Justine Greening calls for collective clarity on education’s purpose to help ‘build back better’

26 April 2021

Agreeing a clear purpose for education is key if we are to ‘build back better’ the former Education Secretary Rt Hon Justine Greening told Challenge Partners National Conference last week.

Ms Greening, who co-founded the Social Mobility Pledge, said a narrow focus on academic skills does not best serve each child, or school leaders.

“Children are different and a cookie cutter approach does not show people their potential,”  she added.

“We need to agree a broad purpose for education to stop headteachers being pulled in different directions and having to help pupils succeed despite the system.”

The businesses she works with through the Social Mobility Pledge value a broad range of skills including the ability to collaborate and work well in a team. She said schools were keen to foster such skills but they are not given sufficient importance by being part of formal education policy and strategy.

Ms Greening said her definition of education’s purpose, as a starter for debate, would be: To give people the knowledge and skills, advice, expertise and contacts that they need to get on in life, and do so in a way that gives people a lifelong love of learning and an understanding of their place in a diverse world.

She told school leaders at the virtual conference: “I think education is about more than just knowing stuff on exam day. Academic matters, but can’t be to the exclusion of the broader skills people need to get on. Until this purpose is explicit we are going to be pulled in that academic direction rather than the broader purpose you are all trying to deliver.”

Beryce Nixon, CEO of Exceed Learning Partnership, brings schools together as Senior Partner of Challenge Partners Doncaster hub and works with schools through the Doncaster Opportunity Areas. 

In response to Ms Greening’s speech she said the scale of the challenge required all to work together. “We are seeing poverty on a level we have never seen before and we want to provide all our young people with the opportunities to overcome the challenges they are facing. We must remove the competitive-edge and performance driven culture so the education system is about all the children in our local area, create an inclusive model for all. It takes a village to raise a child!

“The opportunity area within Doncaster has been instrumental in driving forward this collaborative approach. This has formed the Doncaster Leadership Network which is drawing from the best evidenced-informed practice within the country in order to ensure enhance local knowledge within the system. There are key themes that are being explored within Doncaster to improve our response locally to the challenges our young people are experiencing. These include: wellbeing and curriculum, teaching and learning; and equity and diversity. These groups are attended by leaders and are forming part of the Education and Skills 2030 strategy for the local areas in order to ensure that our vision for Doncaster becomes a reality.

“Equitable and inclusive lifelong learning that empowers people to fulfil their potential and thrive in life and work.”

Challenge Partners virtual National Conference also featured poet Lemn Sissay reflecting on the importance of school for him and children in care, as well as shared leading practice from Challenge Partner schools across the country.