Review by Kate Sowter

11 Oct 2015, 19:00

Flip The System: Changing Education from the Ground Up

This is an unlikely book (a line I have shamelessly stolen from it). Unlikely because its “edu-typical” cover masks that it is one of the must-read texts of our time, a superhero in disguise.

The blurb claims that it will appeal to all education professionals. I would go further: this should be core reading for every trainee teacher (and new-to-post MPs).

The book’s editors, teachers Jelmer Evers and René Kneyber, have constructed a framework of educational ideology that could herald good education systems for the globe.

By using a mix of experts and teacher interviews, they offer a rounded vision of reform; a balance of theory and practical reality. Arranged in four sections the book covers the big picture and makes the concepts behind recent reforms simple to understand.

Finnish expert Pasi Sahlberg likens the education reform movement to the spread of a virus rife in school systems worldwide. Masked by lofty ideals of a neoliberalist approach, education has been infiltrated by business models and approaches aimed at evidencing educational improvement.

Testing, ranking and heavy accountability are part of daily life, leading to the reality of a narrowed curriculum in which teachers have less autonomy and a climate in which policymakers claim they have more.

Teachers are increasingly measured by their output and the progress of the students they teach. Failure is not an option. A core theme is that to flip this system, teachers must become active in discussing and agreeing what is a good education.

Gert Biesta, professor of education at Brunel University, London, states there are three crucial domains in the establishment of a good education: qualification, socialisation and subjectification. Each is important and teachers must have enough skills to construct a balance. Is this possible under the neoliberalist methods of measures and accountability?

Throughout the text there is a core theme of collaboration. Chapters are followed by vignettes, insights into the thoughts and views of teachers from different countries. Two that stick with me are Hyejin Bak’s “The Travelling Teacher” and “The Connected Teacher” by Matt Esterman.

Hyejin travelled to South Korea and the UK to achieve her dream of getting a PhD. She wanted to show her students you should always try new things and be a role model.

However, the reason her story stayed with me was the lack of opportunity she would have had to use her talents at home.

Her story, while empowering in one sense, sadly highlights the huge journey there still is for the universal view of a good education.

Connecting and collaborating with teachers across nations is vital to a change in current global reforms, Esterman says. He champions social media and TeachMeets. His key message is that it is not enough just to connect; as teachers we must maintain and sustain connections. This is about the collective autonomy of teaching professionals breaking out of the box!

However to break out, we must have the time and space to hone our craft, to understand how to critique research to influence our practice, and to celebrate the development of good practice.

Flipping the system is the drive to replace this top-down accountability with bottom-up support for teachers. On a basic level this would require teachers to think and act beyond their classroom, to influence educational practice while also being responsible for their own leadership decisions.

This book doesn’t claim to have a singular perfect vision, yet Evers and Kneyber conclude with six key messages.

One is that flipping cannot happen without securing trust; externally and internally. Building on this, the purpose of a good education must then be debated, to influence policy and direction.

Teachers must also strive for their own professional honour, champion their success and actively influence others. Tom Bennett, founder of ResearchED, sums it up brilliantly: “No more waiting for Superman.”

Flip The System is a text for teachers; calling them to action, and urging them to recognise that their voice is absolutely the most powerful force for change in education today.

Where will you start? My advice? Buy this book!


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