‘Are there enough opportunities for all sides of the education spectrum to come together to discuss education in the spirit of learning rather than opposition?’

Recently, I have found myself questioning my purpose within our education system. There is nothing unusual about this, it is something that I have always done. It’s especially true after I have had an Ofsted, or a Vindaloo. The more successful the harder the questioning… Either as a teacher, school leader or head teacher I have always tried to place myself within the system I know and ask some seemingly simple questions – What am I doing? Is it making a difference? Is that difference enough? And… here’s the crucial one; Am I happy doing this job?

I can usually answer these. I take out my wind-swept and tattered moral compass and I try to find my true north and head off in to the first light I see. It has never failed me… or so I thought.

This is not a blog to criticise. Though I have little doubt it could be, or it might be interpreted that way. I really don’t want to do that – as hard as it is to resist it.

Has the narrative around education in this country become lost in the competing voices? Each and every one of them so desperate to be heard that they just up the volume each time someone questions the content, or move to a room full of people expecting to hear the narrative? There are so many ideas, practices and approaches to pin your flag to that it must be hard for anyone to be truly authentic in a school setting right now. I imagine that no two schools run exactly the same in terms of teaching and learning, attitudes and ethos… And yet, so many of us argue that we have the blueprint to improve all schools. To lead education in to a new renaissance. It feels like social media has created a host of pseudo-guru’s who pontificate from behind the keyboard who are desperately, at all costs, trying to influence a generation within education?

I look around at the many schools I visit and they look like schools. They feel like schools… These are the benchmarks and most seem oblivious to the great battle that rages over the binary whitenoise flitting around them. And yet, many major educational views are now represented by us Keyboard Warriors via our Twitter Streams… spouting enlightenment behind barly conceled snarls of contempt for each other… we seem to be growing further and further apart, a fading marriage in which the arguments between us are becoming ever more bitter and acrimonious.

And yet, we have everything in common:

Children? Check!

Teachers? Check! Just…

Pedagogy? What? Oh, we have different views on that!

Curriculum? Kind of the same content… oh wait?

Maybe… As Kim Gordon from Sonic Youth once said, “I just want to know that we can still be friends” …

Or maybe we can’t.

The changes that have happened in education have absolutely altered the landscape. I always thought the changes would come about as it is written in books. Agreed policy, a joint moral national mission. Education at the heart of our countries ambitions. You know, that crazy idealist stuff that looks good on paper. A system of schools in one harmonious pot all achieving some sort of equally driven social goal (Sucker!). But, like some sort of silent shifting tower the educational landscape has moved around us and many can no longer recognise it. Battle lines have been drawn, educational philosophies writ in blood and tribal colours wrapped around iron spears. We all knew the tower was moving, in fact it always moved but not like this. We felt the rumbles, we noticed the changing views but we didn’t realise it was now a completely different tower, for some:

Less easy to navigate.

Less pleasing on the eye.

Less… like education as we knew it.

It twisted and it changed and no matter what we did or said, it just carried on changing.


Therefore, we must hate it. It is easy to hate because we don’t feel like we have any control over the change. We want to make it like it was before, or even more importantly how we wanted it to be. Therefore, we feel justified when we hold our lighters aloft and sing the opening words to Radiohead’s Fake, Plastic Trees and think we mean it…

A green plastic watering can
For a fake Chinese rubber plant
In the fake plastic earth

This different thing with its different ways must be bad, mustn’t it?

This is where my purpose within education is being tested. I think I am tired of moaning and resisting. I want to be part of the change rather than a continuous angry resistance to it. I really do… But, it is just so DAMN hard.

Every time a minister opens their mouth I am outraged…

Testing and high stakes accountability buzz around me like annoying flies…

Every article I read about CEO wages bursts a blood vessel…

Exclusions and SEND… Ahhhhhh!

Ofsted. Poor old Ofsted – just kick them in the knackers and be done with it, eh!

Consultants – feasting off the corpse of our once noble education system!

Some threads on Twitter could consign me to a life of IBS…

Why am I not openly engaging with all sides of the great education debate and skipping off in to the sunset happy that WE are all moving education forwards?

I think it is simple. I allow it. I go on about being a reflective practitioner but in fact I am allowing the things that I have always had issues with to continue to be just that. I’m not reflective in terms of changing the way these things impact upon me. I just want to be proved right, and I am no better for it. This is not to say I am going to go on some mad ‘Hug-a-Trad’ campaign. Strap on my Doc Martins, dust off my chalk board and march to the sound of silent learning (Which are all myths – for the record).

Here’s the crux. There are no fake plastic schools – Or fake plastic educators… This is real. This is education 2018 and we either become part of it through reason and a desire to improve the system, or we become back benchers waving our fists barely audible above the din. We need to see the lessons of learning in other people’s perspectives, research and experiences. If we could get over the hump of disagreement (and it is a rather large hump), I am sure there are real lessons to learn and progress to be made. If we truly reflected – we have already made MUCH progress in a short time.

But, it seems that there is nothing like a bit of controversy to get the edu-tweets going. I find that my highest hit blogs are always Ofsted, Behaviour, responding to a controversial topic… Well written blogs? Usually very low on the reading count. Social media is sometimes the Daily Mail over the New York Times…

The solution in principle is simple. We should be going to conferences together; talking in person and ignoring the simplistic avenues of annoyance that social media creates. We should grow up and embrace the professional nature of our core purpose. I also believe that I learn more from interacting with people than reading what they have said (Irony bleep!). Are there enough opportunities for all sides of the education spectrum to come together in the spirit of learning rather than opposition? Where is THAT conference? And boy, as long as we can keep the lawyers out… WHAT a conference that could be! Once we tune in to the tone we would get down to the crucial debates and personally – that’s pretty exciting stuff! Right now the debate seems tribal and you are either on one side or the other. It’s hard to truly learn when we only read about the other side. That’s not to say you shouldn’t have a preference, of course you should… but, can’t we try to truly engage with the alternative?

So – whose up for a conference where the research, speakers and debate is truly at odds? But the spirit and attitude to learn is absolutely in harmony? Got to be worth a try, hasn’t it?