“The world will never starve for want of wonders; but only for want of wonder.” G.K. Chesterton

So far, it has been a good summer term, all being equal. The weather has been sufficiently kind to us on the good days, for us not to mind about the wet ones. Work for all in education has remained blisteringly busy, managing as we are the enormous planned changes in the English public examination curriculum which are currently underway, and have perhaps one more full year of added load for those in the secondary phase.

More generally, I remain somewhat dumbfounded by the growing turmoil in public services and utilities. I can only be delighted that I walk to work rather than rely upon train services, that I am healthy in mind and body as well as accident free (touch wood) don’t need access to health services (emergency or otherwise), and that the streets around where I live seem for the moment safe to walk around.

However, whatever the state of my dumbfoundedness, I wake every day with a sense of optimistic purpose, urged on by G.K’s famous quote to create some wonder in the community which I serve. Whatever the in-tray has winking at me, I do know I need to create something anew or quality assure something old, so that curiosity about learning and skill acquisition remains to the forefront in our school.

Obviously a lot is borrowed from elsewhere; whoever knew 10 years ago that social media could be used to entertain and inform as well as it does, or that any of us can live-stream events for the distant viewer. Bringing G suite tools on board in 2013 provides us then with a new set with which to manipulate our digital environment, and their near-universal take-up means we can watch (for example) the National Schools Rowing championships live on Youtube, something that the terrestrial broadcasters would never bother with.

One of the major events I coordinated this week was the ISA London West Athletics championships at Thames Valley Stadium, Eton College.  As I write, back-stage peeps are putting the final touches on the results sheets; for the first time we ran a photo-finish for the track events, which is just as well, for without such we could not have possibly known that the Claires Court U17 relay side had pipped ACS Egham by 0.01 second for the Gold medal? Who’d have thought a school champs would have such sophisticated technology made available for them? There certainly was no argument when the respective team coaches watched the video replay, with CC’s Byron Ewing dipping his chest at the precise moment!

What a wonder that was, indeed!


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A culture of research v sabbatical leave

Dateline: Friday 4 May 2018

Problem: Recruitment and Retention of Teachers in England

Headline: Teachers to be offered year’s paid sabbatical to improve retention

Guardian headline

I won’t be the only head/teacher listening to the news headlines or indeed reading these proposals in print that was perplexed by this announcement by our new Secretary of State for Education, Damian Hinds.  As ever, it does seem as though Mr Hinds needed to have some ‘good news’ to present at the start of the Teachers’ conference season, partly because that is expected of any Prime Minister or Secretary of State when they are speaking to a large public audience. What the Rt Hon MP could not do is stand up in front of committed educationalists and say ‘All’s well, carry on’, because of course within the government’s educational estate, there are some significant long term problems, that no matter what government has tried to tweak, are legacy outcomes from previous failed initiatives and can’t be resolved with ‘gimicky’ headlines such as this.

I agree that schools need to be learning institutions for the staff as well as the children, and that can only happen if the staff have the opportunity to study and learn whilst on the job.  That ‘opportunity’ is about ‘time’ and that ‘time’ is bought by giving teachers sufficient non-contact hours from classes, and ensuring that the work overflow from contact-time does not consume all the available extra. However, as we all know, the school culture must be set around self-improvement and developing others, not just about creating schemes of work, marking, writing reports and data entry/analysis, otherwise the additional energy will be wasted on ‘spinning the hamster’ wheel, not generating new ideas and improving opportunities for all.

When the decision was made during Michael Gove’s tenure as Education Secretary to change every teaching programme in every school in England from Reception to Year 13 5 years ago, and to change every mode of assessment that went with that, it sent the teaching faculty here and every where else to be honest into a flat spin. As an private school, we can choose to be independent of much that central government force-feeds its own schools, but we could not avoid the change for all secondary examinations that are now mid flow. A level grades have not changed, but the subjects have been made harder, so achieving those grades more difficult, demanding an increase in knowledge retention and skill deployment. GCSEs have had the same ‘toughening-up’, with the added dimension of a complete change in nomenclature (numbers over grades, e.g. 4=C) and a switch from criterion-lead marking (a C means the pupils can do this, that and the other) to % cohort classification (63% of pupils will get a level 4 or above).  The latter approach is simply inappropriate and unfair; why does setting an arbitrary bar and %cut mean our pupils who clear the bar will be more capable than before?

What has also been of real import in the state sector is that teacher load has also been increased in terms of class size, with teachers increasingly used to facing classes in excess of 30 at almost all levels below age 16. Some 20 years ago the decision was made to support the teachers in the state sector through the additional employment of teaching assistants and learning support assistants, who now number perhaps 40% of a school’s teaching faculty. As a professional teacher, having additional adults in your room may in one way ease the load, but in plenty of other dimensions decreases the efficiency of the teacher because they have even more variables and liaison activities with which to engage. As austerity measures have rolled out in recent years, numbers of support works have declined, class sizes have increased further, all of which seems to cause the perfect storm of poor teacher retention and the concomitant low teacher recruitment.

LSA Business ReviewOur industry is well used to Secretaries of State coming up with Golden ticket solutions that will noticeably improve teacher retention. Claires Court has not introduced performance-related pay for example, now rolled out in every state school at great expense of time and effort. Because it ‘works’ in ‘business’, Michael Gove and his DfE apparatchiks felt PRP should be rolled out for all teachers as well, back in 2014, suggesting that it would reward the best teachers, encourage teacher recruitment and retention.  Guess what; it dramatically increased teacher and management work load without any benefit to the pupils, and after 4 years, we have the researchers from LSE making it clear that PRP per se does not work- https://www.tes.com/news/performance-related-pay-ineffective-schools-study-finds. Surprise, surprise, the Human Resource Management tool that works best in schools with teachers is the same as for pupils, intense provision of teaching and training.

None of the pressures in the last paras have affected my staff here, because we are completely confident that the pupil:teacher ratios we run are the best in the long term for both pupil progress and achievement and teacher’s well being. Whilst all the research indicates that dropping class size from 33 to 28 gives rise to no difference for pupil outcomes, cutting the class size by half and doubling the non-contact time for teachers actually does make the difference an educational  community needs to thrive. And those are our metrics: class size wherever possible 20 or less and teacher non-contact time at 20% as opposed to at best 10% in public service. If you do the mathematics on that =+0.5 day per week additional non-contact time over a period of 10 years will of course mean a teacher has been given the equivalent of a year of additional work space for personal endeavour, time for research, enquiry, ‘career’ resighting and additional professional qualifications. And in addition, that’s not just given to staff because they have made a really good case for it, but to every teachers, because they need it.

In our research-led community over the past 6 years, with the time to be curious and make enquiry, we have been able to build and embed the Learning Essentials, the use of G Suite and other digital tools, introduce mindfulness and other core thinking tools to support children and adults at work and even have many staff taking part in a mental health induction training programme.  We have increased the number of staff involved in staff development and training this spring/summer. Currently we have 28 teachers in training and 4 working towards Masters qualification, we’ve won the right to manage the provision of apprenticeships under our own training regime, and we have have remarkable initiatives such as ‘Girls on Board’ and ‘The Learning Scientists’ underway helping us retain our pathfinder and trail-blazer ambitions.

Giving teachers a year off at the end of 10 years might work for a very few, nice to have etc. but in no way is it going to lead to the resuscitation and renewal of interest in teaching in the state sector that Mr Hinds suggests. For 90% of teaching staff that is going to be in the future anyway, years ahead down the line. What they needed to hear was the following:

  1. The team around the child includes teaches, parents, health and care personnel. The critical staff shortage is affecting all 3 professional groups, and the £5 million  would be far better spent putting school nurses and police liaison officers back in place, with clear pathways for additional support available at a much earlier stage to ‘nip problems’ in the bud, linking health and care much more closely to school and family.
  2. Children can only learn the behaviours and skills we want them to acquire if they are taught them; society cannot surround them with fast food and instant entertainment, and wonder why we are generating a new generation with a propensity for obesity and short attention spans. Rather than ‘pass the buck’, government should re-invest in the community education programmes we need to support adult education in their local communities.
  3. It was Margaret Thatcher who said “There is no such thing as society: there are individual men and women, and there are families”. Sadly, we are reaping what she sowed; learning from the likes of Finland, Canada, Singapore and New Zealand, where educational outcomes for all are so much higher, we need all schools to be valued for what they bring to their local community and kept integral to the planning for the success of the whole community, not just the easy bits.

And of course if we cannot afford these strategies in all schools and communities, bring them back into play in the communities where deprivation is most acute. Such choices take wisdom and conviction; here’s hoping after a false start, Damian Hinds shows a better set of heels next conference time.


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Lessons from History – what learning looks like some 100 years on.

Last weekend, 40 boys and girls from Year 10 spent 2 days on the Ypres Salient in Belgium. It’s difficult to emphasise just what an important experience this is for any person, in part because the lies from their leaders, the sheer waste of life and the impartial injustice to all are so starkly evident. Their visit included:

  • visiting the UEFA memorial battlefield site of the famous Xmas 1914 fraternisation between Tommy and the Boche, where Christmas gifts were exchanged and we lost on penalties to the Germans in umpteen impromptu games of football;
  • sitting in the Hooge crater area, learning about the bravery of the 175th Tunnelling company whose gallery excavations covered 58m, where they exploded 2 huge bombs to literally undermine the enemy;
  • conducting a headstone survey at Tyne Cot cemetery, the resting place of 11,954 soldiers of the Commonwealth Forces – this is the largest number of burials contained in any Commonwealth cemetery of either the First or Second World War, and the largest Commonwealth military cemetery in the world;
  • following the lives of some known individuals of the First World war period through the ‘In Flanders’ Field‘ museum;
  • attending the Last Post ceremony (our 4 in the last quartet) and laying a wreath in respect for all the fallen, including those former pupils of Maidenhead College, whose names are on the Menin Gate where the service takes place;
  • visiting the trenches and exploring the use of military equipment at the Passchendaele Museum;
  • contrasting commonwealth war memorials with those of the German allies at Langemark cemetery;
  • appreciating and understanding the horror of a gas attack at the advanced field dressing station at Essex farm;
  • visiting the Lijssenthoek military hospital site at Poperinge, learning more about Triage, battlefield dressings and the care of the wounded during this period, whilst also appreciating that so many other nationalities lost their lives in and shortly the Great War.

Throughout the 2 days, we were accompanied by Warrant Officer Richie Parsons, now a territorial medical officer but accompanying school trips to add detailed factual accuracy and exemplar kit demonstrations at our many stops over the 2 days. Below you can see some a collage given a sense of our learning experience over the 2 days.

Ypres Collage 2018

Ypres Collage 2018b

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It’s been a long time coming, this end-of-winter-2017/18.

For those very few that await my weekly blog, they’ll have noticed that it went missing this Lent 2018. That’s not to suggest the choice was not deliberate, it’s just that the good Christian in me always reminds me that you are not supposed to wear your sackcloth-and-ashes and moan about them, merely to suffer in silence. Well, now that we are past Maundy Thursday, I can confirm that not only did I stop my blog but I stopped my ‘beer’ as well. After a very genuine 40 days in the desert plus an additional no-beer-on-Sundays-rule, I can say I feel very pleased with myself, and for 2 reasons:

  1. I can take a season of not writing and not drinking without much pain, … and secondly
  2. I no longer feel the need for beer.

However, it’s time to restart the blog, and this Easter break has seen the re-emergence of the ‘Woodpecker’ press, keen to dig out any little soundbite and amplify it to spread doom, gloom and disenchantment.  Try this headline from a recent teachers’ conference, amplified by most of the nationals “Private school parents think they are ‘buying’ exam success for their children, teachers’ leader says”.

The Teacher’s leader mentioned, Dr Mary Bousted of the ATL certainly does not lead me, and the quotes she attributes to teachers are not ones I hear in my staff room. Education is its own industry, regarded by central government as sitting alongside Care and Health. Parents pay tuition fees to my school for an educational offer that includes tuition in core academic areas but in addition education of the ‘whole’ child.  Our offer does include smaller class size, an extended teaching day, additional extra-curricular activities and other imaginative and often innovative ways of bringing learning to life and making it relevant for the pupils we serve.

Of course, parents will have very high expectations of us to provide as promised, and that’s wholly reasonable.  But parents who join Claires Court buy into an offer of aims, values and accountability that often means their children won’t be tested to the hilt and unnecessarily examined. Our pupils will not take part in the Standardised Assessment tests (SATs) that state school pupils are required to take aged 7 and 11, and have to do so for over a decade. At secondary level, our pupils are not given ‘notional’ floor standards against which their progress as learners is measured year on year to age 16, as their state counterparts are given. This statistical exercise, against which children and then used by DfE and Ofsted to determine whether the school has been successful as an institution, or whether it is ‘coasting’, ‘requires improvement’ or ‘inadequate’ embraces a toxic methodology which our sector has not only discounted but actually cannot play any part in, even if we wished.

Anyway back to the headline, what on earth is anyone to gain from making public some private grief shared, as if it were evidence of national discord? Answer, it fits the national press narrative to spread division and gloom, a mood that can only be changed by clicking on the adverts that surround the story.  Try it yourself with the Daily Telegraph on-line story – in my case it directs me to buy Gin from Lidl, find perfect ‘powder’ for skiing, check whether I qualify for PPI and … a link to another article set to spread despondency amongst parents choosing private school, entitled “Eccentric, overpriced and entitled: the former High Master of St Paul’s on how Britain’s public schools must change.” The Daily Mail version invites me to take a punt with the Euro lottery, take out a new mortagage or…well, you choose, I couldn’t possibly.

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April Fools day Post from The Learning Scientists – GUEST POST: How to Study Poorly


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“Teaching’s not rocket science – it’s more complex than that!” – Rachel Jackson

Amongst the busy life I lead as a school principal, leader, counsellor, mentor and blogger, I also teach classes, currently some Year 8 History and Year 9 Spanish. It’s important to note I have always taught, secondary and sixth form it must be said, in order to validate some of the decisions I have had  to make over past years.  It’s one thing to know the theory, quite another to have the experience to understand how that might roll out in practice.  When the Chartered College of Teaching opened 12 months ago, I became a founding member, because I am utterly convinced that Teaching is a unique profession, not just an extension of business or commercial activity.

Rachel Jackson, from the Institute of Education at John Moores University in Liverpool writes under this headline in today’s Impact magazine from the College. Rachel’s quite right about the activity of teaching being that complex, and not the first from our profession. Here’s Lee Shulman,  an American educational psychologist, widely quoted on the difficulty of Teaching.

Lee Shulman

Here’s Rachel writing further: “It must be remembered that education was considered a discipline of philosophy at first but due to the desire to find ultimate answers to questions of pedagogy, it was thought best to view education scientifically. This ‘big R’ Research, as Goswami and Stillman put it, was seen as inadequate if teachers are not granted the space to think carefully about the implications. Over 30 years on, are we philosophers or technicians?

The dominance of the ‘science of learning’ reinforces the perception that teaching is merely a technical endeavour but, as Cochran-Smith and Lytle  maintain, it is so much more than this and ‘practitioners are legitimate knowers and knowledge generators, not just implementers of others’ knowledge’. Winch et al.  see teaching as consisting of tacit understandings and reflective thinking as well as technical information but surmised that until teachers are given the space and the capacity to think deeply about the evidence they are bombarded with, teachers cannot be philosophical. As Ball, Maguire and Braun put it, teachers remain ‘ciphers’ who merely ‘implement’.”

Over the last 5 days since our return from half-term, those I work with have noticed I have been a little vexed. Obviously, with the new Campus proposals and consultations underway, pressure groups and their arguments to consider, I have a whole new wall of work to consider. We’ve also had 2 Year 11 parents evenings to handle this week, discussing exam possibilities as well as future destinations with some 100 families and the young people concerned. We had over 160 children involved in our Scholarship examinations, so I have had all those cases to consider, as well as those applicants in contention for Sixth Form award as well. With some of my leadership ill or injured too, there have been additional parents consultations to attend and monitor, and of course the daily ‘Russian Roulette’ of school life brings its unexpected experiences too. Late on Wednesday evening, I needed to act as paramedic, accompanying one of our older pupils home in their mother’s car for example.

None of the above vexed me.

Prior to half-term, I had been asked to read a manuscript of a new book on Childhood and parenting, to provide feedback and perhaps a ‘quote’. Since the book has yet to be published, it’s title is confidential, but the 6 authors are coworkers in one of the psychology services we use. Mothers as well as clinical psychologists, these current practitioners have chosen to write in depth, giving pen-portraits of case histories, about the children under the age of 11 they have been working with in recent years. The book is over 300 pages long, and the contents are a page-turner. I’ve already replied in draft with my quote: “This is a remarkable book; it is packed with wisdom from expert practitioners whilst at the same time illustrated with case examples that highlight very specific strategies for successful therapeutic interventions that parents will recognise straight away.  The writing exudes empathy from the 6 authors, everyone a mother and still working on getting it right for their own children”.

What vexes me is that I never knew being a parent was so hard, and on reading through the very many case notes in the book, we obviously had it so very easy when bringing up our own children. Equally vexing is that I recognise the exemplars in so many of the cases I and my colleagues in leadership are dealing with each day. We are facing an epidemic of mental health issues in our schools in England and mine is certainly not immune from the crisis. National statistics suggest that 1 in 10 of our children are suffering from a diagnosable mental health disorder, that’s over 100 children at Claires Court, 2 in every class at any one time. Those individual mental health issues may be resolved, but of course those unseen at an early age in others will rise up to take their place.

I have tried my utmost to ensure that we have both the qualified staff and expertise/experience in place to manage the daily issues that confront teachers and parents in the daily care of their children, to ensure we are so much more than ciphers implementing from a cue-card. What’s so comforting about the writing of the 6 clinical psychologists (coming from healthcare) and of researchers such as Rachel Jackson (coming from educational research) is that both confirm the sheer complexity of what we in teaching have to do each day, and that there are sources of confirmed knowledge and proven therapeutic pathways that will keep teachers and parents able to manage well the daily challenges they face…which I repeat are “As challenging as in an emergency room during a natural disaster”.  

Let me finish on a hopeful note. Almost everything a parent naturally does to provide for their children is intuitive, and most get this right. A baby needs an adult nearby whenever they need them, to comfort, console, secure and care. Readily available parents, and as we are proxies to this, teachers too, are able to provide physical reassurance to help children feel safe, and by being consistent in such support allows children to learn how to calm themselves. What is less obvious to parents as their children get older is that that need for a place of safety does not get less, and this is not just about ‘space’ in a physical sense, but also of that in time. Being together, not making all of life the treadmill that some days feel, keeping blame away and keeping hope in conversation alive and eternal is the way forward.  As we all age, what next has to be done is not quite so intuitive and automatic.  Telling children not to worry is often the worst thing that can be said, as is expecting that learning is linear and there won’t be serious hurdles along the way.  It should be no surprise that in really effective schools, mental health matters are pre-eminent, because the children do feel safe and able to surface their worries and cares. That does not mean that every child needs clinical interventions, but it does mean that those of us with responsibility must (and do) consider these as serious options. And it means I need to get to know my pupils well, and that’s why I need to be in the classroom, so I keep that particular skill ‘honed’.

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10 Year since “Man the lifeboats. The idiots are winning”; have we made progress?

Back in April 2018, Charlie Booker wrote this headline piece in The Guardian newspaper:

Charlie BrookerMan the lifeboats. The idiots are winning. Last week I watched, open-mouthed, a Newsnight piece on the spread of “Brain Gym” in British schools. I’d read about Brain Gym before – a few years back, in Ben Goldacre’s excellent Bad Science column for this newspaper – but seeing it in action really twisted my rage dial.

Brain Gym, y’see, is an “educational kinesiology” programme designed to improve kiddywink performance. It’s essentially a series of simple exercises lumbered with names that make you want to steer a barbed wire bus into its creator’s face. One manoeuvre, in which you massage the muscles round the jaw, is called the “energy yawn”. Another involves activating your “brain buttons” by forming a “C” shape with one hand and pressing it either side of the collarbone while simultaneously touching your stomach with the other hand.

Throughout the report I was grinding my teeth and shaking my head – a movement I call a “dismay churn”. Not because of the sickening cutesy-poo language, nor because I’m opposed to the nation’s kids being forced to exercise (make them box at gunpoint if you want) but because I care about the difference between fantasy and reality, both of which are great in isolation, but, like chalk and cheese or church and state, are best kept separate.
Honestly, the whole article is worth the read – https://goo.gl/EitPrw , and the comments that follow, though its audience is of the adult variety.

So what progress has been made over the last decade then? Firstly, Brain Gym, Learning styles, Multiple Intelligences, Left/right brain learners and other learning science neuro-myths have slowly and steadily been debunked, though probably not quickly enough to prevent too many schools wasting teachers and children’s time on them.  The basis of these neuromyths have been well intentioned; Howard Gardner in his work on multiple intelligences wasn’t trying to invent a new way of teaching, rather than debunk the post-war simplistic approach that advocated that brains could be trained to do anything.  Here’s Gardner writing back in 1993, 10 years after his seminal book Frames of mind. The theory of multiple intelligences was published: In the heyday of the psychometric and behaviorist eras, it was generally believed that intelligence was a single entity that was inherited; and that human beings – initially a blank slate – could be trained to learn anything, provided that it was presented in an appropriate way. Nowadays an increasing number of researchers believe precisely the opposite; that there exists a multitude of intelligences, quite independent of each other; that each intelligence has its own strengths and constraints; that the mind is far from unencumbered at birth; and that it is unexpectedly difficult to teach things that go against early ‘naive’ theories of that challenge the natural lines of force within an intelligence and its matching domains. (Gardner 1993: xxiii)

It’s easy with the wisdom of hindsight to work out how some in the ‘education gig economy’ thought you could just parcel up mini-packages of the above and peddle how a specific intelligence might be more rapidly developed.

Likewise, once those dramatic colour images of the human brain in action started Moral maze: advances in neurosurgery are often the result of risk-takingappearing alongside articles on cognitive science, it was amazing just how many myths re-emerged around whole brain/left brain/right brain learning.  That’s not to say that we don’t have different parts of our brain processing different things in different ways, but there are far too many interconnected neurons for us to imagine the bits don’t speak to each other at lightning speed. We’ve know from the very many head injuries endured by soldiers in wartime that damage in different areas causes irreversible damage to specific functions such as speech and sight, but we also know from the remarkable recoveries made by some that the very nature of the brain’s make up enables it to adjust and repair – this is called neuroplasticity, and actually we rely upon this in schools because the whole nature of a child’s growing development through education relies on the basis that neural connections can be made and remade. Here’s the dictionary definition of same:

  1. the ability of the brain to form and reorganize synaptic connections, especially in response to learning or experience or following injury.
    “neuroplasticity offers real hope to everyone from stroke victims to dyslexics”

It’s not just the neuromyths that have needed debunking.  Technology has once again been touted as our saviour, this time in order to equip ourselves for life in the “21st century”.  Here’s leading thinker on education matters and government behaviour czar, Tom Bennett on that “You hear people say that children must have iPads in order to be 21st century learners, but when you look at the research that tries to substantiate this claim, it’s normally written by iPad manufacturers and technology zealots, and that’s fine, but don’t pretend it’s research,” he says. “Children don’t have the time to waste on that rubbish, especially poor children.”

The profession has been led by people such as Bennett, and research organisations such as the Education Endowment Foundation, who have clamoured for government to ensure that educational change is led by well-rehearsed scientifically endorsed programmes of study. It’s not just Brain-gym adoption that has let this country, the States and many other parts of the west down; whole swathes of the world have been force-fed linear learning and achievement levels up through which children should be marched and by which schools’ efficacy can be judged by government inspectors. The entire English National curriculum has needed to be torn down since 2008, because it was built on such well-intentioned thinking, with no research basis to back it up.

Here in England, we’ve seen the wholesale scrapping of the assessment mechanism using coursework, ‘controlled’ assessments and modular examinations for both GCSE and A levels, again because of the well-intentioned approach that children should be validated by what they achieve along the way as well as by that which can be passed in a terminal examination at the end of a 2 year period.  The first major problem that the above brought was the inevitable grade inflation that came with this approach, that being, if the subjects and courses become more accessible to children by way of the validation systems of assessment, then more children will achieve and succeed at the highest level. The second major problem that arose was that ‘higher achievement’ did not mean successful ‘skill acquisition and embedding’, such that a C grade pass in English and Maths did not mean the successful graduates were literate or numerate.

We are now in the new, brave tomorrow where all skills needed to be kept practiced and alive over a 2 year period , so that on assessment day the successful student can demonstrate that they have all the skills and knowledge at their disposal, and to be honest, so long as the terminal question papers are appropriately tailored, it’s likely good schools will be able to enable and empower just as many of its learners as hitherto to success.  The courses are deeper, richer and encourage time for thinking and personal research, because they are not being constantly interrupted by their own or other subject’s assessments.

So now the old myths have gone, what are the new ones emerging?

Firstly the most obvious one is that the general requirement for schools to have a much more academic and rigorous approach (in order that England can rise up the PISA tables, provide better students for the economy, now and the future). This is being translated by proxy into a narrowing of subject disciplines from the age of 5, and with children being identified as falling behind from the very start.  The use of assessment to determine whether children are making progress assumes that education is the ‘filling of a pail’.  Now I get that, so that so long as I can measure the depth of water in the pail, and ensure that a child’s learning keeps up, then those ‘falling behind’ can be spotted and chivvied along. The trouble is, whilst we can measure the depth of water, that’s not a proxy for the ‘depth of learning’. WB Yates reminded of this with his illusion that ‘Education is not the filling of a pail but the lighting of a fire’, and it is so much harder to measure the latter.

One new parent to our school with a 7 year old spoke to me on Wednesday afternoon about the difference her son’s experience of education was since changing schools. “In his last school, all he did all  day was write”, and when I picked him up each day, he seemed exhausted by the experience, the day dragging interminably from  one writing experience to the next.  Here, the school day is 2 hours longer, and it seems to whistle by, because he has so many different things to do, such a wide variety of learning experiences to enjoy. ” Now that’s one way to measure the lighting of a fire, anecdotal of course and not easily put into a league table.

As austerity bites, so many of the broader programmes of study are being replaced by narrow, writing-only based disciplines in state schools. Many headteachers and schools are shouting the odds about this, and making a serious fuss, but others are gently pressing forward and seeking to become ‘Ofsted – outstandin’, by focussing on the progress grades achieved by those children in a narrow range of subjects and gently ‘losing’ the children that are not sufficiently compliant to this narrowing of approach.

Schools minister Nick Gibb

Spot the narrowing visible in the now ‘required’ English Baccalaureate; English, English Literature, Maths, sciences (inc computer science), History/Geography, an MFL and one other. “A multimillion pound investment in music and arts education will help hundreds of thousands of young people from all backgrounds enjoy potentially life changing cultural activities, Schools Minister Nick Gibb announced today (18 November 2016).

Over the next 4 years the government will provide £300 million to a network of 121 music education hubs to work with schools, local authorities and community organisations to get more young people taking part in music and arts.  Music hubs help hundreds of thousands of 5- to 18-year-olds each year access activities like playing an instrument, singing in a choir or joining a band. Today’s announcement will allow them to reach even more pupils.”

Previously, this was funded in some 25,000 state schools, so you can see why the subject of Music is in such danger now, because schools can point to the new ‘hubs’ and suggest that this activity is no longer part of their core business.  Art, Drama, Design/Food Technology, Music and RS are now in danger of disappearing as school competitive sporting provision has done before, because the priority for an academic education sanctions their ‘departure’.

Secondly, there is a gentle permissioning of parents to give up on their children, because parenting has become ‘harder’. This needs both careful consideration and checking, because whilst for individual adults of any generation, parenting can be made harder because of partner separation, work challenges and the like, the data doesn’t actually show this over time. Simple measures such as infant mortality have crashed more then tenfold over the last 100 years. There are though many challenges now, cheap junk food, glamour accessories and easy access to technology contributing to an affordable adolescent lifestyle that’s difficult to combat when at the same time children are surrounded by advertisement that empowers them to expect freedom and access to the above.  School can be a very successful antidote to this.

What’s not a myth is that schools play a central part in a child’s life, and adults therein are likely to spend more time with the children than the parents are able to.  As other parts of our welfare state aae squeezed to look after the aging end of our society, so schools need to offer more opportunities not less for the child as they pass through education.  It’s easier for these centres of excellence in understanding and managing children to do so than suggest a wider society should try harder. In just the same way that more GPs in a community leads in the longer term for hospitals and care homes to become less busy, so research-led schools that cover more of the education space will led to a safer society and better educated community.

All we need now is for the numbers of uniformed police to be increased once more. Whilst I have to accept that there are many more crimes now to be committed on-line, so that space needs care, I also know just how important it is to have school liaison officers who work locally and get known in all the schools. As with school nurses,  it’s not good enough to spread them so thinly that they are invisible.  And that’s no myth here RBWM, where there are no longer any police officers assigned to the role. RIP

And in 2018, that’s idiotic, whatever the cause.




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