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Jill Berry: `With collaboration, we are stronger together'

Jill Berry, former head, former teacher, writes:

Jill Berry, former head, former teacher, writes:

I believe in collaboration and that we are stronger together. I believe in listening to and learning from each other, reflecting and rethinking, encouraging mutual understanding, respect and co-operation. Educational Twitter and educational blogging are, in my view, a brilliant mechanism for this.

Over a 30-year career I taught in state and independent schools, comprehensive and selective schools, co-ed, all boys', all girls', 4-18, 7-18 and 11-18 schools. I taught adults to GCSE and A-level at night school. The different contexts in which I taught, and later held middle and then senior leadership roles, seemed to me to have far more in common than divided them. There was so much to gain from working together where schools and professionals of different kinds and with different degrees of expertise in different areas of specialism brought their own contributions to the table.

And yet I have been aware of so much antagonism and hostility between different factions in education, strident voices extolling the virtue of their own structures and systems and refusing to see the common ground which should unite them - across independent schools, maintained schools, academies, free schools, special schools, sixth form and FE colleges, for example. There is also prejudice about different routes people take into teaching - the vitriol in some discussions about Teach First, for example, never ceases to amaze me. And yet we are all colleagues drawn together by a common purpose - to give young people the best education we can.

I remember the launch of the General Teaching Council. I was a fan of that organisation, and of its chief executive Keith Bartley (for whom I still have great respect) and yet it foundered. Perhaps in the case of the GTCE the tension came from its role as a regulator in addition to its supportive and professional development functions, to the extent that most teachers (and certainly the media, who would focus on a salubrious minority of teacher disciplinary cases) only saw its activity in the former, and were largely unaware of how much was being achieved in the latter. I can remember the strong feeling in some camps about the initial pound;30 subscription fee (despite the modesty of this sum compared with subscriptions paid by those in other professions, and the necessity of levying a fee if the organisation was to operate to some degree independently of government).

Can we ensure that the College of Teaching does not fall into the same pit? Can we be sufficiently committed to the principle of working together, across the education profession, receptive to the possibility of learning from those in different educational contexts and not just determined to defend our own piece of the territory? Can we be open-minded enough to look for connection rather than competition and conflict? Can we find a way of making the logistics work? I would suggest only if we are willing to focus on building bridges rather than walls.

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