People with kids are plugged into an annual cycle of school related events, especially towards the end of the school year, with exams, sports days etc that leave the rest of us completely untouched. Much of what I hear of the education system is moaning about how hard it is to get into a good school, the costs, the school runs etc.
But here is a really thoughtful item from Victoria Summerly as her youngest leaves school for university. This is her in the i newspaper:
“It’s odd to think that this academic underpinning will be absent from now on. How will I survive without the annual row over ‘suitable’ school shoes, or the eleventh hour dash to save a violin from being locked in a music department cupboard for 6 weeks? Very easily, I suspect.
What I will miss, however, is seeing not only my children, but others grow and blossom as they make their way through the school system. That’s the true meaning of education, I think: to see skills and talents that pupils scarcely know they possess being nurtured. ”
This is a rare mention of a parent seeing beyond their own charge, to see education in the wider context of society. Too often people without kids complain about the costs of education. This is a valuable reminder that education benefits us all, and it matters and should be funded for that reason.
It is also a reminder that schools are not exam factories, but places where children enter to emerge years later like butterflies, ready to take flight. Or at least they should be.
Public education in this country arose from the Sunday School system when in the 1770s in London free lessons were provided by Unitarian preacher Theophilus Lindsey. But the system is generally credited to the owner of the Gloucester Journal, Robert Raikes, who set up a school in St Mary le Crypt in Gloucester. The success was helped by his journal promoting the scheme. John Wesley wrote in 1784 they were springing up everywhere and by 1786 there were said to be 200,000 children attending, all grateful to be getting basic education in this way.
The reasons for these free schools were in part altruistic, with many children working so unable to attend normal schools, but the main driving force in many areas was the number of children running riot on Sundays, often interfering with church services, so education was from its modern outset, a form of social control but which was embraced by the poor as it also gave them a chance at advancement.