The personal learning network for educators
I'm on the train back to Preston after a very inspiring but in some ways frustrating two days at the schools network conference.
Don't get me wrong, the conference is and always has been phenomenally successful in promoting thought by providing world class speakers and practitioner workshops to stir and stimulate our schools to become the best that they can be.
This year my own learning journey of inspiration was again fuelled by Sir Ken Robinson (I never tire of hearing him). He urged us, for the sake of the children in our schools, to be creative and use digital technologies. Lord Putnam similarly said that the development of digital competence was of critical importance. I can't help feeling that his message was always going to receive a good reception from the conference hall, but it's those schools who are working in isolation and who won't find solutions to la filtering of all the great content out there, who will continue to work in isolation. The digital divide between the schools who are energetic and embrace 21st century technologies and those who don't is growing by the day and the need for a framework of entitlement for those schools not engaging with this agenda has never been greater. The children in those schools deserve the same entitlement! Please don't interpret this as a request for ofsted regulation but there has to be a minimum entitlement. We then have to ensure that expertise isn't lodged with just the ICT co-ordinator or head of department. It is critical that ALL teachers embrace and embed digital technologies into their practice. Why on earth wouldn't you?
The youth sport trust and tim Pendergast talked to us about inspiring every child to be the best that they can be. Tim talked about his incredible personal journey and the core skills of resilience, resourcefulness, reciprocity, risk taking came through time and again and I can't help but feel that we have a duty to develop these skills and attitudes through our work with children and young people. Again this isn't a one stop shop, it has to be embedded into everything we ALL do allied with the highest expectation of our children and young people. For some of our children we are the only ones who believe in them!
Alan November talked about flipping our educational expectations so our kids do the bulk of the work, which in turn promotes their learning. He asked the question " who owns the learning?" this approach to learning came across loud and clear in Finland where the teacher does no more than 40% of the talking and the children do at least 60%. The Finns also talked about learning as discovery! Wow! What a great way to see learning. Too often in western education systems learning is about collecting facts to pass a test, which then act as stamps in a learning passport which entitles you to a place at college or a job. Learning becomes linear and functional, I think Lord Putnam described it in this context as the handmaiden of the economy. But education is much more than that.
Education and schools are about developing self esteem and as Claire Young so eloquently described, it's about skills for life and employability. We all know kids who were great at passing tests but had no social literacy. This too is the unwritten but equally important curriculum for all schools.
Later on Thursday evening we were treated to one of the great educational speakers after dinner speakers and comedian this country has to offer......and also Gervase Phinn! Gervase is passionate about learning and children and it oozes from every pore. This is grounded in a life as a teacher and inspector who appreciates that schools are just data organisations but in some cases critical life support systems for children. This contrasted sharply with our Education Secretary, Mr Gove. Whilst Gervase was eloquent and passionate, Michael was eloquent but evasive. He talked about children without a convincing passion which stems from being there and doing it. Our disengaged learners he referred to recalcitrants! Gervase talked about how he engaged one of michael's recalcitrants to recite the most wonderful account of the nativity. And you see that is the problem! That in essence is the cause of my frustration.
We have wonderful people with great ideas to take education and learning forward but whilst we have economists and businessmen or at best non educators giving education a direction we essentially create the following metaphor.
There are many schools who create a field full of opportunities for children. These opportunities are wonderful in developing self esteem, confidence, relationships, resilience, determination, broader understanding of the world around us, innovation and creativity as well as the important core skills of Maths and English. This essentially is our broad and inspiring curriculum.
However for all state schools there is the time when mr Gove as our farmer, herds us all over the cattle grid to be milked for data. Unfortunately some of our more fragile kids fall through the gaps in the cattle grid and never recover.
What then happens is that is the quality of the milk is assessed for specific things and despite the overall health of the animal, the quality of the data means that there is a prescribed diet of things that M Gove and ofsted feel will make a difference to the quality of the milk. Unfortunately although the milk/ data might improve slightly, the overall quality of the animal suffers. the curriculum becomes narrow and the child poorer for it. The really tragic thing is that this happens more often to those children who most need a broad and balanced educational experience because they don't get it at home.
Essentially it is not schools who narrow the curriculum but governments. Mr Gove doesnt want to consider Finland with the best education system in the world as they have no testing or inspection instead going all the way ton hong kong and Singapore with totally different cultural expectations. Finland trust their teachers and schools, raise teaching as the highest of all professions. Finland have created a society where materialistic gain has low standing in favour of traditional family values of love, respect and the common good. There is a lot to learn from Finland.
For us to truly make the dream which several articulate speakers have illustrated in Birmingham over the last two days, a reality we need to:
* change the focus of inspection over the next three years away from raw and often misleading data to a broader appreciation of the development of the whole child, implanting Gervase Phinn's DNA and passion in all inspectors
* unshackle the teaching profession and trust those schools doing the right things
* demand from schools, school leaders and teachers that they repay the trust and faith in them By creating schools which create children and young people not just fit for tests but for life and employability to make a contribution to our society
* every child must be told that they can make a difference
Mr Gove holds the keys but we must all bang on his door until he opens it to all the things we , as educators know are right.
As time Pendergast so clearly stated "once you make a change, you just don't know where it might take you."
We have to be the change we want to see.