Running with the crazy creatives

3rd February 2006 at 00:00
I've been a primary head for seven years and have been striving for a creative approach to the curriculum. I have often had to persuade cautious teachers to worry less about the three-part lesson and to be brave enough to use their own judgement. In appointing staff I've looked for creativity and imagination. I now find myself in a strange position. Our leadership team, packed with creative risk-takers, is trying to take the school in a direction I'm just not sure about. They want to abandon our structure and replace class bases with "learning seminars" tailored to need. They want to let pupils decide which ones to attend. I'm feeling increasingly uneasy.

They seem to be taking the staff with them and their enthusiasm is catching. How can I start to apply some sensible caution?

In the majority of schools it is the head who feels responsible for any change agenda, having to persuade, "bring on board", capture hearts and minds and infect with enthusiasm a school culture which remains steadfastly unchanging. You've got what you wanted: a group of people who have the confidence and readiness to break new ground.

You are experiencing are the unforeseen consequences of your actions after a building a team of people. You now have been cast as an evaluator in this team of shakers and movers, not a role you naturally embrace. However, it's a role you need to learn and it's essential that you learn quickly if you are to nurture and encourage this exciting group.

You need to find out what is driving the changes. Is the thinking of your team informed by their understanding of the neurological base of learning? Are they designing a learning experience which would fit with what they know about learning and learners? Do their plans to ditch the conventional structures and systems stem from a determination to put the learner at the centre? Do they feel that the potential power of technological development is yet to be felt in your school? Get this debate on the table. I suspect that if you create a climate which values discussion, raises questions and invites informed argument, you might find yourself put under the spotlight yourself. You will certainly be asked to defend the idea of cramming 30 growing children into a room with one teacher, and perhaps pressed to justify it in terms of learning theory. Where is the academic research which shores up the necessity of a school day which has changed very little in its structure for more than 150 years?

What are you nervous about? Initiating and implementing radical change like this is always risky. Your tried and tested organisation is certainly threatened and you may be worried about standards falling, parents objecting and probably a loss of control at a personal level.

Get the vision crystallised; ask what will it look like? How will we get there? How will we see the role of the teacher? What logistical barriers do we need to sort out? Who do we need to engage in the debate? Who shall we ask to embark on the planning at the most pragmatic level? How shall we convince parents that what we're offering is the kind of learning experience designed to nurture brilliance?

And spread the word. Once you get out into your community of schools, talking about what you are doing, you will be amazed by the number of like-minded innovators who will seek your company and want to work with you. Many people feel constrained by the perceived shackles of government policy and need to be reassured that this kind of transformational change is just what the Government wants to find. Go on. Just do it.

Patricia Denison is head of a village primary, near Woking, Surrey. She has been in education for 25 years, 14 in headship, and is a facilitator with the National College for School Leadership's new visions programme for heads. Do you have a leadership question? Email

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