Shortly before Christmas 2015, the Education Committee decided that they would address this question. ("Now that's a good idea", thought many.) They invited public responses,  identifying three questions of the enquiry:

  • What should be the purpose of education for children of all ages in England ?
  • What measures should be used to evaluate the quality of education against this purpose?
  • How well does the current education system perform against these measures?

They received many responses, and you can see them  - and read them all - here.  The collection of submissions is a powerful set of documents, and worth publishing separately as a case study, we think. (In this article we are giving you an additional link to our original submission, it having been edited to conform.)

In our submission we began, as others also did, suggesting that they actually should begin by asking a preliminary question: 'What are the characteristics of learners?'

To be followed by their question And Then: 'so, what should education look like'?

We really hope that the portfolio of  submissions will cause the group of MPs to think widely, and we are sure that some of them will. 

In their first meeting last week (see the following video from the Parliament website) Gateshead MP Ian Mearns endeavours to steer Michael Wilshaw away from his 'performance indicators' back to the subject of the enquiry:

I didn't think that Mr. Mearns at all succeeded, but perhaps Sir Wilshaw is so bound up in issues of measuring that he can't understand the question. I think Ian Mearns posed it clearly enough. You will see that the Chairperson closed the meeting saying that they had successfully probed the issue, though I couldn't see that they had actually begun. Please post us a comment on to this Article if you think I have missed something there. 

The Committee plan to have another discussion in April, and then to publish findings in May-June. Lets hope they become even more assiduous in their probing.  I am imagining all the MP's right now eagerly reading all the submissions over coffee, and ringing up Ken Robinson, Robin Alexander, Peter Moss to discuss. I'm taking the office phone home so that I don't miss the call.

Our submission begins:

"Dear Committee,

Your three questions are all key, and rightly you place the first one first.The question, phrased slightly more broadly, is 'What is the purpose of education?For many, now and over the centuries, this question does not stand alone, and you've followed it with two questions in the area of 'performance'.This is fair enough. But beginning with the question 'what is education for?' is a hard place to start, especially for politicians, for whom questions of economy (growth, global competition, etc) tend to dominate.

We invite you instead to come at this question in another way.

Firstly, to consider: 'What are the characteristics of human learners?' Then we are better able to consider the next two questions: 'What is education for?' and 'What should education look like?' (Then you can also ask: Does it actually look like this? Is it good enough? How can we tell? If not why not etc – which I think are what you mean by your second and third questions.)

We have been working on your question for 20 plus years, within the field of early childhood education, along with others who've also been so doing for much longer. Along the way, within our action-research approach, we've worked to tease out some basic principles: they are challenging, yet helpful, and the results – in terms not only of children's engagement, but also their rounded development of skills, is compulsive. In this introduction we'll introduce them."

You can read it here. We welcome your comments. 

Does anyone want to review/edit the portfolio of submissions? We are sure that it would be most valuable.