Review by Robert Gasson

CEO, Wave Education Trust

7 Oct 2023, 5:00


The Conversation – with Rob Gasson

Building schools in the past

This deliberately timely lesson on school building from the Victorian age on Daisy Christodoulou and Elizabeth Wells’s new podcast, Lessons from history takes us through the growth of schools and schooling as part of the Board School movement.

The 1870 education act, we learn, led to the creation of the London school board among others. A sign of its importance in the zeitgeist, it attracted the superstars of the time to run for election, including William Henry Smith, Elizabeth Garrett Anderson and John Stuart Mill. Indeed, its schools were even praised by none other than Sherlock Holmes as “light-houses”. 

This deep dive into the how and why of school buildings many of us are still familiar with makes a sobering contrast to our current state of dysfunction, with RAAC-plagued schools only the latest iteration of a crumbling and unfit estate. When will someone iterate a vision for ours that matches Conan Doyle’s “capsules with hundreds of bright little seeds in each, out of which will spring the wise, better England of the future”?

A pedagogy of decline

In this blog, Professor Rachel Lofthouse charts another worrying trend: the movement towards micro-managing teachers. Lofthouse explains the concept of ‘pedagogy of professional decline’, what inspired her to coin the phrase and why it is important to the current teaching landscape.

It may seem a deliberately provocative phrase, but is well argued and reflects what many of us are seeing, particularly among pupils whom school has failed.

Lofthouse is also finding plenty of opportunities to apply it.

At a time when suspensions, permanent exclusions and ‘elective’ home education are at all-time highs and attendance at an all-time low, we should certainly be asking questions. Are pupils really best served by incredibly strict rules? Are teachers losing the ability to bring the full range of their skills and experience to the classroom? The concept of professional and pedagogical decline brings a new and interesting angle to the debate.

Our brand is choice

Along the same lines, a new blog by Dr Mandy Pierlejewski extrapolates from the most recent furore over uniform policies and makes for thought-provoking reading on the concept of branding.

I’m not convinced by her political analysis that any of the issues are new. Schools have been in ‘competition’ for market share (pupils) since long before academisation. (I vividly recall secondary heads arguing about targeted radio adverts and putting buses on for villages outside of their catchment.) And an obsession with uniform also goes back a long way. (I was caned for continuous breaches of a very strict uniform policy at secondary in 1979.)

Nevertheless, there is plenty of food for thought in the idea that education as a business leads us to treat young people as products and to sideline their individual needs. Many academies and trusts – including my own – have moved towards a distinctive branding to distinguish us from our competitors. The important thing is surely to ensure the sense of pride that comes with that is an inclusive one.

Flexing with the times

Finally, we turn to the source of much information and occasional merriment that is Teacher Talk Radio.

In this episode, Tom Rogers asks: is teaching getting left behind when it comes to flexible working? His guests are Flex Education co-authors and Flexible Teacher Talent co-founders, Lindsay Patience and Lucy Rose, both Teach First ambassadors who discovered first-hand how hard it is to work flexibly in schools.

Here, they note an emerging workforce that isn’t as willing to work in the way we did before Covid. They make a persuasive case that teaching needs to move with the times, offering practical advice on how flexible arrangements can work for teachers and schools alike.

It adds up to a strong critique of the prevailing attitude of presenteeism and a martyrdom culture that equates long working long hours with commitment. At a time when recruitment and retention remain huge challenges, allowing staff to flex to ensure they stay, return or join teaching must surely be worth exploring. This podcast is a great place to start

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