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Education Sunday 24 June 2018
The opportunities and obstacles to individual pupils, to a fully rounded and life enriching education

Talk given by Mr Adrian Clarke BA (Hons) Dunelm, Dip Oxon, PGCE

I am a secondary school teacher with 14 years’ experience in the state sector and currently, Head of Careers Education.  Prior to that I  taught history, law, business English and citizenship. My current role involves me in providing information, advice and guidance to 11 to 18 year olds. My job requires me to help young people navigate around the obstacles and seize the myriad of opportunities available them. Invariably this means them either going to study at university, applying for an apprenticeship, or getting a job, and possibly taking a gap year.

Today’s sermon is a fascinating and challenging topic.  I hope to do it justice by utilising my experience as a parent, teacher, concerned citizen Christian and dare I say an optimist. I believe in the transformational power of education and the pivotal role it plays in all our lives.

This often widely quoted phrase “To whom much is given much is expected” is true.  We are truly blessed to be given an education paid for by the taxpayer. Despite its detractors and shortcomings we must never forget how far we have come.   The 1870 Foster Education Act stands as the very first piece of legislation to deal specifically with the provision of education in Britain. Most importantly, it demonstrated a commitment to provision on a national scale. So therefore I say to you all is that we should offer gratitude, appreciation, thanksgiving for our teachers, families and all who help us. I would not be here today if it was not for the efforts and sacrifices of others.

There are many obstacles and opportunities for young people.  I wish to convey now that I do not see these obstacles as insurmountable or beyond the power of one’s imagination and spirit. In many ways these are demands often not of our own making but those imposed by society, our family circumstances, economic status and sometimes a genetic predisposition.  A young person's journey through the education system is not smooth but full of challenges. 

Many young people are confronted with many of life’s problems at a tender age and it is fair to say that often they are often not ready and they struggle.  They can often find themselves living John Lennon’s famous quote “Life is the thing that happens to you when you are busy making plans”.

Today’s readings particularly Ecclesiastes 3 remind us of the complex nature of all our lives. In school young people encounter both positive and negative experiences, both can enrich their lives. It is not what happens to you that defines you, it is how you respond to it. This is a very important lesson for young people.

I was born in Lewisham and educated in Barbados and here.  My parents arrived from Barbados in the 1960s and like the Mayor of London, Sadiq Khan, and Home Secretary, Sajeed Javed, my father drove a bus in South London for almost 30 years.  My parents are Barbadian migrants/British Subjects, who came to the mother country to help rebuild Britain and improve their lives. I am from a large family, educated in the state sector. I have worked in the voluntary, charity, private and public sector.

1) My formative education was in Barbados at St John the Baptist School, an Anglican school in the parish of St James, Barbados. Then returning to England to continue my education at St Alfege with St Peters Primary School in Greenwich London.

2) I attended four universities, became a min pupil barrister at Mike Mansfield QC chambers, 13 Tooks Court,  I worked as an outdoor clerk  at Merriman White Solicitors and became graduate trainee at Linklaters Law firm. I also worked as a community worker at Caribbean House the then leading Afro Caribbean Child Care agency in the UK.

3) I have work in advertising at the BBC World Service, Choice FM Radio, Pride Magazine and other publishers.

When considering the obstacles facing young people.  Firstly I believe that as Albert Einstein said:  ” Everybody is a genius. But if you judge a fish by its ability to climb a tree, it will live its whole life believing that it is stupid."

We have a 19th century education system where young people's full potential/talents are not realised. The emphasis is instead placed on academic excellence and rigorous testing. Schools are not judged on places of learning but on narrow academic outcomes. Exams, assessments, levels of progress are increasingly the barometer for success. Yes, academic skills are important but it is only one type of intelligence. We ought to wake up to the breadth and depth of human intelligence. Multiple intelligences, Kinesthetic, spatial, interpersonal, emotional. The OFSTED regimented criteria for schools Progress 8 is not reflective of young people as whole persons.
The net results for the young are that schools have become exam factories. This is exacerbated by a mismatch between the skills that are needed for the 21st century and the current skills required to past tests. Memorising facts etc.

A recent report by a Davos think tank highlighted top skills for the 21st century as creativity, emotional intelligence, soft skills, complex problem solving, and collaboration in a technical age.   Young people progress can therefore be hindered by living in an increasingly fast-paced environment preparing themselves for jobs – many of which that will be done by robots.
1) Depression and stress are some of the main issues that today’s teenagers face. Mental Health problems concerns are increasingly above the radar coupled with massive technological changes, rampant social media usage, and these trends are having some negative impact on the health of young people. Research is beginning to show the loss of happiness and the search for meaning in their lives. Resilience and reframing experience particularly negative experience can help with positive mental outlook. 

2) Parents:  Having wealthy parents give you the 3 Ps - parents, power and planning or alternatively poorer parents having to work excessive hours,  lack of affordable homes, skyrocketing property.

3) The net results are widening social inequality and lack of social mobility. 7% of pupils attend private schools yet in some cases over 90% top jobs and positions of influence are held by this group, eg. High court Judges, generals even the BBC.

4) These obstacles for young people are reinforced further by the absence of character education in schools, biggest barriers for schools are centred on competing demands on staff time. Competing time pressures were reported to largely come from the introduction of new curriculum specifications and pressures such as performance-related pay and inspection requirements that encouraged schools to focus on academic subjects and results. 

The opportunities for young people are considerable. Nelson Mandela said: “Education is the most powerful weapon which you can use to change the world”.

A rounded education can promote a growth mind set and counter a fixed mind set .Poverty in its crudest form can be construed as the lack of imagination, whereas a positive mind set can raise your confidence and make you believe that the world is your oyster.  Oscar Wilde put it like this: ”We are all in the gutter but some of us are looking at the stars”.

1) Young people should be encouraged to positively use the internet, new technology.  It is not merely for pleasure, photos, selfies but can offer intellectual capital. Education is not confined to schools but begins at home with families and is about being curious and listening to God through the power of prayer. Try  and discover your purpose this is aligned with the Christian teaching of seeking wisdom “Seek ye first the kingdom of God and his righteousness all these things will be added onto you".
2) Greater spiritual and moral education: Pupils must be encouraged to regard people of all faiths, races and cultures with respect and tolerance and understand right from wrong.

3) Pupils should respect the civil and criminal law of England, encourage students to accept responsibility for their behaviour, show initiative and be independent learners.

4) Promote democracy pluralism.

5) Economic wellbeing i.e. jobs etc.

6) To develop as people, form friendships  ”No man is an island”.

To summarise: What is an enriching education for a fully rounded life?

It is one that encompasses mental, moral, physical, social and spiritual education. There are fundamental reasons, rooted in the Bible, which have motivated centuries of Christian involvement in schooling in this country and around the world. The God of all creation is concerned with everything related to education – wisdom, truth and knowledge; the learning and teaching of understanding, virtues and habits that shape individuals; families and communities; the worth of each person; what is passed on from one generation to another; in whom and what people trust; what people hope for; and more. All things and all people are intrinsically related to Jesus Christ, and that sets the horizon within which He is to be understood and followed. It would be a narrow and unbiblical position, alien to the traditions and current practice of the Church of England, to try to separate the life of the Church from involvement in education.

A core desire that we have found expressed in many ways is for ‘life in all its fullness’ (John 10:10). It is about educating the whole person, our right to have an enriching life must be matched with our responsibilities to our fellowman, to Love thy neighbour as thyself, one of the main commandments that we must follow if we are to be truly whole and complete. 

Pupils must have Educating for wisdom, knowledge and skills: enabling discipline, confidence and delight in seeking wisdom and knowledge, and developing talents in all areas of life.
Pupils must have Educating for hope and aspiration: enabling healing, repair and renewal, coping wisely when things go wrong, opening horizons and guiding people into ways of fulfilling them.
Pupils must have Educating for community and living well together: a core focus on relationships, participation in communities and the qualities of character that enable people to flourish together.

Educating for dignity and respect: the basic principle of respect for the value and preciousness of each person, treating each person as a unique individual of inherent worth.

Finally for pupils to be fully enriched, education needs to have a core focus on relationships and commitments, participation in communities and institutions, and the qualities of character that enable people to flourish together. For the first time in history, there is now something approaching global agreement on the worth of each person through the United Nations Declaration of Human Rights and its successor declarations, covenants and conventions, including that in 2006 on the rights of persons with disabilities. How that is worked out in each nation and each school is a massive task that calls on the inspiration and resources offered by each tradition of faith and belief. This is what we mean by life in all its fullness and an enriching education for young people.

Thanks for listening today. It has been a pleasure and a privilege and a deep personal honour to   share my thoughts with you today.

Adrian Clarke BA (Hons) Dunelm Dip Oxon, PGDL, PGCE

Adrian Clarke, 02/07/2018
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