Every so often, I am asked to try and summarise the impact of all we have done here at Christ the Sower. I had to do it today, for a relatively benign audience of school leaders in the diocese, and as I look to find whatever role God has for me in the future, doubtless I will have to do it again in the form of personal statements in applications. It is hard to do, because of the great divergence I am finding with my colleagues in community schools and with the Local Authority whose schools we all (nominally, in my case) are. With a clearer future in front of me, the past suddenly becomes clearer as well, and the necessary divergence between me and my political “masters” was ever more obvious, as I look back.
I was tempted to read them a story rather than tell them of all our achievements. That story might have been of Andy Catlett (in Wendell Berry’s Remembering) re-connecting with his early farm childhood, and abandoning the mores and careerism of the big city once he has seen the reality of an agriculturally diverse and beautiful shalom life in Isaac Troyer’s Amish farm. Or it might have been the wonderful story told by Neil Postman in The End of Education, that talks about what a true education might be for a generation of New Yorkers if they took education into their own hands.
Instead, I began with the premise that if you give yourself to the kind of school you believe in and fix your eye firmly on the prize of that, two things will happen, without doubt. The first is that you will see the fruit of your work springing up in all sorts of unexpected places, a glory of glories and a constant stream of joys that you can trace back to the original investment. The second of these is that you will, undoubtedly, be seen to fail in the eyes of those who had intended that you live by their lights rather than theirs. If you are in business, where making money seems to be the thing prized above all, you take the basic market laws into account and will know that if you deviate from them, financial disaster will follow, and often does. In schooling, where monetary outcomes are prized by only a few, but whose proxies – test results, OFSTED gradings, league tables – are eagerly sought after by many, it is just as predictable that you will crash into something large and punitive if you take your eye off the “attainment and progress” idol. In fact, you can turn a school into a living hell and provided that your numbers are OK you can still be regarded as a good school, even if not in a moral sense of the word. I have seen this done, and have rescued teachers from it. This is another way of saying that you can be held to be a great success and a total failure at the same time. But, I said to the diocesan school leaders, that must not discourage you from walking in the path you feel is best for children. The government, diocesan advisers, inspectors and terrified local authorities do not have any kind of monopoly on what is good or best for children. Beyond a biblical teaching, that is the teachers’ and parents’ prerogative.
What surprised me today has been how this process of trying to explain my purpose in our school has turned into something of a key in interpreting what I have done in the past. Seeing Rosehip’s extraordinary Collective Worship on Friday was one such glory of glories, but because it summed up so much of what we are for, it provided another part of the key for me in seeing the relationship between what I have done hitherto and how I will focus my energies for the next two months. This clarity is really welcome, because in the words that have been spoken over us by those wedded to the punitive agenda there has been some grain of truth, and that makes it more confusing. My improvement partner likes to say “there’s no point playing hockey when the game is football” as though we have to abandon all we have held dear to play by different rules. This is a false analogy, and reveals, subtly, that he thinks that education is all about “winning” and “performance.” What we have been striving for as a leadership team, and found wanting in, is far more complex, richer and more beautiful than that.