The provocation at the heart of this session was “How will children acquire their knowledge and skills” and we were invited first to reflect on our own schooling and to identify our favourite teacher. For me that was both very easy and very difficult – George Hamilton, the Head at my Primary school and the man who first helped me experience the wonder of finding out about things. That was easy but more difficult was leaving out all those other amazing people who helped me along my road and the more I thought about them the more I remembered them, see them in my minds eye as they were all those years ago. George Barlow, Peter Ince, Roger Dalladay (who called me “Grumio” since, according to our first latin book “Grumio est coquus”), Ian Harvey, Chris “Bernie” Holt, Alan Rowe my first form tutor, ACVF – Major Andrew Charles Vincent Foster – who had a mean trick of sneaking up behind you and grasping your earlobe firmly between the nails of his thumb and forefinger (and also had to explain the meaning of the word “lethargic” to me after describing me as such on a school report) but then completely surprised me by standing by me at a most difficult time of my (then) short life, Sean Wylie who was described in his obituary in the Guardian as being second only to Alan Turing in his contribution to the success of Hut 8 at Bletchley Park; the list goes on.
Why can I remember those people so very clearly after 40 years (and more)? They were so very much more than teachers. They were advisors, companions, mentors, intellectual safety-net holders, challengers, guides, role models but never, ever friends. They instilled in me the love of finding out stuff that I retain to this day; they were the reason I became a teacher because I know how very lucky I was to have known them and how much they meant to me. They changed my life and I have a debt to them which I hope I have repaid in some small measure by trying to give the same gift to others.
Why is this important? To me, it’s important because it shows the power that education and, especially, a teacher has to change the world. But they have to be given the time, the space and, most importantly, the trust of Society to do it. I don’t think that it’s a coincidence that all this took place before the advent of the National Curriculum, SATs, OFSTED and school league tables. Education is about so much more than learning stuff but it seems that the powers that be have forgotten that. I was so very lucky to be in a time and at a place that realised that and allowed the teachers to do exactly what they were supposed to do: teach.
So – how will children acquire their knowledge and skills in the future? If they’re really lucky, with the help of people as dedicated and talented as those named above.