Tuesday, 16 June 2015

Five minutes with Crone Caroline

[Last week Caroline was invited to give a five minute presentation at CfBT's Inspiring Leadership Conference @InspLdrshipConf the below is a slightly expanded version of the ideas she explored]

"Thank you for the opportunity to embrace my inner crone for five minutes.  The great thing about being a crone is you are allowed to be really blunt as long as you do it with a smile.

So, I have five minutes in which I'd like to share three ideas:
  1. Mind your bloody language
  2. Let’s face facts
  3. Stop wasting our time

1. Mind your bloody language

The words we use and accept, often without question, shape all of our realities. Language may seem innocuous but it’s one of the most important things there is. Here are a few examples of our unquestioning or inadvertent meaning making:
  • ‘Academy Chain’ was a word initially adopted by education academics for a piece of research. It is now used without challenge or thought. In business the word ‘chain’ carries a meaning of top-down, command and control, copy and paste. Is this what we really mean? Is this the system of academies we want to create?
  •  If we describe ourselves as ‘failing’ or ‘inadequate’ we create a reality and yet in every inspection – at best a “snapshot” - there will always be some good areas - in school variation - which are then overshadowed by the blanket description
  • Nothing could be less ‘free’ than a ‘free school,’ they cost more than mainsteam schools and yet they are also academies and subject to the same regulations
The language of classroom and a school is largely enabling and aspirational. In contrast, the language of the education system and its regulating bodies is controlling and negative. This negativity runs through the whole political and managerial discourse. 

  • There’s not enough money in the system to run the system and what there is, is unevenly distributed. 11 year olds don’t arrive in secondary schools “off plan” they have been educated in nursery & primary schools. Considerable evidence shows the benefit to children of better resourcing in the earlier years and yet the imbalance remains
  • ‘Off with their heads’ is hardly a sustainable approach to school or system improvement and yet this and the notion of “Super Head” persists. How many Super Heads are there? Do they actually exist when removed from the context of their school? How many of you would want to be called a 'Super Head'?
  • There are no genuine freedoms in the academy movement and academy status by itself does not confer automatic improvement
Change of status and change of leadership do not in themselves generate improvement.  They are about as effective as changing the name of the school or changing the uniform.  The original strategic intention behind the academy programme, that to enable schools to thrive you have to 'free' them from stifling and ineffective bureaucracy is a good one.  But it has to be delivered otherwise we are simply putting lipstick on a pig.

3. Stop wasting our time

  • Reporting in general is driven by defensive paranoia rather than an aspiration for our children
  • Regulators overlap significantly and there are inconsistencies across their teams
  • There is a massive superfluous reporting requirement made on schools and much worse a noticeable absence of common data sets and therefore data sharing across agencies. Data collection from the same or similar education agencies required in different formats is an absurd state of affairs.
  • Time-consuming pupil transition reports from primary schools are often ignored by secondary schools, which cannot create time to read the information they contain. Secondary schools who require different information for their purposes should be honest and work with their partner primary schools to streamline systems that are not so onerous and more importantly help children to transition.       

In conclusion “Unleash the power of you!” 

  • There is no point in moaning
  • If not you, who then will make a stand on behalf of our children?   
  • If not now, when?
  • We should stop accepting a deficit model immediately
  • If we are ‘waging war on mediocrity’ then we should look for it everywhere
  • If life throws you lemons… reach for the gin
  • In other words, its our system  
  • Get on with it!

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