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Time to take charge of the agenda;Opinion

David Winkley calls on teachers to mobilise through better networking

A survey of opinion-formers carried out by the Centre for British Teaching suggested bluntly that teachers need to develop self-promotion skills and become much more media-friendly if distorted and negative media stories are to be countered.

When the National Primary Centre drew together an invited audience of 150 sharp-thinking primary practitioners this month from every region in the country, there was a strong common view that we're a long way from creating the powerful professional voice that we need.

Such a voice must emerge, and it must be creative and forward-thinking and not defensive. Practitioners have one great strength over all other educational onlookers - they do the job. Heads, however visionary they are, have to face the tough decisions, the daily challenge to keep the boat afloat, as well as steering it forward. The magic of the head who moves the system on is to remain assured and positive under fire, to be open-minded and to have an eye on the future.

The first National Primary Congress, held in Oxford, was convened with the aim of developing a professional network for sharing ideas, vision and effective practice. Chris Johnson, vice-president of Volvo Trucks International, challenged the congress by asking what the mission statement of primary education was and what ought it to be? Do we have common goals and purposes? What does a child of 11 in the 21st century need to achieve - and how does an imaginative school need to respond and behave?

Our headteachers were aware of the potential impact that radical and forward thinking might have on how we run our schools. We need to look at planned learning beyond the nine per cent of time the child currently spends in formal schooling. We realise how much more refined our assessment skills need to be to help us offer teaching support exactly matched to pupil potential. We know how much can be learned from management and business enterprise - and how often politicians are behind rather than in front of the learning game. Most of all, we see how the people who really do the job are too often excluded from the critical public debate that identifies and circulates policies and ideas without any real understanding of how the most committed practitioners really think or feel.

But our headteachers did not look for others to blame. The key to the future lies in finding ways in which teachers - led by our brightest and best - can cross-communicate usefully and practically, with a proper self-managed information flow about how to implement powerful ideas and working practices.

The congress found itself looking for nothing less than the transformation of working conditions from our all-too-often isolated school units of non-communication, scattered like medieval walled castles round the country, into a dynamic and open communication and development enterprise in which - most important of all - professionals grasp their own agendas and drive the debate forward.

David Winkley is director of the National Primary Trust. For further details about the National Primary Centre, contact Chris Storrar at the National Primary Trust, Westminster College, Oxford OX2 9AT. 01865 245242

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