If you are involved in fostering, that the education system has again recently been described as mediocre, has to be a serious concern.
For decades now, education has been treated as a political football by experts from both sides of the argument ranged against each other. The same, or very similar ideas, seem always to be rehashed and just given a new imprimatur – perhaps to justify the funding given to various research projects. And now, predictably enough, the return of grammar schools is being touted politically as the panacea for our educational woes in this country. There is great pressure, rightly, on all who are involved in fostering to ensure that children who have already experienced so many disadvantages, get the best support for their education. After all educational attainment is the best route to future success and prosperity. If you are fostering, the importance of supporting your children’s education will have been stressed repeatedly. It does, however, seems a little unfair to subject carers to so much pressure on this point – especially as the point about pressure is it can be unfairly applied. The truth is that over the last three decades myriad educational theories have been given an outing. And as we all suspect there will always be some new theory in the offing. But the real point is that instead of endlessly introducing new theories, why do we not think sensibly about all those that have come and gone; especially as it seems our education system, when set against international rankings is at best still mediocre. Politicians are mounting the barricades again – and the argument is unchanging. On the left it is all about the negative effects of selection, and on the right the way forward depends on the return of the grammar school. And in this, it can be sensed ‘dog whistle’ politics are at work: we are invited to return to a past where everything was ordered and worked the way we wanted it to. Successful policy is rarely built around a sense of nostalgia – even if it suits politicians to invite us back to a halcyon era. What is interesting; and should be of note to everyone involved fostering, is there is something flawed about the whole education debate and its resultant policy decisions. This is because it has been conducted for decades on the same sterile ground. This is ironic as it shows ‘the experts’ themselves do not appear to be able to ‘think outside of the box’. What is questionable is that our cadre of motivated foster carers feel constant pressure to support their children educationally, whilst government signally fails to deliver a system fit for purpose – as measured against other nations.
Why has the educational establishment overlooked something very basic: simply to look at which countries achieve the best results and why? And then to import the those methodologies lock, stock and barrel. Is there a cogent reason why this should not be tried – especially when results exist that attest to the worth of the method(s). Of course, there is awareness of such results, but ironically, our experts; who appear to relish stringency when it comes to their own pet theories, only proffer the vaguest and clearly unscientific arguments as to why such methods won’t work here. It must be remembered it suits some people in our educational establishment to be developing the next new theory. Or, almost as productively for them, detailing why the last set of theories have gone wrong. The result is an observable degree of schizophrenia: calls for variety in the education system are made at the same time as calls are made for returning to ‘the basics’.
The point about variety is an interesting one: variety has an intrinsic value. And an education system should offer all sorts of variety – that is a strength – but not at the cost of key basics being absent. Accommodating ‘variety’ as well as ‘basics’ within a system should not be mutually exclusive goals. What is unfortunate is that the debate has for years set them in opposition. So let’s change the parameters of the debate…let’s think outside the box…As a starting point, we can think of the oft used metaphor of education being a journey: now let’s think of a car as being the means of travel for that journey and what it may represent for this argument. Cars are the embodiment of variety: they come a limitless number of shapes, colours and sizes the world over – and are constantly being redesigned. They also share something unalterable and completely basic: they all have round wheels. This makes it clear it is possible to combine what is basic with near limitless variety. So if there is an educational methodology out there which makes a virtue of both the basics and variety – in ways that are non ideological and producing outstanding results – we should surely emulate it. Or have some very good reasons as to why we don’t. Should it matter if it is operated by one of our European neighbours? Well, only if the main objection given (and it is about as weak an objection as may be imagined), that theirs is a different culture with different norms: the clear implication being that we are dissimilar meaning the system could not work here.
This should not have been taken at face value for so long as we have singularly failed to devise a system capable of delivering world beating results. This must be to the chagrin of our educational and political elites and since they have used education as a football it is ironic they have only succeeded in scoring repeated own goals. As a rebuttal to this, we should rethink the issue from scratch and a useful starting point is to return to the idea of dissimilarity. Our approach should be to think the complete opposite: we should be considering how very similar we human beings are. And that this is unarguable if our context is evolutionary one.
Fostering a new perspective
Our species of humans first began to evolve nearly 200,000 years ago. In evolutionary terms, we modern humans are an extremely recent group. This is certainly the case measured against, for example, various species of dinosaur present on earth for millions of years. An even more beguiling thought is that geneticists have concluded that every person alive today, can trace their lineage all the way back to a single common female ancestor alive around 200,000 years ago. This is highly significant because it means human beings are all remarkably similar. If one European nation has devised an educational system that yields excellent results, we should immediately sit up and take notice. Their success could and should be ours. Especially when what underpins that success is a clear recognition of our essential humanity. It is this that should be the starting point of all learning, not a collective paranoia fuelled by media headlines and various groups with a vested interest in maintaining the status quo.
Fostering a new approach to education in the UK
We don’t have to look very far for this successful educational model: Finland boasts Europe’s most successful education system. What is different is that they seem to have had the imagination, wisdom and humility to approach education in a way that recognises the innate nature of human beings – suggesting that optimal learning is linked to our natural developmental time scale. It is now known that brain development finally completes at the age of twenty five – far later than was thought in the past. The next blog in this series looks in detail at the approach in Finland which points toward why our results in this country are mediocre by comparison. This is because of our preoccupation and attachment to deeply rooted shibboleths related to education. Parents and foster carers around the country deserve an educational system that reduces the pressures of parenting by being efficacious.
And in the interests of balance, government thinking about education can be found at http://bit.ly/1UNbsh1
Fostering children: our ‘Rainbow Rewards’ are there to be claimed
Thinking of fostering children, fostering babies or teenagers? Wherever your interest lies, Rainbow is a London fostering agency promising supportive fostering services. If you can refer someone, we will be delighted to pay you £500. You’ll receive the money once your referral has been approved and received their first foster child. Any current foster carers wondering about transferring to Rainbow Fostering Services could also receive a generous bonus under the scheme. This will be a bonus once approved, for carers who have children already placed with them on a long-term basis, and £500 for any foster carers who do not have children placed with them. We are an independent fostering agency always looking to recruit new foster carers. Call our recruitment team on 020 8427 3355 to discuss further.
And the good news at the end of this particular rainbow…we are now getting the finishing touches planned for our forthcoming 2016 Children’s Awards ceremony. The competition has been strong again this year and we anticipate the usual high standard. A big well done to all our foster children.