Posted on 12/04/2016

The Right Approach

Over the Easter break Education has been grabbing the headlines. It came on the back of Mr Osborne’s budget and the government’s white paper: Education Excellence Everywhere. Feelings are clearly running high and opinions are in no short supply with politicians, teaching unions, governors and local authorities all having their say. So if you still have it in you to listen to one more opinion, let me give you mine. This week’s blog will be about the approach we all need to take and my next blog will pick up on some of the new proposals.

Let me begin by saying I respect the Secretary of State for Education for going to the NASUWT conference and addressing the delegates. I was disappointed that she was booed and jeered. However strongly we disagree with someone, we should still show respect and courtesy; it is the least we’d expect from our pupils.

I do however understand some of my profession’s frustrations. It is enormously dispiriting to be consulted on a proposal you can see won’t work, to have your views ignored, and then be proved right. For example the Department has announced that controversial testing for Reception pupils will not now be used to measure progress  – as they’d originally intended  – because the three systems approved for use are not comparable. Teaching unions had warned that using a choice of tests would be problematic and pointed this out when the DfE first consulted on the scheme. Frustrating, expensive and a huge waste of time.

Education is too important to get wrong. To a great extent, our children’s future prospects rely on it as does the country’s economic prosperity, safety, wellbeing and standing in the world. The type of young people our schools produce is surely the biggest issue of the day. If our education system produces young people with good character and excellent knowledge, who are skilful, resilient, determined, creative and fearless, then we can be world leaders.

To ensure this we need to work together. The government listening to the profession, the profession co-operating, and with constructive cross-party collaboration. But most importantly, remembering that schools are about children and young people; the driver at all times should be what is best for them. Government ministers, teachers, union leaders, governors and advisors, who are parents, would do well to take a step back and ask themselves, ‘Is this proposal or my position on this proposal good enough for my child?’ If it isn’t, then it isn’t good enough for anyone’s child.

For this to happen, teaching unions cannot always take the position that whatever new suggestion is proposed, they have to oppose it. If we moan and complain about everything, then people stop listening. As a member of a teaching union, I don’t want those representing me to see their ‘raison d’etre’ as obstructing and blocking every change, apparently in my interest.

We have to have the same ‘can do’ attitude we try to cultivate in our pupils. Listen to proposals. See the benefits. Point out the weaknesses. Suggest ways of overcoming those weaknesses. Outline the time and resources that are needed. Come up with better solutions and proposals if necessary. Just moaning is draining and in no one’s best interest.

For the government’s part, they have to consult and listen. Properly listen. And show they’ve listened. Find outstanding practitioners at every level of the profession to run ideas and suggestions past and ask for ideas to make things better. Not just heads or union leaders or academy chain chiefs or think tanks, but outstanding teachers on the ground.

Let’s think outside the box, brainstorm ideas, plan, disagree, rip each other’s ideas apart, come up with proposals and have an unswerving commitment to getting it right for the next generation; to be world leaders in education again. Let’s stop scoring points against each other, blocking, being dismissive and suspicious of change. Instead, let’s work together and remember that we are all on the same side and ultimately want the same thing.

This is what we are committed to at The Fulham Boys School. FBS is a very demanding school. Our teachers are with our boys every day until 5pm. We are committed to making FBS the best for our boys, the community and country we serve. To do this we have worked, and continue to work, hard on our approach. Staff are open to and embrace new ideas and proposals; equally we consult them on plans and give them the confidence to constructively criticise, spot problems and offer solutions. It is a climate where negativity is not allowed to flourish and blockers are not welcome. At the same time we take our staff wellbeing seriously. While we are agreed that FBS is about the boys, we recognise that those boys need happy teachers. We put a lot of effort into making working conditions attractive. We listen to staff when they say the going is tough and find ways to take away the stress. We make it clear that FBS is a way of life.

Being the best, changing things for the better and making teaching an attractive profession are all possible. We just have to have the right approach.

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