“Politics is too serious a matter to be left to politicians.”Charles de Gaulle
Constant criticism, public cynicism and a mountain of crises to address. Who’d be a politician these days? That said, we need politicians because, without a doubt, the world has more than its share of challenges; some that are long standing, many that are new, and someone needs to make the all-important decisions on our behalf. Tough political days lie ahead, and public opinion can be fickle as horizons are scanned for coming elections. Much of the modern world is cynical about the motives of politicians, perhaps we should reflect that many start with the very best of intentions. This week the British Prime Minister Boris Johnson reshuffled his cabinet and in doing so moved his beleaguered Secretary of State for Education, Gavin Williamson out of post and replaced him with Nadhim Zahawi MP. As the thirty-seventh Secretary of State for Education since 1944 he takes on this most important portfolio at a time when change could well be profound and far reaching. He comes to the job with a degree of experience having been Minister for Children and Families in 2018. Like many new ministers he faces pressing questions. If I were to encourage Mr. Zahawi to prioritise I think I’d be encouraging him to look carefully at the following:
Focus on Student wellbeing: The modern world can be a harsh and unforgiving place, particularly when viewed through the distorting lens of social media where perfection is presented as truth and young people are trapped into feelings of inadequacy. We have digital tools that can be used for great good, and we do perhaps need to consider the responsibilities of large corporations who know that what they sell can have devastating effects. The pandemic has also taken its toll, now more than ever we need to consider the role of high pressure, winner-take-all exams that focus years of work into hours of performance. This is not a way to find the best in our pupils.
Exams (again): More immediately, students in the British system deserve more clarity on how they will be examined next summer. The last two years have proved stressful enough for our young people and they deserve to know in good time how they will have their learning rewarded. This is a moment when a bold Secretary of State could provide an assessment system truly worthy of this generation.
Promote the British Curriculum: The UK system has many strengths, and it would be good to see the Secretary of State particularly championing the almost unique opportunity provided by A levels to allow for students to follow their academic passions and prepare for university study. Studying the subjects that you want to, having received a decent grounding across a wide range of disciplines pre- 16 is a privilege and allows those who want to develop the space and support to do so.
Put the development of character at the heart of education: We know that young people today will need skills for careers that we have not yet created. What will always be required if we are to be a world community that thrives and flourishes are good people. We need to ensure our young people know how to be good colleagues, good friends, good family members and good citizens. We can do much when given the opportunity to link the curriculum to character, to learn not just for the test but for life.
It isn’t a long list, but these are challenging goals to achieve. I hope that Mr. Zahawi has the vision to look beyond the next sound bite or next election to use his high office to the benefit of a cohort who, more than ever, need to be given the opportunity to flourish.