The Prince of Wales launched the third annual Education Summer School in Buxton with a speech in which he reminded people of some of the “timeless principles underpinning teaching”.
The school brought teachers of English and History from the north of England together for four days of discussion and debate with leading academics and writers. Guest speakers included Robert Harris, Simon Schama, Niall Ferguson, Trevor Phillips, PD James and David Starkey.
The Education Summer School was created by The Prince with the aim of providing teachers with renewed inspiration and enthusiasm for the teaching of English and History.
His Royal Highness has for many years taken a keen interest ineducation, and believes the two core subjects of English and History are vital to the development of knowledge and insight in young people.
The Prince said: “In my view education is about opening people's minds; it is about exploration, discovery, about undertaking journeys. It is not to my mind, about closing things down or narrowing the paths upon which children will tread.”
In his speech, His Royal Highness went on to compare “fashionable” changes in education to changes affecting other areas of life such as agriculture, the environment, architecture and certain aspects of healthcare.
The Prince said: “In all cases there has been a dramatic move from what I can only describe as an “organic” approach ”“ in other words, something which has its roots in what has gone before and is, intents and purposes, a living organism reflecting the fundamental nature of out own humanity ”“ to a “genetically modified” approach which cuts us off from all our cultural and historical heritage and relies on ceaseless, “clinical” experimentation.”
“It is strange, isn't it, that the 20th and, now, it seems, the 21st century mindset, seems to want to genetically engineer everything, to cut all roots, to homogenise, synthesise and globalise, when what we urgently need to do once again is to harmonise.
“There is not enough time to go into a great deal of detail here, but I believe there is a good analogy, as far as what has happened within the educational sector is concerned, with what has occurred in the agricultural sector.”
He likened the destruction of large swathes of Britain's countryside, such as ancient woodland and hay meadows, to a similar destruction of the country's cultural, linguistic and historical habitat since the Second World War.
The fashionable ideas of experts and educationalists over many years, he said, had led to many people becoming “culturally disinherited”.
The Prince also expressed his sympathy with teachers and stressed their vital importance in inspiring young people to learn.
Echoing some of the concerns expressed to him by many of the teachers he meets each year, His Royal Highness said: “It must be hard to teach with energy and commitment when the burden of bureaucracy means that you have to spend hours in the evening and at weekends to keep on top of the paperwork, when the curriculum is in a state of flux, public examinations are for ever being re-structured and one initiative follows another with painful rapidity on the heels of the last.”
Later in the speech The Prince continued: “Technology can surely never be a replacement for inspirational teachers. The ability to inspire pupils through experience and emotion, and from the heart, cannot possibly be adequately replicated by a computer programme.
“This is not to say of course that technology does not have a significant and valuable part to play, but on its own, and especially in relation to basic skills teaching, it cannot be a replacement for the value delivered by inspiring and committed teaching staff.”
This year's school was held in the Palace Hotel in the spa town of Buxton in Derbyshire. The opening day included an “Any Questions” debate with James Naughtie chairing the panel.