Aim for a PB in optimism

7th September 2012 at 01:00

I hope someone has taken our prime minister aside and spoken to him as the inflatable teacher in the inflatable school spoke to the inflatable student holding a drawing pin: "You've let the school down, you've let me down, but most of all you've let yourself down."

Because while everyone else spent much of the summer basking in our Olympic glory, David Cameron was like the dodgy bloke at a student party who sits at the kitchen table glugging warm white wine while complaining about mortgage rates.

Many of us felt he chose the wrong parade to rain on when he bemoaned primary teachers and the lack of competitive sport in schools. When asked about playing fields or school sport, he would have been better advised to do a Mrs Thatcher, wagging his finger at the reporter and saying something like: "These are our best Olympic achievements in years. Rejoice."

The Olympics and Paralympics are, of course, a reminder of how much optimism matters. New school years always begin optimistically. Refreshed by the long school break, energised by an inevitable tingle of back-to-school nerves and greeted by a mix of veteran pupils and shiny-faced new ones, we find that the return to the real world is more pronounced in teaching than in any other job.

That's not to say that going back to school isn't accompanied by terror. I suspect there are few teachers who don't have several nights of bad sleep in the run-up to term time or experience that collective professional nightmare of losing control of a class. Then there is the horror of seeing what some colleagues have chosen to wear on the first training day back.

This year we're all buoyed up by the memory of the Olympics and sustained by the Paralympics. The Games made us feel proud and we should aim to translate that into greater self-confidence in our schools. Here are some thoughts on how.

First, let's take our leaders at their word. Let's take as genuine Michael Wilshaw's promise that there is no Ofsted formula for what a good lesson looks like. Let's ban talk of "delivering" lessons and resist attempts to reduce lesson planning to a sterile sequence of Meccano-style components bolted together according to someone else's instructions. Instead, let's teach ambitious lessons that are designed to provoke and inspire.

Let's also take as genuine Michael Gove's exhortation that in school leadership, autonomy and decisiveness are essential. Let's take the list of changes and initiatives the Department for Education is introducing this term and ignore as many of them as possible. Instead, let's focus on making teaching and learning better in every classroom, through collaborative planning and the recognition made so clear in London this summer that all of us can, through rigour, practice and teamwork, keep getting better.

Finally, if Ofsted is on the school horizon, let's not allow that two-day experience to shape everything else we do all year. We want pupils to look back on their time with us as memorable, uplifting, productive and fun. So if an inspector watches us teach a lesson and says it's not good, let's try to retain our perspective. If we disagree with the judgement, let's step back, clear a space and ask the inspector to show us how it's done.

Thus a new school year begins. We owe it to ourselves and our pupils to be optimistic. Let's sock it to 'em.

Geoff Barton is headteacher of King Edward VI School, Bury St Edmunds.

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