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Raising Aspirations

Mick Waters was recently appointed as Professor of Education at the University of Wolverhampton. He works with the Black Country Children’s Services Improvement Partnership in raising aspirations and influencing teaching and learning for children and young people in the region through initiatives such as the Black Country Challenge.

He was previously Director of Curriculum at the Qualifications and Curriculum Authority (QCA) and took a lead role in national reviews and helping schools to rethink their approach to curriculum design. Before that, Mick was Chief Education Officer for the City of Manchester and worked in Birmingham Local Education Authority as Chief Adviser.

What does your work at the University of Wolverhampton involve?

My role involves working with partners to raise aspirations in the community and the leadership of schools, through the Black Country Partnership and Black Country Challenge. I am also  hoping to help on the Initial Teacher Training programmes and possibly get involved in the research profile of the University.

What do you enjoy most about the role and find most rewarding?

I have been impressed by the enormous professionalism and energy of the people in the Education Partnerships team. They are absolutely committed to making things better for young people in the Black Country. I have been in to some schools in the area and have been impressed by the efforts being made to give youngsters better life chances and provide a rich and rewarding education. I have also got to know a little of the University and recognise what an important asset it is to the local community and the tremendous depths and strengths of the academic Schools.

What is your greatest professional achievement?

In my career I have been around the education block a few times! I have been Director of Curriculum at the Qualifications and Curriculum Authority (QCA) and I have had significant posts in two of the biggest education authorities. Some people would think my biggest achievement is getting people to think afresh about the curriculum at QCA, and some would think it is school improvements in big cities. I think it is probably maintaining professional optimism and challenge in every job that I do and keeping young people at the heart of our work.

You work with the Black Country Challenge – why do you think it is important for universities to work with schools in the region?

Good universities are a central part of the community they share. They influence the belief of people in their own community and they influence the local economy. The University of Wolverhampton is working incredibly hard to help people who live in the region understand the value of education and gain the most they can from it throughout the rest of their lives. It is natural that the University should be a key player in the Black Country Challenge and one of the key things it can do is help local and national businesses understand the role they can play. The University has a key role in informing regeneration and strategic thinking as part of the renaissance of the Black Country.

What are the major challenges facing the education sector today?

The challenge is helping young people to see that we have got to work together to create a better world and that they can develop the  skills and the desire to make a difference. If we want a better world children need greater skills and better understanding than they have ever had before. This is difficult when people’s perception of schools are often planted in the past. We need modern schooling with a forward looking outlook to prepare children for their futures.

How do you think curriculum reforms have helped children to increase their opportunities for the future?

What happens to policy at a national level is not as important as where learning meets the child in a school. Discussion about curriculum reforms helps people to think about the fundamental aims for learning and what children need in a developing society. A lot of people think curriculum reform is about which artist, poet or battle children should learn about when really we need to think about the importance of art or history to society and to a better world and the benefits of these subjects to the individuals themselves.

What are the key factors for making education attractive and interesting for children and young people?

All learners need to see learning as a natural activity. Just look at older people in art galleries, museums, parks and historic houses. They just want to find out more and understand more. Schools need to build on the natural inquisitiveness of people and help youngsters see why learning matters. Learning is not always easy and we have to work at it, but overall children learn more when they are engrossed, when there is a real purpose and when there is an audience that matters to them.

If you were at University today, what subject would you like to study or research?

That is the sort of question we should be asking children from the age of about eight years onwards, so they gradually understand that university and the range of opportunities to study are enormous. I might like to study the history of art, or physics or psychology. In the end I think I would end up in the School of Education trying to find the answers to some of the things about learning that still perplex me.

Which famous people do you admire and why?

I like pioneers. Christian Barnard carried out the first heart transplant amid criticism of his ethics and 40 years later millions of people across the world have benefited. I like unsung heroes like Colin Murdoch who invented the disposable syringe and the animal tranquiliser dart or Ray Rowe who came up with the first mini roundabout. I like people who create beauty like Jane Wernick who helped design the London Eye and the aerial walkway at Kew.

Do you have ambitions you still wish to fulfil?

I have never really had ambitions but I have always had belief and passion for learning things. I am a realist and know things will never be perfect, but that is not a reason for not making the best of whatever you are trying to do. I’d like to be able to play the piano though!