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October 2021
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The Revising of Educational Relationships

We live in a world that bastions the individual and celebrates specialism. Since the C18th we have been steadily outsourcing not only industry, health and education, but now, according to Hochschild’s ‘Commodity Frontier’ even our personal relationships. Whilst compartmentalising our lives may increase efficiency, it’s detrimental to our education system and our children. An effect we’re seeing as the UK slides down the OECD ranks in Math, English and Science, faces increasing swathes of ‘Neets’ and witnesses over 20,000, 14 year olds migrating away from formal education.

As a private tutor and homeschooler, I believe education and indeed success are about relationships and not the exclusive domain of individual merit. As Malcolm Gladwell stipulates in ‘Outliers’, the same applies to everyone, from Rock Stars to Scientists. Exam results are not a measure of one’s IQ, but ones relationship capital, with psychotherapists explaining that, through parental nurturing, a child experiences being thought about which leads to the capacity to think. An effect that continues well into adulthood, with study after study finding students more likely to get A’s, have better social skills and stay in education for longer with active, nay simply interested parents.

It is unsurprising therefore, that in tandem with our academic slump, the UK is now at not at the bottom of the Child Well Being Table and according to Unicef has the least nurtured children in the developed world. This detachment is not only limited to children either, as 72% of parents have been recorded as feeling similarly isolated by the education systems esoteric practise, desiring further involvement, nay attachment to the system.

So to halt educational decline, close the class attainment gap and make learning relevant, we need a re-vision and acknowledgement of extended learning relationships. For the psychologist Vygostsky and critical pedagogue Freire, teaching is not the sole domain of the school, nor the trained teacher. Indeed education should move away from the traditional teacher-pupil didacticism, towards a dialogue. Vygotsky advocates the use of a more knowledgeable other, who, according to the Sociologist Lareau ‘concertedly cultivates’ the interests and machinations of an other. As a result, education becomes a democratic conversation, with people working ‘with’ each other as opposed to ‘on’ one another.

Yet currently, the education institution is proving impervious. Reacting to Gove’s suggestion of parents fielding union strikes, teachers and even the head of the Association of Teachers and Lecturers, furiously condemned this idea, seeing it as a ludicrous notion that parents could act as teachers.

Although I do not want to boycott the teaching profession, there is a dire need for them and the school to appreciate and utilise other learning relationships.

Practically, parents and community should to be drafted inside the confines of the institution to become mentors, coaches, experts and even assessors, included in the fabric of the formal learning environment. Following the example of Cramlington school, parents evenings can be reworked to feature students presenting work to parents, giving greater impetus to the learner and saving parents from the austere and oft confusing teacher confrontation.

More innovative gestures like the web based ‘School of Everything’, espousing the belief in everybody’s capacity to teach and learn, with its Ebay approach to sharing skills, should also be considered. Rochdale Council for example have produced a directory of wider learning opportunities, ensuring an awareness of the wider community of teachers.

Simultaneously to drawing from the community, the school needs to look to itself and acknowledge the virtues of peer to peer mentoring. Lateral teaching, proves consistently beneficial to both the academics of the learner and the social and emotional skills of the mentor. Indeed as Charles Leadbeater for the Innovation Unit states, -If just one per cent of the current school population were to become pupil-teachers, that would be 70,000 children.”. Also benefits can be seen from reducing the distance between school teacher and pupil, as seen in the John Monash Science School, where teachers planning areas are built into the school’s open spaces, literally working alongside students.

Ultimately learning is about relationships, the more attached we are to these relationships, the more we can learn, so it’s high time the system co-operate, accommodate and learn from the totality of its parts and becomes a team player.

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