Selfishly, I put myself down to teach Year 7 PE and History. I justify this decision by telling myself, and anyone else who is remotely interested, that I get to teach half the year group so will know students’ names for the next seven years of their schooling.
However, I secretly know that year 7 is one of the last bastions of ‘fun’ and enjoyment that is still available in this mad teaching world. The students are allowed to be; even the rigour of annual year 7 exams is a doddle after their yearlong preparation for SATs and there is a genuine desire to impress in their fresh new start that is their escape from the insane pressure of primary school testing; testing to judge schools not children. Furthermore, much of the teaching I see in year 7 is innovative and risk taking, such as the exploration of the immigrant crisis or the effect of global warming. This is in sharp contrast to the rushed, sterile, content driven curriculum of years 8-11 that has often become an elongated GCSE cycle. The teaching world is dictated by our restrictive, ill thought out exam system, with teachers and students frozen with fear by an exam system that is annually viewed as flawed and untrustworthy and yet is repeated with a resigned monotony that is suffocating staff and students. I agree with Sir Michael – there is need for ‘mavericks’ and not simply maverick leaders but caring mavericks such as Tim Brighouse who when leading Birmingham LA regularly visited schools and spoke to all. He believed in his school and his staff and we believed in him.
I have often thought that the current educational discussions/announcements over academisation/free schools/MATs are educational rhetoric that is being used to mask the fundamental flaws that are currently underpinning our failing education system. For example, there is a chronic lack of funding that is simply ignored. The ongoing ‘Fairer Funding Model’ discussion has paralysed schools since 1990, awaiting a fair judgement and unable to make long term decisions due to a lack of funds. The shortage of specialist teachers is recognised by all apart from myopic DfE who are aptly described as ‘woefully aloof’ to this burgeoning crisis. Furthermore, there is the forgotten problem of 1960s/70s asbestos riddled buildings that occupy our current schools and a curriculum that is more suited to the 1970s (where is the Mandarin, vocational apprenticeships, engineering). It is unlikely that becoming an academy or a multiple academy trust can fundamentally change central flaws to an education system that is externally broken and does not appear to trust those involved in leading schools to remedy the obvious problems. Being a maverick leader will get you noticed in the press but will not solve these flaws.
Some of the internal issues for my 11-19 Worcester school are:
- The impending arrival of an unwanted free school. A £15 million 14-19 UTC, which the local MP kindly believes should be an 11-19 school. This he feels would be more sustainable and benefit Worcester education, not totally destabilise the current system and take much needed students and therefore finance from us all. Another mask to the problems.
- A need to re-home music and dance which currently occupy £150 a week portcabins that hardly aid our delivery of these key subjects or aid marketability to discerning parents who often choose the established private schools that are considered by Worcester women as excellent, whatever the price, whoever the teacher.
- A fabulous staff who are ‘stressed’ and needing to be supported in their ‘wellbeing’, their hope.
- A reduction in external services that could assist vulnerable children or families with psychology, sexual health and sensory impairment services all being cut/removed with Worcestershire’s safeguarding strapline, ‘doing nothing is not an option’, a mocking reminder of our impotency to make an impact on some who so need support.
My SWOT analysis inbox therefore has plenty of threats to sustaining the very good education we currently offer. The hopes or opportunities depend on optimistic detailed bids that meet stringent criteria set by the anonymous EFA, which at times feels like a postcode lottery and is dependent on how many bids you have put in or who you know. This can be a very negative, frustrating place to be where great schools with great staff cannot lead the way, whether in a MAT or not, without adequate funding and proper support. How can the so called ‘stronger’ schools support colleagues when there are so many threats to our own institutions? A lack of consistent leadership from the government is backed by an ever increasingly hostile media. This is not an easy job and supportive leadership, empathy and a long term, trusted plan is now required and is long overdue.
Long term, heavy investment is not what the current or previous government wants to hear so retiring to the unbridled enthusiasm of year 7 traditional cricket lessons is a safe, unlikely to be criticised option and in the current climate appears to be the only option for this and many beleaguered headteachers. It means that for our heavily tested students an extra curricular programme where we invest in their mental wealth is essential to the well-being of us all. Now I need it to stop raining as I cannot coach cricket and the English rooms are leaking!