This year’s SSAT National Conference took the theme of the Learner and Day 1 in particular was buzzing. The following is a compilation of thoughts from Pasi Sahlberg, Charles Leadbeater, Sherry Coutu and David McQueen.
I’ve attempted to identify particular contributions but some have been lost in my scribbled notes, others when writing this text and some will be my own interpretation of what was said and shouldn’t be attributed to others at all.
GERM Has Travelled the World, We Need an Antidote
Pasi Sahlberg’s analysis of the Global Education Reform Movement (GERM) provided a powerful context within which to see our current education system. Whilst Finland assumed their place at the top of the PISA ranking was initially a statistical error and later a thing of interest but not much relevance, a number of countries have pursued a particular type of reform. This GERM has promoted increased competition between schools, test-based accountability, standardisation of teaching approaches, market-like choices and narrow functional skills curriculum.
Stairway to Heaven
Provoking memories of some great nights at the Floral Halls in Southport, the strains of Stairway to Heaven by Led Zeppelin filled the Manchester Central Convention Centre. This particular stairway led to the education heaven of high equity and high achievement. Whilst not a perfect correlation, the link between scoring highly in international tests (PISA) and addressing the issues linking deprivation and disadvantage to a child’s educational outcomes look pretty strong.
There’s a lady who’s sure all that glitters is gold
And she’s buying a stairway to heaven.
Politicians and educationalists have chased silver bullets and golden ideas across the globe, selecting those they already had a bias towards rather than hearing the profound messages linking high equity and high achievement.
Time for a Detox
It’s always great when a solution to the problem is offered alongside an analysis of the problem. The solution came in three parts.
System Excellence requires us to build equity across the system from a whole system perspective rather than seeking to address it one school at a time. Co-operation to enable the building of professional capital across the system and increased trust within and of the profession, are key drivers in improving the system. Inspection is not the answer.
The focus needs to be on the whole, the whole school system and the whole child.
In our current hugely diverse, medium equity system what should we do next?
Develop a Profound Sense of Purpose – Charles Leadbetter
There has to be a greater national consensus and identification of the desired end point of a child’s school journey. What should young people be able to do when they leave school? David McQueen picked this idea up quite powerfully when he asked us to write down three values we thought were important to the school. The next question, by way of a challenge was, what three values would students say were important to the school? In a totally non-scientific poll over lunch a number of us reflected that students’ number one school value would be examination results.
Charles looked at the impact of tightening constraints on families over the next decade, due to stagnant or declining incomes, at a time of individual rising aspirations which will create an inevitable tension. The endemic uncertainty of the century ahead may be exemplified by considering the past 100 years. In 1914, one hundred years ago, we stood on the precipice of the First World War and could not imagine or predict a great depression, another World War, the common ownership of cars, the invention of computers, the internet or mobile phones, the vote for Women and Equal Opportunity legislation. He developed this theme with the Age of Oxymoron. For a company is big still beautiful or will that equate to a lack of responsiveness to a changing market as things come out of left field? The limitless collaboration available to individuals becomes a multiplier within a global system. Greater aspiration and the opportunities to pursue them may lead to exponential change and uncertainty throughout this century which we can neither foresee nor possibly even imagine.
Education Won’t Be Immune to This
Charles proposed the following six outcomes of education for learners:
- Knowing: able to search for, test and reapply knowledge
- Questioning: how to pose good questions and pursue them to challenge people
- Communicating: how to present, show and persuade people with what you know about and what you care about
- Collaborating: how to work with others to make the most of your combined ideas to solve problems
- Making: how to create tangible products with others and bring them into the real World
- Persisting: how to stick at it, to learn how to overcome obstacles, recover from setbacks and enjoy a sense of well-deserved achievement. Willing and able to see beyond the next horizon.
You Are the Best Example of Leadership A Student Will Ever See (David McQueen)
Maybe it’s time for a national debate about what we want, for our children, after fifteen years of education. Qualifications would be in most people’s list but I doubt it would be the only item and I wonder whether it would be top of our collective list.
David McQueen identified the need for and possibilities unleashed by student leadership which resonated with Sherry Couto’s drive to engage schools and entrepreneurs in more joint ventures. I’ve already e-mailed senior leaders with her Founders4Schools website. The two sessions gave concrete examples of the six outcomes above.
Final Word to Led Zeppelin …
Ooh, it makes me wonder,
Ooh, it really makes me wonder.
And it’s whispered that soon, if we all call the tune,
Then the piper will lead us to reason.
And a new day will dawn for those who stand long,
And the forests will echo with laughter.
If there’s a bustle in your hedgerow, don’t be alarmed now,
It’s just a spring clean for the May queen.
Yes, there are two paths you can go by, but in the long run
There’s still time to change the road you’re on.
And it makes me wonder … are we on the right path? If not, there’s still time to change the road we’re on.