By far my favourite voice in education blogging year on year, @whatonomy reaches new levels of poetry with every post. This latest instalment lays bare the inner darkness that relentless workload creates. To those with rosy ideas that international teaching is easier, this blog should serve as a salutary tale. To those who prey on that stereotype to discount the voices of the many English teachers who have fled to international schools and still speak up about our school system, it should act as a cease-and-desist notice. Education politicking aside, it is an English teacher’s paean to the redemptive power of writing; a beautiful and unmediated appeal to solidarity.
Anyone who has taught in a secondary school knows: history teachers are fierce. Their commitment to their discipline and to enriching their knowledge base is second to none. Those few that lack that commitment are rapidly promoted to positions of leadership to get them out of the way. Michael Fordham is one of the fiercest I’ve encountered (albeit only digitally). Here, he argues convincingly that generic educational concepts can only ever lead to discussions of very limited use. Worse, they put focus on aspects of teaching that ought to stem from curriculum in the first place, and lead to bad policy. His remedy is two-fold: First, teachers should engage more with conceptual, philosophical analysis of educational concepts to protect against genericism. Second, policy makers should accept greater complexity and do away with one-size-fits-all school solutions.
Last week’s Schools Week blog reviewer makes it into my blog review this week. No, this isn’t a cabal or evidence of bias. In fact, I often find myself in disagreement with Jon. Here, he sets out to truly engage with the arguments frequently used against the knowledge-rich curriculum approach he favours. The concision of this post provides a handy primer for anyone interested in the debate. While the structure clearly sets up the knowledge-rich camp’s right-of-reply, giving them the final word each time, the politeness and fairness with which Jon portrays his detractors’ views, the evident principle of charity at play, and the attempt to bridge the more artificial aspects of the divide make this a model for teacher-led discourse about our profession’s big ideas. Over to you, detractors.
With recent headlines about knife crime, cuts to youth and social services that surround our schools, and the narrowing of the school curriculum, you’d be forgiven for thinking young people desperately need someone to champion them. In fact, the suggested solution to these problems is usually to say schools should deal with it. Funding, training and impetus are rarely forthcoming, but the 24-hour news cycle has a short memory. As long as the impression has been created that somebody is looking into it, we move on. In this blog for the RSA, Fran Strong sets out some insights from events held around the publication of their report into teenage agency. It’s a powerful call to stop this cycle, ditch the assumption that adults have all the answers, and unlock the resources young people need to solve their own problems through social action. Now imagine schools and curricula that shared in that vision!
In all our human endeavours, we ought to seek balance. As per Michael Fordham above, genericism is the enemy of good policy. While much of children’s formal schooling can be accounted for by Jon Hutchinson’s system-led, knowledge-rich curriculum – perhaps even by traditional teaching methods – I can’t bring myself to accept that’s all there is or can be. That young adults should be supported to transition out of it and into a meaningful, agentic life as suggested by Fran Strong seems a no-brainer to me. Equally, young children need time and space to transition into it, as set out by Maria Daniels here. I loved reading this blog and spending a little time with highly skilled and deeply caring Early Years staff, imagining dressing up as a policeman and rearranging chairs to make an airplane. We all need a regular dose of that in our lives. If we had it, perhaps fewer wonderful teachers like Whatonomy would end up writing poetic prose exposing the awful effects of workload.