I have decided that I live my educational life in silos. The reform of examination qualifications is flexing its muscles in one silo; the debate about promoting character in schools is periodically erupting in another silo; and the relentless progress of digital learning marches on in apparent isolation from qualifications and character in its uniquely twenty first century silo. At what point will we join the dots?
I am a long serving school leader and am acutely conscious that education is part of the flotsam and jetsam of politics. As the head of an independent school, I know that the debate about education is layered. The independent sector has been on the receiving end of the backwash from Tristram Hunt’s announcement about holding independent schools accountable for the tax breaks we receive with his “no more something for nothing” meme. And schools in the maintained and independent sectors are definitely all in it together as we are confronted with the confusing changes to qualifications which are integral to the Goveian revolution of education. Yet surely we are capable of creating a better narrative for our education system which is responsive rather than reactive, which is based on principles underpinning learning rather than blatant ideology and which endeavours to take an holistic approach to teaching and learning with the learner at the heart of what we do?
I had the privilege of attending a National Baccalaureate Summit at Highbury School in London last month where I experienced for the first time an effort to look at educational differently. Tom Sherrington, Head of Highbury School, chaired a day where a range of people from schools, the examination bodies, and the Department for Education explored the possibility of creating a framework for a national baccalaureate. The sense of the meeting was that schools, far from being merely the instruments of government policy, actually can be the instruments of change. There was real belief that change will happen – that we can craft an overarching qualification which captures more about the learner than the narrow attainment evidenced by examinations. For the record, I am completely committed to this endeavour as I absolutely believe in the concept of a Baccalaureate and valuing more than just an examination grade.
But what about digital learning? I am very aware that the importance of digital learning is being led by individual schools and not by the Department for Education. I recently spoke at an Apple event about my school’s digital journey – about educating young people in an age of connectivity and ensuring our students are prepared for life in a world transformed by a digital revolution. The conference was well attended and I spoke to teachers who are absolutely committed to offering young people a learning eco-system which properly prepares them for their future.
Is it therefore the case that in order to ensure education is relevant for our youngsters’ future that schools have to take the lead? Is the Department for Education so politicised that principled decisions about education must be taken at a grass roots level? In my view, we can no longer wait for a lead from the government. Education is too important for this. Let those of us entrusted with the education of young people take a lead – we can be the difference.