rate for education. Strange really because in my experience young people are relatively similar the world over. They share the same hopes, often want the same things and generally have a similar outlook. Despite this commonality of spirit European nations have steadfastly looked to children to follow a locally designed curriculum.
Looking ahead (or perhaps that should be staring over the edge), it is difficult for anyone to say with any degree of certainty what a post-Brexit Europe will look like. I suspect for those of us in France not much will change once the magic date has been passed. Certainly we have been led to believe that there will be a grace period after any withdrawal. For our young people I fear there will be a limiting of opportunity. British primary and secondary education will continue on as normal, nothing much to change there. For the universities it is already different, fewer European graduate students are applying to do their research in the UK. The massive expansion of the British University sector is highly unlikely to continue, who knows some of the institutions that have overreached in the boom period may well disappear from the educational map. Students will need to apply with even more care than was the case before. This is regrettable but it is not a game changer. I suspect that universities in the UK will have to consider their pricing structure carefully and current levels of fees may well change (for the better). There may be visa issues to contend with and residence qualifications may change. European university degree courses, often taught in English may become more popular with UK students who seek a different experience. Brexit may make things a little more difficult but the opportunities for young people will remain. Both GCSE and A level qualifications will maintain their position as qualifications that are recognised by higher education institutions the world over.
When it comes to the day to day, Brexit will not change much at school. Lessons will be delivered, learning will happen, Thursday will still be chip day. There will probably be more time spent in queues at the Eurostar terminal for those of us with UK passports and I have no doubt that I will face an ever growing pile of forms to fill in when appointing a new member of staff but I’m sure that a way will be found to make this possible. But what do I know? Consequently I am delighted to be able to announce that we will be joined in School on 20th February by our local députée Marie Lebec who will be talking to us about Brexit and the French administration’s approach. A parents’ session will be held and details will follow. I’m sure that députée Mme Lebec, a key player in the government’s Brexit strategy team, will provide us with more clarity about what might happen next.
Broken might be better
Kinsugi is the Japanese tradition of repairing broken pottery with lacquer dusted with powdered gold, silver or platinum. This craft tradition sees breakage and repair as being an essential element of the history of an object. The visible sign of damage followed by enhancement is something to be celebrated.
This idea has great relevance in learning. Whilst we all like to find the correct answer the first time, ideas that really stick with us are often the ones that we have had to think about longest and the hardest. Whilst it is demoralising to receive an essay or set of answers or solutions that has been worked on for hours covered in red, green, purple or pink ink (I’ve seen them all), this is the piece of work that will provide the greatest number of learning opportunities. Getting things wrong can be a reason for eventually getting things right. The old adage is so very right, we really do learn from our mistakes. This week I have been particularly impressed with the attitude of a member of my Year 9 history set. Last term was not a vintage one. This term I have a different student in front of me. A lively, and engaged individual who will achieve at a far higher level than before. I believe that over the holiday thought has been given to comments made by teachers in assessment grades and advice has been taken. As a consequence progress is made.
The modern world with the ever prevailing pressure of perfect social media personas is about as far from kinsugi as can be imagined. The cult of perfection it peddles is one of the present’s most pernicious features. Our young people live in the eye of this perfect storm. Mistakes are not permitted. Flaws are to be seen as fatal. So pity those who have started this term with mock exams. There won’t be perfect scores at this point. No instabragging material. But mistakes made now will, if used constructively, be the best of learning tools. The same is true throughout the school. Mistakes, if used to improve, are an essential and powerful tool for learning. Challenges when overcome improve confidence levels, develop growth mind set and quite simply allow pupils to believe in themselves a little bit more. We are as Socrates said, the measure of all things. However, on occasion, it takes a little time and practice to gain that measure. Achieving a C grade or a B in mock exams or work done during the term suggests that there is growth and learning still to come. If you can do everything that is thrown at you at the start of the course then what is the role of education? Our mistakes and our shortcomings are not to be hidden away, rather they should be the material of reflection. They are so often the key to real understanding.
Over the coming term we will be encouraging all pupils to reflect on what has gone wrong. We will seek to support them in applying their own gold dusted lacquer on their learning, the bits that have not gone well and that could be made better. It will be a term of “if at first you don’t succeed then try, try again”. This is not the easiest path for parents or pupils. In the long run it might well be the most productive.
By rights, this would be the column in which I look forward to all that a new year will bring. Normally I’d be talking about resolutions, new beginnings and thinking about all we have to look forward to. I’d mention some of the events or happenings that we are looking forward to. It would be a positive, enthusiastic preview. But having been subjected to a near constant diet of concerning news over the holiday, I really do wonder what 2019 will bring. We seem to be living in a world in which dialogue has broken down and one in which co-operation is a long forgotten concept. So before writing I took the only course of action available in such dire circumstances and went for a walk. Having enjoyed the crisp winter air and having had time to think about what I should be thinking I’m writing in a more positive manner about what lies ahead and more importantly what we as a school can do to make things better for the future.
BSP pupils will go on to be leaders and opinion formers. They will be influential in whichever community they join. I’ve said it before and I will no doubt say it again, but it is important to recognise this fact. As future leaders and opinion shapers one of the skills that I hope they develop this year is the vital skill of oracy. If this world needs one thing, it is a group of young people who can speak truth to power. We need a generation who can challenge and who have the ability to stand up for what they believe to be right. Not at the cost of others, but for the good of all. If this is to be achieved then we as educationalists and parents need to ensure that every young person develops a voice and is ready to use that powerful instrument for change. Many of our pupils already have this skill; the Eco School group with their campaign to make the School single use plastic free, our prefects, our young managers, our charity committee members and the Student Councils have all developed a voice. This year I hope that every pupil uses the opportunities that they have for debate in class and in co-curricular activities to develop their voice. They should take an example from their peers rather than looking at the tawdry example set by many in public life and in some cases holding high office. They should develop constructive ways of engaging with discourse in both the real and the virtual world. They, I believe, have something important to say about the world that they are set to inherit. Furthermore, the world needs to hear it.
So, if I have one resolution this year, it will be to ensure that I encourage our young people to develop their voice. To give them opportunities to speak and provide them with space to develop the ideas that may well save the planet. If I manage to achieve this it is likely to have a more lasting effect than my normal resolutions that never make it past January (usually the 2nd of January).
A very warm welcome to all new members of the school community. We have had new starters this week and there are more on Monday. We all look forward to getting to know you and working with you.
With every good wish for a joyful and constructive New Year.