Five Themes from Education Systems Around the World- Shân Wareing

Like most students, I don’t normally enjoy back-to-back lectures. Yet despite two days in a room without daylight listening to talks on national education policy from around the globe, I left the 2019 Forum for World Education /OECD Conference feeling absolutely uplifted. Five themes resonated with me, especially as I start my new role as Deputy Vice-Chancellor. Here they are, see what you think.

  1. The importance of values and mission

“High performing people long for work with value and purpose. Harnessing teachers’ values, and putting learners first, is key to educational change” -Brett Wigdortz, Former CEO Teach First, UK

When asked how he had recruited graduates with top degrees into teaching, Wigdortz replied that high performing people long to use their skills to make a difference and actively seek out work with a moral social purpose. Later, the panel collectively agreed that staff culture is key to student culture. All the attributes and experiences we aspire to for students, such as creativity, co-design, empathy and agency, are organisational culture pre-requisites. I completely agree with these two points: education is an opportunity to create a better future society and why so many of us are committed to working in education; we are a community, and how we support one another sets the tone for how we treat students. Values come first.

2. Learning is social

“I worked hard for the teachers who liked me” -Jack Ma, Founding Chairman of Alibaba, China

“If you focus too much on standardisation, you will be replaced by a machine. We should have hundreds of ways of teaching, it has to be creative”- Jack Ma

“Children’s school day has to start with the teacher greeting each individual child, else they feel as if they don’t exist.” - Hekia Parata, Former Minister for Education, New Zealand

I really like the image of respect and partnership in the teacher greeting every child. I subscribe to the view that learning is social, and that we learn best in an environment that combines challenge, inspiration,

accountability and support, created through our relationships with other human beings. Learning is not transactional; most of us need structure, friendships, and recognition, to learn.

3. Who does the work around inclusion?

“Tom, imagine your teachers couldn’t say your name and called you ‘Thermos’ all through your schooling.” -Hekia Parata

“We need leaders who can change education institutions too often built around the interests of incumbents not the interests of learners” -Andreas Schleicher, Director for the Directorate of Education and Skills, OECD

When a gap appears between the Academy’s expectations and students’ behaviours or results, it’s so important to be curious and non-judgemental, and to resist the tendency to blame students. The effort of enabling learners to bridge any gap in prior achievement, habits, expectations, and culture needs to fall more to the establishment that to the learner. We are the ones with the cultural capital, who design the processes. It is incumbent on us to ensure our culture is not unintentionally exclusive. Hekia Parata, as Education Minister for New Zealand, was responsible for profound improvements in school outcomes for Maori children and other minority ethnic groups. She pointed out that a fundamental cause of alienation from school for many children is that their teachers don’t pronounce their names correctly. A practical inclusion tactic: don’t shorten, anglicise or mispronounce names; ask learners the story of their name.

4. Evidence based enhancement

“Data is vital to know where you want to make a difference, if you did, to what extent and at what cost” -Hekia Parata

This point really speaks to me, geeky lover of data and pragmatist that I am. If we have limited resources (and when don’t we?), how do we know we are using them wisely? How do we know our actions are making the difference we aim for? How do we know if we are choosing between two worthwhile investments, which one to fund? I feel a moral imperative to use funds wisely, and I like evidence-informed decisions.

5. The Process of Change

“How you perform the change is critical to its success, when you strive for teacher agency, autonomy, innovation.” -Olli-Pekja Heinonen, former Finnish minister for Education.

“We need to see curriculum is process not content. There is no short cut. You need to invest in developing teachers who care about learners.” -Oon Sen Tan, former Director of the National Institute for Education Singapore

“Investigate what works, have a growth mindset and believe in children’s capacity to learn, invest in teachers and bring them along on the change; understand change is a long term investment.” -Charlie Stripp, Director of the National Centre for Excellence in the Teaching of Mathematics, UK.

These final statements emphasise the need for alignment between intended effect and approach. Most of the statements I’ve quoted throughout were based on schools, rather than higher education, and of course there are huge differences between the sectors. However, there are similarities too. The work of education is values driven; it requires us to work as an inclusive community. It takes time to change. Work towards diversity and inclusion needs to be underpinned by evidence. Success depends on the commitment and skills of educators.

I haven’t always been able to articulate these ideas, but I have always believed in them. Anyone following me on Twitter will have seen a cascade of tweets from my two days in Paris, a symptom of my excitement at hearing my views espoused by successful national leaders from all around the world.

I am delighted to have joined the University of Northampton, and to be working with you on forming our future. Do any of these points resonate particularly with you? What have I missed that is important to you? I look forwards to picking up the conversation.

Shân Wareing, Deputy Vice-Chancellor

About Me

I started as Deputy Vice Chancellor at the University of Northampton on 1st November 2019, moving from a role with the same title but different responsibilities, at London South Bank University. Originally an English Language and Literature undergraduate, my PhD is in gender and sociolinguistics, and I lectured in those subjects before teaching PGCerts in teaching and learning, and developing digitally enhanced learning. I’ve worked in a number of universities, including University of the Arts London, Royal Holloway, and Roehampton. I’m a National Teaching Fellow, a Principal Fellow of the Higher Education Academy, and I’ve just been invited to chair the Advance HE Strategic Advisory Group on Learning and Teaching. I’m a trustee of the Unite Foundation, a charity that supports estranged students and care-experienced students. I now write mostly about leadership, gender, inclusivity, and digital transformation, and I’m champion for the LGBT+ staff network. My pronouns are she/her.

University of Northampton

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