My life is far from the dream I had as a child, for which I largely blame the trust and blind faith I had in state education; I was young, eager, inspired and naïve! For me education was not only a way to escape poverty but also a process to prepare students for adult life, to fill in the gaps that our parents couldn't teach us and establish how we could best contribute to society -an ideal of education that seems to make sense, even now. Although, it seems I got it wrong, and now considered to be 'educated and successful' I am left wondering as to what the aim of my education was, as it really did not prepare me for adult life despite my A grades!
Although at least my dream didn't end in a lifelong nightmare, as it has for some of my school friends. They, despite their potential intellect, were failed by the system and in more extreme cases finished being unable to read and write at a primary level! However, I went to school a long time ago, at the dawn of the national curriculum and during Ofsted's (aka the monster as it has been affectionately renamed by a disaffected headteacher) formative years. So, you'd be forgiven for thinking that things have vastly improved, but sadly I'm not sure they have, as despite being within the monster's clutch, state education still seems to fail to prepare many children for adult life. In fact inspectors recently announced the UK's biggest academy chain (AET) is currently failing too many pupils, and a report last year, by the CIMA, claimed that "UK school leavers are 'the worst in Europe for essential skills". It is also worryingly ironic that it has been reported recently that the secretary of state for education might send her own son to private school. It seems her confidence in state education is about as high as mine and her boss Dave's, who himself is considering sending his son to a prestigious prep school - and why wouldn't they? After all despite only 7% of the population attending private schools most high profile jobs are still dominated by such backgrounds, as recently reported by the Sutton Trust.
However, I wonder if we are at a turning point, as despite his position holding the reins of the monster, Sir Michael Wilshaw's recent speech to Centreforum (watch it here) filled me with a slight glimmer of hope. He paints a rather poor (but true) picture of the current state of education, outlining three main areas for improvement: 'accountability and oversight; the way schools work together; and the leadership of teaching in general.' He then concludes his speech by stressing that this is a call to arms, which depends on making more changes to the current system. He also makes it clear that changes should be led by local politicians, 'regardless of the powers bequeathed by Whitehall' - I like Mike and his slightly mutinous stance!
It's his call to arms that fills me with some hope. Just like Mike, I'm already fighting in the war against bad education but for me it is the establishment that I'm fighting and, as a working-class teacher, I refuse to join its ranks. In fact political interference with education is something I take issue with - as politicians seem to do it so badly! Mike puts so much reliance on them rather than on teaching professionals. Also I do not like the fact that his ideas remain firmly within the current structure; are yet more changes to something that doesn't work really the answer?
I want to help build something new - this is the driving force behind my career! I feel strongly that we need a new curriculum and a new structure, as I believe to some degree that state education is an 'experiment gone wrong' (as suggested by Terence Kealey in The Telegraph). I also reject recent claims that, because of improvements to a few state schools, the private sector is in crisis. Rather I think we are about to enter a perfect storm that will push education forward as the independent sector needs to compete with the state. Innovation has always come from the private sector; even the idea of 'free schools for all' had its birth here! So, I'm both proud and excited to work at Bedales, a school that has been pioneering ever since its inception! Now, after being enticed back to teaching by the possibilities of the independent sector (ie. no monster and more autonomy) I am eagerly building the foundations that I hope will lead to a successful career as a reformer. If this sounds similar to you or someone you know please do get in touch!