Sunday 25 November 2018

Great schools are full of great people but when are we going to appreciate them and allow them to take the lead?

On Friday I had the privilege and pleasure of attending London Skills 2018 Every employer delivered the same message.  We want the young people now, after GCSE's and A levels and are happy to train them to secure a degree.  I asked one young lady to put it into her own words, and she did an excellent pitch to the camera in one take below.

The sad thing is that the employers are disconnected from the politicians and politicians make it impossible for the teachers to have an even more significant impact on what they do.

The United Kingdon is at a crossroads in its history.  We have the opportunity to export our World Class Skills and knowledge to a broader audience, a global audience.  Many who work and teach here already do but we need to start doing things differently f we can sustain the demand of talent that the bluechip companies need and signpost our young people in school, college and University into the direction that is personal to them.

Schools are best placed to be the catalyst to achieve all of this. They have passionate, dedicated subject experts to pass on and share their knowledge and skills to the next generation and still an army of non-teaching staff to support it but in doing so, they should be exciting, inspiring and encouraging those that they teach to dream big and expect more.  Expect more from themselves, expect more from their teachers and hope for more from the school and the broader communities and companies that want them to join them.

Sadly teachers are blinkered to deliver a curriculum based around a scheme of work to get great results and the latest changes to the curriculum have destroyed the opportunities to be creative in its delivery as there's no time left to do anything more than teach content and techniques on how to pass exams. As a result, the opportunities to encourage kids to work on extended projects are lost.  The ability for kids to work collaboratively is often missed.   The time to stop and think about what they are doing is slotted into homework, tutor time or an after-school masterclass, that someone has created from the teaching team.  That's not how the world of commerce works, so we are doing every one of our school-age children a disservice, and no one is brave enough, bold enough to say stop we need to do it differently.  Why is that?

Is it because the politicians can't cope with change or are it that they don't understand it or why they need it? Evolution is a fact of life.  Yes, it stresses people out if they are not warned about it or training to be ready for it but everything changes all the time.  Surely we need to be embracing it and tooling up young people to harness it not keep the status quo.

This is my tenth year as a teacher and I have managed to avoid any opportunity for promotion as being in the classroom 23 hours a week is the best part of the job.  I've worked in national challenge schools, those that have great leadership but are struggling to fast track pupils with a low aspiration to achieve more than they started with.  I've worked in what Ofsted have rated Good schools, which in my opinion were not good enough but I have never worked in an outstanding school.  My challenge to this school has always been the same.  Be a benchmark for all schools to follow.

Being on a journey is one thing but being on a quest to greatness is very different.  Schools need to take responsibility for themselves and their learning as they communicate with their pupils.  They need to stop being hampered by budget cuts and attract their own private sources of finance to replace the priorities they have. Preferences such as IT, development of their top talent, provide the best extracurricular opportunities for their students who are after all their primary customer and sorting out the poorest in the community to inspire them and their parents and carers to engage attend and attain.  We are the fifth biggest economy in the world generating over £950bn a year in tax revenue so I do not believe that local and regional business would not bridge the budget gaps their local schools face but I know of one school who is about to embark and test it.

That said schools need to refocus on their purpose for being.  They are places that should create fulfilment in young people that attend them and prepare them for a successful and happy life.  Policy from government needs to focus on that so schools and their teaching teams not forgetting the army of support staff that can facilitate the most significant change and crack on with it.  I have never met anyone that has told me that fulfilled, contentment and a happy person is unlikely to be a successful person.  Last week the church and the press explained what a disaster we are creating with mental health across all age groups so let's stop the trend and focus on the age group that we have in front of us 25 hours a week in school to start to change the tide and let others focus on the rest.

By creating a  different environment and signposting learners down a pathway, that is personalised to them will fast-track this process.  We can't keep accepting that kids will sort themselves out.  It takes too long, and those that are in the wrong class just fight and protest as a result of it.

As a country, we are great at developing academics.  The politicians love them as they come up with all the research and suggestions that underpin their policies but as high as they are at academic thinking and research-based decision making they are rubbish at joined-up thinking and lack common sense, so nothing ever changes that is impactful! The academics will always have a pathway in our society.  Thye follow the traditional GCSE and A level route into University and beyond.

The vocational learners, those that learn by doing and link their work to developing their skills through work-related activities have also done well.  Although we don't identify those earlier enough or provide as wow a package to excite and inspire them.  They often have to settle for a BTEC at level 2 or level 3 in isolation of a fuller package.  How hard is it really to add three additional dimensions?  Work experience within the field of expertise they are studying and make this as productive and effective as they do in Germany.  The third extra dimension to this cohorts learning has to be a business mentor for the whole class they find themselves in.  These people can deliver a real flash challenge for them to work on collaboratively in teams and throughout the year and pop back termly to view their progress and give feedback on it.  The final piece of the pie should be a TED talk to every student in the local area studying the same thing once or twice a year.  A chance to meet up and share all the great stuff that they have been working on.   All of a sudden you have more than just a vocational provision you have a world-class professional arrangement by subject area and students that are world class ready for the global world of work.

Now lets quickly consider those students who are bouncing around every classroom and hate being in school and try every day to escape or avoid it as they find it hard, dull and boring.  Now let's consider that they just might be the entrepreneurs.  They are potentially wealth creators.  The job creators.  The ones that think differently but that no one understands.  This rare breed probably amounts to no more than 12-24 in a year group so no more than just a class!  How hard then can it be to provide a provision just for them based on a tailor-made version of the vocational package above. During a recent business challenge week, we used the Global Enterprise Week initiative to reach out to someone in the community who believes the same.  He kindly allowed me to record that too to share, so I've shared it below here.

I am delighted to work in the school that I do, but my challenge to them is to be brave and bold and create an environment that is even bigger and better at all of the above.  Don't get me wrong its the best school that I've ever worked in and probably as good as most private schools but we have much to do, and they haven't asked me to leave yet!

The universe I believe provides us with all the solutions to all the problems we face.  We just have to find them.  To think harder. To try harder and work collaboratively to share what we have with others so that they can add to it and make it better.  That's what businesses do.  That's what schools need to do.
As for the government and the academics, they need to catch up and get on board. After all, we are entirely capable of little joined-up thinking if we try and I believe that all that's required with most things.

As Ruskin once said, "Quality is never an accident.  It is usually a result of some intelligent effort"  Intelligence and character are what we need to develop in our young people.  Everything else will follow if our central focus is on those first, foremost and in everything we do!

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