Review by Sarah Gallagher

Headteacher, Snape Primary School and PGCE tutor, University of Cambridge

3 Feb 2024, 5:00


The Conversation – with Sarah Gallagher

Pardon, M. Cuisenaire

This week I took solace in reminding remind myself of how I started in schools, as a teacher. As a teaching head, my greatest privilege is to still teach and learn with children. So being able to refresh my own practice to make maths more meaningful is always welcome.

Until reading this blog, I hadn’t even considered why Cuisenaire rods were so named. Every day’s a school day, and I also now know that they are wondrous for developing mathematical understanding of complex concepts such as algebra.

I’m very old, so I remember these in second year infants (what we used to call year 1). They were brand new and beautiful and we used to love the shiny orange sticks. I don’t think we used them in maths though, just as building materials during wet play. Apologies, Monsieur Cuisenaire. Thanks to this blog, I’ve seen the light and started putting them to use for their intended purpose.

If you have them hidden away, I encourage you to do the same.

The start of a journey

In this informative early years podcast, Andy Burt talks to Emma Hudson, early years lead at Willerby Carr Lane Primary School. Listening to the expert pair discussing Emma’s continuous provision journey, the biggest chord that chimed was the section around process and outcomes.

“Doing it is more valuable than the final product,” says Emma. “It is the making of the learning story, not the end, which is important – something I feel we miss again and again.” Amen to that.

Dear England

Which leads me nicely into this blog by Mike Murray about four very different cultural reference points and what they teach us about education. Among the four is Dear England, a National Theatre play that is also being shown in cinemas as part of the National Theatre Live programme. If you can catch a showing, please do. I went to see this at the cinema this week, having already seen it on stage with my football-playing daughter.

The play is about Gareth Southgate’s journey from player to coach and his attempt to redefine the psychology of the game, away from career-making and -ending cliff-edge moments and towards growth. For me, it resonated immediately with leadership in schools and I’m delighted that Murray felt the same.

The idea that it’s the journey that matters is a powerful antithesis to our current model. It puts a strong onus on how we enable others on that journey (in this case our school teams) to flourish and find their own voice and write their own story, and it truly ‘brings home’ how ill-suited the current inspection framework is to our collective mission.

We’ve lost the plot

In this pertinently-titled episode of the Rethinking Education podcast, secondary headteacher Ben Davis discusses with host James Mannion “where on Earth we are going wrong” with regards to children’s attendance and our worsening recruitment and retention crisis. Davis’s view is that if we continue on this trajectory heads will not be the only ones burning out. So will staff,  children and young people and the communities schools serve.

The pair discuss various options for change which are vital if we wish to see schools improve. Among those is the illogical one-word judgement, as well as the equally wasteful effort that goes into trying to guess what inspectors are looking for.

They lampoon both perfectly with a game of ‘good or RI’, trying to guess inspection judgements from segments of reports, with laughable and tragic results. That the vast majority of inspectors are honourable isn’t even the question. The simple fact is that even inspections that feel true and fair are divisive and far too simplistic. Worse, they incapacitate whole schools with exhaustion, jeopardising any potential improvements.

Living in this culture of fear does nothing for outcomes or indeed ‘cultural capital’. And all of this when, as Davis points out, we have our work cut out to create environments young people and adults want to spend time in. It does indeed feel like we’ve lost the plot.

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