'Schools exist to prepare young people for the world, not just for the next set of exams'

We should encourage pupils to question as well as conform – following the rules and avoiding risks don't always ease career progression, writes one educationalist.


“I have learnt silence from the talkative, toleration from the intolerant, and kindness from the unkind; yet strange, I am ungrateful to these teachers”. So said Khalil Gibran, in Sand and Foam (1926). To be sure, much of what we learn at school is unintended, the product of often accidental or egregious interactions.


When students engage with the authority structures of school, rather than with each other, the results can be equally unintended and no less consequential.


In the 1970s Paul Willis undertook an ethnographic study of a group of working-class school-children in Birmingham. His 1977 book, Learning to Labour: how working class kids get working class jobs became a classic, and served as an exemplar for Tony Giddens’s theory of structuration showing how "strategic conduct" won small victories, but worked against the ultimate interests of the actors involved.


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