“When I was at school I wanted to be Noel Edmonds,” says Geoff Barton, the newly elected general secretary of the Association of School and College Leaders, in this week’s most startling revelation.
Barton may have wanted to follow in the tracks of Edmonds’ DJing career, but instead he looks likely to find himself in a starring role in education’s own version of Deal or No Deal.
Here, the boxes for schools are currently filled with varying, but all pitiful, amounts, and playing the game will require a strong nerve.
But the challenge will be about more than just money. Headteacher John Tomsett speaks for many when he says that he hopes the union, through Barton, “can help us to celebrate schools”, to bring a bit of joy back into the classroom and “to reconceptualise teaching, ridding ourselves of too much restrictive, negative compliance”.
This is a profession pushed around by ministers who value knowledge but not wisdom
It is this endemic compliance, combined with the supine tendency of some senior leaders, which results in a profession pushed around by ministers who value knowledge but not wisdom, and who laud youthful intellect but sideline experience.
Whatever the policy du jour, it is striking how free the government feels to meddle in education.
In the past few years, we’ve had the imposition of academies, free schools, new exams, new curricula, new assessments, new commissioners, and it’s likely we will get new grammars.
Ministers meddle with the job of teaching
Of course, all governments have a right, and indeed a duty, to shape public policy, but can you imagine the level of interference that schools endure taking place in any other sector?
Is there another minister anywhere who feels so confident in instructing people in the minutiae of their jobs in the way that our schools minister does? And regardless of merit and no matter how eloquent the delivery, is it really the role of a minister to be pronouncing on pedagogy?
Shouldn’t pedagogy be for the profession to debate and decide? Health professionals prescribe the care of their patients; teaching professionals should be able to prescribe the content of lessons for their pupils.
Can you imagine the level of interference that schools endure taking place in any other sector?
If that leaves any minister at a loose end, they could always concentrate on what they’re supposed to be doing: alleviating funding problems, remedying the recruitment crisis and repairing a smashed-up education system.
There are a few vocal critics of government – of whom Barton is one — but at some deep, fundamental level the profession lacks confidence. Heads and teachers grumble and grouse, but they don’t really believe they have the right to tell politicians or anyone else where to get off.
It’s a profession that has no trouble being brave and championing on behalf of others. But it’s pretty lousy at performing the same service for itself.
Now, however, is the time to be bold and to reclaim pedagogic control. The Chartered College of Teaching, despite its initial hiccups and missteps, is building credibility under the firm hand of Dame Alison Peacock, and offering viable ways to do this.
For heads, it’s a time to be brave, to speak truth to power and to believe in themselves, because if they don’t, the powerful will continue to ride roughshod over their opinions. They must find the courage to stand up for education and stand firm.
Education needs a new tune. Geoff Barton may be just the person to play it.