Source: 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
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!
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!
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!
“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.
Have a BRILLIANT Day!