Review by Jess Mahdavi-Gladwell

Deputy head, Robson House

20 Jan 2024, 5:00


The Conversation – with Jess Mahdavi-Gladwell

Common cause?

The sense of joy at returning to school has made January’s dark mornings and cold weather easily bearable. Within this sits an awareness that this isn’t the case for all, particularly those anticipating a visit from Ofsted. But perhaps they can find some reassurance in what appears to be a rapprochement between the inspectorate and unions.

First, in a recent webinar on mental health training for all Ofsted inspectors (posted on YouTube for anyone who might wish to watch it), the new Ofsted chief inspector, Sir Martyn Oliver shares his belief that staff and unions seek to prioritise the needs of children. I agree, as I am sure that many of you will.

Then, in his latest blog, Geoff Barton responds to the recently announced pause to Ofsted inspections, sharing criticism from those who feel the pause is wrong as well as those who think it is not enough. Just over a year after the death of Ruth Perry, Barton states that by 22 January there can be in place a ‘clear mechanism for safeguarding the welfare of leaders and staff during inspections when things go wrong’ and that the ‘fear factor’ that can grow in the run-up to an inspection can be reduced.

I sincerely hope he is right on both counts.

Teaching through the polycrisis

The term polycrisis is new to me. I’m more familiar with omnishambles or its ruder form, the delightfully named clusterfuck. Whatever we call it though, the effects of environmental degradation, economic and social disparities, conflicts and population displacement are in plain sight.

Here, Shaeffer and Santiago write of different impacts of this polycrisis – one of which is ‘increased developmental and learning delays’ for young children. They raise two key points: that curriculum reform is fundamentally insufficient to prepare children for the future that certainly awaits them, and that consideration of very young children is mostly absent from this discourse.

It’s a very blunt article, which faces up to reality in a way few do. It left me wondering how those who work in education can take steps towards addressing the polycrisis – and the extent to which we are actually able to. Perhaps a change in our focus could impact the focus of those who write not just education policy but our national response to these events. In other words, where do we draw the line between education and activism?

Grounding policy

How do we balance the drive towards evidence-informed teaching with teachers’ sense of individuality? Here, Tom Sherrington tries to walk that tightrope.

His praise for each teacher’s uniqueness had me reminiscing about present and former colleagues and just how innovative they’ve often been. Describing teacher development as a process where each teacher moves closer to being the best version of themselves, he goes on to promote the idea of guiding principles rather than non-negotiables with regard to methods and reminds us of the value of working to effect genuine change (rather than ‘surface, performative, compliance-check change’).

With links to further reading, the enduring image of school communities staffed by teachers who bring their unique selves to the job leaves a lingering smile.

The professional is personal

Ruth Swailes’ reflections on a year since her husband passed away are personal and deeply human. However, I have found myself drawing some professional lessons from it too.

One point was related to one of their daughters worrying, every time an adult walked into her classroom, that they were coming with bad news. Few of us are likely to be teaching a child experiencing this particular dread, but some of us are and many more are teaching children who are worrying about some other news we may deliver. We can’t remove worries or prevent children experiencing loss. But we can be aware that something as simple as entering a room can cause distress – and consider how to attenuate this.

Ever the motivator, Swailes encourages us to ‘be bold, be yourself unashamedly, and live your very best life’. As I pull on my gloves for another cold playground duty, I can think of no better way to make common cause, chip away at the polycrisis and effect real change.

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