What keeps me awake at night

Priorities, not practice, make Shanghai prosper

Every teacher knows that Shanghai tops the Programme for International Student Assessment (Pisa) league tables - we're told often enough. It has become another stick with which parents, politicians and the public can beat UK teachers.

So what happens in Shanghai that doesn't happen here? What can we copy in order to climb the tower of Pisa, which seems to lean so far towards the East?

What keeps me awake is the realisation that we will never be able to fully emulate Shanghai's success. It doesn't matter how many visits we make to the region, or how much we learn about their planning and research groups, or how long we spend studying their various concepts and procedures.

Why? Because the education system in Shanghai is based on beliefs and values. It's based on what is important to the Chinese - the education of their children for the good of themselves, their family and the system. It is ingrained in Chinese history, in legends and proverbs, passed down through generations.

Our education system, on the other hand, is based on environment - whatever resources, money, trend or political interest is available at a particular moment in time. Nothing endures, nothing is refined, nothing is honed to mastery, nothing is embedded in our culture. Every project, initiative, policy or cash injection is transient, depending on who is in power.

Those of you familiar with Robert Dilts' neurological levels of change will know that any change that happens at an environment level is short-term. Change that happens at a belief level is longer-lasting and, fundamentally, sustainable.

What if our education system wasn't subject to ever-changing politics? What if our pupils were not endlessly experimented upon? What if our system was allowed to mature and grow, to gain wisdom over years? What if our teachers were allowed to develop their practice without fear of the next initiative or curriculum change? Maybe then we would actually have learned something from Shanghai.

Joyce Matthews is a former PE teacher and is now a leadership consultant

Tell us what keeps you awake at night

Email jon.severs@tesglobal.com

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