Nick Dennis's Blog

Pessimism of the intellect, optimism of the will.

Category: #purpos/ed


Saturday saw the culmination of months of planning with the launch of the Teaching, Learning & Assessment Conference, Berkhamsted.

One of my colleagues likened the event to throwing a party and taking pleasure from seeing others have a good time. From the feedback received so far, it seems that many got something practical to take away from the event. I can only thank the workshop leaders, main speakers, students and delegates for making it work.

The question is, where do we go from here? Alistair Smith in his presentation mentioned the problematic nature of events such as this and TeachMeets because they appear to be disconnected from everything else (a topic to be addressed in a further blog post). This was never in the plan for TLAB. I felt very strongly from the beginning that what was said and done at the conference should be spread as far and wide as possible.  The first thing we intend to do is release the video from the main sessions via YouTube (with Alistair Smith’s talk  available here and Bill Lucas’ talk here). The second thing in our plan is to include the video, summaries of the workshops and their resources  into an iBook that will be available via the iTunes store. There will be no cost for this.

We are already looking ahead to next year and your feedback (via a form coming your way) is needed. A couple of things we already have in mind are a stronger Prep/Primary focus and also a distinctive leadership strand where colleagues who have ‘walked the talk’ will share their experiences. One other thing I feel very strongly about is the ability to bring young people/students to the event and we are considering the possibility of providing childcare facilities for parents.

We hope to see you next year for what promises to be a more focussed event.


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What is the purpose of education? Purpos/ed

Many of the excellent contributions to the purpos/ed debate have focused on specific and very persuasive arguments. My addition is going to solely focus on principles. Why? Because they matter. They drive the hard ‘effective’ strategies when strength is low or there are hurdles to face. They also inform the decisions many of the other participants point to but remain hidden by the policies/actions we all regularly draw attention to. Principles also drive what I do on a day-to-day basis and the debate also allows me to answer Ken Booth‘s challenge that sometimes we need to have the courage of our convictions and speak out.

Goethe’s statement, ‘treat people as if they were what they ought to be, and you can help them become what they are capable of becoming’ captures for me the problem we face in terms of thinking about the purpose of education and also the opportunities. How do we treat our students, family, friends, neighbours, colleagues, conference delegates and people we pass on the street? What are we helping them to become?

I believe the key purpose of education  (in its most expansive sense and not just in the classroom) is to help us become better. Better than we were yesterday. Better than we were last week, last month or last year. The resulting effect of being better might mean becoming a more proficient worker, dancer, teacher, student or scientist. However, these tags or identities refer ultimately to what we do, not who we are. Even changing identity to something more personal, be it a son, daughter, husband, wife or friend does not get to the core focus for education even though our relationships based on these descriptors will undoubtedly improve as a result. For me, the purpose of education is to become a better human being; recognising that we share a commonality with others around us and that we are bound to the ones who walked before and the ones to come.  It allows us to draw on the experiences of the past and help prepare us to face the future (with all its attendant opportunities and issues). Conceived in this sense, it allows us to remove the primacy of the veneer (worker, teacher, student, friend) and reinstates these (important) roles within the context that they form part of a larger whole. Doing so would also allow us to rethink the relationship of means and ends and unlock the powerful impact this reconfiguration can have for the lives of people around us when we do treat them as they should be.

My view is unashamedly liberal and deeply humanistic. It does not provide all the answers nor should it (if it did, it simply means I am not asking big enough questions). Nobody should pretend that there is an easy answer to the question ‘what is the purpose of education?’ but I believe that we already have the capacity to achieve a resolution but we must start by being clear: what are our principles?

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