UK: Etonian Tony Little doesn’t want British schools to follow China
WORLD / U.K – Eton College’s outgoing headmaster Tony Little doesn’t think British schools should emulate the “league-table” success that China’s academic system produces.
Support for Barrowford’s note to students
A strong advocate of school-life balance, Tony Little wrote a piece in Viewpoint on the Radio Times. He wrote of the Barrowford Primary School headmaster’s note to her students (read the story here). He had keen interest on the public’s response to the said note as many either felt the note was “an overdue and necessary personal support of children, or a betrayal of their futures”.
“I have some sympathy with the criticism. We have a national tendency to underestimate what young people are capable of achieving academically, in some cases dramatically so, and our expectations should be high. We should allow no excuse for poor teaching. A sharp focus on performance is a good thing, but there is a great deal more to an effective and good education than jostling for position in a league table. The Lancashire teachers were right – there are many ways of being smart.”
“For a start, measuring only the easily measurable, such as exam results, can be misleading. There is a real risk that the measurable parts become more important than the whole. And we compound the problem by having an unimaginative exam system, little changed from Victorian times, which obliges students to sit alone at their desks in preparation for a world in which, for much of the time, they will need to work collaboratively.”
We are following China, when China wants to follow our system
Former Education Secretary Michael Gove’s speech in April to the British Chambers of Commerce about vocational education, literacy and numeracy, he highlighted for outstanding schools to “take the lead in our new Chinese maths teacher exchange programme, inviting Chinese teachers to England and sending our leading maths teachers to China, to learn from each other – and to help make sure that our pupils get a maths education every bit as good as that in the most successful jurisdiction in the world.”
In his article, Tony Little related his conversation with a top school leader in Shanghai who voiced reservations that their school system was being stifled by tough university entrance exams, and was looking to Britain for inspiration on how to teach youngsters the skills they need to work in a global economy.
“Here is the irony; we seem intent on creating the same straitjacket the Chinese are trying to wriggle out of… We should be wary of emulating Shanghai just as they themselves see some value in the liberal values of an all-round education – something we have traditionally been good at.”
He concluded his writing with the following line:
“Let us stand up for robust academic rigour and applaud our young people for their achievements, but let us not confuse league table success with a good education.”
A spokesperson for the Department for Education responded to Mr Little’s criticism: “We make no apology for holding schools to account for the results their pupils achieve in national tests and public examinations. Parents deserve to know that their children are receiving the very best possible teaching. But all good schools know that there is no tension between academic success and an excellent all-round education.”
A firm believer of morals and values
This isn’t the first time the headmaster of the prestigious Eton College – which lists Prince Harry, David Cameron, The Duke of Cambridge, Boris Johnson and the Archbishop of Canterbury among its alumni – had disagreed with the pressure on league-table academic success.
In a 2013 interview with The Guardian, when asked how he would advise Gove (the Education Secretary at the time), Mr Little stated the problem was “finding the right balance between a drive for standards, so that every child in the country is enabled to access different types of education that they might wish to access, on the one hand; and on the other, not being susceptible to a top-down driven measurement culture, which reduces the key elements of what I think a school fundamentally is about, which is to do with holistic development – the all-rounded person; enabling young people to develop that true sense of self-worth, which is, in my view, absolutely essential if [they] are going to be able to stand up for themselves and stand up for a purpose higher than themselves.”
Tony Little is retiring as the headmaster of Eton College in 2015, having served since 2002.