Unintended consequences – the product of chaotic & disruptive events 2020

So Dear Reader…

This Blog is about the world, the UK, school and the future, so please stay tuned because, reading this on the day of publication St Valentine’s day, you’ll guess my thoughts don’t end on a low point.

PLC UK has recently spent 3+ years in a chaotic space, not knowing ’nuffink’; parliament and the country coming and going/in-or-out, coupled with deal/no deal as part of the conundrum.

Entering 2020 and it’s been a breeze; we have a government with a decisive majority, a ‘man-of-the-people’ in charge and a mantra of ‘we can get this done’ snow-ploughing all ahead on social media. What’s not to like?

External natural influences such as Storms Ciara, Dennis, COVID-19 to name but 3 remind us that the unpredictable can happen every day. Equally, whilst we’ll be delighted to learn that the ‘down-under’ bushfires are suddenly a thing of the past, the arrival of coastal Australia Ex-tropical cyclone Uesi means that ‘OZ’ now has heavy rain, which has lashed the state since last weekend. Such severe storms led to flash flooding in Queensland where a 75-year-old man is reported to have died, record rainfall caused chaos in Sydney, and the weather woes are set to continue, with further storms expected along the east coast over the next few days. Flood warnings have been issued for NSW and for southern Queensland, and she’ll bring winds of up to 130km/h to the tiny Lord Howe Island, about 600km equidistant between OZ and NZ, and put simply, they need us to pray for them just now!

Back here in Blighty, the Boris Johnstone ‘bus tour’ is about to commence, after the Christmas, New Year & Caribbean break. Left with no story or news to write about, (Remember, Boris has been on leave with his girl/friends/mates), our papers have already begin to mythologize just how well our new PM has commenced the 20’s leadership style of this century. Journalists suggest we have a new Churchill, able to choose the most amazing team around him, and as a consequence no longer needs to be seen on the media or heard on Radio 4, because, as a man of the people,he knows how they want to hear what’s next best to happen.

Day 1 of the said Bus tour, Boris’s reshuffle is now in plain view, and some very important close friends have been dropped at the first stop, because of course, only ‘Boris knows best’. As best example, here’s best news of Savid Javid’s resignation.

BBC news says “Sajid Javid has shocked Westminster by quitting as chancellor in the middle of Boris Johnson’s cabinet reshuffle. Mr Javid rejected the prime minister’s order to fire his team of aides, saying “no self-respecting minister” could accept such a condition.

Mr Javid had been due to deliver his first Budget in four weeks’ time. The former home secretary was appointed chancellor by Mr Johnson when he became prime minister in July. His resignation follows rumours of tensions between Mr Javid and the prime minister’s senior adviser Dominic Cummings. He has been replaced as chancellor by Chief Secretary to the Treasury Rishi Sunak – who just seven months ago was a junior housing minister.

Of course, elsewhere in the world, there’s no plain sailing either. With Democracy per se giving rise to the no clear mandate in countries throughout Europe and Israel, and in other countries where the word has been ‘bent’ a little, such as Turkey and Russia, their presidents have done their level best to ensure they remain in power for a very long time. That might be a good thing really, and we certainly should not be aiming to get in the way of those controlling forces, for fear of causing something worse.

And here’s how the Chaos of dramatic change has effect in schools these last few years. Locally and wider afield, schools and their GCE/GCSE students therein no longer have their studies and achievements validated by coursework created along the way over a 24 month period. The ‘norm’ now is ‘study hard’ for 18 months, learn how to learn and produce the results in the exam room to sort the best from the rest. It will take another 5 or so years for the researchers to complete their long term study of the effects of these changes, but the effects are becoming quite clear already. Those with stable homes and sufficient funds to keep their families warm and well fed are thriving, other than in the wider terms of their children’s mental health, because the first past the post system does seem to be putting far more pressure on the students than a decade or so ago and classic coursework courses that they have replaced. And for those without the stability of a nourished homelife, they are finding it much harder to compete in this style of assessment, hence the social mobility indicators stalling and in reverse of the desired trend that all should be able to succeed through school. Their mental health has certainly suffered, for which insecure learning is only one of the factors.

It’s been interesting to read emerging research that because employment is now reserved for the post 18 year old, our younger disenfranchised adolescents no longer spend their time in the company of older adults in work, but in their own company out of work, and influenced much more heavily by what’s available within their peer group in terms of entertainment and occupation. It seemed so obvious to aim to keep all in education to age 18, either at school or college or in apprenticeships; trouble is, the latter are scarce and only available to the good guys and girls, and unless you are ‘academic’ and ‘well supported’, studying at school to keep taking English and Maths GCSE as a focus simply doesn’t cut the ‘skills’ development we need for those to have a successful future.

This week’s new choice to further cut thousands of obsolete level 3 (A level equivalent) and below is on the face of it, no bad thing. The leaders of the further education sector recognise vocational courses are always evolving and adapting, and the efforts of central government is to focus more clearly on 3 major strands that bring greater harmony to the post 16 landscape, academic, vocational and apprenticship studying be the 3 routes forwards. So long as the investment goes into the apprenticeships and that genuinely we provide enough work-based learning for our young people, then we’ll see their reintegration into a society with the space and attention span to look after their welfare.

Teachers in whatever phase of learning they are to be found are representatives of one of the noblest of professions. We will never get rich in monetary terms, but it’s a great calling and brings out the best in so many they reach. On Monday this week, we learned of the death of one of our finest teachers of the last 30 years here in school, Susan Payne.

We learned on Monday of the death of Susan Payne, teacher and latterly deputy head at Junior Boys until quite recently. Richard Hoog, teacher both of RS at Senior Boys and still form teacher for Year 6 at Junior Boys wrote this perfect snap-shot of Susan in her memory. I copy it in full below, and doff my hat to both Mr Hogg and Mrs Payne, teachers indeed in the finest ‘Noble’  tradition of educators in the land.

“She was a great servant of Chess at Ridgeway/Claires Court, an outstanding teacher, a patient mentor and a loyal friend. Susan continued to develop chess at Claires Court, taking the game outside these walls for the first time to play in the Berkshire, Buckinghamshire and EPSCA leagues. She pushed for more tournaments to be played at the school and helped build the foundation for future success – not only driving the school minibus to weekend tournaments but, in the early days of EPSCA, Susan would take the boys off to Camber Sandsfor a whole weekend tournament; not to everyone’s taste I hear you say, but a true testament to someone determined to give Claires Court boys every possible opportunity during their time with us. So many boys have so much to thank her for.

I will never forget the time I was visiting Susan in hospital after her miraculous recovery from meningitis. We had been chatting away about life, the universe and everything when a diminutive nurse knocked on the door and announced in a sweet Irish brogue that it was time for Susan to sit her psych evaluation; a must for all in her situation. At this point Susan asked, straight faced, if we could have another paper so I could sit the test too…

Mrs Payne was a kind and above all, determined individual; possessing a regal quality that would in itself not be out of place on a chessboard. On the wall in what was her office she had a large poster boasting the poem Do Not Go Gentle Into That Good Night by Dylan Thomas. Susan Payne would not “Go Gentle”. She fought illness with a cheerful and faithful confidence, living to see the marriage of both her daughters, and the birth of two grandchild – two years after being given only weeks to live.

I still keep a text message from Susan from the morning after Claires Court finally, after much effort on Susan’s part, broke into the group of top Chess playing schools in the country with triumph in Bristol. The message reads:

“Had a great night’s sleep… Just sinking in what a momentous achievement it is. Thank you for inviting me to see history being made. WELL DONE to you all!”

No Susan – Thank you. ” And to Richard I extend my thanks, cast in a similar mould, chess ‘whizz’ and wry humourist, and great leader of ‘Chess education in our junior school. Children find chess is one of those most rewarding of games to play, luck playing little part in its methodology. Rules and strategies have to be learned and honed, and then…practice, practice, practice must then follow.

And broadly speaking that’s what teachers throughout the world have to do, introduce, school, teach and then encourage practice… ; it takes the patience of a Saint (thank you Valentine) and the broad shoulders when the learner needs a shove, and sufficient humour to cope with the setbacks that always show up in the classroom. And that’s a good metaphor for all of us to follow, as we face the ongoing and ever changing face of the world in which we live!

About jameswilding

Academic Principal Claires Court Schools Long term member & advocate of the Independent Schools Association
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1 Response to Unintended consequences – the product of chaotic & disruptive events 2020

  1. Ann Jesseman says:

    What a lovely memory of Mrs Payne written by Mr Hogg. I also remember those chess competitions all those years ago when Mrs Payne so nicely asked if I could volunteer my services to make the cheese toasties for all the boys – how could I ever say no and I continued bringing in my own toaster to speed up the service for the ever hungry boys.

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