Education: Starting with ‘Why’

Education: Starting with ‘Why’

I started the new school year speaking to my colleagues at a combined training session for two of our Trust schools. A few minutes in, I mentioned and then explained, the purpose of our Trust. It is simply this: We exist to build great learning communities where children flourish. Of course, give or take a word or two, that has to be the point of our Trust and indeed of every Multi Academy Trust in the country, although we all emphasize this slightly differently and with the accent on certain words which we feel resonate most with our schools and communities.

I think the heart of this statement must be our Trust purpose because legally Trusts exist with charitable objects and the overriding object is the advancement of education. As the DfE say very clearly, “Academy trusts are education charities that are set up purely for the purpose of running and improving schools.” We have a legal obligation to create places called schools where children and young people succeed and thrive.

Secondly, whilst Trusts contain schools, they are not schools. They do not function quite like schools. Trusts operate in the educational arena like schools but there are vital differences. Schools have been around for a long time. The King’s School, Canterbury was established in 597AD. One of our schools, Dame Tipping, celebrates its 300th anniversary next year. Trusts are a form of school organization, oversight and management. They are structural. Whilst schools contain pupils and staff; Trusts contain pupils and staff within a number of schools. We have significant evidence of how schools can run effectively but very limited evidence so far on how these structures called Trusts can work well. What we do know is that they must run effective schools, however and by whomever this is defined.

Two of our heads decided to Start with ‘Why’ this year, perhaps having read or watched some of Simon Sinek’s ideas during the summer. “Why do you teach?” one asked all her colleagues. “Write down all the reasons why you do what you do.” said another to their teachers as an intro to the year.

As we judder and jolt from the pandemic to the cost of living crisis to the RAAC debacle, it is a great idea to ask ourselves personally why we do what we do and also to consider as communities why we think being involved in education is such a great idea.

Craft (1984) noted that there are two different Latin roots of the English word “education.” They are educare, which means ‘to train or to mould’ and educere, meaning ‘to draw out’.
These etymological origins suggest two very different ways of approaching education and yet they are both embedded in it.

One is about imparting information, shaping and creating the minds, the actions and the very lives of those in our care. This has certainly led to some very draconian forms of teaching and some very misguided concepts of learning through the centuries. I am not sure that flying board rubbers, canes, facing walls or wearing dunce caps would have really aided the movement of ideas and concepts from the teacher’s brain into mine, from my working to my short-term memory, in the way that retrieval practice, interleaving and spaced low stakes quizzes do for so many today. And yet we do have the awesome responsibility of moulding and shaping lives. In the way we behave (watch the YouTube clip of young children imitating their parents for a shocking example), in the words we use, and in the importance we place on certain things.

Equally it is our role to draw things out of those in our care. To draw out great ideas, thoughts, our pupils’ questions, their prior knowledge and also ultimately their potential and their uniqueness.

Whilst some would argue these two root meanings are contradictory, I rather think that we can educate with the intention of both imparting and drawing out, of giving our best and of drawing out their best so that not only our pupils but we ourselves flourish and find ourselves through education.

Julian Dutnall,
CEO, LIFE Education Trust