The trouble with schools is that they are just too difficult to change – or are they?
It’s just over a year since I retired from headship, and I have to say it hasn’t been easy. I miss the buzz and excitement of school so much. I also miss the feeling of being useful and (I‘ll sheepishly admit) being the centre of attention. It’s not that I haven’t been busy. The book (Here’s the plug – “A Head Full Of Ethos” published by Crown House Publishing) has led to consultancy work with various schools and organisations and I’m still working in Cardiff, but none of this has been as fulfilling as running a school.
For me though, the biggest frustration has been the fact that I never achieved what had been my vision and driving force for the past 20 years. Since working as a senior member of staff in schools, I had strived to establish my own interpretation of project-based learning into the curriculum. On a small scale initially taking up a few hours a week with Year 7, it worked well, but as I developed it into a whole year group model operating for much of the week for more than one year group, it became harder and began to challenge the traditional model of ‘teaching’.
It was difficult enough trying to find another name for my vision for learning. ‘Project Based Learning’ seemed to have a stigma attached to it for all the wrong reasons. I liked the blended approach, but that also had to go during Covid. I gradually found a pragmatic compromise for the pedagogy and at Eastern High (my last school), I thought I had found the ideal model that would have grown and which I felt matched the pedagogy underpinning the Welsh National curriculum very well. Unfortunately, with all the Covid disruptions, I never managed to really embed it into the school and then my retirement came along . . .
What I have learned from this ‘failure’ (maybe failure is too strong a word), is just how hard it is to implement a paradigm shift in thinking, within an institution held to account by an assessment system and success criteria not created to evaluate how well a school does with regards to preparing a child for life in the 21st century. This accountability is all consuming in schools. I have met and worked with so many educationalists, from teachers to school inspectors, education ministers to university lecturers and almost all of them know deep down we need change, but there are so many blocks. These range from the sheer scale of change required to fears about what the media may say; there are still too many people outside of the education sector with the “well the education system served me well” mentality.
It’s for this reason that I have decided to stop trying to change the system from within. I’m no longer embroiled in the day-to-day life of schools and so I want to change tact. I know I had just begun a new series on the curriculum, which I will finish, but it will take longer to do so as I want to shift my focus to parents for two reasons:
1. Parents could be empowered to bring about change
I don’t think parents put enough pressure on schools, councils/trusts or governments to bring about the changes necessary to ensure young people leave school with the skills, competencies, learning habits, confidence, aspirations and the means to access and use knowledge in order to flourish in the 21st Century. This is likely to be for the following reasons:
- The system worked for them. Why change it?
- The don’t know enough about alternative pedagogies and curriculum models that exist
- They therefore don’t have the confidence to challenge
- For some, if they are dissatisfied and there are no solutions offered by any school, then if they have the time and means, it is relatively easy to home school.
By producing articles that focus the nature of schooling written with the parent in mind, I would hope to create a community who feel empowered to begin questioning the nature of schooling, not only in the UK, but in almost all countries across the world (There are of course amazing examples of good practice which occur across the world which I hope to cover). In short, I hope to give parents a voice.
2. The rise in home schooling and absenteeism in schools
I wrote about the rise in home schooling in a previous blog. It is worrying, but also very interesting. The upward trend began long before Covid, but it has accelerated since. I think the polarisation that now exists in our societies has led to many people viewing schools in a different light and not all of this perception is founded on facts, but let’s not get complacent, much of it is also factual.
I’m in favour of the concept of schools. I think they could serve the young person (first) and the communities and nation they live in very well, benefiting all parties. I’d argue that this isn’t the case at the moment there is an unequal balance which benefits many of the educational stakeholders, but before the child. We need to turn this around and encourage young people back into schools.
As a profession, we also need to be mindful that if we wish to continue as such, we must re-evaluate our professional status and practise within the context of the 21st century. Schools as institutions must do the same.
I’ve set up a ‘Substack’ site which will go by the same name as this one – ‘The Trouble With Schools’. It will be primarily for parents, but also for educationalists who are interested in the direction I’m heading in.
I’ve chosen Substack as it is a simple platform to use and allows me to podcast each ‘newsletter’ (as the Substack users refer to them) as well as a written version. The site is also easier to find within the Substack community. Many writers and journalists use it as a means to earn a living, but I will not be charging to subscribe. If you want to find out more about it or wish to subscribe, then please click HERE. The articles will be shorter and written with the parent in mind.
I will return to this site from time to time and complete the curriculum blog series I intended to do, but in the meantime, thank you to everyone who has regularly read my blogs. I hope they have been useful. It only took 18 months, but at last I have something I really want to focus on during my retirement years. My other dream of having the perfect garage with every tool hanging up in order of size will have to wait.