Anthony Seldon argues in a new book that we have lost Trust and this is corroding Society
Anthony Seldon has long argued that we have an education system that has turned schools into exam factories, while top down centrally driven interventions have eroded the trust that parents have in the system and the trust that should characterize the relationship between the government and teachers.
He argues in a new book ‘Trust’ (Biteback Publishing) that the toxic culture of suspicion is corrosive. The Government no longer trusts its citizens: the swathes of CCTV cameras, multiple databases and increased powers for police and councils to stop and search us or invade our privacy are testimony to that.
Equally, the people don’t trust those in power because they are outraged by creeping government control and countless examples of utter ineptitude and rank dishonesty over several years, culminating in the scandal surrounding MPs’ expenses. Seldon’s answer is that to improve society we need both big government (to boost volunteering and institute national community service for all at 18), and small government (with massive devolution down to localities and institutions, and schools becoming independent). We must be both libertarian (a major reduction in target-setting and surveillance by the Government) and socially authoritarian (encouraging a return to stable families and childbirth only to mothers who can show they are ready to nurture children in a home that will provide long-term love and security). We have to start by rebuilding trust in ourselves and others as individuals. Trust is based on selflessness, honesty and respect. We are becoming a society which does not fully value these things, and our lives are poorer and emptier because of it. Pointing fingers of blame at others gets us nowhere: we ourselves must be trustworthy. Trust cannot be forced into anyone, but has to grow intrinsically within each of us. Every single human being, deep down, wants to trust and to be trustworthy, and to be a member of such a society.
The new debate he calls for will be between those who see success purely in terms of quantity and figures – gross domestic product, corporate profits, exam results, throughput of patients and resolved crime – and those who focus instead on our collective quality of life and issues such as sustainable growth, corporate responsibility, teaching rounded human beings and building a healthy nation and safe communities.
What about education and what happens in schools? In schools, Seldon believes children have to be brought up in an environment where they learn that trust is the norm, and that they themselves must behave in trustworthy ways. They should be brought up in an environment in which the default position is not suspicion and fear, but a “presumption of trust”.
Subjecting everyone in sight to checks, placing surveillance cameras everywhere, subjecting every institution to intimidating inspections, hemming in all relationships with contract and law, and driving everyone mad with bureaucracy is categorically not the way forward. Neither does it make any sense he says to weigh schools down with a crushing weight of regulation, while at the same time denying heads the chance to run their schools in the way that they want, teachers to teach the material they think best, and students to have the freedom to learn as they wish.
No one is trusted any more. Not even the Government, who driven by fear has been so responsible for sucking the lifeblood and humanity out of schools as in so many other institutions.
Seldon is a keen advocate of independent state schools and Wellington is supporting an Academy school near Tidworth, Wiltshire. Autonomous schools work. Wellington College has also opted, this September, for teaching the middle years programme of the IB, believing that standard GCSEs no longer enable teachers to deliver a rounded education to pupils nor encourage the development of the disciplines required by students in higher education. The clear message from Seldon is trust teachers to get on with the job of teaching , and trust pupils to take more responsibility for their learning.