Good practice, not gimmicks

The new innovation unit is not the ministry of bright ideas, says its leader Mike Gibbons. Julie Henry reports

THE Government's new innovation unit, described by Education Secretary Estelle Morris as a "powerhouse and incubator", is aimed at spreading teachers' good ideas.

Getting to grips with what it will actually do is difficult, although there are six people to make it work - the newly-appointed pound;95,000 head and five directors earning between pound;50,000 and pound;70,000.

Mike Gibbons, head of the British School of Brussels and the man soon to be at the helm, offers few details but is clear about what the unit will not be.

"It is not about creating a 'department of bright ideas'. We will not be going for gimmicks. It is about trusting the profession to innovate and change, using its expertise in a systematic way, looking at good practice that can be scaled up."

Neither will the unit re-invent the wheel or add to the workload problem, he claims: "We looked for new ways of working, not new ways of recording old ways of working."

Scottish-born Mr Gibbons has 30 years' experience in school leadership. His early career was spent in two West Midlands schools, followed by a large comprehensive in Newcastle. There he met David Bell, the chief inspector of schools, who was education director in the city.

Mr Bell described him as a "dynamic thinker" who is good at getting things done. Under his leadership, Kenton secondary, originally grant-maintained, was one of the first schools to gain specialist technology status. His next posting, Trinity school in Carlisle, also became a specialist language college. Despite what looks like early advocacy of government policy, Mr Gibbons seems wary of giving his approval to any particular scheme or current example of "good practice".

The unit has been greeted with scepticism by unions. But Mr Gibbons, a father of four and a keen mountain biker, is emphatic that the unit is not just for the luxury end of the market.

"Innovation is not something you do when you have got everything right. It is something you do to get things right."

Directors of the unit are Maureen Burns, General Teaching Council head of policy; Anne Diack, BBC education research manager; Valerie Hannon, former Derbyshire education director; Deryn Harvey, headteacher of Willow Tree primary, west London, and Toby Salt, head of St Anthony's special school, Chichester.

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