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
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.
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,
“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.
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!
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”.
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.
Have a BRILLIANT Day!