My old school recently celebrated 40 years of Comprehensive Education and I had the pleasure and privilege of being invited back as one of their old alumni to give out awards for achievement in the field of the performing arts. The fact that I became one of the chosen few, was, in the main, due to the fact that I had done some partner working with the retiring assistant head teacher who had organised the celebration.
Of all the keynote speakers, the youngest was another young alumni who has graduated from Oxford and was now studying a PHD in Physics at Cambridge. Here was a shining example of the motivation and ability of one extremely gifted student, whose achievements had elevated him to the hallowed grounds of Newton and Hawking’s alma mater.
Impressed as I was by this young man’s address, I couldn’t help reflect on what my school had actually given in me in my time there. I was not a naughty kid but I was a smart alec. I was not a disruptive influence but I was unruly. Suffice to say I left school with very little as a result. Yet I loved school and look back on it with great fondness. I had an exemplary attendance record, so what was the pull?
My theory is that schools are not simply and should never be results farms. Not everyone is given to academic achievement, but that doesn’t mean they shouldn’t be excluded from achieving a sense of self worth as a result. What I achieved at school could not be easily identified on a certificate of achievement, although it has to be said, I was pretty chuffed with my 40th anniversary gold medal that I got on the night.
There is a danger in promoting Michael Gove’s view that qualifications should be ‘test lead’ as is the plan with the phasing out of the GCSE’s in favour of the new system. This system will help one of the guests of honour at my schools anniversary (PHD student) but will not support the other (me). Schools should be first and foremost, a place for young people to grow physically, emotionally and philosophically in equal proportion to the achievements of academia.
I often get asked who we work with at Peshkar and sometimes I reply “we work with people in the margins of society.”
Just like at school, I always do my best work in the margins.