What every child needs...

 Dennis Hayes
Professor of Education at the University of Derby

Over the past few weeks it has been difficult to move in Asda, Sainsbury's, M&S, TESCO, or any other store or shop that displays banners proclaiming 'Back to School!' Offers on clothes, trainers, pens, pencils, and backpacks filled them to overflowing with families arguing about what to buy.

After many years as a teacher, teacher trainer and writer on education, I have the answer to the question about what one essential thing parents should have bought - - a single purchase that could transform the education of children and young people and make every parent's and every teacher's life better.

The cynics amongst you will be thinking: 'What's he selling? Is he marketing some new fangled educational programme or game like the ridiculous Brain Gym or Nintendo's Brain Training?' Well, I am not selling anything and what I suggest you 'buy' costs between 0p and 10p.

It's a carrier bag and you need only one. It can be a free one from Tesco, one that biodegrades to look like mice are nesting in it, or an indestructible 'bag for life'. Whatever makes you feel better or whatever you can afford. But you don't even need a real carrier bag. A 'virtual' one, what we used to call an 'imaginary' carrier bag will do.

Can a carrier bag transform education?Yes. It can.

Over the last seventeen years government and pressure groups have poured all their concerns into education. Schools and teachers are expected to solve all of society's problems from lack of civic participation and community cohesion to obesity, low self-esteem, poor 'happiness' ratings, binge drinking and knife crime. It makes you sorry for teachers. They just can't do it. When it comes to solving society's problems teachers are pretty useless. This is not to blame them. They have been burdened with too much work that they are not capable of doing. Solving society's problems is the work of politicians not teachers. The work of the teacher, we seem to have forgotten, is education.

If teachers want authority and respect, they can only get it by being able to pass their knowledge on to their pupils. Otherwise they are just moralising adults trying to influence children (and failing). This is not to say they should be heartless. If problems come up they can offer informal help. But their real job is to teach their subjects and pass on knowledge and skills to children. As teachers have become burdened with more political and social concerns subject knowledge is getting squeezed out of the curriculum.

To get political objectives out of schools, and to put knowledge back in, is the purpose of the carrier bag. A Lebanese friend told me that during the civil war, when children and their families faced terrible dangers, the teachers in one school greeted them at the beginning of term with carrier bags and told them: 'We know you have problems. You are worried about the war, your family and your friends but we want you to put all your worries in a carrier bag, leave them outside and come into school and learn something.'

All schools should be like this. They should be havens from political goals and social and personal problems. Places where children and young people can get the knowledge that will really help them in the future. Every parent should send their children back to school with their problems left in a carrier bag. Likewise, teachers should put solving society's problems in a carrier bag and invite their pupils into school to learn. Schools will be transformed and parents will get enthusiastic answers once more when they ask the question 'What did you learn in school today?'

This article appeared in The Huffington Post first


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