I’m now on my eighth Secretary of State for Education since becoming a headteacher and my fourteenth in total. I’m sure they will have all tried to do the best job they can but none stick in the memory for that long. They have been in power but they have not been leaders.
They all came with a plan, at least I hope they did, but the plans weren’t always that well thought through or implemented. None of them came with an inspiring vision, a dream that would capture the heart, engage the mind and activate the hands. With the General Election looming this year education is looking like a side issue. I fear we will still lack an engaging vision, a dream, to take us into 2020 and beyond.
I Have A Dream
Arguably one of the most famous speeches of all time is Martin Luther King’s, “I Have a Dream” speech delivered at the end of the March on Washington in August 1963. The speech is fascinating in many ways not least because the core of it actually transcended the race issue – some sections could still be used today in a speech calling for equality for women or for those of different sexual orientation. Martin Luther King’s speech tapped into the United States Declaration of Independence, the American Dream and what it meant for America to be truly great.
I have a dream that one day this nation will rise up and live out the true meaning of its creed: “We hold these truths to be self-evident, that all men are created equal.”
It communicated to people how the system needed to change:
“… even the state of Mississippi, a state sweltering with the heat of injustice, sweltering with the heat of oppression, will be transformed into an oasis of freedom and justice.”
How it would affect people at a personal level:
“I have a dream that one day on the red hills of Georgia, the sons of former slaves and the sons of former slave owners will be able to sit down together at the table of brotherhood … I have a dream that my four little children will one day live in a nation where they will not be judged by the color of their skin but by the content of their character.”
The speech was deeply authentic. Race equality was something that Martin Luther King was passionate about. His language was rooted in his own personal faith – with biblical references, going to mountain tops (to be metaphorically closer to God), all people being born equal in the sight of God and a final reference to a spiritual song. The various elements of the speech all linked to who he was.
“I have a dream that one day every valley shall be exalted, and every hill and mountain shall be made low, the rough places will be made plain, and the crooked places will be made straight; “and the glory of the Lord shall be revealed and all flesh shall see it together.”
… And if America is to be a great nation, this must become true.
But not only that:
Let freedom ring from Stone Mountain of Georgia.
Let freedom ring from Lookout Mountain of Tennessee.
Let freedom ring from every hill and molehill of Mississippi.
From every mountainside, let freedom ring.
And when this happens, and when we allow freedom ring, when we let it ring from every village and every hamlet, from every state and every city, we will be able to speed up that day when all of God’s children, black men and white men, Jews and Gentiles, Protestants and Catholics, will be able to join hands and sing in the words of the old Negro spiritual:
Free at last! Free at last!
Thank God Almighty, we are free at last!”
Payment by Results
When I stood up to speak to parents on Open Evening, I started with the following story:
There was a priest and a taxi driver who both died and went to heaven. The priest approached St. Peter at the pearly gates who looked in his big book, to consider the priests’ life, and said, “Father it is a couple of years in purgatory for you and then into heaven”. The priest was quite happy with this and returned a couple of years later having served his time. On his way into heaven he asked St. Peter what had happened to the taxi driver, “Oh, he went straight in.” The priest got a bit upset and questioned St. Peter further. “It’s simple Father, we’ve moved to payment by results. When you preached people fell asleep, when he drove people prayed!”
Over the next fifteen to twenty minutes I developed this theme for parents. We want students to do well in their examinations as this is a good thing. It is part of a striving for excellence but in itself it is not enough. The school is about developing young people’s cultural capital but also about developing their spiritual, moral and social capital.
For some parents this would resonate, it would talk to their head, their hearts and their soul. It is what they want for their children. Others parents may have baulked at it. The former should apply for a place at the school for their child whilst the latter should wish us well but apply elsewhere. There is a danger our vision becomes too bland and we fail to talk about what we truly believe education is about. When this happens we will lose our sense of purpose, we lose the why we exist.
A personal example would be our experience of the capital build. We had a vision of all through education based on human scale communities. This got lost on occasion as the buildings became the vision rather than just the physical manifestation of the greater goals we were striving towards. It was important we pulled ourselves back to the vision, the why we were actually doing the building programme.
Be the Self You Are Called to Be; Bring Out the Same Self In Others
We all possess a basic human desire to be authentic, “to be fully and uniquely our self.” The foundress of the original convent school which evolved into St. Mary’s, Cornelia Connelly, had a saying, “Be yourself only make that self just what Our Lord wants it to be.”
This being is at the heart of our educational endeavours. What we wish to be, what we wish for our own children to be and other people’s children will deeply influence our vision of what a good education is. In essence our view of education is rooted in our view of humanity. What it means to be truly and authentically human.
Rooted In A View of Humanity
I have a view of humanity that is deeply rooted in both the intrinsic value of each person and the call for us to be “persons in community”, if we are to be truly alive and fully human. It is obviously affected, influenced and formed out of my faith. It is this vision that I bring to my work in education but it transcends education and is simply a way of us being.
“God has created me to do Him some definite service. He has committed some work to me which He has not committed to another. I have my mission. I may never know it in this life, but I shall be told it in the next. I am a link in a chain, a bond of connection between persons. He has not created me for naught. I shall do good; I shall do His work.”
(John Henry Newman)
Newman’s quote about our “definite service” brings that deeper sense of vocation many of us have about our work as teachers, support staff and governors alongside other aspects of our lives as spouses, parents, children, brothers and sisters and friends. I believe I was called to work in Blackpool. Despite what you might read in the press or hear through gossip, it is a great place to work. Not easy, but great. It is where I can do good.
Too much of what comes from central government can be transactional rather than transformational. Some things which they should take responsibility for, they don’t, for example, a unifying, engaging and authentic vision for education in England.
What Are Your Values? What Do You Value?
At the SSAT(UK) National Conference David McQueen asked two simple but powerful questions:
What do you believe your school values?
What would the students say your school valued?
The challenge is moving beyond what we can easily measure (examination results) to a richer view of education. This view would include students doing well in their studies, as evidenced through examination results, but would have a much wider, whole person perspective. It may need us to accept we cannot measure, or at least not accurately, some of important outcomes we aspire to. There is the inherent danger that a lack of an accurate metric devalues what is important.
Another post you may be interested in is: Education For Wisdom
Sinek, S. (2011), Start With Why: How Great Leaders Inspire Everyone To Take Action. London: Penguin Books Ltd.