About this site
In the last 30 years the education system has undergone a huge number of 'reforms' amounting to a kind of permanent revolution in the direction of centralisation, conformity, uniformity and a rapid and drastic narrowing of the reality of the aims and purposes of education. There seems to be wide disquiet and yet a staggeringly strong orthodoxy - the age of 'The Emperor's New Schools'. My name is Andy Mattison; I am a battered veteran of these years and this website aims to be:
- a forum for discussing ongoing educational issues, especially those ignored by or sidelined in the mainstream media
- an outline of some of my personal experiences in trying to 'do things better'
- an exploration of ideas about how to cope with the realities of school life - for children, parents, teachers and anyone else involved
I have been a teacher for more than 25 years, working mainly in primary schools. As Headteacher at a Nottingham infant school, I led various attempts to make our teaching more child-friendly, parent-friendly, and attuned to what we know about how and why children learn most effectively. Ofsted loved us, then hated us, as their inspection criteria narrowed. The section of this site 'Confessions of an Ofsted reject' is the story of my adventures in education (this is work in progress, a long-term project); the site as a whole aims to explore schooling and the education system and hopefully to provoke some useful debate and discussion.
Showing prospective job candidates around school, I used to encourage them to ask questions while warning them I loved to talk about our school: 'I'm a male headteacher, therefore by definition, I love the sound of my own voice' (apologies to those to whom this doesn't apply). Though I can’t imagine being a Head again, I still love talking and debating about education and spouting off to anyone willing to listen.
I think that – for entirely understandable reasons – as a profession, teachers have been browbeaten into not seeing the wood for the trees, and into teaching in ways which we actually believe to be ineffective or wrong. How much one is willing to compromise personal or professional ideals or values in order to keep one’s job is a complicated and difficult calculation. I now describe myself as a conscientious objector – enough so not to be able to contemplate being a class teacher or headteacher again. But don’t confuse me with someone who doesn’t have great affection and respect for teachers. The overwhelming majority of teachers I have worked with have been kind and caring, dedicated and hard-working and I now work (part-time, supporting individual children) in what I regard as a very nice school with teaching and support staff I really like.
Don't confuse me either with someone who thinks they have all the answers, let alone someone who actually does. I think that if the question is: ‘What can we do to make things better?’ or ‘What makes a great school?’ part at least of the answer is: ‘Keep asking the question’. I do believe that our experience at William Booth shows that trying to focus on the needs and interests of children, rather than delivering a set curriculum, makes for a better environment for learning and for positive relationships; it certainly showed that many ‘normal’ things like lining up, sitting in silence in neat rows, behaviourist management strategies, and only ever doing teacher-directed tasks, are unnecessary and a negation of children’s rights and dignity. I think we have a moral obligation to consider that what we do as a profession is wrong for, and damaging to, at least some children, and therefore to challenge the educational powers that be to do things better. Maybe there should be a Hippocratic Oath for teachers or, better still, for Ofsted and the Secretary of State.
The Emperor's New Schools
Are we so blinded by the talk of 'standards', academic 'excellence', league tables (domestic and international), 'failing' schools, the presumed superiority of grammar and independent schools, the vital importance of testing and examinations, the need for 'accountability', the so-called objectivity and independence of Ofsted .... that we have stopped noticing what is going on?
Rising levels of child mental illness; plummeting levels of reading for pleasure; university students who just want to be told what to do and who are aghast at the idea of studying any more than they need to; primary aged children turned off for life by the treadmill of tests or their sense of failure and inadequacy; an apparently ubiquitous culture of bullying and dysfunctional relationships in schools; hardly any attention, in a system obsessed with measuring and quantifying ‘success’ and ‘progress’, on how to do this with the values of kindness, tolerance and empathy; the lack of emphasis on preparing young people to be active members of a democratic society.
Is our society really operating in the way we want it to?
Are our schools really operating in the way we want them to?
When we look at ourselves, our schools and our society, are we kidding ourselves about what we see?
I think we are in the era of the emperor’s new schools.
I think that 21st century social, political and environmental challenges would be better faced and shared by a more politically-aware, critically-thinking, independent-minded citizenry who had been brought up to value kindness, empathy, tolerance, co-operation, democratic participation and lifelong learning above exam success, materialism, individualism, a cult of celebrity and a fatalistic sense of helplessness. For teachers, what’s to stop us getting on with it? Well, apart from: a huge weight of history; an incredibly rigid, punitive and powerful inspection regime; the dominance of a right-wing perspective in the media; inward-looking unions fighting among themselves; our conditioning, as successful products of the schools system, in doing as we’re told and not making a fuss ….
But anything that makes things better is a step in a right direction, and therefore makes the world a better place.
Isn’t that why we became teachers in the first place?
What do you think?
What's your perspective on these ideas, or your experience as a teacher, pupil or parent?
What are the positives, negatives, absurdities and glories of the current system?
Do you know a great quote to add to my list, or do you have a suggestion about this site?
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