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From the editor: optimism lights the way for challenges ahead

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It was ironic to close 2015 with our best-read articles being tales of unadulterated misery, when a visit to any school demonstrates that teachers are the most optimistic people around.

Despite everything that is thrown at teachers, surveys consistently show that teaching is rated one of the happiest and most rewarding jobs in the world. And it’s hard not to be positive when you are working with people who are even more optimistic and joyful than you are: children.

The biggest privilege that I have as editor is not visiting the Palace of Westminster but visiting those palaces of promise and hope: schools. It’s here where the magic of the possible is enchanting. A trip to two Cambridgeshire schools to close my year brought this home in different ways.

At the first – a secondary – the principal lived and breathed the comprehensive ideal in a school that was striving not to fail any pupil, no matter what their problems. In fact, no child had been excluded in 10 years.

Not far away, an insanely passionate primary head provided a detour to the Wild Wood, where a sparkly fairy was teaching phonics in the glitter-crazed mud to a bunch of enraptured children.

The two heads demonstrated what all successful headteachers have in abundance, according to the irrepressible Sir Tim Brighouse – “energy, enthusiasm, hope and unwarranted optimism”.

But what is also ironic as we enter 2016 is that the die has already been cast for what will define the year (and to a great extent what defined 2015) for the majority of schools. There’s a very good reason why there’s been such an obsession with Stem subjects, and the arts have been sent to stand in the corner.

The Programme for International Student Assessment tests, focusing on science (it was maths last time), were sat by 15-year-olds in November and are now being marked. When the results are published in December, they will be used either to justify the government’s reforms or provide the basis for some new ones.

Call to mind the pledge in the Conservative manifesto for Britain “to be the best place in the world to study maths, science and engineering”, “measured by improved performance in the Pisa league tables”, and everything falls into place.

The other huge impact will come from the White Paper to be published early this year. This could provide the biggest change to the structure of England’s school system in 50 years and will set out the course of action for the next five.

This is expected to mean the completion of the academisation project, removing every last drop of influence by local authorities over schools, a move that will prove particularly trying for primaries that have so far resisted converting.

Two roles will also prove pivotal in 2016: the new souped-up national schools commissioner and the new head of Ofsted. The first has already been announced with the appointment of Sir David Carter, the purposeful and visionary regional schools commissioner for the South West. The chief inspector will be recruited in 2016 and will have a tough act to follow.

What will be interesting is to see how the roles and responsibilities of these two offices change and play out. Watch this space.

If 2016 proves to be a success, however, it won’t be because of ministers. It will be because of teachers and headteachers. No matter how hard the job, no matter how much change they have to cope with, they always make it work. And however dark it can sometimes seem, their optimism lights the way.

@AnnMroz

This is an article from the 1 January edition of TES. This week's TES magazine is available in all good newsagents. To download the digital edition, Android users can click here and iOS users can click here

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