…”we all want the same thing for children.”

Well, it isn’t true, is it?

“Everybody around this table wants the best for children” is the other variant of this that I heard at a meeting yesterday  morning of Local Authority officials, school leaders, diocesan advisers and governors. It is a platitude often said by those trying to justify a particular course of action. The subtext is “what you are doing for children is not really good enough, because we know what is best for children.” Certainly that subtext was running on frenetic caffeine-induced palpitations yesterday morning, scurrying around the room silencing criticism, cowing the weak and seeming to be “right” whilst leaving you with the feeling that if you argued against it, you were committing some dreadful heresy.

Yes, we may want the best for children, but defining that best is a completely different kettle of fish from just agreeing with the statement that we all want the same thing. At the moment, the prevailing orthodoxy equates “what is good for children” with schools demonstrating improved progress scores and higher attainment outcomes at key points (5, 7, 11 years) in a child’s primary education. This is not good for children. It really is not. It is not even designed to be. The forms of summative and reportable assessment we use have no implicit benefit for children at all. They can be used, by wise and sensitive leaders, in a formative manner to help tailor and shape the task of teaching. But then that is the same with any tool for assessment that we use to improve what we do. We sharpen practice in response to what we find out about the effect we were having (at least the wise teachers do). The improved progress scores and attainment outcomes are primarily used to bolster schools, local authorities and MAT chains in their ongoing defensive work against the inspectorate and in the competition for custom. You can pick holes in this argument, sure, but that is what it often looks like and feels like. The fact that our markers at ages 5, 7 and 11 are all increasing is a matter of fact, not a matter of judgment.

Yes, you can have a professional conversation about what is “best for children” but unless that involves improving “outcomes” for children, it is unlikely that the orthodoxy will be listening. Mental health hardly gets a look in.

At the meeting I had with an officer of the LA in April where I heard that they had withdrawn their confidence in me as a school leader, the same officer said that they were unsure whether the emphasis on English and maths was going to produce the sort of skilled people that the government hoped would emerge from that. Doubtless the DfE have statistics on that to prove the case one way or another, but the narrowing of the curriculum at KS3 and KS4, and the exaltation of English and Maths as the assessable proxies at Foundation, KS1 and KS2 is a crippling burden for educators to bear in the way that it is currently defined. Until that definition is broadened and debated more thoroughly, and the orthodoxy embraces some more ancient unorthodoxy, then the answer is no, not really, we do not all want the same thing for children.




About Huw Humphreys

I am a headteacher by profession, now working as an educational researcher, in the city of Milton Keynes, where I have been since April 2011. My work looks to make education effective for the whole child and keeps a distant relationship with the powers that be and their narrowing approach to education... but most of all I am looking to find out what it means to be both a follower of Jesus Christ and a passionate educator in the midst of an unsettled community. I am also a part time musician, amateur printmaker, part time linguist and lover of history and literature...committed both to freedom to learn and depth of learning for children. The views on this blog are all my own.

One response »

  1. Caroline Jackson says:

    I couldn’t agree with you more.
    It’s about time the nanny state stopped trying to dictate what “children” should look like but focus on “what the world should look like that we want these children to caretake when they become older.”
    We will always need a world of diversity, we will always need dustbin men as much as we will need brain surgeons and anything else in between.
    As a core part of the curriculum we should have kindest, empathy, listening and understanding, team building and being an individual, self respect and respect for others, to love and to understand that they are loved, to be at peace.
    If this were put in as the “main measure” then I wonder how results would improve? If every child understood “self respect” they would strive to do their best. Behaviour would improve if they learnt “respect for others” etc
    The recent killings and stabbings in London just demonstrates that in this desire to “improve results” society is marginalising those less able to such an extent that as children they are riding around on moped stealing phones etc.
    The truly measurable results are looking at the youth as they leave education are they making society more positive?
    Huw, hold your head high and know that the school you have led has had the entirely correct focus, you have focused on ensuring that whatever their homelife the children know what a great society looks like.
    You only need to come into your school to feel the balm of being in a safe, secure, loving environment, where there is mutual respect, love, encouragement, kindness and peace. Your time to create this start in life for children maybe drawing to a close, but for every child you have given this to, thank you. May they grow up to be the influencers and shapers of a better society.

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