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If The DfE Expects Us To Embrace New Education Initiatives, We Need More Than Vague Soundbites

"Things that are ‘almost certain’ to become set in stone often fizzle out"

The Primary Head
by The Primary Head
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So much is changing in education. There doesn’t seem to be a week where I haven’t been inundated by emails telling me of some great change in education policy that I’m somehow meant to have been ready for two weeks ago.

I don’t seem to get through a single governors’ meeting without one of them asking me for an update on how I’m preparing the school for some national mandate that they read about last night.

I can’t seem to show my face at any local schools meeting without it going completely red as I am shown to be horrendously out of touch with important new stuff I’m meant to know about the updated Ofsted inspection handbook.

You could be forgiven for thinking that I’m some kind of charlatan who has managed to blag his way to the top but clearly can’t stay on top of things. I prefer to cut myself some slack – mainly because these things often don’t matter.

Things that are ‘almost certain’ to become set in stone and require urgent attention often fizzle out, leaving many of us wondering why we bothered in the first place.

The world of education is beset with fads that suddenly take hold of the social consciousness so, naturally, schools are expected to put them at the top of their agenda.

Take modern British values. What a load of old tut.

When that rolled out everyone facing an imminent Ofsted inspection starting panicking; printing out photographs of people from all ethnicities smiling and holding hands in the hope that this is what the policy wonks meant.

That’s the problem when those in charge rely on soundbites and catchphrases to broadcast government agenda to the masses – nobody knows what it is they actually want.

Modern British values is just a vague message that could mean ‘don’t be a racist’ as much it could mean ‘don’t fart at the dinner table’.

If you want me to implement something in my school you need to give me some details. If you’re going to judge me on it you definitely need to give all of us the same details.

We’re at a point where those heads who stuck up pictures of a bulldog wearing a union jack are now taking them down because that’s not what inspectors are looking for.

Instead they are looking for schools to take seriously their responsibility to imbue their pupils with a sense of belonging, compassion and responsibility for the world.

And of course, most school were doing that before anyone coined a phrase and pretended it was exactly ‘that’ which was lacking in schools today.

The sudden ‘change’ that was expected when modern British values became part of the inspection handbook was a textbook case of how we are expected to act whenever an education minister opens their mouth.

And of course, it’s often nonsense. My advice is to carry on doing what you believe to be right, in the knowledge that the fuss and fanfare will quickly die down when it is shown that it genuinely doesn’t matter, the powers that be realise it’s actually impossible to implement, or, and this is the key one, when sufficient details are added to make it a change you can actually put into action.

As soon as details are added, people tend to lose interest, meaning you can carry on doing your job.

If this all sounds like I’m a bit of curmudgeon who bull-headedly believes that I can’t be enlightened into doing things differently then you have missed the point.

My own school’s policies and practices have changed immeasurably over the last few years. Why? Because I have taken on board information and made appropriate changes to make sure that the quality of service my school provides has improved.

Life and experience allows you to evolve and improve. Sometimes it is the very worst experiences that cause the most positive change in how a school and its staff operate. I wish it wasn’t so, but I welcome changes that are born out of lessons learnt more than I do a snazzy slogan that reads well but has no value.

So, allow such bandwagons to pass you by. Keep your ear to the ground and your eyes open to what’s really going on. That way you’ll always be at the cutting edge of what really matters. And when someone asks you about the latest government initiative, take pleasure in answering, ‘I’m sorry, I haven’t a clue.’

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