I teach, therefore I am.
In many ways this blog is evidence of the journey I have taken in my thinking about education. It has been, both the means for and the evidence of, my attempts to intellectually grasp what it means to teach and to lead, and what it means to be a great school. Over the years I have begun to formalise some key principles to hang these thoughts upon.
I have been fortunate in my career, to have been given the freedom and opportunity to develop in a way that has allowed me to form these principles, and to put them into action. In particular, at ELSS, I have been given the room to build on my expertise both in my subject and in the arena of curriculum and assessment. Speaking to colleagues outside of the Twitter and blogging education-sphere, I am aware that not all teachers have been this fortunate. Certainly, I have grasped onto these opportunities and have sought to be somewhat of an autodidact in areas which I have been interested in – but it would be remiss of me not to consider the space that I was given to enable this.
Whether through the pressures of inspection, results or the lack of expertise and thought at senior level, many other teachers have been forced to jump through endless hoops based on a flawed premise of what a school must do. Individual schools, teachers and leaders have been bold in their attempts to move away from this and embrace a model more fitting to the purpose of education. However individual change, whether at teacher or school level, is not enough – for a real impact there must be systemic change.
We have to make schools a place where pupils are inducted into the great conversations of mankind; where they are given access to the knowledge and the coded language of the powerful, both because of the intrinsic value of this knowledge and also to allow the future generations to critique and challenge this knowledge themselves.
For this to be achieved, we have to bring teachers, leaders and schools into this conversation. Generations of teachers have been deprofessionalised and intellectually restricted by a culture of school and teacher development, which has been focused on the ‘what’ rather than the ‘how’. This has led to teachers who lack confidence and knowledge of their subjects, or who lack the power to make this knowledge central to what they do in the classroom. It has led to schools relying on gimmicks picked up at Ofsted trainings or PixL conferences, because they haven’t had the expertise to know how to build meaningful curriculum and assessment, nor the time and resources to develop this within their schools.
The Inspiration Trust has taken on this idea of systemic change in its new model of curriculum leadership. Having met principals and teachers from many of the Inspiration schools, I have been overwhelmed by the appetite for development, training and opportunity to embrace this model of school education. Dame Rachel de Souza’s decision to employ Christine Counsell to build a team of subject and curriculum experts to oversee this development across all of their schools and at a national level: to give school leaders and teachers this opportunity to engage with the core purpose of schooling, is remarkable in its boldness and its scale.
Leaving a school is always a difficult decision, and leaving one which I helped to build is particularly hard. Yet, as I told my Year 10s, I’ve done the work here – along with the help of my wonderful colleagues, I have put into a place a curriculum in English which I am incredibly proud of and which has already seen rewards in the work our pupils have produced. My heart leaps whenever I see the intertextuality we have built within the curriculum ring out from their essays or when they quote Orwell or Shakespeare or Bronte at me in response to hearing their names. Listening to my colleagues chatter excitedly about their joy in hearing pupils recite aspects of ‘Julius Caesar’ in time with the cast of the Donmar; watching them present on aspects of the curriculum to each other in order to develop subject knowledge and seeing them hold classes mesmerised as they explain ‘The Masque of Anarchy’, I am more than confident that the team I leave behind are capable of taking this on. As a school, I have never been more proud than when seeing the enthusiasm with which subject teams discuss their curriculum and their use of assessment on our curriculum inset days, or witnessing the depth of thought subject leads take when considering what they will teach or listening to departments jovially compete to prove their subject the most worthy of study.
Now it is time to spread this work further; so from September I will be joining the Inspiration Trust and a new team of experts to to build and develop a knowledge-rich English curriculum, subject teaching communities, subject-based CPD and curriculum leadership across a whole network of wonderful schools. I feel both excited and privileged to take on this new role. Perhaps, after all, fortune really does favour the bold.