This week I was one of a number of school leaders who met as part of the SSAT’s Vision 2040 group under the stewardship of Tom Sherrington, the @headguruteacher.
The first question Tom put to the group was what we thought teachers and school staff looking in from the outside might expect of us. This was a question that interested me very much at the time and is a question that has stayed with me since. This post will be an attempt to deal with my thoughts about this question, although I can’t claim that they are fully formed yet. Bear with me.
The first thing for me in thinking of a vision for education in 2040 is to try and make sense of what 2040 means to me. In that year I will be 68 so perhaps I will be delivering a speech at my retirement from a profession which I love. I’m kind of hoping that the changes to pensions will have done their worst to me and that I won’t be expected to continue into my 70s. What do I hope I’ll be saying in that speech? There’s no doubt that I will be boring the pants off the NQTs who will be two generations my junior and who won’t have been born until around 2018, still some five years hence.
The main thing that I hope I will be saying to them is that I leave a profession infinitely more confident and trusted and empowered than the profession I joined and than the profession I served in the first half of my career, up to and including my peak years as a thrusting and dynamic Deputy Headteacher and quirky if insightful blogger (they’ll roll their eyes at the insanely old-fashioned medium of blogging I have no doubt).
I hope that I’ll be telling them about a long-forgotten world where politicians and teachers had a mutual mistrust of each other, absurdly rooted in the myth of parent choice and public accountability, rather than working together in the interests of children’s learning. I hope that I’ll be telling them about a faintly ridiculous time when non-teachers sat in judgment of schools as inspectors and when non-teaching consultants wrote book after book about the best way to teach and when non-teaching academics inducted generation after generation of new teachers into the profession. I hope that I’ll be telling them about a dustbin-consigned time when senior leaders within schools didn’t trust their own judgment and kowtowed to the same politicians, inspectors, consultants and academics at almost every turn, placing themselves in opposition to their own staff, students and parents in the name of compliance and under the long shadow of fear of consequences for not doing so.
In the place of those things I hope I’ll be telling them about a profession that managed to fully mature sometime in the second and third decades of the 21st century. I hope I’ll be telling them about a profession that realised suddenly that it’s greatest asset wasn’t the list of people mentioned above but the classroom teachers who day-in and day-out spend time in classrooms with students. I hope that I’ll be telling them about how we found a compelling vision for a genuinely grassroots movement that initially convinced school leaders to stop looking externally for the solutions to all their perceived problems and instead have faith in the professionalism and moral purpose of the overwhelming majority of teachers.
I hope that I’ll be telling them about how a newly confident wave of school leaders, looking internally for solutions, began to be less uncritically accepting of the separation of the academic world and the professional world. From this I hope that I will be able to describe a time when they began to demand more of ITT providers in terms of contribution to ongoing professional development and research-led innovation, including the opening up of academic journals to the profession as a right and an expectation. And I really hope that I can wax lyrical about a time when ITT providers realised that the only way to preserve their integrity was to draw upon the experience of seconded classroom practitioners for delivery of their programmes or when they ensured that any academic with more than five years out of the classroom was required to renew their coalface experience in order to continue to tell graduates how it should be done.
I hope that I can bore my audience with a grinning recall of how this confident school leadership, building upon classroom practice interwoven with a supportive academia, found itself able to throw away the snake oil of ill-informed and highly dubious pedaguru-penned tomes. I hope that I can pinpoint exactly the years in which the word ‘consultant’ became a byword for mediocrity and when we all admitted to ourselves for once and for all that those who have removed themselves from the classroom in order to tell those who haven’t how to do so are charlatans of the highest order. Most of all, with my eyes glinting full of mischief despite the onset of old age, I hope that I can tell them about how we put these consultants out of business and left them with warehouses full of unsold books.
I hope that I will be able to look my soon-to-be-ex-colleagues in the eye and tell them about how schools full of excellent teachers and confident leaders, rooted in research-led what really works and divested of pedaguru-led what really sells, managed to wrest the control of top-down accountability measures. I hope to be able to beam as I tell them how we in the profession created a framework for school evaluation that was led by the profession with inscrutable standards that everyone trusted because they knew we were not afraid to be honest with each other. And in this respect for our professional integrity outsiders would have come to understand that schools failing to meet expected standards would be actively supported by the system in order to achieve substantial improvements in very short timescales.
In closing my retirement speech I would describe to them, with an enthusiasm untrammelled by the passage of time, about how politicians finally came to stop legislating the profession into compliance. I would hold their attention with my final reminiscence about the Secretary of State who, sometime in the early 2020s, gave a speech about how an unparalleled British teaching and school leadership workforce, underpinned by a robust evidence-based academia, freed from a parasitic influences and confidently self-regulated to exacting standards, was now entrusted with significant and statutorily-enforced influence on the long-term direction of education policy.
I would finish with something of a rhetorical flourish along the lines of “It was almost twenty years ago that we emerged from that long, dark night of mistrust in ourselves and mistrust of us by others. And in that time we have shown that we are worthy of that trust. Now we bask in the sunshine of respect for our professionalism.”
At that point I might even consider warning them about the perils of losing that respect. But then I’ll remember that that was how things were back in 2013, and that in 2040 there is no need to even contemplate saying such things. At least I very much hope so.