Review by Various

16 Dec 2023, 5:00

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The Conversation in 2023 – This year’s hot topics

Fixing the shape sorter

Rob Gasson, CEO, Wave Education Trust

My podcast of the year has to be this episode of the D.I.I.verse podcast, in which hosts Adam Vasco and Julian Gwinnett interview Square Pegs co-author, Ellie Costello about inclusion, compassion and fitting in. The whole conversation is a passionate review of what schools need to do differently to meet all pupils’ needs, but also an insightful discussion about why the topic so often leads to polarised debate.

Costello explores the idea that the defensiveness is rooted in a “shame and blame” culture, which really resonates with me and which I see writ large across the education landscape, from out high-stakes accountability system through to the “shield of shame” that exists among pupils, particularly those who are most likely to fail. 

Her many-faceted solutions all stem from dispelling with the tyranny of meritocracy, an approach I know many leaders invested in improving outcomes for our most vulnerable will share. So should everyone interested in an education system fit for all. 

Being a better ally

Jess Mahdavi-Gladwell, Head, Robson House

Timing prevented me from including this blog in my The Conversation this year. However, timing also meant that this blog was particularly poignant for me.

It was published just after I attended a panel discussion organised by Amanda Wilson with contributors to her latest book, Letters to a young generation. During the discussion, I was struck by being one of a small number of non-Black attendees. Though unusual for me, the experience of minority is one faced by panellists and other Black leaders and teachers on a regular basis.

This blog on the Integrity Coaching website on understanding whiteness as a social construct, though not unfamiliar territory for me, reaffirmed my sense that my school leadership role puts me in a position to move the dial. 

As the new year looms, my commitment “to consciously address the invisibility of whiteness” to bring about meaningful action as an effective ally is stronger than ever. 

Keeping it simple

Sarah Gallagher, Headteacher, Snape Primary School and ITT tutor, Universityh of Cambridge

Brian Walton goes by ‘Old Primary Head’ on social media, but it turns out I’ve taught for a year longer than him. Does that make me ‘Ancient Primary Head’? Anyway, the most impactful blogs and podcasts for me this year have been those concerned with Ofsted. I do wonder what we’re doing to ourselves as a profession. This isn’t one of those, but I’ve chosen it as my conversation of the year because it manages to sum up lots of other key topics of 2023.

With my many hats, it’s increasingly clear that the same issues are manifesting across the system, from ITT to headship. I try to focus my entries for this column on wellbeing for heads, but it’s clear that the problem is pervasive and urgent. Here, Walton offers his top three thoughts for easing the burden: keeping it simple, recognising when ‘leadershit’ manifests in our organisations, and taking responsibility for taking care of ourselves. There’s plenty there to encourage anyone to keep the faith at the end of a long, hard year.

An edu Christmas carol

Sonia Thompson, Headteacher, St Matthew’s C of E Primary School

I love to read blogs by other headteachers (in this case, an executive head), and Simon Botten, who goes by @Southgloshead on X, consistently writes posts that resonate with me. I definitely could have written Bear School Leadership Lessons (particularly point two, ‘Scrub the floors’) and his thoughts on leadership life often get me thinking – which is what a good blog should do. If you find your way to my blog of the year, do explore his other articles.

His best this year arguably comes at the last with this storming blog post, How Did We End Up Here? – a masterclass in the type of analytical thoroughness you’d expect from an investigative journalist. It blew up on edu-socials, and rightly so. I loved the chance to reminisce on times past, but rather than stop in the present and wallow in the negatives, there is hope and optimism for our profession here too. Nothing as obvious as being visited by three DfE ghosts, but in what feels like beleaguered time it’s a breath of fresh air.

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