This title is taken from a Tom Sherrington tweet; just replace “the White Paper” with “Ofsted” to get the original. The White Paper has caused disquiet in quite a few places and a great deal of consternation in others. It lays out the path which ministers, though by no means all of their back benchers, would like to travel in educational terms during this Parliament.
You may have noticed that the day after the White Paper, Educational Excellence Everywhere (not much to disagree with in the title at least), you got up went into school and got on with the day job. The World didn’t stop turning, not every school suddenly became an academy nor did the retention and recruitment problems, which many schools are experiencing, disappear. Thousands of new head teachers and school leaders didn’t materialise, underperformance sadly didn’t evaporate and a World-leading curriculum and assessment was hit by a series of gaffs and inadvertent leaks on websites.
High rhetoric is the order of the day for a White Paper; “the right resources in the right hands” may have been met with raised eyebrows from many school leaders just wishing they had enough resource; that call will get louder in the years ahead.
Re-visioning a MAT
It sometimes helps to think through the path or paths, which might be less well trodden, that you would like to travel. If you don’t have your own journey planned out it’s all too easy for other people’s plans to become yours. Becoming a multi academy trust is a bit of a faff; what you do once you’ve formed it is what really matters. Construct the MAT in such a way that it takes you further into a deep collaborative way of working or leaves you as an autonomous single school; devo-max or devo-min or somewhere in between. Have to have a CEO or Executive Director; you can appoint one with a great deal of authority or simply as a figurehead. Want greater parental involvement; appoint more parents as Directors on the Board or to local governing bodies; co-opt where necessary.
I’m in a state of disbelief at the moment. I just don’t see the conversion of fifteen thousand schools in the next five or six years. Don’t jump if you’re not yet ready; decide what you would want if you joined a MAT and what you would give. Get the why first. The journey from a white paper to statute isn’t always smooth; this might be a slightly bumpier one than most with a few twists and hopefully U-turns along the way. Don’t jump into something that doesn’t fit with what you are already doing. If things do come to pass then shape requirements to meet your needs not vice versa. Polite defiance where necessary, a Nelson’s eye to nonsense and a bit of creativity will allow us to keep the school’s vision and journey on track.
You Don’t Have to Narrow the Curriculum
If you haven’t seen Year 1 pupils desperately trying to solve as many maths questions, which were stuck in alien poop, as they can to save their beloved Phonics Frog then you haven’t lived. Visiting Hartsholme Academy in Lincoln is always a pleasure and meeting up with Carl Jarvis and his infectious passion for immersive education opens up a world of possibilities. Staff have “Blue Skies Thinking Days” to co-plan immersive projects; identifying core non-negotiable knowledge and a fun and innovative way of delivering. The projects include the national curriculum but Hartsholme Academy have a we’ll do it our way approach; they don’t include every bit of the National Curriculum and happily add to it if needs be. This approach to educating young children might not be for everyone but it is effective. It will work for some or possibly many and maybe even most schools who adopt it.
The following day was the first fully immersive conference, reflecting the Eos principles, I have ever attended. You could spot the primary staff and ITE students resplendent in their pirate outfits whilst secondary stalwarts like myself, Vic Goddard, Dr Rona MacKenzie supported by Mary Myatt were all happier out of fancy dress, proudly displaying our secondary credentials. As education conferences go it was great fun with a core message; we lived the ethos and staff were given the same experience of learning as they are aiming to give children. The Eos crew are passionate; there is a growing network of great people who are like minded who want to make a difference. Thinking how to use the system to achieve their vision rather than being used by the system.
If you fancy joining some other likeminded people (sorry no fancy dress theme) to discuss and debate what an Alternative White Paper might look like don’t forget the HeadsRoundtable Think Tank on the 1st July at Sheffield Hallam Institute of Education. Click the image below to find out more.