I have been a teacher for 25 years, a Headteacher for 10 years and, at the age of 49, this much I know about feeling like a dinosaur.
‘Tis now Spring, and all the pleasures of it displease me; every other tree blossoms, and I wither: I grow older, and not better; my strength diminisheth, and my load grows heavier; and yet, I would fain be or do something; but that I cannot tell what, is no wonder in this time of my sadness. – John Donne
The older I get the less certain I am about anything. I write this neither for sympathy nor reassurance, but because I feel a genuine sense of doubt; whilst I like peaches and I’ll never wear my trousers rolled, I do keep asking myself, am I stalwart or dinosaur?
I’ve never been good about getting older! I spent a great evening recently with David Conn, an old mate from university and recent winner of the Sports News Writer of the Year award. David was speaking at the York University Union, exploring his latest book about Manchester City FC, Richer Than God, and he explained to the youthful audience how he and I had met at York exactly 30 years ago. He pointed out that coming to speak to them was the equivalent of someone coming to speak to our undergraduate selves in 1984 about football in 1954.
There is a whole generation of youthful educators on the move. I spoke recently at City Hall about research in education. We were on the top floor overlooking the Thames, with a veritable fest of world famous landmarks in view, and in front of me were dozens of young educators like Julia Citron who are unencumbered by the last three decades of state education. They know nothing but Academies, Free Schools, Teach First and Michael Gove and their sense of the possible was tangible. I left Boris Johnson’s HQ feeling uplifted; later on the train back north I began to wonder whether it was time, to use a golfing term, to step aside and wave the new breed through.
How many goodly creatures are there here!
How beauteous mankind is! O brave new world,
That has such people in ’t!
Am I part of Michael Gove’s blob? If I am, is that actually a good thing? Has the educational world changed so radically that there is no place now for my concept of Headship which I articulated 18 months ago, the nub of which is to be the Headteacher of the school, the lead practitioner, the person who spends most of his or her time improving the quality of teaching across the institution? In the past I have ranted thus: There is a huge fork in the road for Headteachers: one route leads to executive headship and the other back into the classroom, teaching, coaching, mentoring, supporting, being the Headteacher. If the Headteacher’s day-to-day work is not engaged in improving practice in his or her school then s/he is missing the point. I still believe this is true, it’s just that growing numbers of people seem to disagree with me.
If the Conservatives win the next election I would say that forced Academisation is inevitable. And I don’t know what I think about that any more. The vast majority of my great colleagues on the Headteachers’ Roundtable Think Tank lead academies; I’m one of the few exceptions. Should we allow state schools to be run for profit? I’m pretty sure that they shouldn’t but many think schools-for-profit is an acceptable concept.
Funding cuts make my working life increasingly hard; I have had to oversee some very painful redundancy processes this year. Yet the cost of setting up the Harris Westminster Sixth Form for high-achieving students is purportedly £45m, or £90,000 per student. Is that right? I don’t know, but some people seem sure it is.
Can some horror stories emerging from Academy chains really be true? Is the world so changed? I heard recently that the advice from the CEO of an Academy chain advertising for a new principal for the chain’s flagship Academy to an experienced aspirant candidate was, It’s an outstanding Academy, part of an outstanding Academy chain, the OFSTED report is available online, apply if you want to. Is there such a thing any more as a Headteacher who is able to lead a school according to his or her values-set or are Headteachers/Principals merely implementers of the corporate processes? Does it matter, as long as students’ outcomes are improving? Really, does it? I don’t know…
One personal Springtime cheer has been an invite to speak at the Oxford Union in June; the letter is very very amusing for someone like me who has taken Shelley’s Ozymandias to heart…
This House Believes That Private Schools Do More Harm Than Good is the debate; well, the trouble is, as a member of the Steering Group of York’s Independent-State School Partnership I will probably be speaking against the motion!
Margaret Thatcher inspired me to become a teacher. And the Coalition is dismantling state education as we have known it in front of our eyes. Are we really returning to a world of unbridled competition? Is the market the answer to our educational woes? It seems that the level of turbulence caused by deliberately huge policy change means that what is left surviving when the dust settles on Michael Gove’s tenure will be the new educational world. I’m afraid I am beginning to feel my erstwhile certainties, the very bedrock of my core beliefs, begin to crumble.
Few candidates I interview now remember Banda machines. What I hold onto, however, is the fact that many interviewees have explained to me recently that they want to work at our school because they want to work somewhere which has soul.
Our revels now are ended. These our actors,
As I foretold you, were all spirits, and
Are melted into air, into thin air:
And like the baseless fabric of this vision,
The cloud-capp’d tow’rs, the gorgeous palaces,
The solemn temples, the great globe itself,
Yea, all which it inherit, shall dissolve,
And, like this insubstantial pageant faded,
Leave not a rack behind. We are such stuff
As dreams are made on; and our little life
Is rounded with a sleep.