Last night, the LTC at Shenley Brook End School played host to what will be a series of events around the country hosted by various educational organisations, a national symposium, web discussion forums, online articles by leading educationalists to stimulate discussion, and other web based opportunities to become involved through Facebook and Twitter.

The format of the evening was a “Question Time” styled panel event with contributions from students, teachers, parents, education experts, local business representatives and the president of ASCL, Ian Bauckham.

The evening was structured around questions and comments from the floor with Chris Holmwood, senior Deputy Headteacher at the school and Principal of its Leadership and Training Centre, noting: “We’re at a time of immense change in Education and it’s important that this is understood and debated. Yet, whilst topics, ranged from “how we measure the success of schools” to discussion around “how many of our intellectual activities will be replaced by machines”, some clear and distinct threads emerged from the debate. None more so than one question that gets to the very heart of school education reform:


What is the purpose of education?

  • The employer’s perspectiveWhen looking at developing nations such as India and Brazil, education has become a great liberator. Education can be an escape from poverty. But it is more than academic outcomes; there is a need to focus on the more intangible elements of education: from a business perspective there are some things you can’t measure.
  • The student’s perspective: there is a danger that governments focus too much on outcomes but it is import not to lose sight of the social integration that school fosters, the relationship skills, the employability skills, the intangible factors that aid the development of the individual and society.
  • The professional association perspectiveboth academic success and personal development are important outcomes of schoolingthere should not be a distinction drawn between hard [and perhaps softer measures] of education. “Grades” are as important as the other skills that education promotes: confidence, creativity, resilience etc. The two are not in opposition.
  • The teacherit is about time we take far more seriously the issue of relationships in schools: between pupils, and between staff and pupils, recognising that education is more holistic and children are more than cognitive facilities on legs which are producing the exam outcomes.
  • The parentlearning is not just about school. The endgame of education is to create the rounded individual who is our future; the future of our economy; the future of society – our locality. We have to raise rounded individuals because in recruitment I will have thirty people with strong CVs but I want to meet them as an individual and see if they can talk to me, whether they can work in a team, whether they can communicate.
  • The school leaderI spend a lot of time with trainee teachers and they want to change the world and I want to help them do it.


Chris Holmwood is right. We need this debate now because education, in every country, is experiencing systematic and sustained reform; it presents great challenges but also great opportunities. Perhaps the greatest opportunity is to engage with a debate about what education is for. What appears certain, and this sentiment is echoed across national educational movements like Whole Education, work by the Human Scale Foundation and published research by think tanks such as the Institute of Public Policy Research (IPPR), is that, ‘the focus on delivering measurable outcomes has neglected the importance of human relationships’ and, moreover, it ‘risks reducing the complexity and texture of human experience to a simple number, leading to policies and services that do not address the core of a problem’.[1] Even respected international empirical measures such as PISA (Program for International Student Assessment) do not address this issue. It requires a redefinition of the very goals of education as well as its outcomes.

By redefining the goals of education through a relational lens, and a common language and framework of relationships, education becomes less about personal development and far more about the contribution of the individual to the social and political world as a community and as a humanity. In order to answer the fundamental question about what education should be for, Relational Thinking suggests a new vision for what we want to achieve as a society and the processes by which to achieve it; it suggests a new vision for organisations, which results in a different set of academic outcomes, and a different pedagogical process to achieve it. It signals a Copernican revolution which would transform the world we live in.

[1]Muir, R. and Cooke, G. ed. (2012) The Relational State: How Recognising the Importance of Human Relationships could Revolutionise the Role of the State, Institute for Public Policy Research

Leave a Comment