Saturday, 23 March 2013

Leadership

There probably never was a time throughout history when individuals did not look to someone else to take the helm, whether that was in families, tribes or nations. I also suspect that at other times, when people might have felt they were able to take care of themselves, some pushy individual muscled in on the act anyway and likely took them where they'd rather not have gone! Leaders are certainly not new to the scene. A world without leaders is unimaginable, but how have things changed over time?

Governments of all types see it as their right to lead. My view is, if we must suffer political leaders, surely we need to have more to say about it than simply putting an X in a box periodically. We don't want just anyone and we want to be able to review performance with the option to remove any dead wood, which is a useful function of our democratic process. But is that as far as our involvement goes and what are our expectations of leaders today? Should we be looking for something specific in their relationships with us?

I don't believe it is enough to simply rely on the recycling that goes on at election time. Naturally, it is the opportunity to get rid of the 'dead wood' mentioned, but it should also be a chance to compare the policies on offer from the different parties. This is where it gets tricky. I have yet to vote for a party that represented all my views. How could that even be possible in a modern democracy? My way around this is to identify which policy areas matter most to me and to look for the best match with what's on offer out there. Speaking personally, it's education, health and the environment. It isn't that I don't have other concerns, it's simply my needing to align with my primary priorities at election time.

Under my system, therefore, I need political parties to be clear about their policy priorities and I need to be able to rely on them upholding their pledges if they get into office. If I were a political leader right now, this is where I would be leading my party. However, I am sure I'm not alone in realising that we are a mighty long way from being able to have confidence in the system on either count.

As a general rule, I want political leaders to understand that my relationship with them and the system has changed from my father's days. Apart from demanding that politicians say what they mean and mean what they say, I need them to display a willingness to listen to the voice of ordinary people when they are in office, especially when a substantial number of individuals speak out.

I'm sufficiently street-wise to know how political leaders will react to this idea. They have come into office because of the free and open electoral process we enjoy in our country, so, why should the conflicting views of those seeking to challenge official policy be acted upon by them at any other time. My response to this is, while the electoral process continues to attract such low levels of support at the ballot box, it may be a step too far to assume that those who have not taken part agree with official policy over the views of those who disagree. Would not our leaders be wise to acknowledge that by engaging more openly with interested parties they might well enhance the quality of our democracy when significant dissent is registered by ordinary people?

The present debacle over education policy very aptly illustrates what I am saying and I would hope that at some point, our leaders would agree to pay heed to the substantial groundswell of opinion in opposition to the current direction of education reform.

Thursday, 21 March 2013

Education Reform – Out with the old and in with the new.

The fact that another package of reforms is being foisted on the education system, in the absence of a genuinely open debate, may explain the siege mentality experienced by many teachers. Unlike the mood among professionals at other ‘crunch times’, on this occasion, it’s different. 

To an outsider, there is an overriding impression that teachers are consistently undervalued by ministers. In what should be an open debate over change in education, it is clear to the casual observer, the professional voice is being systematically ignored. This is not a healthy situation to encounter when, if it is to succeed, the major reform under consideration will require the cooperation of the very professionals being marginalised. The increasingly hostile environment is demotivating many teachers, adding to uncertainty about the future, and that future belongs to the young.

We may only speculate about their fate in the face of uncertainty over what that future holds. It’s not unreasonable to assume that their capacity to respond to rapidly changing circumstances is likely to become an abiding feature of their lives. Opportunities for them to flourish in such uncertainty and live hopeful futures, will depend on those occupying key positions of power today being able to take the long-term view of what needs to change. As things work at present, this is unlikely to happen. In the words of Professor Ken Robinson, "the system needs transforming."  http://sirkenrobinson.com/

The ongoing climate of political/professional wrangling has the capacity to damage young people’s life chances well into the future. It is clearly diverting public attention away from the need to generate a broad consensus about the aims and values that should underpin future education reform. Get the latest from Reiss and White on a new approach to curriculum planning at  An Aims-based Curriculum.

The benefits of changing the present system to secure longer-term objectives in education need to be articulated. I question why teachers' professional bodies aren't doing this more persistently? The challenges young people face will call for attitudes, skills and knowledge that are not being systematically developed in the present stop-go approach to education planning. If we are about to embark on further change, it would be better if we were able to work together.

In future, if they so choose, people are likely to directly influence decision-making at every level. Ordinary citizens already have the means to do so via mobile communication technologies, as we have repeatedly witnessed happening in other countries. Dictatorships and democracies alike, will be similarly affected in future because of this development and governments will find themselves having to listen to the voice of the people or face the consequences. The old ways will no longer deliver what we need.

Put simply, decision-making in our education system is out of step with what is required. The task of preparing learners to meet the challenges of greater participation in a changeable future is threatened by the short-term agenda of politicians under current arrangements. Tragically, the option that exists to change strategic decision-making isn’t even being discussed.

The first priority, therefore, must be to take this debate forward. The objective of doing so initially being, to re-frame the reform process. Re-defining responsibilities, clarifying roles and agreeing an appropriate balance between central and local decision-making will all require our urgent attention.

Evidence clearly indicates, decades of education reform have failed too many of our young people. Were this not the case, there would not be the present clamour for further hurried changes, at the expense of alienating the very people responsible for delivering reform.
In a changing global environment, decisions about education can no longer be coupled to the existing system of parliamentary power recycling, where parties need only a simple majority at the ballot-box to entitle them to determine the future direction (for a few years) of a crucially important service like education. The process we have, has consistently failed to deliver lasting, longer-term benefits to the service and to its users. Also, in recent years, successive governments have vastly increased their own powers at the expense of local democracy, despite their blatant denial of having done so. Too much quick-fix reform has proved to be economically wasteful, systematically demotivating for many working in education and ineffective in creating genuinely equitable opportunities to improve life chances for all pupils. Short-term solutions are no solutions at all.

To further illustrate the point, information and communication technology (ICT) is set to change the face of education. Considerable attention is already being focused on making individualised learning a viable option. Teachers understand the importance of this but they know that such a transition cannot be achieved over-night. Game-changing approaches of this kind require time to develop, to evaluate and to deliver. How, under the present system could there possibly be a commitment to the long-term success of such an important initiative? Politicians, quite obviously, do not have the time to commit to the long-haul; quick-fix and move-on has been disastrous so far in reforming education.

As new generations of educators expand their expertise, adapting tested ideas in their own domain to deliver real results (not tests and league table results), politicians should concentrate their energies on the strategic task for which their mandate is actually best suited. They should set global levels of funding for education in line with the wishes of a better informed electorate and guided by balanced input from highly committed professionals. Interestingly, it has been felt for some time that the first nation to transform its education service along these lines will accrue considerable lasting benefits for its citizens.

As to the past, it would be wise to preserve only what benefits the future, as seen from our present perspective. It is time to change the very culture of change in education. We owe it to our successors.

Monday, 18 March 2013

Locally grown education communities for our changing global future.

Earlier today, I returned to look up Sir Ken Robinson’s work on creativity. Speaking at the close of the world summit of 'Learning Without Boundaries', at London's Barbican in June 2012, Ken Robinson emphasised his view that, above all, the main purpose of education is personal. As a primary practitioner, I fully support this view. If education is divorced from the needs, aspirations and expectations of the learner, it will never go deep. Of particular interest also, was his description of how he believes education for the new century has to be personalised and customised.

The increasing use of technology in the school system is bringing forward the day when the meaningful individualisation of learning will be possible. However, it was Ken Robinson's view that education in the future will have to be customised that prompted me to write here about 'locally grown' education communities. There is certainly unanimity about the global challenges that face humanity in the coming decades. What is not so widely accepted is the notion that, in seeking and applying local solutions, it is most likely that many of the pressing global issues will be resolved. The importance of local communities working together cannot be overstated. It is in this regard that education has a central role to play.

I found fresh material on Ken Robinson's blog site and other sources around the net, much of which has a direct link with current ideas about the reform of primary education in England. In the above presentation, I was struck by some of his findings that resonate with my own ideas:

The rationale for reform has been made, not only in this country but across the globe. It’s time to agree the precise reforms for each domain and construct an education system fit for purpose.

The energy to drive the necessary change is currently dissipated because of innovation fatigue. It is vitally important that further change must be allowed to evolve over time.

General principles and key values are widely shared but not unanimously held in professional circles – coordinated leadership is lacking.

Constructive support for fundamental change within political circles is limited and is largely determined by ideological perspectives along historical and party political lines. Unfortunately, progress is likely to be limited if this situation is not addressed.

Change has to be owned at a local level and for this to be possible, communities need the freedom to evolve within a very broad national framework.

For local responsiveness to flourish, central oversight of education has to be re-defined, if necessary, in law. Strategic decision-making about what needs to happen in local communities has to be shifted from the centre.

The primary curriculum is too constrained by the traditional subject model and blighted by a narrow testing regime where 'accountability mania' stifles the confidence to innovate.

Collaboration between families and providers of high quality early years provision helps establish the necessary foundation for all later learning, and needs to be strengthened.

Parents need greater recognition for what they do well, rather than being held responsible for all society’s ills under the crude scrutiny of tabloid journalism.

Education standards will still need to be monitored. But, first it has to be agreed what we will measure, for what purpose and to what effect.

Education funding continues to be based on the age of learners. There has to be an open, informed debate about funding allocations and it has to be based on need rather than on historical patterns.

Local schools, working in partnership under strong leadership and with a commitment to seek out and adapt the most promising pedagogical tools, require time and freedom. The needs of the local community of learners have to be acknowledged above the drive from central authority to 'dictate' what is appropriate. One size fits all, only ever worked for a small majority at a time that has long since passed. Now it’s different. We have to think and work more creatively, more globally. The future belongs to our successors, but they need us to envision that future both for them and with them, and it will be different from any past experience.

Sunday, 24 February 2013

The Case For Change

My motivation in creating this blog, Education Perspectives, is to contribute to the ongoing debate about education. Across every continent, nations are considering the sorts of changes required to establish efficient public education systems in light of an unknowable future. Whatever else we feel, we need to understand, the future does not belong to us, even though we are the ones currently influencing its direction. The decisions we make today will determine whether we create the legacy of a viable future for our successors, and public education is critical to that aim.

However, education is only one factor with a capacity to enhance life or detract from its quality. In our global society, the political, agricultural, economic and commercial choices we make will impact on the environment, and thus on the biosphere, for better or worse. Medical, scientific and technological developments will also greatly influence the quality of life for the generations not yet born. The only thing we can be certain of is that the choices we make will directly affect their opportunities and life-chances. We may not be able to engineer the future, but we need to give greater consideration than ever before to the possible implications of choices we do make.

Opinion is growing that we are already witnessing the effects of man-made changes to the global climate. Over two decades ago, having examined the evidence available to him at the time, Bill McKibben summed up the situation with profound simplicity. www.billmckibben.com/

"The tidal force of biology continues to govern us, even when we realize (as no lemming can) that we're doing something stupid." 
'The End of Nature' 1990. 

At the time, most of those aware that the build-up of greenhouse gases in the atmosphere might be reaching significant levels, failed to take seriously McKibben's dire warnings about changes to the composition of the atmosphere. We may be beginning to live with the consequences of that failure.

Today, mounting evidence is emerging as more data are accumulated across the globe. Skeptics maintain the implications of the data are inconclusive. They may be right. However, in a democracy people need the capability to review the data themselves. As things stand, indecision on the part of world leaders, strengthened by the opinions of powerful lobbying groups in favour of the status quo, risks further delay in trying to address the problems, and may even reduce available options. 

Sadly, our 'stupidity' is not confined to the issue of climate change. It's becoming clear, many of the trappings of modern life we have come to expect are sustainable only at a price. That price is someone else's future. For this reason, ordinary people need to become more aware of the ethical implications of our collective actions. Trusting that the way we did things in the past will not damage our children's legacy, is a vain hope at best. If we are to become fully involved in trying to secure a viable future, much will depend on how we transform education to meet these challenges head on.

Where governments are concerned, education reform is aimed at securing a commercial or other advantage over competitors (hence the reliance on international league tables of education outputs comparing the 'basics'). For society, in particular for families with children/grand children, the focus has to be elsewhere. It needs to be on the well-being of the young and on creating opportunities to enable them to reach their potential and live a full, rewarding life. In this regard there is an obvious clash of interests.

Transforming education will depend more than anything on perspectives and on the values that guide us in that process. The aim for the future, I believe, must be to create an efficient public education system fit for all. In subsequent postings I set out to clarify what I mean by this and explore how best to begin this process.

In my next posting, Education Reform - A New Rationale, I set out radical proposals outlining the creation of a national framework for the oversight of strategic management in education in Britain and explain why I believe this is long over due.

Education Reform - A New Rationale

Schools, their teachers and the entire education system are once again under the microscope. Decisions about the future of education are believed by many to rest firmly with governments. The direction of reform and the right to scrutinise the service, looking at both its effectiveness and its value for money are thought to be theirs to control. 

But I question, based as it is on nothing more than historical traditions, does this arrangement correspond with the best interests of individuals or of society in the global future that beckons?

The latest reforms are being rolled out in an atmosphere of mistrust, insult and polarisation. This is highly damaging to the service and to young people. But that is not the whole problem. In the last decade alone, there have been FIVE different Secretaries of State (SoS) for education representing the two main political parties. The present incumbent, Michael Gove, is but the latest to bring his unique perspective to the cause. I decline to comment here on his policies or on his style of reform and resist any temptation to indulge in the kind of character assassination so prevalent in other places. Suffice it to say, naturally, his beliefs are politically motivated, as was the case with all his predecessors. How could it be otherwise? Consistently, each SoS espouses deeply held social or humanitarian values central to the success of their policies. They come into office with a political mandate reflecting the views of their party and probably with the intention of creating a lasting personal legacy. It is this historical mechanism that I believe is reducing the effectiveness of much-needed improvements to our education system.

From my perspective, it is no longer appropriate that the strategic direction and planning of education is bound so closely to the electoral process in our democracy. There are those who agree with this analysis and others who deny there is a debate to be had. I believe the debate needs to take place and offer the following comments in support of this view.


The New Rationale

Our system of parliamentary democracy, rich in history and tradition as it may be, needs nevertheless to evolve to reflect changes in society. What worked well in the past, may no longer be appropriate, especially if we agree that the pace of global change is likely to continue and to accelerate.The system currently in place grew out of the challenges presented by the onset of the Industrial Revolution and out of the need for a certain type of work-force. As such, it was a response to circumstance and felt by many to be largely successful. I generally accept this analysis but question if it makes the present system 'fit for purpose'. (Ref. my earlier blogs) 
 
Undeniably, the demands for labour in the new industries actually shaped the education of the time. Often this was at the expense of the individual. Today, we face a very different future and education itself has changed. New structures are required to deal with these different scenarios, as I shall show. 

The inevitable consequence of the present system is a rather rapid succession of 'leaders' of change, often possessed of opposing ideas to their political rivals about what needs to happen to improve education. This makes it difficult to deliver consistency in addressing the improvement agenda. A move away from short-term reform is now necessary as it adversely affects the work of schools and teachers, with a possible impact on children's learning.

As an example, the present primary school curriculum is particularly inappropriate. There is wide agreement that different skills, attitudes and knowledge to those currently available to our young people will be needed in future. Much excellent work has been done in reviewing the curriculum for all age groups and it is not my intention to revisit the evidence here. An excellent resource is the work carried out by The Cambridge Primary Review. See also Michael J Reiss and John White, IOE Londobn Blog The National Curriculum: what’s the point of it all?.

Suffice it to say, time has to be allowed for the implementation of new curricular and assessment arrangements, once a consensus has been reached over which reforms are needed. According to the opinion of Ofqual's CEO, Glenys Stacey, speaking about the ongoing reform of the secondary examinations system, 

"Reform ...... it's risky, isn't it. Some assessment experts will tell you .... it takes 5 years to deliver (fundamental reforms) and fifteen years, or even longer to bed in. Politicians have much shorter time frames in mind." 
Reported by Angela Harrison, BBC Education Correspondent, October 11th 2012.


This statement about the 'short time frames' of politicians can be applied equally to any major education reform package at all key stages in the system. In addition, it may be legitimate to question, how well a modern democracy is served by the set-up in which a single party is able to determine the direction of education policy. There are undoubtedly problems for the long-term future if policy in this area continues to be set according to the short-term interest of a single political entity.

For this reason, young people need us to question the suitability of the proposed reforms and the way they are being conducted under this out-dated system. Opportunities for young people to engage with the future and to live fulfilling lives, depend on what we do next. The prevailing, negatively charged, political/professional environment is highly damaging to their chances.

The future of our democracy ultimately depends on the capacity of each citizen to engage in society in new and more challenging ways. We have to articulate appropriate values for a different approach to education in anticipation of this different future. We have a critically important opportunity to transform the whole architecture of education by changing the way we think and act in relation to it.

A comprehensive review of decision making in eduction is long overdue. The current stand-off reveals the bankruptcy of the existing politically biased procedures. All parties with a stake in education should have a voice in influencing how policy is decided for the future. Politicians of all parties are invited to support the establishment of a National Education Commission. Its initial task should be to draw up a proposal outlining how the responsibility for the direction of national policy for education may be decoupled from the machinery of party politics. 

 

Tuesday, 19 February 2013

Ordinary Voices on Education

I have closely followed the debate over the present government's reforms of education. It has been a torrid affair. From the outset, it's been a battle of opposing ideologies. The only common ground apparently being an understanding that, if we are to build an education system fit for the new century, reforms are necessary. Beyond that general view, there is no sign of consensus. Issues of left versus right; the professionals versus politicians have dominated the debate and created division. 

Early on, I was struck by the futility of personal attacks on Michael Gove, Secretary of State for Education (SoS), as the architect of the most recent reforms, regarded by many critics as belonging to a bygone age. All this seemed to be achieving was holding the opposition together. It was not having any impact on government policy - and it still isn't!

But, I also detected a growing consensus among education professionals, some journalists and members of the public. Increasingly, commentators were expressing concerns that party politics was shaping the reforms to a degree not experienced previously. Accusations that the SoS was rejecting outright the voice of professionals was further fueling the debate.

Frustrated by the situation, I have come up with an idea, set out here in 'Ordinary Voices on Education'. On two counts, I was determined to take a more constructive stance over the future of our public education system by campaigning to remove policy-making from the party political arena.

First, I understand it may help beleaguered professionals to let off steam if they attack the object of their anger. However, it takes attention away from the need to engage the wider public in a thorough assessment of the 'reforms' currently being forced through. Until this is possible, mounting damage is being inflicted on public education in our country.

Secondly, in the absence of direct action, the problem that perpetuates the current set-up, continues to operate largely unnamed and to persist unopposed. I do not find it particularly helpful that critics go on attacking the person behind the policies or publishing their extensive, scholarly findings as if it is just a matter of time before their voices are heard and they win the argument. I get the sense, from a seeming lack of urgency, that some of these commentators are indeed more hopeful than expectant, and that will not bring about the necessary change.

If my fears are well founded, our collective failure to engage with the problem carries real risks. Should we just accept that the governance of education is an inevitable bi-product of the electoral system (with the power to reform education that this brings)? I believe not. Political ideology is too crude a power to direct the future of education reform, as it has done in the past. Left unchanged, the system will ultimately damage our democracy.

With this in mind, the idea behind 'Ordinary Voices on Education' was born. Below, I set out the guiding principles and state the initial objective of the campaign.



GUIDING PRINCIPLES

'Ordinary Voices' is a non-political movement set up to encourage greater participation in democratic society.

'Ordinary Voices on Education' signals the launch of a nationwide campaign to reform the mechanism for the strategic planning of education policy.

New governments appoint a Secretary of State and Ministers for Education to oversee the implementation of their party's policies.

In the last decade, there have been five individuals from the two major political parties entrusted with this task.

Not surprisingly, this has generated rapid change, sometimes creating instability and uncertainty in the system, involving great cost for dubious returns.

The education of young people is, unquestionably, a long-term enterprise. Changes to the curriculum and to professional pedagogy should be well researched, to identify potential benefits, properly resourced and thoroughly evaluated. Short-term, quick-fix reforms have no place in such an education system. They will fail the young.

'Ordinary Voices on Education' does not argue against reform. However, it does call for a broader consensus over the role of education in an uncertain future.

'Ordinary Voices on Education' invites you to sign the petition and to keep yourself informed about the progress of the campaign.


INITIAL OBJECTIVE
(The Petition)

Politicians of all parties are called upon to support the establishment of a National Education Commission. Its first task being to draft proposals, outlining how responsibility for national policy-making for education may be decoupled from the machinery of party politics.


The petition, worded as above, is now ready. It will be made available to the general public, initially at school gates across the country. Your support in getting it into the public arena would be gratefully accepted. This is just a beginning.

Saturday, 16 February 2013

Education Not Counting!

How many of us really appreciate that education is not counting? In my experience, there certainly aren't enough parents aware that education is not counting. There aren't even enough willing to question why all the counting and I argue strongly that, all the counting counts for nothing. But, enough of this, let me make my point.

With few exceptions, wherever you choose to look across the globe, governments are wanting to reform the education systems they fund and oversee and they are doing so based mainly on one objective, improving the stats. The belief is, if parents (consumers according to many) are given performance data, they will have all they require to choose the best school for their child. (Whatever that means!)

Wherever you look in our education system, it is evident that counting has assumed great significance. In fact, taken on the strength of this argument, the statistics should tell the lay person all they need to know about which teachers, schools and most recently Local Authorities are doing best. The truth is, this is not the case. The tragedy is the ease with which judgements are made and their unquestioned acceptance.

In their informative, though provoking book, "Numbers", by David Boyle and Anita Rodick, Goodhart's Law is quoted. It casts a more sober light on the subject of statistics and how data collection is not all it purports to be.

"Goodhart's law states that once a social or economic measure is turned into a target for policy, it will lose any information content that had qualified it to play such a role in the first place."
http://lesswrong.com/lw/1ws/the_importance_of_goodharts_law/

Another interesting site that explores the issue of targets in education can be found at:
http://philebersole.wordpress.com/2013/01/10/goodharts-law-on-not-going-by-the-numbers/

Dr W Edwards Deming the renowned management consultant with a particular focus on quality and statistical methods, put forward his 14 Points in "Out of the Crisis".

"The (14) points cultivate a fertile soil in which a more efficient workplace, higher profits, and increased productivity may grow.
  • Create and communicate to all employees a statement of the aims and purposes of the company (school/education).
  • Adapt to the new philosophy of the day; industries and economics are always changing. (As is our understanding of how we learn.)
  • Build quality into a product (child) throughout production (learning).
  • End the practice of awarding business on the basis of price tag alone; instead, try a long-term relationship based on established loyalty and trust.(Local Authorities??)
  • Work to constantly improve quality and productivity (more effective learning).
  • Institute on-the-job training.
  • Teach and institute leadership to improve all job functions.
  • Drive out fear; create trust.
  • Strive to reduce intradepartmental conflicts. (Team building/collaboration)
  • Eliminate exhortations for the work force; instead, focus on the system and morale.
  • (a) Eliminate work standard quotas for production. Substitute leadership methods for improvement.
    (b) Eliminate MBO. Avoid numerical goals. Alternatively, learn the capabilities of processes, and how to improve them. (Focus on learning and understanding not tests)
  • Remove barriers that rob people of pride of workmanship.
  • Educate with self-improvement programs.
  • Include everyone in the company to accomplish the transformation."
http://www.skymark.com/resources/leaders/deming.asp

I found it a useful exercise to consider how these points might be applied at schools' level, as clarified in some instances by the bracketed additions. Instantly, I identified the potential benefits of adopting this approach to raising standards over the current "improvement" model.

SATs, National League Tables and Ofsted Reports are all methods of collecting and comparing data to track targets from the individual through to the Local Authority. All this takes place at the expense of educational achievement, not to improve it, as the reasons identified above indicate. I cannot overstate the importance of assessment in raising standards. Neither can I overstate the confusion that arises out of conflating assessment with testing. Testing is about prioritising targets because that is how the culture of target setting is perceived by teachers, or doctors or production-line workers. For teachers, this has the potential to distort the core function of education because of the inevitable consequence of greatly inflating the value of testing.

Let me explain why I believe all this counting is suppressing rather than raising standards. Firstly, though there is value in testing secondary school pupils (at some point), it can never be a substitute for good formative assessment with younger learners who need consistent and reliable feedback. Secondly, summative assessment (testing) used too early introduces the notion of failure for some learners who may well require longer to master certain key skills or knowledge. Finally, children can be put at risk of exposure to a narrow subject-driven curriculum where testing counts for so much, thus denying them opportunities to explore their innate abilities.
I have a grandson, just turned seven, who has experience of being educated in England and California over the last four years. I have witnessed, in both systems, the misrepresentation by the relevant authorities of what secures lasting achievement. It is not about memory, even though that plays a crucial role in all learning, including passing tests at appropriate times. Neither is about knowing 'the' answers, because that suggests the 'right' questions have been asked and that there aren't other questions that may be equally as important to the learner and that 'right' answers tell us something useful.

However, I believe it has everything to do with beginnings, opportunities, provision and understanding.

All the evidence points to the negative impact of socioeconomic factors on early learning. Some children come from backgrounds where their opportunities to experience stability and find stimulation are severely constrained because of poor parenting skills. Depending on where a child is brought up there may be provision of good local support services to begin tackling some of these inequalities and they may have access to effective schooling. Also, it will be to any child's advantage if the school s/he attends understands the importance of the early years foundation stage and resists all pressures to introduce learning opportunities that are inappropriate to the child's age and stage. It is suggested by some observers that an increasing proportion of young adults see learning as a means of passing a test to reach the next level, rather than as a opportunity for personal growth. If this is so, we should all be concerned and question whether a culture of over-testing contributes to this trend.


So, What Does Count?

In the final analysis, I would like to emphasise, parents count and they always have. The children and young people also count. Society, by way of its civilising influence, counts. Educational professionals count and, finally, the future counts. We have a responsibility to stop counting what arguably doesn't count for very much and to make what counts really count!