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.



  1. Pingback: The Pendulum Swings . . . | optimisticed
  2. mikeollerton · January 25, 2016

    Thank you for writing this. There is so much optimism here which I would want governments to pay attention to, for the good of children of current and future generations. Thank you for bring the UNESCO publication to my awareness; I get so caught up in my world of mathematics I often miss the bigger picture.

    I was taken with your sentence: “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.” This is because the learning of times tables often polarises debate which, in doing so misses the main point; of course it is important for children to learn them, but how this is achieved and how children are misguidedly tested, instead of having their achievements assessed is, for me, the central issue.

    Yes, I would like more information about The Kite TSA, Cambridge please

    Liked by 1 person

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