Reflecting on the changes being wrought currently in the world of education, with the prospect of more to come; all political parties have to promise to improve the system, I wanted to sort out my thinking.
Anyone who has read my past blogs will have come across the little mantra that I use to order and organise my thinking; analyse-plan-do-review-record. I find it useful to use this cyclically when organising any kind of project. This enables the project to move through stages of development with a coherent narrative.
The past four years have seen the system at a national level torn up and restarted, so that, in September 2014, schools started with curriculum change, SEND change, insecurity in assessment systems, but locally in schools, but also change in the examination and accountability systems. Inevitably there is insecurity within schools, as they warily tread their way forward, especially if they are less secure about their outcome data.
This position can be encountered when a new headteacher takes over a school, with a brief to “improve”. Done hastily, this can lead to superficial change and the impression of improvement, but might not result in long term gains.
System change, and subsequent capacity building, requires taking stock of the current position. This, if guided by a clear audit tool, supports the overview thinking of all concerned. If all participants can be open and honest, the clarity of the picture enables clarity of decision making. There are many such tools available. As I was very involved with Inclusion Quality Mark for several years as an assessor and developer, there is much to comment it as a baseline audit tool, as it covers all area of school life, from the point of view of inclusive practice. A similar approach taken through the school self-evaluation documentation is an excellent start.
During this period, I was able to spend significant time in London schools, many of which were achieving significantly well, despite their children living in circumstances of significant disadvantage. Out of these visits came an overview of what good inclusion practice looked like.
There is often talk of “vision” being the essence of improvement. I would argue that the quality of narrative to support the vision is even more important, otherwise improvement can become a simplified mantra, where real improvement is likely to involve some serious work on everyone’s behalf.
Vision can sometimes be limited, by the collective experience of the team. If no-one in the team has seen “the promised land”, they are not able to describe it clearly to their colleagues. They may, as a group, have to go out and find what it is they seek, through school visiting, on-line research and evidence gathering, of holistic features. They need to see “what a good one looks like”, as a whole (WAGOLL). This applies to individual teachers, too, who may need to explore what the next steps in learning really look like, so they are tuned into expectations.
Bringing back just a solitary idea can lead to a diversion, especially of the understanding of the context and the background to its implementation is weak. This can sometimes appear to be a feature of political decision making. Simple ideas are easier to sell. Education is complex.
Direction of travel needs to be clear to everyone; there’s a need for all to buy into the vision and the direction and to be able to see where their efforts need to be focused. If participants are to be enabled to grow and develop themselves, they have to be able to see their purpose in doing so; the classic, what’s in it for me? Because, at its heart, the system can only grow if the participants grow. The leadership cannot do everything themselves. It is an interdependent, interlocking cycle, which I have tried to articulate in this diagram.
Reviews and records need to be as rigorous as the original self-evaluation, as they, in turn, become staging post audits, from which to launch the next phase of development. There are significant links with the basics of good teaching and learning, which adopts the same rigorous cyclic thinking, if it is to avoid teaching and learning becoming a sequence of activities. In other words, articulating we/you are here and now we/you need to go there and these are the steps we/you need to take.
Two diagrams seek to explore this in relation to teaching and learning.
So, it’s not the curriculum, planning proformas, differentiation (match and challenge), in-lesson interactions, feedback, guidance, marking, summative assessment systems, as discrete entities, that makes a difference. Nor is it licensing teachers. Nothing, in itself works a miracle.
It is the subtle interplay of all the elements, utilised at the right moment by reflective, aware teachers, working with the evidence provided by learners as to their need that makes a difference. Confident teachers, plus confident learners, supported by confident parents enables the potential for success.