Times are changing. You only have to consider the issues facing school funding, unfunded staff costs, recruitment and retention, ever more government initiatives that are altering the face of teaching including ITT proposals, school efficiency models, a new Ofsted framework, tertiary reforms. When just doing our jobs well is hard enough it is easy to forget how much of what we do is so exceptional by our own standards, and by international standards. We are experts at addressing standards but this can lead us to look downwards and inwards. We need to remember to look outwards at other school systems and use profession led networks to help us understand what is possible. Part of this is taking time to read research and try to be solution focused rather than despondent.
In this vein, at a time when knowledge is once again being cited as the basis of educational achievement, we know that the real challenge for schools is understanding how to prepare young people for the future. Tomorrow’s (and today’s?) schools need to help students to think for themselves and join others in work and citizenship. At a time when Google knows everything, schools will need to help students develop a strong sense of right and wrong and sensitivity to the claims others make. At work, at home and in the community, people will need a deep understanding of how others think, whether as scientists or artists, and how others live, in different cultures and traditions. Whatever tasks machines may be taking over from humans at work, the demands on our capabilities to contribute meaningfully to social and civic life will always keep rising. These are topics that should dominate issues around curriculum design in the most advanced education system.
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:
• 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.
• 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.
• 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.
Parent voice this week was extremely positive, which is good to hear. Parents are very supportive of our work around Living Life to the Full and Humanutopia. These programmes, along with our ever improving tutor programme form the basis of the work we are undertaking to improve ethos. Parents stated that they really liked the projects and appreciated having the opportunity to really find out what they involve. Y7 parents raised social time as a concern. Their children tell them they roam at lunch, and I am coming to the conclusion that we need to revisit the timing of the day along with breaks. In addition, it is a fact that we will never ‘exclude’ our way out of poor behaviour. Students themselves have to be part of the solution to disaffection rather than grouping together to fight the system.
I do hope that many of you will find the time to come along and watch The Railway Children next week. A huge amount of effort and hard work has gone into this wonderful production, and it certainly deserves a good audience. It could well be the antidote to the cold and miserable weather, and cheer us up part way through a busy half term.
Have a good weekend