We must follow Alice down the Rabbit Hole!
The educational world is changing but only at the pace that we, as school leaders, allow it to, because for the first time schools and especially school leaders can be the catalyst for change.
It is time for schools to shape their own futures, take the reins and start making the decisions that for the past twenty years have been made for us. Just as Alice decided to make her own decisions and enter the rabbit hole, so must we enter and create our own ‘educational’ wonderland.
It is down to us to shape policies, rather than react to them. The ‘middle tier’, as they have become known, the old style Local Authority, will never reappear as they were. There should be no return for the ‘powers to the state’ as schools embrace this new found autonomy; provided we do embrace it, and take ownership, that is.
It means we must have a totally different mindset, almost an alien mindset. We must look, like never before, to ourselves; not to others to instigate changes, gain support and make decisions.
I have recently read articles in the TES by Russell Hobby, Tim Brighouse and Ken Robinson that have made me think again, go over some old ground and consider new ideas and in doing so decide to write this Blog.
This new educational world may seem like an educational utopia, compared to what is being replaced, but as always there is the caveat that, with this new found autonomy, there is a Jabberwocky that we must overcome: there will be no increase in funding. The political world of austerity means that we will be entering this new world without any extra money. Add to that the constant threat of cuts and possible redundancies, we find ourselves without financial security blankets, at a time we need to be brave, and change the world!
Another new mindset is also needed, schools need to think beyond our traditional educational boundaries and make links with industry, commercial companies and especially the cultural sector. We need to think of ourselves as a brand, in our case ‘Brand Fulbridge’. What is our unique selling point, why would a company invest in or support us?
In a commercial sense, schools are registered charities, which creates an opportunity to source sponsorship from companies in the private sector. Businesses are constantly looking for ways to promote their corporate social responsibility. We are going to need to advertise our brand and promote it, as leaders we will need to add yet another new skill to our already wide areas of expertise. Social media, be it; Twitter, Facebook, Instagram, Pinterest, Vine, or the world of Blogs and Vlogs will become an essential part of our armoury as we step forward into this new world.
In this new world we are bound, as Russell Hobby points out, by the three ‘a’s’: the government’s austerity measures, the autonomy that I have already mentioned and accountability. If we are to succeed and fulfil our greater moral purpose to serve the children as best we can, then all this must be delivered in the new spirit of collaboration between schools; rather than competition and the sometimes reclusive nature of some schools. There is no place for Alice’s nemesis, the Queen of Hearts.
Whether it is an Academy chain, a teaching school network or simply local schools creating their own network, in which they work together; in a supportive ethos based on a high level of trust; we need to create tight networks of schools, where we are working with like-minded people within this culture of trust and an ethos of shared values and visions.
So in this new ideal educational world that we are creating are there curriculum freedoms as well? There are and there are not; curriculum freedoms are promoted especially for academies and successful schools but we are all still bound by the National Curriculum, especially when it comes to the narrow accountability measures as evident in the Key Stage 2 tests and other national assessments.
There is far too much interference, from the Madhatters in government, in day to day curriculum matters and initiatives like the Year 1 phonics test. In theory we do seem to have certain freedoms but in reality the government seems resistant to really let go and allow us, as the professionals in education, to have the freedoms that we and the children truly need and deserve.
However if we are brave there are probably more curriculum freedoms than we realise. I have no problem with the basic knowledge based curriculum that successive governments so often promote, especially at election times. However a curriculum cannot be that narrow, and good schools have always ensured that children have the key learning skills that allow them to become effective learners. Skills such as empathy, cooperation, reciprocity, responsibility, respect and common sense for example.
But there is a greater agenda for all of us involved in education; in this world of extra freedoms, it must be to refocus and think about what our moral purpose is. We need to use the education system as a tool to make children fully aware of issues like the need to look after our planet, with respect to global warming and endangered species, to get rid of inequality and exclusion; to rid ourselves of racism and sexual discrimination, giving women true equality with men and to encourage children to embrace differences in beliefs, religions, values and ways of life.
We need to educate our youngsters to understand the traditions and beliefs of others. We need, maybe more than ever, to create a generation that understands what it means to be empathetic, children must be able, as a human beings, to see, feel and think as others do.
For, as Ken Robinson says, education is about living people, not inanimate objects that simply need information fed into them! There is nothing wrong with the Tweedledee and Tweedledum of education: testing and accountability. But narrow, high stakes, testing and accountability must go. And while we’re at it we need to get rid of an inspection system that is based on fear rather rather than formative support. Formative assessment is always more effective, in terms of improvement, than summative assessment!
As leaders we must avoid political or commercial fads; and look, more than ever, at research based evidence. Let’s rid ourselves of political knee jerk reactions. Reading and phonics schemes that are solely geared to getting better test scores rather than giving our children a love of reading, stories and books, are a prime example of things that need to go.
My advice is to do, as we have at Fulbridge, and rip up prescriptive, off the shelf schemes of work and start again! Design an exciting and engaging curriculum that develops children’s personal talents and passions, a curriculum that gives our children a balanced education that values the arts, sciences, humanities, maths, languages and PE in equal measure. Only then will staff and children emulate the grin of the Cheshire Cat!
Children need, in Ken Robinson’s words, to learn about the arts, about cave painting and poetry, all the different ways in which we express human intelligence, imagination and creativity.
Robinson asks us to consider what is at the heart of human life? It is not just the general knowledge and facts that we need as human beings, as children in schools. We need to learn about how to create our own lives and make them happy and meaningful ones. We must learn how to use our leisure time effectively so that we can lead a fuller and healthier life.
Human beings get a great deal of pleasure from literature, art, theatre and sport. Again, as Sir Ken tells us, the performing arts are not just about feelings, they too are to do with the intellect and academic achievement. Young people need the arts and not just what some people call ‘the basics’ (the 3 R’s) because the basics of life are not just economic based but also culturally, socially and personally based.
We need to ensure that as leaders and educators we are helping to create young learners who are creative and critical thinkers who can collaborate and who have social confidence; who will survive in this complicated multi-cultural and technological world in which we live. As a result our education system will hopefully start producing employable people who will serve both the economy and the world better. Then the children may even leave our classrooms and go on to change the world for the better – you never know. As educators, I have always believed we have the power to change the world by what we do and offer in our classrooms and schools.
As I stated at the beginning of this blog: the leaders in our schools really do have an even more significant role to play than ever before. We must be ready to change the world and ‘make it a better place – for you and for me and the entire human race ….’
The Head must, as Sir Tim Brighouse has often written, “be a schools most recognisable representative – an overseeing presence that is seen and who listens to the whole school community, a person who is full of hope, enthusiasm and energy, thoughtful and considerate in contact with the front line staff and who makes a difference.”
In addition to this; school leaders must be outward looking, attend major conferences, listen to top educationalists, and be at the forefront of educational thinking and research. For it is our responsibility to create and shape this new educational world. It really is the time to grasp this opportunity: the future started yesterday, we’re already, in the White Rabbits words, ‘late for a very important date,’ in our aspiration to enter this new educational wonderland.