Five things we must get right in education in 2018

3rd January 2018 at 15:26
Scrap Sats, concentrate on teacher wellbeing and three other things headteacher and blogger Brian Walton says we need to resolve for education to succeed in 2018

Sats

This hasn’t gone away at all, despite the PR masterclass from the Department of Education last summer. I will say, once again, I am all for the testing of knowledge to improve teaching and learning, and I believe in the fair and equitable accountability of our education system.

But, Sats have nothing to do with these.

They are a game we play each and every year. Only the most naïve (or people detached from schools) would believe they are a fair and reliable source of school performance nationally, and yet we keep playing this charade. As a system, Sats are utterly broken.

This year I have seen more headteachers walk out of education than at any point in 22 years. Why? The stresses of unchecked accountability and Sats are number one on this list – even when they leave for other reasons, it's Sats that are cited as the catalyst.

Those that are still in post, we know what we need to do. Make sure that of all the priorities, it's Sats we get right – please, don’t confuse this with quality teaching and learning. The right thing to do is stand up and say this: we want primary education to be about reading, writing and mathematics.

Recruitment and retention

Sometimes, when I write, I think of someone who would utterly argue against what I am trying to say. I try to imagine their arguments. I’d love to think what they would say about teacher recruitment and retention. It’s the fault of bloggers? Have we created a toxic environment in which the people who do the job try to become martyrs to the cause due to political objectives, like in the NHS? The worst thing about blogging about education is that it’s so damn political…no matter how hard you try.

There is a real problem in recruiting and retaining teachers – they are just not there in the numbers we need,  particularly in rural areas. I remember the days of looking through 30 or 40 teacher applications for one post. Now, I hope for one application for a post. How has that happened? There is tumbleweed in education town and a sense that a career in teaching is not a good move, despite those lovely adverts.

Wellbeing

Education is suffering a crisis of wellbeing. Now, helpful non-teachers tell us to buck-up and shut-up: in fact, fellow educational professions do as well. They say that everyone has it tough right now. Maybe they are right. If teachers and headteachers began to take the positive pills on a daily basis – wrote positive narratives – would this change things? As I have said, teacher wellbeing rests with school leaders and the profession. Therefore, if school leaders could just cheer up and get on with doing the, "best job in the world", wouldn’t we all just be happier?

I think much of the wellbeing crisis comes from confused narratives. Everyone has something to say about education. Sometimes you just can’t process the number of things you have to do before it becomes overwhelming – sometimes you get lost. I liken it to the number of emails I get daily offering solutions to what Ofsted wants. There’s real business to be made out of education, and business is good when fear is riding high. Social media is the perfect forum for spreading this.

The Solution? Turn off. Turn off and get on with the most important thing – the day-to-day job. Obviously, as a blogger I see the irony in all this. 

Unity

Twitter can feel like you are part of the new pioneers or, alternatively, the spawn of Satan selling Hitler posters to children. There is no doubt that tribes have been created via edu-Twitter. There are people I have met through this medium that I count as friends and look forward to meeting up with.

But, Twitter has also made enemies of people. It shows up the great divides in education and the medium of 280 characters is never suitable at bridging that gap. I have met, in person, many of the those on Twitter who I disagree with – and I have always walked away with more respect for them after a personal meeting.

Let us be clear: Twitter is not about winners or losers. I thought it was a place where I could come across a varied gathering of ideas and resources for reflection and borrowing – a library, say. Libraries have clear rules, they are pleasant places to be, they feel good to be in. The library of Twitter can feel like a bare-knuckle fight in the middle of a fragile frozen lake, with your feet weighted and bound.

I suggest we find ways of having more varied educational gatherings in 2018. They’ll either enlighten us or resemble Brighton Beach, 1964. We have more to gain than lose, surely?

Finance

One of the hardest things I have done was have my school's budget cut by more than £200,000. The implications are huge and it has taken two years to deal with the impact this has on the whole school community. The current insecurity around funding stops strategic planning in its tracks. How do you run your school effectively? We have done much to stabilise our budget, but decisions need to be made about future funding and investment in our schools. All I currently see is more uncertainty and smokescreen.

Whatever 2018 brings, I will continue to lead my school with pride, compassion and ambition.

Brian Walton is headteacher of Brookside Academy in Somerset. He tweets as @Oldprimaryhead1

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