So what is education, if it is not exam results? What do we learn that isn’t about passing the test? What are the arguments against the league table brigade?
This conundrum was highlighted by the school that cancelled Christmas. The unfortunate school came bottom of the local primary school league table and responded by announcing there would be no nativity play, carol concert or Christmas parties so that the teachers could focus on ‘raising standards’.
In one way this makes sense. These sort of events are hugely time consuming for teachers. But in another, it denies one if not two of the alternative purposes of education.
The creating of significant memories, particularly perhaps, happy, communal ones is an important part of education not an insignificant add-on that can be discarded with no ill effect.
The need for ritualised communal pleasure is deep rooted and in a fragmented, cyber-world, it seems to me that schools have a special responsibility to create for all children the positive experiences that will stay with them when what they have been taught for some test has long faded, binding the children both to each other and the institution.
These occasions will very often involve music, drama, dance to inspire the wonder that makes the memories more than just fun. Just the areas that teachers and many others are warning are under threat by proposed curriculum reforms.
The second way in which education might work is almost the opposite of the single memories. Education offers a drip drip approach to building values through the ethos of a school that children absorb every minute of every day. This is principally to do with the interactions between the different groups of people in the institution. It is at this daily level, where children will absorb values to do with respecting others, kindness, tolerance and empathy, that the passing on of the essential, nurturing values of our civilisation occurs.
This cannot simply be left to the slightly one dimension connections in the classroom but needs children to see adults in different roles and situations but exhibiting the same behaviours and therefore values in their relationships. So back to the importance of end of term plays and all that goes with them.
Education in this country is admired throughout the world and it is not for merely passing exams. We need to cherish, not banish, the breaks from classroom routine.
* Sarah Evans, Principal, King Edward VI High School for Girls