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Reimagining Education
  • Classroom Teaching

This blog is from one of COBIS’ Supporting Associates.

Written by Graham Moore, Founding Director of humanutopia

As I approach sixty next month, I have based these thoughts on my thirty-eight years in education, the past twenty of which I have worked with over half a million students in over a thousand schools across the UK and more recently around the world. These observations are based on thousands of interactions both communally and personally that I have shared with young people.

One only has to spend ten minutes scouring through what was formerly Twitter and now calls itself X, to realise just how many staff in education are struggling to cope with the demands of their job. From teaching assistants to headteachers, record numbers of education professionals are overwhelmed in one way or another by the sheer enormity, diversity and complexity of their role.

Teaching has become almost untenable in the modern world. The well-used cliché about our school system being created in the 18th century and not being fit for purpose as we continue to force square pegs into round holes whilst we simultaneously expect fish to climb trees. Only a very small minority of people naively believe all is well in our schools and our methodology is doing just fine.

Most of us in education recognise that despite advances in technology, in school buildings, facilities, resources, etc, it has become increasingly difficult to force feed our students with a staple diet of academic facts that are then expected to be regurgitated under stringent examination conditions, just doesn’t cut the mustard anymore. Indeed, even employers have stopped using this tired old yardstick in their recruitment process. The mere concept of this system falling under the banner of education is ludicrous and archaic.

We are just not moving forward, indeed, in many cases we are going backwards with an increase in schools using draconian measures to control students. Of course, there are some beacons of hope, where teachers and schools display outstanding practice, sharing and shining a light a path for us to follow. Sadly though, these examples are few and far between.

Sure, students are bringing more complex challenges, behaviours and mindsets into school. The ‘average’ class or subject teacher is nowhere near skilled or trained well enough to deal with the myriad problems they face whilst trying to settle a class down and try to teach them. The unprecedented and diverse range of needs go way beyond help with normal school work with a seemingly infinite list of young people needing support for their mental health.

It is high time that we reimagined the purpose of education; high time we rethought our curricula; high time we matched our provision with the needs, hopes and aspirations of our wonderful youthful generations. We absolutely know that the lame interpretation of ‘soft skills’ has all too often been an excuse not to teach and develop them. Those of us who really listen and observe young people know that these are real life skills that are anything but ‘soft’.

Our young people need to be welcomed into emotionally and psychologically safe environments by adults who are trauma informed, aware and trained in how to deal with young people and the challenges they bring. Young people need to develop emotional and psychological literacy. They need to learn how to self-regulate their thoughts, feelings and behaviours through the co-regulation from an emotionally available adult who is there to support first and teach later.

Our learning experiences that we provide for our young people should, from a very early age encourage and foster collaborative, cooperative and communicative activities that build empathy, agency and community. Young people should be taught and encouraged to advocate for themselves and others, to build trust and faith in one another.

Our youth need authentic opportunities to listen to each other’s stories and hear each other’s challenges. They need real experiences to see and feel life from a different perspective to create lifelong respect and love for their peers rather than the soul-destroying culture of selfies, muggies and fake realities that our students cannot escape from. 

Young people are lost and so many don’t know which way to turn. So many of them do not like, value or love themselves. So many of them see nothing positive in their lives or themselves. So many of them feel desperately alone and isolated believing they are the only ones suffering because social media makes everyone else’s life so much more glamorous and bearable.

There is no longer room for academic hierarchies and the snobbery associated with them, for even our most able students are struggling to discover who they are beyond the mundanity of academic success. We need to build an education system that reflects the society and world in which we want our youngsters not just to survive but thrive. A system based on justice, inclusion diversity and more than anything else, equity, where individuals are encouraged to discover their own beauty but see the beauty in their peers.

Graham Moore founded humanutopia in 2004 and their programmes have successfully and sustainably touched the lives of hundreds and thousands of young people.

Find out more about humanutopia