Welcome to the November issue of Teach Secondary.
The notion of ‘being your own boss’ can be a powerful lure for some professions. Life as a freelance consultant or creative can be unpredictable, but on the plus side, at least there’s no one telling you what to do.
In private businesses, anyone below the level of director or CEO will typically accept the trade-off of complete professional freedom and independence in return for the reassurance of a regular salary and the other benefits that come with working for a large organisation. You’re subservient to their rules – but with promotion will generally come an increasing degree of flexibility in terms of managing junior staff, allocating time and strategic planning.
In schools, it’s a bit more complicated. Your ultimate boss is the government, in the form of the DfE, with your adherence to targets and general performance kept in check (or possibly enforced, depending on who you ask) by Ofsted.
At the same time, every school is, to some extent its own operating entity – albeit one to a greater or lesser degree overseen by a trust or local authority.
In some respects, at least, school leaders can have a great deal of operational freedom, which they may pass on to their staff to varying degrees, depending on their vision and priorities for the school.
But then a letter may arrive on headed paper that will have enormous repercussions for what your daily routines in school will look like henceforth.
“In some respects, school leaders can have a great deal of operational freedom… But then a letter may arrive on headed paper that will have enormous repercussions for what your daily routines will look like henceforth.”
Two developments in recent weeks serve as neat illustrations of this. The first was the headline-grabbing announcement by the Education Secretary of the government’s intention to formally ban smartphones in schools – though as Gareth Sturdy points out on page 12, we’re still really talking guidelines at this stage, but ones which may have unintended consequences if they were to be made statutory.
The second was the announcement of a review into the compulsory RSE teaching required of schools since 2021. It doesn’t seem too unreasonable to check in on how schools have been faring in that department two years on – but as Teach Secondary’s new regular columnist Natasha Devon observes on page 21, there should perhaps be some scrutiny of the motivations and purpose behind the review itself.
A centralised education system such as ours will inevitably be subject to new rules and interventions. Yet at the same time, we’ll often extol the virtues of independent learning, critical thinking and informed arguments to students.
The authority flows from that direction – what if some takeaway lessons could travel back there from here?
Enjoy the issue.