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High quality reviews and training
High quality reviews and training

Roy Blatchford's Column

Roy Blatchford
A speculative new year

January columns tempt speculation, especially in uncertain times.

A landslide victory for the opposition parties beckons in 2022 or 2023. Boris Johnson's great hero Winston Churchill experienced similar in 1945, and I have long thought that our PM would follow in those fated footsteps.

Churchill won the war and subsequently lost the peace. Johnson won his Brexit and vaccine wars but lost the people's trust. And his potential successors in the Conservative Party will fail to restore it.

Clement Attlee in 1945 pledged social reform: in housing, in health, in education. That was the Labour project then. Incoming governments need 'big projects' to win at the ballot box - and the people need to believe they are deliverable.

Question: what was bullet point one on Tony Blair's 1997 election pledge card?
  • Cut class sizes to 30 or under for 5, 6 and 7 year-olds.
So what will the Labour/Liberal government of 22/23 do in power with the social agenda, in particular in schools and colleges? They need to begin thinking aloud, testing ideas soonest. They need their own pledge card. It's what folk remember. Here are five prompts to begin the conversation.

1. Funding

Children in primary and secondary schools in Keir Starmer's Holborn & St Pancras constituency are funded a third as much again as children in (Shadow Secretary of State for Levelling Up) Lisa Nandy's Wigan constituency. And in Nursery, the figures are nearly double. Imagine!

Despite welcome attempts through the National Funding Formula to address historic budget gaps, there remains across the kingdom a funding apartheid to be eradicated: between phases of education and between regions.

Schools in London have been handsomely resourced for decades. The money was once frittered, but not any more. Attainment in the capital's schools, especially for disadvantaged students, now outstrips most parts of the country.

2. Levelling up

The 'levelling up' phrase will doubtless be replaced politically; 'social mobility' to make a return?

The mission remains the same: to transform parts - south, north, east, west - of this rich democracy which still experience lower life expectancy, inadequate housing, poorer education standards, fewer sustained employment opportunities.

This must mean in education that further education colleges receive improved funding and their status is reinvigorated; that high quality apprenticeships in small and medium sized businesses are an integral part of the landscape; that GCSE examination reform brings an end to a system which bakes in failure for a third of students at 16+ in order that two-thirds can pass.

3. Accountability

Lucy Crehan in her seminal book CleverLands draws together five principles for high-performing, equitable education systems:
  • Get children ready for formal learning
  • Design curricula concepts for mastery
  • Support children to take on challenges, rather than making concessions
  • Treat teachers as professionals
  • Combine school accountability with school support.
Each of the above has its distinctive truths and current practices. Yet it is with bullet point five that we are further away than ever when benchmarked against other countries.

Recent years have shown we don't need to live or die by league tables. Ofsted has nudged the system away from a relentless focus on data, vital though data is for tracking students' progress and attainment. At the same time the current inspectorate needs to refresh its practices to work 'with' schools and not 'at' them. The healthy balance of support and accountability eludes us still.

4. Academisation

There is no going back from the academisation of England's schools. It would be folly to plan otherwise. Yet the current hotchpotch is unsustainable. The negative perception of academies in some quarters needs shifting.

An incoming centre-left government should signal a fully academised system (rooted in local clusters) within the lifetime of a parliament, and set about enabling governors, leaders, dioceses and existing MATs to deliver it.

And a fully academised system will only be possible if strong local authorities are enabled legally to establish their own multi-academy trusts.

5. The teaching profession

The oft cited mantra that 'no school system is better than its teachers' has been the drumbeat of the past two years as teachers and leaders have provided welcome continuity in society for the nation's children and young people.

Successive governments for three decades have sought to enhance the profile of school teaching, not always assisted by the profession itself.

The challenge is to establish 'a new profession called teaching' through fresh thinking about its media and self-image, the workplace, remuneration and career structure.*

American politicians talk of 'the third rail' when raising a topic which is charged or untouchable. Over the past couple of years opposition parties' thinking on education has come across as reactive, muddled and timid.

It's time for them to talk up and about a few third rails - and bring a rejuvenated profession alongside.

*'Must do better: how to improve the image of teaching and why it matters' by Harry Hudson & Roy Blatchford is published this month by John Catt Educational.

A speculative new year (January 2022)

Roy Blatchford

Reaching The Unseen Children
I am deliberately borrowing my title from Jean Gross - December guest column
The book's sub-title is clunkier but is absolutely where the text is focused: practical strategies for closing stubborn attainment gaps in disadvantaged groups.
Reaching The Unseen Children (December 2021)

Teacher and leader as conductor
The Dutch conductor Bernard Haitink (1929 - 2021) died recently after a career spanning 65 years at the highest levels of music making.
Teacher and leader as conductor (November 2021)

Why this generation in our schools must take a world view
A well travelled New Zealand teacher I met in Singapore noted that only the British talk about going out to work somewhere, as though implied in the phrase is that the coloniser will then return to Blighty. And a teacher from Buenos Aires observed that the Brits have a peculiar habit of referring to the Far East, even when they are working in it.
Why this generation in our schools must take a world view (October 2021)

Start of September term 1963
Sifting this summer through family archives, my mother gave me this typed letter, written by the City of Bath Director of Education on 31st May 1963:
Dear Sir or Madam,
Allocation of pupils to secondary schools in September 1963
Exam No. 707   Name Blatchford Roy
Start of September term 1963 (September 2021)

Finishers, Abandoners and Dippers
Novelist Nilanjana Roy asks the question: 'Should you always finish a book?' She answers by asserting that there are broadly two kinds of readers – Finishers and Abandoners – and that they are baffled by each other's reading habits.
Finishers, Abandoners and Dippers (August 2021)
Book Shelf 2021

High Performance Learning
When 'Room at the Top' was published in 2011, its sub-title 'inclusive education for high performance' ran counter to many prevailing orthodoxies. And this was a few years before British Ministers set off for the Far East to return with tales of mastery.
High Performance Learning (July 2021)

The globally confident school
One of the paradoxes at the heart of many international schools is that they are simultaneously inward and outward facing. A typical international school - say in Switzerland, Qatar or Bangkok - has students from all parts of the globe who (in normal times) commute in and out of the schools every term.
The globally confident school (June 2021)

Obstetrics for Schools
'A guide to eliminating failure and ensuring the safe delivery of all learners' runs the beguiling sub-title of this compelling book. Let's set this proper ambition for all learners first, in an international context, and second, within a UK perspective.
Obstetrics for Schools (May 2021)

Inner and outer tears
Mark Carney, former Governor of the Bank of England, was at the epicentre of the 2008 financial crash. He reflected recently on the global banking system's response, concluding that all the lessons of crisis management were applied. Humility. Responsibility. Resilience. Solidarity.
Inner and outer tears (April 2021)

Chronos and kairos
The ancient Greeks had two understandings of time, chronos and kairos. Both are important, but the latter rarely gets the attention it warrants. It deserves to now.
Chronos and kairos (March 2021)

Examinations at 16+ require incremental and radical change
In 1960, in a divided system, 20% of young people went to grammar school. The rest were more or less written off in terms of examination success. In fact only 16% of sixteen year-olds achieved five O-level passes.
Examinations at 16+ require incremental and radical change (February 2021)

Reading: the golden key
Reading is the golden key to accessing the school curriculum and a lifetime's opportunities.
Yet in our wealthy nation, with its long history of free education, we still have one in four of our 11 year-olds not meeting expected national standards in reading - and a similar percentage not achieving a grade 4 in English GCSE.
Reading: the golden key (January 2021)

Accelerating the arches
I opened my January 2020 monthly column with these words:
'A new, predictably unpredictable decade begins. The German poet Goethe wryly observed that everything has been thought of before - the challenge is to think of it again.'
In common with most futurologists, I was correct and incorrect in equal measure. While 2020 has certainly been unpredictable, a pandemic is not something most of us had thought about before. The 2011 movie 'Contagion' was possibly the closest we had come to viewing a life-changing global plague.
Accelerating the arches (December 2020)

Bound in shallows and in miseries: reform of the route to higher education is now long overdue
The August roller coaster of students' emotions, not to mention those of their families and teachers, upon receipt of GCSE and A level results, is an annual reminder that the present systems are faltering.
Bound in shallows and in miseries: reform of the route to higher education is now long overdue (November 2020)

Darwinism for modern times: regulators must adapt too
When our environment changes we must adapt to survive. Across private, public and not-for-profit sectors, boards and executives are busy rethinking.
  • What do we keep?
  • What do we ditch?
  • What do we refresh?
Darwinism for modern times: regulators must adapt too (November 2020)

The habit of collaboration
David Laws in government put down a marker from a Ministerial perspective about the absence in practice of a developed school system.
Secondary headteachers in East Sussex have been practising the school-led system for a while now. Through trial, error, resilience - and a deep commitment to the values of working together - they have established a pioneering and proven model which others might wish to learn from. The habit of collaboration is real.
The habit of collaboration (October 2020)

There is much promise in classrooms
It's the stuff of popular magazines. Interview a famous person about their childhood influences, their treasured moments and possessions, their faith, their biggest extravagance, who and what they find most irritating.
There is much promise in classrooms (September 2020)

The Pygmalion effect
In a recorded end-of-term message to her colleagues one headteacher spoke powerfully: 'Let not Covid-19 define the past academic year. So much else has been achieved in our school'.
The Pygmalion effect (August 2020)

Resetting the dial: focus on the gains
A quote from Lenin which was circulating in the early weeks of the lockdown - 'There are decades where nothing happens, and weeks where decades happen' - seems as apposite now as it was in late March.
Resetting the dial: focus on the gains (July 2020)

School's in - but not as we know it
In Ray Bradbury's sci-fi story A Sound of Thunder, set in 2055, the character Eckels travels back in time. He is instructed firmly by the trip organisers Time Safari Inc. to stay on the levitated path and touch nothing. Inadvertently he steps off the path and crushes a butterfly. Returning to the present, the world has changed.
School's in - but not as we know it (June 2020)

Will dinner duty ever be the same again?
As an impecunious supply teacher in a 1970s London comprehensive I learned from my first Head of English that if I accompanied him on lunch duty, I could get a free meal. Previously in publishing, I had been told that there was no such thing as a free lunch.
I never looked back.
Will dinner duty ever be the same again? (May 2020)

Philosophy, politics and economics (PPE)
The UK's political leaders who have nervously addressed the nation from the Downing Street podium over the past weeks took degrees as follows: Johnson (classics), Raab (law), Patel (economics), Sharma (physics), Hancock (PPE - sic), Jenrick (history). Rishi Sunak (PPE) has been singularly confident.
Philosophy, politics and economics (PPE) (19 April 2020)

Before Coronavirus (BC).... After Coronavirus (AC)
There was a time Before Coronavirus (BC), though it already seems months ago. Lenin got it right when he said: 'There are decades where nothing happens, and weeks where decades happen'.
Before Coronavirus (BC).... After Coronavirus (AC) (April 2020)

The Three Minute Leader: ROOM 101
I taught in a central London comprehensive in the 1980s at the height of the IRA's bombing campaigns. The distinguished headteacher told me years later after she had retired that during those years she received by phone daily bomb threats.
The Three Minute Leader: ROOM 101 (March 2020)

Artificial Intelligence (AI) beckons
The word 'robot' comes from a Czech word robota meaning 'forced labour'. It was first used to denote a fictional humanoid in a 1920 play. By the 1940s Isaac Asimov started popularizing robots and intelligent machines in his great science fiction short stories.
Artificial Intelligence (AI) beckons (February 2020)

A New Year's resolution for leaders: prevailing scepticism
A new, predictably unpredictable decade begins. The German poet Goethe wryly observed that everything has been thought of before - the challenge is to think of it again.
A New Year's resolution for leaders: prevailing scepticism (January 2020)

PISA in purdah
With politicians on doorsteps and civil servants in purdah, this month's publication of PISA results has not been accompanied by the usual idle chatter around rising and falling standards.
OECD's PISA tests have been running since 2000. They measure the ability of 15 year-olds to apply their skills and knowledge to real life problem-solving in reading, maths and science.
PISA in purdah (December 2019)

It's not what you say, it's the way that you say it
According to new research from Yale University, when we hear someone speak we form near-instantaneous conclusions about their social class. It takes just seven random words they claim.
The Professional Speechwriters' Association suggests that content only accounts for 11 per cent of our impact when we talk. Passion, expertise, voice and presence are all twice as important in making a first impression.
It's not what you say, it's the way that you say it (November 2019)

Why independent schools enjoy being independent
The Labour Conference votes to abolish independent schools. Social media have come up with witty suggestions about what to do with the great estates of Stowe, Eton, Wellington and Winchester once they are requisitioned.
Anyone who has attended the annual Festival of Education at Wellington College will know what I mean.
So as minds turn to thinking the unthinkable, let's pause to reflect on why the independent sector rightly values its independence.
Why independent schools enjoy being independent (October 2019)

The 'Forgotten Third' deserve the dignity of a new type of qualification
It is a remarkable statistic in the home of the English language, and in one of the world's top economies, that one third of 16 year-olds, after 12 years of compulsory schooling, fail to achieve what the Department for Education describes as a 'standard pass' (grade 4) in GCSE English and maths.
This was the starting point for the independent Commission on 'The Forgotten Third' which was established by the Association of School and College Leaders...
The 'Forgotten Third' deserve the dignity of a new type of qualification (September 2019)
The Forgotten Third: Final report of the Commission of Inquiry

Reading for the summer recess
Radical Candour Kim Scott, Machines Like Me Ian McEwan, Sandettie Light Vessel Automatic Simon Armitage, Average Is Over Tyler Cowen, India Connected Ravi Agrawal and Why We Dream Alice Robb.
Reading for the summer recess (August 2019)

End of academic year reflection (July 2019)
This past year I have visited nearly 50 schools in the UK and overseas. Sometimes it has been as a reviewer (Blink), sometimes as a leadership coach, sometimes to work with students and teachers, sometimes to listen to headteachers' views on a range of educational matters.
End of academic year reflection (July 2019)

Eight Leadership Maxims
With acknowledgements to the headteachers and principals across the UK and overseas I have worked with this academic year.
Eight Leadership Maxims (June 2019)

It's the curriculum, stupid!
Bill Clinton's successful 1992 presidential campaign slogan memorably read 'It's the economy, stupid'. His lead strategist James Carville hung a sign with these words in the Little Rock campaign headquarters: what was intended for an internal audience rapidly became the election signature tune.
In the contemporary schools landscape, Her Majesty's Chief Inspector has hung up the sign: 'It's the curriculum, stupid'.
It's the curriculum, stupid! (May 2019)

Postcard from Shanghai
Away from its gridlocked, elevated highways the largest city in the world works. Shanghai: a modern, socialist, international metropolis.
Contrast frenetic New York, chaotic Mumbai, the bedlam of Cairo - Shanghai hums with purpose. Twenty-six million souls occupy countless high-rise towers cheek by jowl with the stylish housing and municipal legacies of the French, British and American Concessions. The Huang Pu river bends through the downtown like a proverbial dragon's tongue.
Postcard from Shanghai (April 2019)

The Forgotten Third
Each year in England over half a million 16-year-olds take their GCSEs. A third of these students do not achieve at least a standard pass (grade 4) in English and mathematics.
Why is it that a third of 16-year-olds, after twelve years of compulsory schooling, cannot read or write English at what the Department for Education (DfE) describes as 'standard pass' level?
Why is there not proper recognition of the progress these young people have made as they move on to further education and employment?
The Forgotten Third (March 2019)

The tarnished jewel of Higher Education, UK
I encounter many senior politicians, top civil servants in education departments, principals of schools and colleges across the globe who have spent what they describe as memorable and enjoyable years in British universities.
The tarnished jewel of Higher Education, UK (February 2019)

A Happy New Year from Ofsted
Roy Blatchford drafts HMCI's New Year Message

An important tipping point in this country has now been reached. In 2018, approaching 90% of state-funded schools were judged good or better at their most recent inspection. That should be recognised as a fair achievement for the nation.
A Happy New Year from Ofsted (January 2019)     © Blinks 2022

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