The Bigger Picture


As a Headteacher I rarely get the time to stop, think and ponder the bigger picture. However much I try not to, I can find myself getting bogged down in minutiae on a daily basis. 

My job is at the coalface of education. I am on the ground, dealing with many complex issues and yes often these issues are small, yes sometimes my actions don't appear to have lasting or purposeful impact but it is these small issues that in reality go on in schools across England every single day.

For me, my best thinking always comes out of discussion with others; knocking around ideas, listening to other viewpoints, working out my own stance and where my values fit. I am neither a cynic nor am I particularly politically motivated and I tend to take what I see at face value but through recent discussions with others I am starting, rather like a nervous meerkat, to pop my head up above the parapet of my school and look beyond the relentless stream of email traffic and information that is coming my way.

So I've been pondering. As head of a school with a large number of children on free school meals, the government has kindly given me money to ensure that the children in my school make as much progress and have the same opportunities as those in neighbouring schools that house children from more affluent homes and who therefore have more opportunities. Each child in receipt of a free school meal gets £900 a year so that their education can be improved and the gap between rich and poor can be closed.

You can't knock the politicians for trying but I reckon glasses must be clinking in the bars at Westminster and a fair amount of back slapping going on. They've got it sorted. Educating our society has stopped being their problem, it's ours. They’ve given us the money, now we are expected to systematically and sustainably raise standards. And if we don’t, then it’s because of poor teaching and poor leadership, not because the same problems in our society still exist outside of the school gate and the same cultures and chaos still exist in some of these children’s lives.

Is it not time to look at the bigger picture? Don’t we need a longer view? We need to be considering the purpose of education. What are we teaching our young people for? What kind of jobs are we offering them? What kind of people do we want them to be? What kind of society are we creating? As a society we surely need to identify and answer these fundamental questions.  When the life of a parliament often doesn’t extend beyond the length of a child’s stay in primary school, by definition the thinking behind policies can only skim the surface.

The idea of being in a room full of teachers fills my husband with dread. I can understand why. He can anticipate the conversation before it even starts. Teachers like to talk to other teachers, teachers like to share what's being done to them by others with other teachers - currently hot topics are Ofsted, phonics, Gove, curriculum, assessment, pupil premium and so on. Conversations invariably end up as a 'moanfest'.  His words, not mine.

On the whole teachers do what they are told, they don’t question the status quo, they don’t debate the big questions and they absolutely should.

The main priority for most schools is improving the educational system and the school for the children's benefit and Creating The Schools Our Children Need.

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