The Pendulum Swings . . .


Every Monday morning at The Spinney we hold a  weekly briefing. It’s for everyone on the team  – teaching assistants, office colleagues,  caterers, site managers, teachers, volunteers.  We  talk about how the weekend went and share our stories, we look at the week ahead, any special events or visitors to welcome  and then I share my headteacher’s  reflections.

I always create a visual to capture my thoughts which   is displayed on the interactive whiteboard. My thoughts are of many and various  themes that will be familiar to  others working in   school:  marking and feedback, safeguarding, importance of collaboration  and so on.

This weekend I have been thinking about  the growing  awareness of the need to unite  to stop  the    Global Education Reform Movement –  STOP  the  GERM. There are many, many academics and thought leaders around the world far better qualified to  talk about  the 30 years or  124 years of  GERM (depending on who you ask) and some fabulous  books to read such as  the brilliantly titled  Reign of Error, as well as   Flip The System, and  Creative Schools

Pendulum Swings

I quite like the  GERM picture I  found – on the one hand  looking quite cute and benign but in reality  is insidious and nasty.  GERM is characterized by  high stakes standardized testing,  competition  between  schools , the  comodification of education, the  demoralization of children and  teachers  and the fragmentation of communities.

Not good!

As these apposite and popular social media images  depict so clearly,  standardized tests  deliver    conformity   and compliance, stifle creativity and are not suited to the splendid  diversity  of    human beings. But regrettably across too many jurisdictions being good at tests has become synonymous  with being  well-educated.  As Diane Ravitch says,

 star wars education      2b1c53ea0bd3c358c9dc33f392c569fc
 “Sometimes the most brilliant and  intelligent students  do not shine in standardized tests because they do not have standardized minds.

I find it remarkable  how little we have moved on in the use of testing in the final year of Primary Schools in the four decades since  I was at school! After a glorious and peripatetic early childhood  spent in various countries  around the world, I returned to England at the age of 11 to discover a curriculum wholly about prayers and preparing  for the 11+.

We  practiced grammar and comprehension tests  on a daily basis  but the feedback and marking  was lacking.

I could complete “Queen   is  to King  as  Goose is to Gander”,  but I  never did find out  where the Home Counties were (Lucky Jim – Kingsley Amis)   or why they seemed to be  more important than the six Staffordshire towns where I lived, and I still have a mental block about the word Simultaneously, does it  mean one after each other or all at the same time?

Geography  consisted  knowing  that there was a lot of sheep farming in  Lancashire and  a host  of  allotments in East Anglia.

When it finally came to the week of the 11+ tests, my Mother asked me if I wanted to do them and I replied that I  did not.  And in spite of that decision   here I am  successful, fulfilled and happy.

I  started teaching 22 years ago  and in that time  have seen the  pendulum in education policy  swinging  to and fro with successive governments  and  secretaries of state for education. It seems as if this perpetual swing is designed to knock children and  teachers off balance every 5 years or so and I find it remarkable how the  Education Paradigm can be so convincingly and resolutely   changed overnight!

I have been a member of the Primary Headteachers’ Reference Group at the DFE  since 2009. I was invited to join  at a fascinating point  when  Parliament was in  Purdue and what was notable as I entered the offices   of Sanctuary House was that in this interim period  the people working there  knew instinctively  how quickly things   would  change. As I walked around I saw the poster frames were empty and the rainbows of Every Child Matters  were in the bins.

And so the pendulum swings.



Ideally, we would take a longer, more holistic  and  more sustaining view of education.  Education  would not be  a “political football”  it would be a unifying  force for good.

In  November UNESCO  launched its publication  Rethinking Education for The Global Good   and if you  haven’t seen   it, and if you are a parent a teacher or a global citizen I would  invite you to read it.  It  is  a “humanist vision of education as an essential common good.”

In the  Foreword  Irina Bokova Director-General of UNESCO says  “There is no more powerful transformative force than education – to promote human rights and dignity, to eradicate poverty and deepen sustainability, to build a better future for all, founded on equal rights and social justice, respect for cultural diversity, and international solidarity and shared responsibility, all of which are fundamental aspects of our common humanity.”

As an Optimistic Educator #OptimisticEd wouldn’t  it  be   wonderful   if our Secretary of State for Education took a longer term view of education instead of the reactionary sticking plaster approach – I’m not saying it’s not important to learn times tables but there are better  ways to evaluate  a     school’s  contribution to its community than its ability to teach times tables by rote or   the proportion  of pupils  with a   propensity  for   memorizing facts.  Schools as communities, not commodities!  

Instead of the constant changes I  would love to see  our   national curriculum and associated policies and practices being more sustainable  for example reflecting the aims and articles of     The United Nations Convention on the Rights of The Child

How  different would our schools, curricula and testing regime be if  education   were influenced more profoundly by United Nations articles such as these?

Article 3. The best interests of the child must be a top priority in all actions concerning children. 

Article 31 2. Every child has the right to relax, play and join in a wide range of cultural and artistic activities. 

And how different the experience would be for children, teachers, parents and schools.

Hope Not Fear

However, I believe these are exciting times and as ever I am feeling very #OptimisticEd.  I am grateful to three other #OptimisticEd  colleagues on Twitter @nataliehscott  ,  @MattGovernor   and  @thatboycanteach   who in a moment of synchronicity  in early January inspired me to finally blog and who  in spite  of  the  incessant challenge and change in education  also remain resolutely hopeful and optimistic.

I am also aware of other fabulous networks that are galvanising so that educators   can reclaim our elegant and noble profession including  @WomenEd      @HeadsRoundtable   @WholeEducation  @CPRnet   @FliptheSystemUk   @RSA_IE

By connecting and collaborating and finding a shared purpose I truly believe we can #flipthesystem

What will be  important is to ensure that we all connect!

Connect 1.png

I don’t know if you got the memo, but despite the many many challenges that face us in education, 2016 is the “Year of Hope&Optimism in Education”.


The Spinney  is  an Ashoka Changemaker School,  a  Whole Education Partner School  and  Cambridge Primary Review Trust School 

I have been a Headteacher for ten years and am a National Leader of Education. The Spinney is the  coordinating school of The Kite TSA, Cambridge – if you would like to be part of this growing Alliance of  positive, creative and innovative schools, please feel free to  get in  contact to find out more.



Just before Christmas, the TES “Top Team” visited the Spinney Primary School. There were nine of them including Chief  Education Adviser, Lord   Jim Knight and the divinely  elegant Ann Mroz – TES Editor.

I first met Lord Knight  earlier on in the year as part of the selection process for The Spinney   to be an Ashoka  Changemaker School.

We gave our charming TES visitors  a tour of the school  which included a  visit to The Spinney Wild Wood, a wonderful asset that  supports so much creative and brilliant learning.  The children and Spinney  colleagues  were very impressed that despite  her beautiful footwear, the valiant Editor  braved  the rickety  bridge and  the  mud and joined  the children for their  phonics lesson with the  Phonics Fairy. You can read  Ann’s  recount of her visit to The Spinney here. 

In her editorial Ann  describes me as  an “insanely passionate primary head” and I really  think  she’s nailed it!  And I’m very grateful to her  for my  new nom de plume.  I am  passionate about my job,  I absolutely love it!  I love the variety, the creativity and above all the  marvellous and magical people that I have the privilege  to   work with every day: children, teaching colleagues, parents and the whole community.

Despite the Academy presumption, we are still fiercely a Community School  (for the moment at least) and our  local/global, creative and connected  curriculum reflects the best that our school, City and the World has to offer.  We are a very connected school and purposefully make  links and partnerships to synergise and innovate new opportunities for learning for the children in The Spinney as well as in Cambridgeshire.

In our last  OfSTED  our school was  described as “Forward thinking and outward reaching”  and it is a  description  that  has sustained us to  keep moving forward.  . .


Over  the last few years we have made  many  marvelous connections. #OnlyConnect is my  mantra!  These include  ones with  individuals and organisations  such as PEDAL, Random Acts of Kindness,The Reader ,  Cambridge Literary Festival, (with photo of me in my other disguise as band member of The Misspent Ukes!),  Whole Education  and recently with  a number of partners that has led to the initiation of a Cultural Education  Partnership called MyCambridge.

Forming relationships, collaborating  and innovating  are part of our ancestral instinct and are essential to school, and school to school system success. The connections I have made  through Twitter and  the many fascinating blogs I have read  have contributed significantly to my ongoing professional development.The sign on my office door says  “Head Learner”  and I love the JOY and opportunities  that every new day brings!

Every Day is New!

But I also read various blogs by teachers that  do not share the same  happy experience of school life and I think this   is a terrible shame!  Workload, stress, micro-management, lack of support from school leaders, marking, issues around performance related pay  . . .

This unhappiness is one of the outcomes  of an education system that values high stakes testing over  humanity.

However,  I believe it is the Headteacher’s job to be the Gatekeeper. The DFE’s  ongoing obsession with meta league tables such as PISA  and a  suite of national  tests  has created  a paradigm that  priorities points  and progress over people. However,  since the tests are not likely to disappear any  day soon, (New Year New Madness   – TES  editorial  by  Ann Mroz)  I believe  we need to  find a way to be  #Pragmaticians: train for the test & teach for life. And for the children’s sake and the teachers’ sanity we need to ensure schools are   magical places full of optimism and hope that Teach  Mastery AND Mystery!

Hope Not Fear

I have enjoyed reading Flip The System  by  Jelmer Evers and  Rene  Kneyber , an important book which makes the case for a more humane, more democratic approach to education.   This in conjunction with  the recently published  UNESCO  Rethinking Education  makes responding to the Select Committee’s Purpose and Quality  of Education in England  Inquiry  an imperative  for our professional community of teachers to ensure their views  are heard and to articulate a broader, more hopeful  narrative  of  what schools and  education are really  about.  I hope that colleagues will seize  this opportunity and that  school leaders will prioritise  time in meetings so that the Select Committee hears the authentic voice of  our elegant and noble profession   and that they are not  Too poleaxed by policy to think about pedagogy? Too addled by assessment to think about aims? @CPRnet

Another  report that I would invite  school leaders to read is Creative Public Leadership: How School System Leaders Can Create the Conditions for System-wide Innovation   by Joe Hallgarten, Valerie Hannon and Tom Beresford at the RSA.  It is a splendid read that captures so many pertinent gems all in one place! Marvellous!

Such as,

“Educational system leaders are good at producing development programmes which are frenetic and burdensome to practitioners, incomprehensible and disruptive to both parents and learners but ultimately leave the essentials of the scene completely unaltered.” Graham Leicester


“Innovation can only be fostered and maintained in a school environment that is supportive and collaborative. If there is no culture of innovation and no support to facilitate networks for innovative action, it’s very unlikely that a school would embark on meaningful change. A well-known barrier to systemic innovation is a culture of risk aversion. There are many sectors that are notoriously poor at building into a system rewards for those who take responsible, managed risks. Without this, risking innovation is all too often seen to have very little pay off, both personally, professionally or on a system-level.”

“For education systems to harness the potential of systemic innovation there must be a meaningful push for an equity-focused strategy, placing practitioners at the center of a research and evidence-based profession. We need schools to be intelligent communities that see themselves as part of other communities. If we want schools to possess and teach the capacity to innovate, they will need the capacity to reflect – within their own institution, and with other schools. Whilst systems can be far better at creating the enabling conditions and cultures for innovation, schools need to take ultimate responsibility for their own ethos. Inevitably, this points to a significant leadership challenge.”

Towards the end of the report the authors ask,

How might it be possible for the ‘beautiful exceptions’ to  increasingly see themselves  as partners  with others , as members of a local learning system  and much more deliberate and intentional about building collective capacity/social capital. 

I have recently  become a Fellow of the RSA and I am really excited  at the opportunity to network with others and to see if we can put a stop to the Groundhog Day that perpetuates  the conversation  surrounding  the   Purpose of Education, and the accompanying pernicious  and discouraging   messaging from The DFE that schools are failing.  It is  17 years  since  All Our Futures    and  like Sir Ken Robinson I believe that the recommendations of All Our Futures are still relevant

“If we are to prepare successfully for the twenty-first century we will have to do more than just improve literacy and numeracy skills. We need a broad, flexible and motivating education that recognises the different talents of all children and delivers excellence for everyone.”

“…we cannot rely on a small élite, no matter how highly educated or highly paid. Instead we need the creativity, enterprise and scholarship of all our people. Rt. Hon David Blunkett MP”

In the film Sir Ken Robinson  says that  he is pleased that  recommendations have been taken up by many schools  but that he will be more pleased when the recommendations are taken up by the whole system.  There are  many   amazingly  creative, connected  and innovative Principles  and School Leaders  across the world  doing brilliant  things  in their community. And the  joy of  Twitter  is that there is  the opportunity  to  spot each other  like Meercats  across the  technological  Savannah.


I like to connect  with  those “Beautiful Exceptions”  that make  their schools such  Joyful places both for children and adults alike such as Fulbridge Academy ,  Seabridge Primary School  and  Redfield Educate Together Primary Academy

The RSA’s Creative Public Leadership  document  says that  for there to be the innovation that we need in education, it is schools who ultimately need to take responsibility for  their   own ethos and it is school leaders that will need to  fearlessly  take up the challenge  to  walk the talk, to  lead with  energy, hope and unwarranted optimism    and extend the  vision of what’s possible.


I don’t know if you got the memo, but despite the many many challenges that face us in education, 2016 is apparently the “Year of Hope&Optimism in Education”.


The Spinney  is  the  coordinating school of The Kite TSA, Cambridge – if you would like to be part of this growing Alliance of  positive , creative and innovative schools, please feel free to  get in  contact to find out more.