John Catt Educational
29 Nov 2019
Head of school, Cassie Young is pleasantly surprised by a radical little tome with little hint of political pushiness and plenty of food for thought
We are awash with books about education: leadership, well-being, classroom practice, behaviour and on it goes. It can be difficult to know whether a book will support your professional development or patronise you, enrich your professional life or waste your personal time. There is a danger of feeling quite cheated when you pick up a book and are left uninspired afterwards, especially when you’re dipping into the “life” bit of your “work/life balance” to read it.
I was relieved, then, when Mike Murray’s Reframing Education appeared to be a short, manageable book for someone whose reading time is all too often non-existent. Reading the synopsis, I was surprised that it claimed to cover everything from data and sustainable education to gender and growth mindsets. Can such huge areas of education really be covered in less than 160 pages, including ten recommendations and frames for a renewed education system? The short answer is no. But here is the really great thing: Reframing Education really does give valuable overviews of current thinking about some of the most intricate and embattled areas in education, in a quick, easily digestible and wholly accessible way.
Whether you like the accountability system we work within or whether you would scrap the lot and start afresh, the author offers a fair overview and a positive alternative, regardless of the current rhetoric. Murray very helpfully signposts to further reading, and it isn’t all just to support his perspective and ideology; it eases that initial feeling that it is a manifesto to support the most vocal among the education landscape. Reframing Education subtly makes very valid points and allows you to think deeply about your own standpoint and reflect on how these areas of discourse could be changed to real effect.
Murray writes in a way that it is conducive to optimism
Murray tackles the buzzwords that are flooding our schools at the moment. He explains their origins and the way they may present themselves within establishments, then uses this baseline to reframe each idea, movement or policy that has either been implemented or suggested in recent years to tackle the education system’s many challenges. He also successfully highlights some of the contradictions we are working against and how these can be overcome by reducing high-stakes, data-led accountability. This does seem radical and easy to dismiss as an overly simplistic dream, yet the author writes in such a way that it is both difficult to dismiss and conducive to optimism.
Some chapters are simple, commonsense viewpoints, which is sometimes sorely missing from discussions around these research areas. The author explores ideas such as growth mindsets and rightly points out that, used in its purest form, it can really be beneficial to our pupils and hugely positive for teacher-student relationships; however, while we still remain in a system that measures our success by data and fixated with outcomes, the parameters contradict each other.
Remarkably, Murray then discusses the same subject in the context of social and cultural dispositions and the narrowing of curriculum, clearly demonstrating the very complicated interwoven difficulties those working at the coalface have to consider when trying to make an environment that is conducive for learning. School leaders will find plenty of food for thought on the interplay between demographics and our high-stakes accountability culture and wonder whether the latter isn’t entirely counter-intuitive to the very outcomes education ought to strive for.
The book concludes with ten recommendations and “frames” for renewing education systems, which cleverly interlink and are a great platform for further discussion at any level, from classroom to boardroom. There are even suggestions for areas of investigation in journal clubs.
I felt that, rather than this being a manifesto or how-to guide, the author was urging readers to use the ideas in the book as a springboard to enrich the conversations they are already having. That is rare among education books. Taken together with the positivity and optimism that underpin it, Reframing Education is altogether an unassumingly revolutionary little tome.