Educational Thinkers’ Hall of Fame – Prof. Sir David Watson

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Prof. Sir David Watson (1949 – 2015)

How sad it is to read of David Watson’s death after a short illness. He was an eminent English academic and educationalist whose career included roles as a Professor at the University of Oxford and Vice Chancellor of the University of Brighton.  There will be warm tributes from the institutions where he worked but his influence also had a wider impact across adult education and community learning.

Written with Tom Schuller, his 2009 report on Learning though Life remains very relevant and merits further reading. It was the outcome of an extensive and inclusive NIACE-led Inquiry into the Future of Lifelong Learning. The WEA held several public meetings as part of the Inquiry, debating the issues and the outcomes. It is worth assessing what has happened to adult education policy since the report was published.

Learning through Life

The report’s introduction sets the tone:

“We begin from the premise that the right to learn throughout life is a human right. Our vision is of a society in which learning plays its full role in personal growth and emancipation, prosperity, solidarity and local and global responsibility.”

It is worth a reminder of the Inquiry’s summary conclusions:

Learning Through Life: our proposals

The UK’s current system of lifelong learning has failed to respond to the major demographic challenge of an ageing society, and to variety in employment patterns as young people take longer to settle into jobs and older people take longer to leave work. We make ten recommendations for a lifelong learning strategy which will mark out the UK as a true pioneer in this field.

1. Base lifelong learning policy on a new model of the educational life course, with four key stages (up to 25, 25–50, 50–75, 75+)

Our approach to lifelong learning should deal far more positively with two major trends: an ageing society and changing patterns of paid and unpaid activity.

2. Rebalance resources fairly and sensibly across the different life stages

Public and private resources invested in lifelong learning amount to over £50 billion; their distribution should reflect a coherent view of our changing economic and social context.

3. Build a set of learning entitlements

A clear framework of entitlements to learning will be a key factor in strengthening choice and motivation to learn.

4. Engineer flexibility: a system of credit and encouraging part-timers

Much faster progress is needed to implement a credit-based system, making learning more flexible and accessible with funding matched to it.

5. Improve the quality of work

The debate on skills has been too dominated by an emphasis on increasing the volume of skills. There should be a stronger focus on how skills are actually used.

6. Construct a curriculum framework for citizens’ capabilities

A common framework should be created of learning opportunities which should be available in any given area, giving people control over their own lives.

7. Broaden and strengthen the capacity of the lifelong learning workforce

Stronger support should be available for all those involved in delivering education and training, in various capacities.

8. Revive local responsibility…

The current system in England has become over-centralised, and insufficiently linked to local and regional needs. We should restore life and power to local levels.

9. …within national frameworks

There should be effective machinery for creating a coherent lifelong learning strategy across the UK, and within the UK’s four nations.

10. Make the system intelligent

The system will only flourish with information and evaluation which are consistent, broad and rigorous, and open debate about the implications.

Thank you David Watson.

Education, schooling, Gove and Gramsci

‘Education’ is rarely out of the news these days, with a conveyor belt of reviews and reforms. Some recent social media exchanges have highlighted the distinction, made by the Marxist theorist Antonio Gramsci amongst others, between ‘education’ and ‘schooling’.

While we should acknowledge and welcome the fact that existing funding for adult and community learning was protected in last week’s Comprehensive Spending Review given the current economic climate, it seems that most of the reported policy discussion about ‘education’ is actually about ‘schooling’. The main focus appears to be on ideology and control in primary and secondary education.

Speaking at the recent Sunday Times Festival of Education, Prof. A C Grayling suggested that, “Teaching to the exam has squeezed out education in favour of schooling” (Earlier this year, Grayling placed a bid to open a free secondary school in Camden.)

In this context, it’s interesting to remember that Education Secretary Michael Gove told the Social Market Foundation of his admiration for Gramsci in a speech in February this year.  There’s a profile of Gramsci and his work at http://infed.org/mobi/antonio-gramsci-schooling-and-education/.  Comparing and contrasting Gove and Gramsci’s thinking on education is a thought-provoking exercise.

Gove & Gramsci

The purpose of education continues to provide fertile ground for critical inquiry but adult educators argue that there should be a much greater emphasis on lifelong learning beyond school within policy debate and development.

There are many compelling reasons why education for all stages of life is important – not least so that parents and carers can support their children’s education and improve their attainment. We can’t rely on schools to educate children in a vacuum or assume that we’ve learnt all that we need to know or understand for the remaining 60+ years of our lives after we have left school.

Although it was published in 2009, Tom Schuller and David Watson’s report, “Learning Through Life: Inquiry into the Future for Lifelong Learning” (http://shop.niace.org.uk/ifll-learningthroughlife.html), shows that education is relevant throughout life and should not be defined narrowly as ‘schooling’ for children and young people.