Review - Change doesn't come from within

29th May 2015 at 01:00
Twitter's luminaries have little to offer in this essay collection

I would describe this book as a series of random essays from education's Twitterati - academic Tina Isaacs aside.

The introduction to Changing Schools: perspectives on five years of education reform by editor Robert Peal, a history teacher at the West London Free School, summarises what he believes has an impact on effective school improvement. It then provides spurious links between the contributions.

In the first chapter, former Downing Street policy adviser James O'Shaughnessey traces the history that led to our current system of academies and free schools. This offers nothing new to those of us who have lived through this period, although it may provide some useful information for people who are new to education.

Later in the book, Jonathan Simons, another ex-policy adviser, sets the government 10 challenges for future reform. He poses interesting questions on reform fatigue, the shortage of teachers, a lack of leaders and methods of spreading innovation.

Similarly, Dr Isaacs provides a useful overview of recent curriculum changes with some challenging suggestions for further review, including the abolition of GCSEs.

Education snapshots

The second essay, by Katharine Birbalsingh, the founder and headteacher of the Michaela free school, discusses what she believes makes a good school and goes on to describe her own institution which, in terms of accountability (performance tables, Ofsted and so on), is yet to show results.

The contribution from Daisy Christodoulou, research director at the Ark academy chain, is a trawl through the literature on assessment and curriculum change, along with her personal views on teaching to the test.

Other essays come from veteran tweeters Andrew Old and Tom Bennett (also a TES columnist), and Joaquin Hernandez and Doug Lemov, who pose some interesting challenges to the school system, including CPD.

I do delve into Twitter to see what ideas are floating out there and sometimes it provides useful material. However, at other times it feels like the tourists who don't look at the amazing sights but at the cameras on the end of their selfie sticks instead, living the experience through their photographs.

The title of the book is Changing Schools but this is certainly not its subject. I would not recommend this to my experienced practitioners or my new teachers; the people who change schools are leaders and there was no information here for headteachers such as myself.

I'm not sure I would spend pound;10 on this book. I'd attend one of Dr Isaacs' lectures and continue to dip in and out of Twitter, making my own judgements, but the money would probably be better spent on a new set of pens for next year.

Changing Schools is available from John Catt Publishing. Dame Joan McVittie is headteacher of Woodside High School in North London

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