Many of the blog posts submitted for this project have dealt with the subject of fear and, I suppose, at its heart, so does mine. But mine comes in the form of a question directed at all of us. Teachers, Department leaders, school management teams, local authority councillors, Government ministers. When it comes to creating better education systems, what exactly are we afraid of? This post will try and explain myself but, for the kick off I would say that the number one shift in UK education I wish to see in my lifetime would be an end to the hierarchy which creates the conditions of fear. Deep breath. Here goes.
Our politicians don’t really care about schools. Regardless of political persuasion or who is in power at the moment – I teach in Scotland – Education has only ever been a tricky political football. Unlike any other policy though, it is the one on which, along with the NHS probably, everyone has an opinion. Everyone sits at the back of a classroom at some point in their lifetime. Even politicians sat at the back of your room scratching their arses and picking their noses at one point or another. So we all have an opinion and politicians, more than anyone, know how emotive a subject it is. When it is going well they celebrate their wonderful policies. When it goes badly they pass the buck, blaming local authority leadership or, in collusion with the media, pile scorn on the teachers whose results just ain’t good enough for the money they are paid. All fuelled by fear of the ballot box.
Please work with Local Authorities, all Local Authorities, to make the system better. When it goes badly then don’t blame, step up. It’s your responsibility too.
But that doesn’t happen. Budgets are handed down – and I use the word ‘down’ deliberately – to Local Authorities. There are some great ones in Scotland. Supportive, inclusive, collaborative. Then there are others. Belt tightening policies hit schools all the time. Quicker to speak up against teachers. Quicker to strangle ICT access through fear of litigation. Quicker to preserve the status quo through fear of change. Now this is surprising because when schools shine, which they often do, there is no shortage of local councillors tying up the Nike trainers in order to get down to school quick enough for the photo op. If we are to reach our potential in schools then we need to be fully supported in our local community for the simple reason that our children deserve it. They are the children of constituents and future voters. Local authorities need to take a more long term view of education. Stop being afraid of the ballot box.
Please work with schools, all schools, to make the system better. When it goes badly then don’t blame, step up. It’s your responsibility too.
Then the hierarchy moves down to schools and school leadership. An almost impossible job, right? Possibly, and I do, genuinely, have huge sympathy at times for management teams. There are so many ridiculous factors which they have to deal with when running a large organisation. They have large teams of teachers to manage, huge swathes of children to oversee. But too often they are afraid of the same thing local authority is afraid of. The parental phone call. The suggestion that someone tried something new in class and little Tommy didn’t like it. As a result, management becomes more important than leadership. It is good that things never change because it is easier to manage.
Schools need more freedom to make local decisions and, rather than worry about permissions and worry about repercussions, need support from above. Change is slow enough. Allow teachers to change when they see fit without fear. The famous criticism of Henry Ford was that he desired conformity so much – in workers, in product – that when he needed creativity and innovation his workers had forgotten how to. There is a very real danger that staff in school simply stop bothering to be innovative because it is too much bother. Don’t let that happen.
Please work with teachers, all teachers, to make the system better. When it goes badly then don’t blame, step up. It’s your responsibility too.
Near the bottom of the heap, we find teachers. Those above often forget that the classroom is where everything happens or at least starts. The frontline. The teacher relationship with the students is the key factor in education. However, too many of us accept mediocrity and the ‘good enough’ in our classrooms. Sorry. I know that is controversial and I’m not necessarily speaking of you, the reader, but we all know it is true in classrooms in every school. Yes, management need to create the conditions under which we can all flourish and work to our maximum but we also need every teacher to want to change. To stop being afraid of changing practice. To stop refusing to accept that change is needed. In Scotland we are undergoing the greatest curricular change in my career. There will be no more big changes., It is a rocky road but change is happening. All teachers need to get that. It is our job. Our responsibility.
Please work with children, all children, to make the system better. When it goes badly then don’t blame, step up. It’s your responsibility too.
Children come at the bottom of this hierarchy. Those who should benefit most from this system come last. Think about that for a moment. Of course there are exceptions to every rule. But, in my experience, very often what is best for the education of the child is not the top priority.
Effective learning and teaching should be at the top of every priority list in schools. Which means that from top to bottom, bottom to top, everyone needs to ensure that we are creating the best conditions for learning and teaching. Anything or anyone that gets in the way of that needs to be told. Stop being afraid. Let’s start telling them.