While I didn't need this story to inspire me to aim high, it helped me to share with my staff one of my own impossible dreams - "Every child at level 2 or above". This has become one of our rallying cries. My colleagues and I constantly defend what we believe needs to take place in school in order to pursue our impossibility, and much of it has nothing to do with teaching and testing our narrow compartmentalised national curriculum. If we are going to go for the impossible we have got to defend real learning.
I have long believed that a school must be a learning community. Teachers sacrifice their integrity when they are no longer learners, which leaves them very vulnerable in the current climate. Forced to focus on a curriculum that has been analysed and compartmentalised by experts in compartmental-ising and analysing things, early-years teachers are constantly trying to build bridges between the mechanisms of the national curriculum and the real lives of children and their learning.
In a world where everything has changed over the past few years, our school has held fast, with unswerving determination, to that which does not change, namely the way people learn things.
Real learning is a social activity which takes place in a moral context. It is experimental and relevant.
Maintaining such a regime in our large city infant and nursery school has left us defending our young children against any impoverished and reductionist alternative, even if it is enshrined in law.
Children need to value themselves in order to improve their learning. They need to be negotiators interacting in a way which gives them some control, and a belief that they count for something and have a voice that will be heeded. They need to be respected, appreciated and allowed to make the mistakes necessary for right answers to emerge along with the next set of questions.
No less is true of teachers. They need the freedom to continue their learning, to experiment, to negotiate their agendas, to review their work candidly, to share their successes. They need the security necessary to examine openly the mistakes that lead to their learning.
Imprisoned by the strait-jacket of the national curriculum, left exhausted and demoralised by the OFSTED machine, we could limp toward the league tables doing exactly as we are told, impoverished technicians delivering the goods to disinterested and disaffected clients. Although still sorting out the bullies on the playground, we will be too cowed and defeated even to recognise the bullies elsewhere in the system, or believe that we could ever have a voice that might make a difference.
About such teachers I would say only one thing with certainty - they will never build houses on the moon.