It was Franklin D Roosevelt in 1933 who coined the phrase ‘’the first 100 days’’. Lucy Winkett suggests that politics in this country has taken on this American benchmark as a useful way to discuss the impact of an elected government. If this is to be the case, this is week 1. In our divided society we do not seem to want to wait much longer to judge impact – we have, after all, seen 3 general elections in 5 years. But for now we will move from campaigning to governing. All parties put social justice, if not education directly, at the heart of their campaigns. Now is the time when we will see what comes to fruition.
Basil Bernstein (1970) asserted that “education cannot compensate for society”. Recently I read with dismay about the increasing gap that exists between the wealthiest and poorest in our society. It now exceeds the US, which takes some doing. The richest earn 130 times more than the poorest. In Scandinavia it averages 29 times. Education cannot be held Principal’s round up Research Special responsible for this or be accountable for a solution. However, before we get too downhearted we must remember that government is not an end in itself. Governing is only a means to an end- the end goal requires us to define of the kind of society, community or school we want to have. Just as influential as the hard wiring of any system and policy are the less tangible expressions of who we are, the stories we use to guide us and the faith we have in our founding values and beliefs.
We can for example address inequalities by firming up ‘character.’ This means we can look beyond excuses, and seek solutions. We might be working in an unsupportive and non-socially aware political framework, but we are still free thinkers. Free to behave ethically and in the common good. Part of that requires us to be hopeful and reject despondency. We should not generalise, rather we should pay attention to research to guide us to believe that we still have the liberty to try to achieve well. I have included many research summaries in this week’s Fortnightly Focus. This is to stimulate thought on our freedoms to guide us to understand how self-determining we can really be in challenging times. Andreas Schleicher (Director for Education and Skills at OECD) suggests that one of the reasons we get stuck in educational thinking in the UK is because our thinking is framed by so many myths unsupported by research. Some of these are:
1. The poor will always do less well at school. That is not true. The 10% most disadvantaged 15 year olds in Shanghai performed better on the PISA maths test than the 10% wealthiest American students.
2. Smaller classes mean better results. That is not true. In fact whenever high performing education systems have to make a choice between a small class or better teaching, they go for the latter. Singapore has a staff-student ratio of 12:1 which is more favourable than in the UK. But Singapore has much larger exam classes (of 35-36) than the UK. Teachers in the UK have little time for anything other than teaching whist the larger class sizes in Singapore allows teachers to spend more time with their colleagues to co-plan and to observe each other.
3. More time spent learning always means better results. That is not true. Study hours in Finland are little more than half what students in UAE spend, but in Finland students learn a lot in little time while in UAE they learn very little in a lot of time.
4. The EBACC subjects are the subjects that will restore education to the standard of the past. This is not true. We do not live in the past. Creative subjects are the key to enabling success in all workplaces. By 2025 it is anticipated that 40% of jobs will be in the creative industries.
While we debate the merits of the en vogue curriculum models favoured by Ofsted, I would like to suggest that it is creativity that must be nurtured at all costs. The world around us is rapidly being directed by algorithms. Humans have the ability to build cars that can make their own decisions, apps that can simulate human emotions, programmes that can synthesise diagnoses to replace GPs and robots that can make their own decisions to kill during warfare. The industrial revolution replaced human brawn; the technological revolution is replacing brain. But it has yet to reach or replace human imagination and creativity. Young people are growing up in a world and in an education system that isolates them. Social media has a lot to answer for. It promotes everyone’s ‘perfect’ life and is destructive to young people’s mental health. The Arts are the antidote. Through the Arts, there is no failure, only iterative steps to success. The Arts promote team work, eye contact, good body language, confidence, laughter and an undeniable sense of what it takes to be human.
We saw evidence in this point at the wonderful Merrymistinselsantasticmas show and Carol concert, where we were joined by members of the community who really care about this school. Fantastic examples of solidarity, co-construction and cooperative approaches to creating something new were fostered by those who took part.
But the kind of resilience required to achieve what I have described does not come from rigour and enforced compliance. Successful organisations never follow like sheep. If full obedience
is required, there will always be those of us who will rebel. To go our own way we will also require enhanced links with the community to help us carry the burden, and it will require even more effort and hours of work. We must never stand still and be happy with where we are. Instead we should remain ambitious, industrious and reflective. The secret to excellence is knowing when things are going wrong and taking personal responsibility to rectify them.
Some will be relieved and energised after the election result last Thursday, others will be hurt and afraid. But we must remember we are not just citizens in a democracy or consumers in the market place, we are thoughtful creatures capable of remarkable creativity. The power to overcome adversity and turn it into a positive experience is what we will strive for. Notwithstanding whether or not we feel we won or lost last week, the next 100 days will be days of reckoning, and we will play our part. Thank you for your hard work this year. I sincerely hope you have a restful and relaxing holiday. You have earned it.