Life After Levels – and a broader plea to educators

I blog these days, not as a representative of any single institution, but as a member of a wider community of educators, to which, despite the challeges, I feel privileged to be a member. Today, my blog is a plea. It’s focused on a very specific issue which I know has been playing on many of our minds, but it is also a broader entreaty to continued collaboration and solidarity.

The last ten years, successive governments (and no, I don’t blame just one party) have presided over a growing fragmentation of our education system. Free Schools, Academies, London-centred funding and initiatives, have come alongside a focus on ‘freedom’ and ‘independence’. I believe that words like this should be used with prudence when it comes to education. As I have said elsewhere, it makes me sad that education is used as a political pawn in the UK, unlike in other countries like France and Germany, where certain values and structures remain solid, regardless of the government in power.

But we are where we are, and I, like many of my colleagues, remain stubbornly optimistic. But I can’t hide my growing unease over the issue of assessment at levels in the light of the effective ‘abolition’ of NC levels last year. No, I don’t think these were fit for purpose, and yes, I do see this as a real positive opportunity to come up with a model more suited to our unique communities of students. And yes, I know that there are many people doing excellent work in this area – amongst others, @AlisonMPeacock, @dan_brinton, @Pekabelo and @shaun_allison and I absolute salute what they are doing. I am also one of the lucky ones who gets to cherry-pick their ideas for use in my own context. But I am really concerned about the void that has been left behind.

void

I have met some of the most inspirational teachers and leaders through Twitter, online networks and TeachMeets. I also know that there are many more inspirational educators who continue to work outside these networks, in addition to schools who may or may not be struggling to meet the ever-changing goalposts that are set for schools. And I’m worried – I’m worried that the gap is growing. I’ve always been a massive opponent of wheel-reinvention – I ban my trainee teachers from EVER designing their own animal Powerpoint; use one of the thousands out there! That said, I don’t deny the unique characteristics of every setting and the need for the time, reflection and effort which goes into finding the right framework for our own students.

So what am I ‘pleading’ for? Well, in a way (and on a serious note), I sense a real career opportunity for somebody. Somebody urgently needs to centralise these resources and use both traditional AND contemporary communications to get them out there to ALL schools. Generally, I’m one of life’s volunteers, but this isn’t a role for me – because I’m not an expert and wouldn’t pretend to be, and because I know others who would be far better placed to get this going.

I’m not talking about a ‘one-size-fits-all’ approach – we all know this doesn’t work – but perhaps of a series of models which schools could take, tweak and adapt for their own context. But I simply don’t buy that ‘it’s up to each school’ argument. I believe that working in isolation is not only a waste of time and effort, but that it risks leading effectively to a ‘lottery’ for our young people as to the quality of assessment they receive. And it’s all about them, in the end.

And despite my belligerence on this, I actually don’t want people to say I’m right – I would be hugely relieved, as would thousands of others, if someone came on here and said, ‘silly Emma – you’ve missed a whole initiative that everyone else knows about!’

Now, more than ever, teachers need to work together. We have, between us, a formidable array of talent and inspiration and the tools to give ALL of our students the very best we can. But to do this, we need to get some proper communication in place. And quickly!

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#TwitteratiChallenge: Because Rules are made for Breaking

How could I fail to resist this challenge, having been nominated by the Titaness of Twitter, @jillberry to name five people who regular inspire, challenge and make me think. These are people for whom I have great esteem and a tiny bit of envy – in the best possible way.

I have recently had cause to offer my thanks to the Twitter community, here:  https://thosethatcanteach.wordpress.com/2015/04/19/thank-you-counting-twitter-blessings/. I’m pretty confident that those I’ve written about know who they are, and have had opportunities to extend my thanks in other ways. So I’m  not going to go with the list that first came into my head; I think these people know how appreciative I am of the mentoring, coaching, advice, support, and spontaneous coffees.

I’m going to go a bit left-field, and name the people who, big or small in Twitter, might not be aware of the key role they’ve played in my recent development as a teacher, senior leader, researcher and aspiring-decent-human. The rules are at the bottom. I’ve broken most of them.

In no particular order, except the one in which I thought of them…

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@e16again, Grant Leppard, for offering much-needed solidarity and empathy after we lost a mutual much-loved colleague and career-long inspiration.

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@anill. For communicating, honestly, unflinchingly and sometimes painfully about depression, mental health and the black dog. Issues we don’t talk about enough. I am certain he makes an awful lot of people feel an awful lot less alone.

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@candidagould and @ChristaHazell, for reminding my of why I love being an MFL teacher and thrive on the company of inventive, creative practitioners with boundless energy. Your enthusiasm can’t help but infect everyone you come into contact with. You certainly breathed new life into my teaching.

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@SuzanneCulshaw – experienced and wise, Suzanne chooses her words carefully and offers her kindness generously and at the most pertinent moments.

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I was lucky enough to hear @kevbartle think. It was brief, but all my instincts tell me he’s a humane and visionary leader, and I really hope I have the opportunity to work with him in some form in the near future.

And in two final flagrant floutings of the rules…

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She’s been mentioned before, and I’ll eat my cat if she’s not mentioned again, but ChocoTzar is the polar-opposite of a people-pleaser. She speaks as she finds, without apology or censorship. She stands up for the people and the values she holds dear fiercely and passionately. She is the kind of person who makes waves – the best possible kind.

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I’ve thanked Julie before, and now I’ll do it again. Julie isn’t a Twitter-A-Lister. She isn’t on all of the time, and she is moderate in the people she follows. But my every interaction with her has made me a little wiser, a little stronger, and a little better as a teacher, a leader, and a human. You know those people in life who would catch you if you fall backwards? Who are quietly rooting for you at every stage? That.

@teachertoolkit ‘s rules are: 

  1. You cannot knowingly include someone you work with in real life
  2. You cannot list somebody that has already been named if you are already made aware of them being listed on #TwitteratiChallenge
  3. You will need to copy and paste the title of this blogpost and (the rules and what to do) information into your own blog post

What to do?

  • Within 7 days of being nominated by somebody else, you need to identify colleagues that you rely regularly go-to for support and challenge. They have now been challenged and must act and must act as participants of the #TwitteratiChallenge
  • If you’ve been nominated, please write your own #TwitteratiChallenge blogpost within 7 days. If you do not have your own blog, try @staffrm
  • The educator that is now (newly) nominated, has 7 days to compose their own #TwitteratiChallenge blogpost and identify who their top 5 go-to educators are. However, as I am a rebel, I nominate everyone. You are not the last to be picked in PE again