"The main driving force for change [in education] in England has become fear: fear of poor exam results, fear of poor inspection grades, fear of sliding down the national league tables, and fear of public humiliation and closure. Fear is inimical to learning."
"We trust schools to act in the best interests of their pupils..."
The first of the two quotations above comes from Frank Coffield's excellent new book From Exam Factories to Communities of Discovery. The second is from a statement by the Department for Education, quoted in an article in this week's Observer newspaper. Now the DfE statement was referring specifically to the nutritional quality of food available in schools, but it does raise the more general question of the extent to which central government and its agenices really do trust educational institutions. Is the main driving force for change in education fear or is it trust? It certainly cannot be both, since the more fear there is within any system the less trust can develop, and vice versa.
A climate of fear might just help in the short term to boost shallow learning but it can only detract from real learning. As Coffield says (on pages 41 and 43):
"Young people emerge from 11 years of constant testing better at passing tests but poorer at learning.
Those who pass the tests and gain qualifications are not independent, critical thinkers who know how to take responsibility for their own learning, because they have not had the opportunity to play such a role.
If our education system is to help produce 'independent, critical thinkers who know how to take responsibility for their own learning' there is an urgent need to reduce institutional fear and to develop institutional and professional trust.
But how are we to do this after so many years in which trust has been eroded?