For a teacher there must always be a core minimum number of characteristics for an effective, professional, compassionate and positive studying environment where they can meet the individual needs of their pupils. Based on a broad summary of current educational theory and my own personal experience, the necessary factors for teachers to facilitate holistic education include, but may not be limited to;
Creativity and passion to be the defining philosophy
Research-based pedagogy to be the norm for all teachers
Broad and non-prescriptive curricula
Varied school opening hours depending on age of the pupil
Median and modal class size of 8-16
Minimal level of standardised testing
Teaching schedule of teachers to be 10-15 hours a week as the norm
Preparation, marking, admin, attending meetings and counselling students to constitute no more than 25 hours modal working week for a full time teacher
Quality and supported CPD
Communities of Practice both locally and via social media
Quality buildings, facilities and resources
Professional, compassionate and flexible admin staff and support staff
Age appropriate level of discipline / responsibility from students
Mixed aged groups based on subject interest when appropriate
There exist many excellent examples of good practice occurring in classrooms, formal or otherwise, all over the globe. In Finland, a country which is often rated as the best in the world for its school system is characterised by: extensive support for the teacher; a non-obsession with science and maths; little standardised testing; support readily available for struggling students; high teacher status. In contrast to other countries an obsession with standardised testing and admin means that learning often occurs despite the system rather than because of it[i]. There is also the added negative externality of higher levels of stress on students and in some cases suicide, a phenomenon on the rise in South Korea; a country consistently rated in the top 5 education systems in the world[ii]. But if we have the choice of Finnish model and the South Korean model; both systems that produce knowledgeable students. Let us base our systems on the Finnish model where students perform well and are largely happy, stress free and experience several hours of deep practice at school – and can spend the rest of the day playing.
The importance of working with the correct medium and the fact that deep practice is so much more effective than regular practice increases the importance of play. Play is not ‘just’ an activity that pupils do between lessons it serves functions that make for more rounded human beings and even lower levels of stress and a lower likelihood of mental health issues later in life. Ken Robinson has this to say about play,
“Play in its many forms has fundamental roles in all phases of life and especially in the physical, social, emotional and intellectual development of children. The importance of play has been recognised in all cultures; it has been widely studied and endorsed in the human sciences and demonstrated in practice in enlightened schools throughout the world. And yet the standards movement in many countries treats play as a trivial and expendable extra in schools–a distraction from the serious business of studying and passing tests. The exile of play is one of the great tragedies of standardised education”.
Standardised tests can serve a valid function as an impartial measure of skill in some areas. But standardised tests are tools, they are not ideologies. Certainly they are not an inspiring philosophy on which to base an education system. Standardised tests poorly enacted, which they often are given the sheers number that are administered every day, often alienate students and label them as failures, when they might otherwise have found their medium, learnt some functional skills that would enhance their future prospects and have enjoyed their time at school.
[i] See The Finland Phenomenon:Inside the World’s Most Surprising School System
[iii] Robinson and Aronica P. 94
Robinson, K and Aronica, A (2015) Creative Schools: Revolutionizing Education from the Ground Up Allen Lane