Our local supermarket has started selling a range of ‘wonky’ foods. Apparently, a carrot has to have a certain degree of straightness, smoothness and texture to be acceptable, just as a banana supposedly needs a certain curve. This week I bought a tub of ‘wonky’ raspberries. Raspberries? They looked the same in colour, size and texture as the ‘regular’ ones alongside to me, but hey – I’ll take the cheaper tub any day.
So does value come with conformity?
The UK education system is regularly accused of only celebrating a certain type of student – one which learns in a certain way, and who responds well to examinations. Our teaching model is accused of being built on an outdated approach that stereotypes children, asking ‘fish to climb trees’ and creating feelings of inadequacy in students who don’t fit. Some would say that schools have turned into exam factories, only valuing academically-oriented students.
Yet last week my school appointed a new Head Boy and Head Girl, and I know that within the selection process, academic achievement was not the defining factor. Our leadership group looked overwhelmingly at character, attitude and reputation of applicants, and rightly so. Over the years we’ve awarded senior student roles to many who would be deemed ‘wonky’ against any academic-only measurement. Why? Because ‘wonky’ just means individual, and our school rightly celebrates individuality.
Yet I fear that nationally, ‘wonky’ is less celebrated. According to a BBC report, the number of students taking at least one creative GCSE subject recently reached a 10 year low, and many schools are removing subjects like dance, photography and drama from their offerings. What a tragedy – that a Mathematician, Scientist or Engineer is supposedly all that society needs or values.
So what should our response be?
Surely we must commit to celebrate and value students of all types of intelligence – just like Educationalist Dr Howard Gardner suggested. Students are diverse, so any form of ranking or priority on skills must be handled carefully. Our current and future society needs Musicians, Artists, Sculptors, Writers and Performers as well as Inventors, Engineers and Programmers.
Whilst I can only imagine the financial pressures felt by school leaders as a result of continuing cut backs in budgets, we must try to keep variety and creativity in the subject menu from which students choose. Much of this is a result of national education cuts, with Headteachers being forced to prioritise away from subjects seen as ‘optional’ or non-core. However I suspect that a more long term and irreversible result of national austerity is that parents are discouraging their children from choosing subjects that they perceive to be less financially rewarding. Instead, children are being led by family pressure towards careers that may not inspire or excite them, but will pay the bills.
So in these difficult days, schools must continue to celebrate individuality, and parents too must make sure that their children are not discarding creative or reflective subjects, thinking that Maths is all that matters. Maths does matter, and I’m a natural advocate for Maths, Engineering and Science careers, but other subjects matter too and I believe the message in school and at home needs to be one that values an array of subjects.
As students are about to embark on their GCSEs, I look forward to tasting amazing food, hearing amazing music, seeing amazing performances and reading amazing articles. Bring on the wonky and we’ll celebrate amazing achievements both in the examination hall and outside of it.