Education, Education, Education, was a mantra we heard not many years ago. A few weeks ago the Minster Council had a residential at Whalley Abbey, near Clitheroe.
THE ABBEY was a Benedictine foundation like the Minster, and we were working hard on the next Minster Development Plan, which has strong Benedictine themes running through it. Teaching and learning was always important for the monastic communities, so no wonder that it was they who wrote some of the very first books taken from the Hebrew Scriptures, and eventually translated both Greek and Latin texts into English for the people of this land to understand. The Book of Common Prayer was written so that ordinary people could have their own copy at home – almost unheard of pre 1662. No surprise then to find that it was the Churches across Europe who provided the Schools for education – as they do today in much of Africa – many years before the State took over that responsibility. Education today is very much a mixed economy: none more so than in our own town – we have Academies, Grammar Schools, Schools which have a strong faith ethos and schools which have none, State schools and Independent. Free Schools are the new initiative on the block, and without doubt we shall have a few of those before very long.
Teaching has always been a vocation, from those early monastic days, to now. Most teachers don’t do the job for the money, but with a strong desire to share their knowledge with others, and to prepare the students with skills that will take them into the place of work and through their whole lives. Shifts in the curriculum take place every decade, as society moves on, especially the world of work. To have an open path way and access to University available to everyone is imperative, and to also understand that not everyone wants an academic pathway, and that to provide and choose a vocational pathway, should have equal standing in society. We need scientists and medics, in the same way that we need plumbers and shop keepers, and the key to building a stable society is making sure that individual boys and girls can find their true potential in life, and schools are one of the places to develop this.
We have some wonderful schools in Halifax with dedicated and hardworking staff. There are some excellent Governors, who give of their time freely, in their local communities to support their local school, and they bring objectivity and wisdom to the table. The current system of regulation by OFSTED can be a crushing experience for School communities, with a political driver that all schools should be judged equally and that judgements are driven by results – its almost like the Premier Football League. My experience of OFSTED in recent years has been demoralising for the Education system, with teachers leaving the profession and Schools unable to recruit staff and Head Teachers in particular. Whilst there is no doubt that regulation is needed, the current system needs reviewing urgently.
In recent weeks, I’ve received letters from schools, telling me that because the funding for Schools in Halifax has fallen as a result of the current formula, they are now looking at redundancies, larger classes, shorter days, smaller curriculum. This funding principally comes direct from central government and is not controlled locally. Let’s not return to the 1980s when I remember as a child schools being closed because of strikes, and water pouring through class rooms, because there was no program to re build schools that were worn out and needed pulling down. If we want our young people to succeed, then they need the financial resources which provide a proper environment for both teaching and learning. Not to invest in education will store up trouble for the future prosperity of our nation, and with Brexit looming, now is surely the time to put money in, not take it out?