Session 286: The Purpose of Education


1. Are multiple versions of the ‘Purpose of Education’ OK, or do we need one clear purpose?

2. In your view, what is the Purpose of Education?

3. How does your view of the ‘Purpose of Education’ manifest in the way you teach?

4. At the Summit, Tim Oates argued that Governments require control over education because they have a duty to ensure all students access the learning they are entitled to – thoughts?

5. What ways do you personally measure the Quality of education you provide?

6. To conclude: as a teacher, who would you most liked to be thanked by and what would you most like them to thank you for?


Session 286: The Purpose of Education

Now that the Education Select Committee’s call for evidence on the ‘Purpose and Quality of Education’ has passed, they’ll be pouring over the public responses in order to come to an answer. How will they fare?

This week’s #UKedChat on the ‘Purpose of Education’ is my mini-version of their enquiry. This summary is my tongue-in-cheek parody of their review.

The Hypothesis:

To quote Neil Carmichael MP, Chair of the Education Committee; “We can expect to hear diverse answers to this question but it’s important we get an agreed sense of what education is so we can then ask the right questions about how we evaluate the quality of our education and how well it is performing against those measures.”

Simplified I’ll take the hypothesis to be:  It is important we (*) come to an agreed sense of the purpose of education.

(*) by ‘we’ I mean people in general and for the purpose of this UKedChat, people in the UK, in contrast to the Education Select Committee who mean people in England, only.


I’ve no idea how the Select Committee intend to analyse their data, though I’m curious to know. In the meanwhile I’ve analysed the chat Tweets to find this conversation evolves over 4 ‘Acts’ as follows:

Act 1: The Purpose is Obvious

This is how the conversation began and what’s interesting to note is that around half the statements on  an ‘obvious’ purpose include the word ‘life’ and or ‘future’ –

  • Education = life chances
  • Our purpose is to improve the lives and futures of children
  • Build skills that allow flexibility and encourage lifelong learning
  • Surely the only purpose is to prepare our students for the future
  • More important than jobs, we are preparing them for life: building character
  • Give the children best opportunities in life, sometimes through parent education

Here are some additional ‘obvious’ purpose, not specifically mentioning ‘life’ or ‘future’-

  • Providing constant challenge
  • Understand self, others and the world around them
  • To ensure all children (and adults) achieve their potential
  • Give pupils a sound knowledge base, ability to communicate well
  • With a growth mindset children will strive for knowledge and power!
  • Remember that ‘wahoo’ feeling you get on results day? That’s nothing compared to the wahoo each child feels inside. That purpose!

Act 2: Challenging the Obvious Purpose

As contrasting views are tested together the initial ‘obvious’ statements fall apart –

  • Define ‘sound knowledge base’
  • Why just the future? What about now?
  • We have to be open to all interpretations of ‘improvement’
  • What we see ‘improve’ to mean could be very different according to context
  • Can’t predict the future, just focus on knowledge & skills that serve them whenever
  • Character’s a difficult thing to teach though? I’d settle for helping them know stuff & think well
  • More important (than character); Folks need jobs 🙂 But hopefully the two entwine
  • It’s difficult to facilitate those skills when constrained by targets and accountability
  • Aren’t those developments picked up throughout life? Can we teach them?
  • Surely we have diff views of what desirable character is

The consequence of this is a shift to the other end of the spectrum; the call for multiple purposes!

Act 3: Call for Multiple Purposes

And now we break into scenes…

Scene 1 – Look at our colourful world!

  • In centuries of debate, we haven’t found one clear purpose for education; unlikely now
  • We’re not all the same, so education won’t serve the same purpose for all
  • The purpose is forever changing shape to reflect changes in our world
  • One size does not fit all? Too many different factors to address
  • The purpose is NOT for everyone to know the same stuff

Scene 2 – The loss of having a purpose defined

  • Who could define the purpose? Who’s right?
  • Does the government have to give us our purpose?
  • Teaching tends not to respond well to micromanagement
  • Seeing people as commodities in a global market is a dangerous
  • Government’s duty should allow for trust in teaching professionals

Scene 3 – Test the limits, Rebellion!

  • ‘The government & Ofsted are not in my classroom’
  • You can still decide what goes on in your classroom; that’s powerful!
  • Nobody gave me my purpose. I just decided I wanted to change the world!
  • Teachers will have diff views of their purpose, diversity’s probably a good thing

Scene 4 – It’s all about the students, their families and our community

  • The purpose can be redefined depending on needs of learner and community
  • Talk to the students! What do they want out of their learning? How can I help?
  • The (purpose) changes daily with needs of learner/family; my teaching HAS to follow
  • Prince George just started school; is his purpose same as say my Pupil Premium children?
  • The best measures are pupils own sense of achievement and feeling they’ve made progress
  • Nothing better than a child thanking you for believing in them and helping them meet their goals

Act 4: Challenging Multiple Purposes & Challenging Those Challenges

By this stage in the conversation we’ve cone nearly full circle…

Scene 1 –It’s all basically the same!

  • We don’t need to be prescriptive, it’s about enabling and empowering choice
  • Key thing is to prepare them for THEIR future, not ours or our idea of it
  • Just because he’s born wealthy doesn’t mean he won’t have issues!
  • What do you mean by ‘issues’?

Scene 2 – So we need a common framework

  • Depends on the child, but everyone has something that needs work on
  • It has to serve the same purpose of improving life choices surely?
  • Same skills have been important for a long time
  • There should be some common goals

Scene 3 – Some control is necessary for the sake of democracy

  • We’re not talking about setting individual outcomes, we’re talking our objective
  • If objective is personal improvement & success surely that doesn’t forget the individual
  • I suppose there needs to be a core framework to hold educators to account, or we risk too much
  • Governments have some democratic mandate, teachers don’t; so some degree of control is required

Scene 4 – Breaking the intensity

  • I try to give them best of what I know. If they share in all the madness that’s in my head, that’s good?
  • This is why the Purpose of Education is defined by society – the community in which it is provided
  • On a scale of 1 – 10 where 10 is perfect amount of trust in teachers, where are we now?
  • Sometimes I’ve no idea if I’m good at my job anymore, or whose judgement I believe
  • We’ve caused teachers to distrust own professional judgment by negative rhetoric
  • Most people don’t know how ed works, like I don’t know how buses work
  • My 10 year old just mocked Trump’s hair; education is going well!
  • I hope #claimyourcollege can project reason; for children’s sake
  • It MUST be doable; otherwise why are we doing it?

Finally we hit Act 5, the resolution, but not in this twitter chat and nowhere else I’ve seen. Perhaps there is no resolution? Perhaps to resolve this would necessarily call an end to an intellectual and moral conversation that many engage in passionately and willingly.

Though we still have tensions so, for the purpose of this article, here is my personal offering for a final Act…

Act 5: There is no purpose of education

For a thinking species like us

with individual will

education must be

the overarching purpose of all we do.

For to engage in activity not for education,

or at least for the opportunity of education,

but solely for money, praise, fear…

we suffer.

The question then is not; What is the Purpose of Education? but,

What is your purpose within this purpose we are each bound to?

This question applies to the individual

as much as it applies to schools and organisations

and your purpose is only truly yours when you’re free to ask;

‘How Shall I Determine the Quality of What I Choose to Do?’

Isn’t it then important to invite in those you wish to serve?

Consider: how can you best express your purpose to them,

with empathy and with compassion,

so they have opportunity to advance their purpose

through yours?

If you’ve found this review interesting you may also enjoy my free 5 day eCourse based on the content of the recent Politics in Education Summit where the UK’s most eminent education leaders gathered to discuss this issue. The transcripts of the event were received by the Education Select Committee shortly before they launched their call for evidence into the Purpose of Education.

About Martin Burrett 412 Articles
Martin Burrett is the editor of our popular UKEdMagazine, along with curating resources in the ICTMagic section, and free resources for teachers on UKEd.Directory

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