Bottoms up to a new language!

14th February 2003 at 00:00
Sheila Dainton and Nansi Ellis urge all primary teachers to implement their own alternative national strategy.

Dear fellow travellers ...

We wonder if, like so many primary teachers, you are just a little weary of slick strategies handed down from on high that are weighed down with objectives and outcomes, but light on vision and values?

We wonder if you have the energy, individually and collectively, to join us in seeing if the diverse, talented and endlessly committed community of primary teachers past and present to which we belong, can start its own strategy - bottom up not top down.

Let's call it the Mind Your Language (MYL) strategy - and we are not talking about the "f" word. It's a strategy with a difference.

No ring-binders, no catch-up, no boosting, no targets, no national directors, no local consultants, no one at the top "driving delivery" (why not leave that to Parcel Force?), no "delivering" daily lessons and most definitely no Big Hitters. After all, it's our strategy, not theirs.

All we have to do is this. Every time we hear someone use the language of war to talk about education - action zones, task force, target-setting, field force, frontline, biting the bullet - let's ask them why they are using that language, and gently remind them where the metaphors come from.

Every time we hear someone use the tough-talking language of games-playing - league tables, performance, tackling, goals, and even the "learning game" - let's ask them what happens to the losers.

Every time we hear someone using the language of "delivery" to describe the amazingly complex world of learning and teaching in primary schools, let's remind them that it is not quite that simple. After all, had we wanted to work in obstetrics, we would have chosen a different profession.

Every time we hear someone talking about a child's "performance", let's remind them - and, in so doing, remind ourselves - that we are not ring-masters, and that children are not circus animals.

And every time we encourage children to get on with their work, let's try asking them to get on with their learning instead. We might be surprised what a difference it makes (thank you Caroline Lodge and friends at London University's Institute of Education for helping to articulate this important message).

It is time to ditch the language of fear and the politics of ruthlessness and promote the ethic of care and language of learning.

Sheila Dainton is education policy officer and Nansi Ellis is primary education adviser at the Association of Teachers and Lecturers Any thoughts? Write to

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