Final Thoughts

Posted in : Stevenson's Education Updates on 26 May 2016
John Stevenson
Education Consultant

Looking back over the previous forty-nine editions of Stevenson’s Headlines, I see that I have covered a wide variety of topics and in a number of cases more than once. Exam results have been a popular topic, as has university admissions and various takes on literacy. I have filed articles from and about Nepal, Yellowstone National Park, Nova Scotia, New Zealand and Australia. I have touched on issues of academic selection, school funding and the difficulties of recruiting school leaders. So over five years, ten editions per year and a total of some 50,000 words, I seem to have found something to say about a great variety of things, mostly, if not exclusively, broadly related to education which, if I have any expertise at all, is supposed to be my specialist subject. So, for fear of out-staying my welcome, repeating myself once too often and/or (horror of horrors!) saying something even more stupid and out-of-touch than I have as yet managed, I have decided to call it a day (or possibly a month).

This will be the last edition of Stevenson’s Headlines.

I want to thank Barry Phillips and Scott Alexander for giving me the opportunity to put my point of view out there throughout this time and all the staff of Legal-island who have supported my efforts and made it all possible. Needless to say, all remaining errors of omission and commission (not to say punctuation, spelling and grammar) have been and continue to be exclusively my own.

I could conclude by revisiting those many education topics which remain current and talk again about academisation in England, the school funding crisis at home and/or the crucial role of parents in providing the springboard from which children are able to get the most out of their schooling. I could also mention the row that is brewing about teachers’ pay and conditions of service or the increasingly contentious role of the Education and Training Inspectorate. The difficulty of recruiting top quality heads has not gone away and the gender imbalance within the teaching profession and the students in higher education continues to attract concern. However, I think I need to try and say some things that maybe get closer to the heart of the matter and reflect more appropriately what I think I have learned during my particular educational journey.

I used to bore my kids with a spoof monologue of my own semi-fictionalised biography in which I travelled bare-footed and bedraggled from the back streets of Belfast in the 1950s and 60s to become the Principal of Sullivan Upper School in 1998, by way of Donegal Road Primary School, Fane Street Secondary School, the United World College of the Atlantic, University College London, The University of Ulster and the Open University. They probably did not get the Monty Python reference to the famous ‘you think you had it tough...’ skit but they did understand that I was pulling their collective legs about how easy their school days were compared to mine. In reality I did have shoes, my parents, although not educated past the age of 14 themselves, were incredibly supportive of me throughout my education and I was in receipt of a full grant, with Inner London weighting and travel expenses during my undergraduate days. So, in a number of important respects, I had it rather easier than them. Without the internet and social media and multiple TV channels, I suspect it was school work that kept me from boredom most of the time.

However, for them and for me, education has provided the door through which multiple opportunities have been made accessible. That is why it is so important to continue to work hard at home and internationally, to afford access to quality education for all children. Without it we waste lives and squander the greatest resource we have, which is the potential that all people possess to grow into high achieving, purposeful and constructive adults who can contribute meaningfully to society.

So, about a month ago I was contacted through LinkedIn by two men who are now approaching their 50th year. They are both doctors, one of medicine and the other a Ph. D. in biology and both now live in the north of England. One is a director of his own biotech consultancy firm having been a university researcher and lecturer for many years and the other is a University Professor, a leading cardiothoracic surgeon and director of research and development in an NHS Foundation Trust. They were friends at school and I remember them well as two of the brightest students I ever taught: they were both in my class for GCSE and then A Level Biology which they completed in 1985. They both seem to remember me well and recall not only my teaching but also my awful jokes in class, as well as my own rather over-enthusiastic enjoyment of them. They both wanted to thank me for helping them on their way all those years ago and to my great pride and delight, have been generous enough to say that I have had a lasting influence on them.

This I have learned: people are not fixed at the age of 18: they still have a lot of growing, maturing and developing to do. We never really know how and where young people will end up but if we can give them an appropriate education and a love of learning, we give them the opportunity to go where their talents and interests take them and allow them to decide for themselves what and who they want to be. Education is important. Teachers are important. Parents are important. Our children are the future and we need to invest in them wholeheartedly.

I hope the new Minister for Education takes note!

Thank you for reading my ramblings over the years and best wishes to all! 

This article is correct at 26/05/2016
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John Stevenson
Education Consultant

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