This week the A levels results, finally, came out. For our daughter the news was ‘good.’ Very good in fact.
Her achievements got me thinking about what constitutes a ‘good’ education.
Is ‘good’ simply to be defined in terms of the results achieved?
Well, I suppose a consumerist or utilitarian ethos would regard final school results as the sole indicator of whether the standard of education received was good, bad, or indifferent. In the utilitarian and consumerist model the student,or pupil,is,as already implied, to be regarded primarily as ‘recipient,’ with,to a large extent,teaching reduced to instruction – after all success or failure is determined solely in relation to the final test scores.
In this scheme ‘good’ has little to do with virtue (or ‘goodness’), and everything to do with objective, empirically validated standards. ‘Good’ can only be defined by those external to the community. Each students results are placed on a lens, under a metaphorical microscope, on a given day and that’s about it!
Achievement and success are to be celebrated and, of course everyone wants their children to do well, but achievement and success devoid of corresponding growth in virtue might in the long run cause significant problems, both for the individual and wider society. Schools have an ethical responsibility to ensure growth in ‘overall goodness.’ Let’s look at the quality of schools by considering the how students behave ten, twenty or even thirty years after leaving school.
‘Educational Goodness’ requires humility (the recognition that our abilities are gifts which others have passed on, nurtured, shaped, discover and develop) and, the conviction that the education received is not merely a private good but, a communal asset, the fruit of which is to be shared.
Chapter 57 of the Rule of Benedict encourages those with special and creative gifts to ‘use them with proper humility’ and to ‘remember Ananias and Sapphira;’ quality advice for budding students, teachers and, parents.
So how does a ‘good school’ relate to it’s ‘stakeholders?’
Firstly, I suspect that it rejects the consumerist model, in favour of a community model. In doing so it asks to be trusted but, also accepts its own fallibility. No institution is perfect. Good institutions allow themselves to be shaped by their members, but are not beholden to their members.
My daughters education has at times been an extremely uncomfortable experience and, on occasion I have been highly critical of the school, sometimes fairly sometimes unfairly. No doubt, behind closed doors, the school has been critical of me! (always unfairly of course!)
A ‘good school’, therefore, remains in dialogue with stakeholders but always reserves the right to say, ‘no I think you are wrong on this issue…’ A good school seeks to resist all tendencies to favour one group of another – and this is really difficult. A Christian school should be able to do this as a matter of course because its starting point should be that all are made in God’s image by dint of their humanity.
A ‘good school’ also encourages prudent risk taking, which implies the possibility of ‘failure.’ My daughter applied to two elite universities and I need to be honest, last year I was uncomfortable with her applying to her first choice institution, for fear of rejection. The school encouraged her to ‘go for it.’ They were right, I was, if not wrong, nervous in the extreme. Parents have to accept that a ‘good’ school might be the catalyst for domestic tension! Sometimes the school might know best!
A ‘good school’ creates the space to make friends, often with the unlikeliest of people, it is able to do so because it believes in the inherent value of each and every individual, irrespective of ‘objective’ measures of attainment.’ Divergence and quirkiness are regarded favourably.
Trust, humility, dialogue, divergence, prudent risk taking and space; are these hallmarks of good school? If so, where can you find such schools?
I know of two:
Waddesdon C of E Secondary School and Monkton Combe.
Both work for their constituents, because both work at being ‘good.’ One is a state school, the other independent. Its the ethos that matters not the legal structure.