THE 2021 WEBINAR SPEAKER TEXTS
with Introductions from Martyn Beer, QVinE Steering Group
PAUL PARKER - "Reality, resilience and renewal"
Question from Martyn Beer (MJB): What would you identify as your top priority for schools and the communities (students, parents, governors) around schools to focus on as we emerge (we hope) from the restrictions of the pandemic?
For me the priority is to be faithful, bold and visionary. This is a pivotal moment, a unique opportunity to reset the system, and to reach a new covenant about the purpose and meaning of education. That means walking away from decades-old assumptions about what schools are for, what education is for, and thinking about what they could be.
This conference is very timely, therefore. And thank you for asking me to introduce it with these few words. I’m going to talk about three things – Glory, Prophecy, and a new Covenant.
When we talk about Quaker Values in Education, what do we mean? So often, when Quakers talk about values, we seem to end up talking about good liberal values that many people – not just Quakers – share, and so we end up saying something not very clear, and not really very distinctive. I think that is a failure of imagination on our parts. What do we, as a faith community, have to say about education?
Quakers often talk about answering that of God in everyone – it’s a quote from George Fox, and it underpins our testimony of equality. I find myself picturing that of God as a twinkling spark within each person, reminding me that however challenging I find them, there is goodness and light in them as there is in me. But it can be a bit grudging (or is that just me!).
But recently I have found myself thinking about the glory of God – the phrase many other churches favour. What would it mean for us to answer the glory of God in each person, to encounter them as glorious people, full of marvel? And what does it mean to teach such glorious people? To be the people who work with our children and young people to help them blaze forth in the world? I don’t know about you, but when I was a teacher, that wasn’t really how we thought about things. And it certainly wasn’t how the education system, Ofsted or the various Secretary of States I worked under thought about things!
Why does this matter? Margery Post Abbott, a US Quaker, talks about Quakers as a community of Everyday Prophets. What she means by that, I think, is that each of us has the power to be prophetic in the world. Prophetic is a difficult word these days. But to me, it means standing up, speaking out with conviction, acting as we are led to create the Kingdom of Heaven in which to live. Imagine if our schools were filled with such people. Bold peacemakers, visionary reconcilers, loving change-makers. Compassionate leaders and passionate contributors to the society we seek to create, the one in which our Quaker values can prosper. Building a world full of everyday prophets.
This can be done. We know, from Quakers’ flourishing work on peace education, that a curriculum based on love, reconciliation, peace and justice, can work. We know there are visionary educators who want to do this. We have seen that there are young people, taught about mediation, who go on to bring about change in their communities – in- and outside their schools. This is how we change the world.
But the system we have doesn’t favour that. The visionaries who brought about the comprehensive revolution in English education are long-retired, and their work overtaken by the education reforms of the 80s, 90s, 00s and the last decade. And now the pandemic.
We have a unique opportunity now, as the pandemic both exacerbates all the problems we have been seeing in our society for years, and sweeps away all our certainties. We have a chance to reset. To abandon the transactional model of education we have inherited – the one which is about results, about uniformity and conformity, about league tables, assessments and economic utility – and to work towards a new covenant for education. We have to move away from the model which sees pupils and students as consumers of a product, absorbers of a body of knowledge that someone has decided they should know, and towards a new covenant where society sees education as an investment in the common good – a way of enabling its members to flourish and contribute, to exercise their gifts to the benefit of their community, to blaze forth. It won’t be easy. Society’s assumptions about the purpose of education have deep roots and strong loyalties. The leadership is not always easy to find.
But it does exist. There are visionaries. We need to hear their voices. We will hear some today.
Only by imagining the world we want to create will we be able to envision the education system we need. Only by recognising the opportunity for every child to be an expression of God’s glory, and by unleashing the everyday prophet in every member of our societies, children, young people and those who work with them alike, will we edge closer to the Kingdom of Heaven our Quaker forebears were so certain was ours for the having.
Let us have faith, let us be bold, let us challenge, let us imagine. Let us start to remove the obstacles, to win over the hearts and minds, to support the innovators, the mavericks, the creative minds. Let’s move away from seeing education as a transaction, and towards seeing it as a gift. This conference is about Reality, Resilience and Renewal.
The time is right, in this unique moment. Let the work begin…
Well Martyn, I think what the covid crisis has done is to shine a mirror on the education system that we've got - warts and all - and one of the things it’s demonstrated to us is that schools are not about the way they were being described too often previously which was all about metrics and accountability and all of this rather nasty language that made it feel like you know it was going to convey a belt for young people what we've seen is the deep humanity of our schools the fact that children have in the in the main joyfully returned there and appreciated their teachers and I think that the big priority for me is that we get back to a real sense that our schools and our colleges are places where where we the older generation help prepare the younger generation to take their place in society some of that will be happening through the curriculum in the classroom some of it will be happening through the rhythms and the routines of our schools and some of it will be happening through all the extracurricular activities as well and i think that richness of experience is something we absolutely need to hold on to..
MJB: and if anything we need to intensify because i think everybody has recognized that that sense of human connection is something that is so important so integral to young people doing well in their education absolutely and you’ll be aware of our alliterative attempts without the title of our webinar this morning reality resilience and renewal - two really important words that you’ve brought into the the conversation there this idea of re-centering and richness. Do you think we we have an opportunity then within education to re-centre on the really important as we go forward post-pandemic?
I think we have an opportunity i think there are risks associated with it as well and that is that in part what you will have I imagine is lots of people wanting to default back to the way things were I think the department for education wants to default back to the way things were they would like nothing more than next year for all those exams those that huge juggernaut of exams that we we use at gcse and a levels for that to run as normal I think that too much of the language has been built on the idea of deficit but I also think there will be some people lots of us I think who are going to say we can do better than we were doing previously we can appreciate that richness more that when we talk about young people it doesn't have to be about catch up as if there is some quantity of learning which if you've missed out on then you are damaged for the rest of your life
I mean how patronizing is that - and i just get a sense that there are lots of people saying it - whether it's around children’s mental health whether it's children simply learning the stuff that we think is important that we should value that richness more which means appreciating that what happens outside the classroom which has been a rich part of the english education system for so long that that needs to be intensified and made available to more young people than perhaps were able to access it in the past
MJB: absolutely it feels energizing to hear you talk in those terms and certainly someone who's involved in schools i'm going to quote a piece from someone you you will recognize because it was you just looking at this relationship that we have in negotiating our way forward and here's here's something that you you released recently perhaps most dispiriting as we emerge from a national crisis that has further widened the gap between advantaged and disadvantaged children is that the secretary of state for education thinks that tinkering with structures issuing surveys and fixating on mobile phones represents any part of the solution so with that in mind and i really appreciate your spikiness as you work alongside key people in education.
What would be your view about the way the pandemic has exacerbated existing inequalities in our education and what we should do next and how we should lobby those in power to to help us do that?
Yeah it's a very good question. It has exposed the shameful nature of the inequalities in our society I mean the fact that we look to a premier league footballer to be the champion of children who are going hungry and for too often it looked like a department which was in denial about that or on the back foot it was a pretty squalid moment I think for us I think a lot of us hadn't realized quite the depths of inequality there - you’ll know Martyn that the education policy institute had reckoned that back in normal times for us to narrow the gap between the advantage and the disadvantaged at the rate we were going pre-pandemic was going to take, wait for it, 500 years - that was then a well-respected think tank
Well we have to do better than that and we have to do something about a strategy for poverty because that underpins everything else and then you get to so what part can schools play in that and I think one of my frustration about the way we talk about education
Now I'm a big big reader - this is David Goodhart's book “Head, hands and heart” and what one of the things he says in that is our education system has been allowed to be driven by what he calls a cognitive elite people who speak like I do read like I do who think that levelling up means you have to be more like me that that's the only form of education which is significant and therefore I think what we need to look to is if the education department is going to default back to the way things were we have to demonstrate that in our schools in our families of schools we're not going to do that that we have higher ambitions than the secretary of state for education because the idea that all of this is going to be addressed through after-school catch-up is really not the case..
The way we should be thinking is what have we learned about what great teachers do how can we help them to do more of itwhat have we learned about how technology could be part of a solution here actually doing some of the heavy lifting allowing teachers to do more and allowing children to learn more it does seem to me there’s opportunities for us to really have a new ambition just like that generation coming out of the second world war came out with an ambition that they were going to make education work for more young people than it had done they didn't didn't achieve it but they had the ambition to be able to do that that really ought to be what we're doing now and that will start I would say with how do we recruit more great teachers keep more teachers and make teaching feel like a real 21st century privileged role one that every great graduate would want to go into absolutely and it seems to me this is a challenge that all of all of our speakers this morning will touch on the the idea of policy and leading the education system from above needing to connect deeply from below and upwards and that responsibility that you have in your role to support teachers and as well as recruiting and and and and challenging
MJB: we we have probably about 30 seconds left is there something that you can say about how we as a as a conference as we go forward bringing together people from across the education system how we can approach that challenge to influence those at the top and really make a connection through our system?
Well it does seem to me that what’s happened during the pandemic is people who had not paid a lot of attention to education have paid a lot of attention to it it has been noticed parents have noticed education in a different way and I think that the notion of defaulting back to a rather mechanistic education system whereby a child is defined by a grade after 12 years or so I think parents would agree with us we can do better than that and I think we will be able to make a case beyond the echo chamber of education and for us with our governors to say we'll do what's right for the young people in our school rather than what might be mandated essentially because you know with performance tables having been suspended and Ofsted being suspended the world didn't collapse indeed maybe this is the opportunity for us to say that we're the guardians of those children and young people we will do what's right for them and have a real sense of moral purpose renewed and refreshed as we come out of this wretched pandemic…….
MJB: Wonderful I think you've managed to to deal with reality but offer us some renewal and some hope as we go forward.
Thank you so much Geoff Barton for joining us this morning, thank you
Sir Kevan Collins
(MJB) So thank you very much Sir Kevan for joining us. We're so delighted that you can join us for a virtual conference looking at education beyond Covid, reality and resilience and renewal. I'm going to ask each of the keynote speakers this first question and then deal with our particular theme.
So can I ask you, what you'd identify as your top priority for schools and the communities around them so we will be joined by students, parents governors, so the communities around schools to focus on the top priority as we emerge, we hope, from the restrictions of the pandemic?
(KC) - I think the top priority is to try and understand together, exactly what the Covid experience has been and what the impact has been on our lives and on our learning and that story hasn't been told.uh we know that there will be areas of learning we need to focus on; we know there'll be areas of personal and social development we want to major on; we just I think we just need to understand this is going to be a personal story for each individual and we need to really spend time to talk to each other, to understand what those areas are so we can make sure the adjustments we make, ensure that everybody renews and recovers in the way that we want.
(MJB)-That’s really interesting isn't it because as we look at individual stories within our individual communities within um our regions and then our country as a whole, how do you work that then, in in your role as Education Recovery Commissioner, I'll come back to that title in just a moment, how are you going to see that from the top down as we look upwards in our individual stories?
(KC) I think we can do that by making sure that as with all good policy you you try and ensure that you've got the right combination of bottom up and top down. You do have to set policy kind of frameworks and you have to make sure that the resources are in place to support the uh schools and teachers but you understand that the real work happens in classrooms and the real work happens for individuals so you have to make sure all the policies are flexible, they can be adjusted they can be they can be made to work for people, which is how policy should be. It's not that people work to policy, policy should work for people so you have the right combination of bottom up and top down and you appreciate this is a school-led, if not a classroom-led recovery, that's going to uh secure the best opportunities for our young people.
(MJB) Absolutely and the challenge I imagine of being able to hear those stories communicate both top down and bottom up, is one that's there. I I alluded to your your grand title and I hope you're you're living up to it as we go through education recovery, Commissioner or much easier catch-ups are, as we're seeing in some of the the papers as well. That that word catch-up, or those words catch up, reasonably contentious right from the start aren't they. Is it the right word or right words do you think and what kind of things should we be focusing on in that broad arena?
(KC) I I know that language is really important and then on one level I'm never quite sure I I I was really keen not to be called "catch up Tsar". I don't like it, I don't like either the "catch up" or the "Tsar" bit, because I'm not in charge of things, I think Recovery is better although you know you could go further than that, I know.
In this kind of work you're talking about renewal and Commissioner implies quite rightly that I've been asked to do something. I'm serving and my job and as you probably know I'm just doing this voluntarily, I'm coming in to give advice and guidance to the government and how you would tackle this issue so there is evidence to guide us and that's my other responsibility, to bring that to the table, but it is about me serving a challenge and I think we all, as a generation of educators now, this is our great challenge.
How do we serve the generation of children that have been affected by this and it has been the biggest disruption to education in the history of this country? How do we make sure that as adults and as as the grown-ups, as the teachers and the rest of us, how are we serving our children's needs and we need to think about it very hard and and adjust what we do to make sure that there is no legacy that that that that comes out of this experience.
(MJB) It feels as though acknowledging, and and you'll know that Geoff Barton is talking a little bit about reality, but acknowledging the reality is important as we look to that recovery and that renewal. Are there, are there three things that you could highlight at the moment from the work that you've been doing that you would say were the best ways of us approaching the challenge of a recovery and renewal?
(KC) yeah so I think the evidence does help us here and there are stories of other countries where you've had an experience of a huge disruption whether it's unfortunately through wars or or natural disasters or other disruptions to education and the three things point this way.
The first is that teaching and teachers are the greatest resource we have. The recovery will happen in classrooms so everything we do, must be about supporting our teachers in order to support our children in order to, so that is where we must put a lot of our effort.
The second is, we must be thinking about the whole child. This is not an academic question. This is about the education experience in the broader sense of the word for children and it's not just about the academics, it's the non-academics; it's the social and emotional and physical development of children as well as their academic learning. Everything points that way so we must think that's a key priority to address.
And and I think the third is, we must be aware that, as ever in education, there is a huge risk for our most disadvantaged communities to be hardest hit by this and the legacy, and the risk of a legacy that we see growing inequality which would be a terrible legacy and is something we all need to to guard against.
So I would say focus on inequality, focus on the whole child and focus on the quality of the teaching in our classrooms
(MJB) And I know and I've talked to you before, I felt my spirit lift that you are using this terminology about the whole child the focus on on teachers teaching and I think in terms of our conference today, thinking about those around the child as well as well as within the school, within the broader school community and that sense of focusing on inequality, can I can I just draw out that theme a little bit more. You'll know from your work with E.E.F but also other research that's been done, the education policy institute estimated it would take 500 years to close the gap, before the pandemic, between more and less advantaged students our current rates of progress before Covid struck. As we look at the potential for renewal, how much do you think schools and colleges can do to close that gap and how much do they need support in doing that from beyond their own remits?
(KC) So some, so my whole life's work as a teacher starting in East London in the very early 80s, to working in Bradford, all sorts around those sort of communities in the country, I sincerely believe in the education and the evidence points to to this; that we can make a difference. Now that doesn't mean that we can mend every ill in society -it doesn't mean that it's not just it's that there are other other players, housing and social services and all the fiscal study, all that stuff in society really really matters, but as a teacher my question is 'am I doing the very best I can?' and I know that we can make a difference. And and of course what was great in the decade before the pandemic, England was actually showing the world that you can begin to close the gap, not that you can end the gap but you can get the at least the trend going in the direction that we want. Growing inequality in the world is a is a fundamental risk and I think a profound moral case for all of us. The one area where I would like to make sure I'm doing my bit as a teacher to mitigate that or to arrest growing inequality is education, so I'm not as hopeless as 500 years.
I do believe you can make a difference and I think the evidence shows is in England, that the variation in outcomes for different children depending on the quality of the experience they have and the way schools think about this. Shows you on the ground in the real world how some children's opportunities are completely different to others so I’m not looking abroad I'm not looking at fancy innovations, I'm looking at how do we do the best of what our brothers and sisters as teachers do, and how to make that happen more frequently and more reliably in every school in England
MJB: A very warm welcome Becky and thank you so much for taking part in our conference this morning and for sharing with us some of your thoughts around the theme of resilience in this area. A question I am asking each of the keynote speaker to start with is, what would you identify as your top priority as schools, and the communities around them whether made up of students, parents, governors, so communities around schools, what should we be focussing on as we emerge, we hope, from the restrictions of the pandemic
BF - Well, I guess my priority would be evidence of course you would expect me to say that wouldn’t you you but I think that it has never been more important actually. The research evidence combined with professional reflection and of course diagnostic assessment. We know that schools have faced very different experiences across the period of the pandemic as have families of course and individual pupils. The local and geographical context, you know that some areas have been more profoundly disrupted by Covid than others, the different social groups, kids with different social backgrounds may have been more or less affected. Family situations, even right down to the individual level as I say, and that makes it all very difficult to predict or make broad swathe recommendations of things that would be effective. So it requires both a really careful evidence based approach at this time balanced with that locally bespoke inflection I think.
In relation to the things that we find important in terms of a broad steer and kind of confident recommendation is to think about what we know are going to be the most effective approaches moving forward, and we tend to revert to the EF tiering approach. The same approach that we apply for example in our Pupil Premium guides we think that the evidence translates pretty well actually. High quality teaching makes a biggest difference and that is particularly important for kids from a disadvantaged background. Focus, a relentless focus on high quality teaching and teaching and learning experiences, a kid- targeted approach thinking about particularly beneficial programmes and strategies whether the sort that is one to one or small group tuition or perhaps well evidenced literacy and numeracy programmes and so forth, in order to provide some compensation for learning loss.
And then of course whole school approaches which might include social and emotional wellbeing. It might include behavioural approaches, engagement with parents and so forth many of which are important more than ever during the pandemic.
( MJB ) Absolutely and thank you. We are presuming people are understanding that EF refers to Educational Foundation which you head and which has produced so much key work in this area and there’s attention with looking at the evidence and identifying as you say, the most effective strategy for the whole system and this needs to address the individual need and go for the individual story and the variations of that around the country. How can schools and the communities around them cope with the situation we are in now? So here we are in May 2021, do you think we are ready to be able to say what the need is at, this stage or is this still a question of assessing what is going on before we look to address it?
(BF) I think as I’ve said, to some extent there is an element of both. I think we can be confident about what we know about the evidence overall and what will be the most beneficial on medium to long term strategy, as well as drawing on the resources on our website. For example, about tried and tested beneficial programmes and interventions that might be supportive for short term recovery approaches.
But never the less, as I say, that complexity can’t be over emphasised and I know that no teacher or school needs me to tell them this either. Each local context will be different and as I have said, again, right down to the individual child. Some students we know have really thrived during the context of pandemic whereas other struggled, and although again, are trends there about socio-economic background and other factors of identity, actually that’s not wholly predictable either as you and the audience will know.
So that element of, first of all taking a really good look at the overall picture of the school and doing that diagnostic assessment which drolls down to be able to identify broad trends around a particular areas of sort of Curriculum weakness or particular areas of conceptual misunderstanding and so forth, that may have emerged during the pandemic but also right down to the situation for individual pupils some of whom will, as I have said, have been very res during the period of pandemic, whereas others will have had profound impact on their learning.
(MJB) Yes absolutely. Thankyou and now I have had this image, it’s quite a Quakerly image actually that of holding the situation in the light of each individual context and then looking to understand and then address that need. And to quote you back to you if that’s OK, so forgive me if this is slight excruciating for you but you once said a really useful article I thought in September looking at what had been learnt up to September 2020 from the pandemic. Your conclusion was this....and thank you for using the word resilience because that really helps our theme today. You said “We know there are no quick fixes to addressing the impact of Covid- 19 on children’s learning, but teachers, school leaders, parents and pupils have already displayed levels of dedication and resilience that inspire hope. So could you give us some specific examples of what you have seen there as an organisation, what you’ve seen evidence of in terms of that resilience and Yes, could you give us some hope too that we can draw from that resilience?
(BF) Well I think many of the innovations that have been brought to bear during the pandemic and the speed at which these things have developed have just been eye-watering really and a huge tribute to the profession and the responsiveness of school leaders as well has just been incredible.
Anne Watson - drew these conclusions
Education: post-Covid priorities
The Quaker Values in Education Group hosted this webinar from Woodbrooke to think about the reality, resilience and renewal necessary for recovery of the education system after the changes forced upon schools, teachers and children by the virus and its management. This is my perspective on these matters.
In a previous article in The Friend I claimed that our particular view of truth – that it is something we seek together rather than something we accept, finished and polished, from others – is a Quaker contribution to education. Also, our particular view of childhood is a contribution. Children are not born in original sin as unshaped beings into whom knowledge, culture and morals have to be inserted, but are born in grace as people of equal value, deserving equal respect.
The language being used nationally about recovery is, however, not about knowledge as truth and children as people but is the language of measurement and control. The particular kind of control implied by phrases such as ‘catch-up’ and ‘loss of learning’ is about a race to access a canon of knowledge whose content and progression has been decided by the state. More than that, the state has already, pre-covid, sought to govern methods of teaching that give every child access to this canon. This is described as giving equal access to a ‘knowledge-rich’ curriculum. I agree that there is a deep need for ‘equality of opportunity’ and for access to the same worthwhile knowledge for all children. Weaknesses in society have to be treated with compensation for those most disadvantaged. However, recent policies have turned the need for equality into recipes for fitting-in to a state-sanctioned canon of knowledge without sufficient critique of the knowledge into which children are supposed to ‘fit’.
Pre-covid it was already apparent that state-sanctioning of the history curriculum warps children’s knowledge of Britain’s place in the world and its historical failures of human rights. But as Ursula Franklin, a Canadian Friend, says in ‘The Ursula Franklin Reader: Pacifism as a map’: ‘If within society there are failures in compassion, knowledge or tolerance, it is not the job of schools to produce students who can comfortably fit in. On the contrary, schools ought to draw attention to these failures and stress that they require correction’.
What Covid has done is expose further difficulties of ‘fitting in’ when, for example, ‘home schooling’ for some means empty-bellied children clustering round mum’s smartphone to access lessons and for others means freedom from the constraints of a fact-filled curriculum to learn in more integrated, conversational ways (that – incidentally - might also not fit with the required school learning patterns). Mental health suffers and too many children lose their foothold on the sanctioned educational pathway. Of course everyone agrees that something must be done, and one of the things that can be done is to show that the so-called knowledge-rich curriculum is wisdom-poor. Rushing to push more of it into children cannot lead to healthy recovery.
And it is not only the sanctioned canon of historical ‘facts’ that needs a rethink, it is also the massive focus on gaining technical skills, many of which are archaic or redundant, at precisely the age at which children start to become young people with individual insights.
In the book ‘Faith and Experience in Education’ (available through the Quaker bookshop) several UK Friends write about how they live out their testimony in their educational work. In the concluding chapter of that book, Kathy Bickmore, a Canadian Friend, points out that our unprogrammed and unprogrammable experience in Meetings are valuable reminders of the infinite possibilities of human flourishing. She says ‘educators are responsible for acting as guides, our eventual goal is for learners to guide themselves, to contribute their Light to the remaking of the world’. Greta Thunberg, Malala Yousafzai, the Quaker children who kept Reading Meeting in 1663, and the 6 Portuguese young people, (one aged 8) who are taking the EU to court for inaction in the climate crisis are examples to us of what young people can be capable of given that kind of guidance.
So what can be done by Quakers? We can think about our roles and responsibilities as adults, teachers, parents, governors, citizens of communities, and owners of buildings towards supporting the work of teachers and children in renewal. But all that has been said by government assumes that our current state-sanctioned curriculum is the right one.
So would Britain Yearly Meeting have something important to say about curriculum: the importance of seeking truth together, the authority of some truths that are taught, the arbitrariness of others, the arbitrary selection of truth by government, and the arbitrariness of the ladders of achievement enshrined in the current discourse?
Or is this the wrong moment to think about that, when so many children have ‘fallen behind’ on the current pathway?
Updated 5 August 2021
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