Dear UK politicians,
There’s a Year 7 assembly story I remember very well from my time as a middle school headteacher… It involves a frog, a saucepan of water and some heat. The frog is happy in its water, even though the temperature is getting hotter. It doesn’t complain and it doesn’t jump out of the saucepan. It doesn’t recognise the temperature is rising until it’s too late and it gets boiled alive.
We’re at a moment now, where I truly believe our schools, our teachers and our headteachers are close to being in the same situation as the frog.
I’m old enough and ugly enough to remember a Secretary of State for Education saying, 26 years ago, “we can no longer leave individual teachers, schools or local authorities to devise the curriculum that children should follow”.
September 1989 was the month when the heat started to rise. Since then, little by little, sometimes very noticeably, sometimes less so – education in this country has moved from being directed and managed by its leaders to being a tool for politicians to use for their own short term political objectives.
And now, we are very close to boiling point.
Earlier this week, I asked on social media what challenges there are in people’s local schools. It wasn’t just teachers and headteachers who replied to me. Parents, governors, business managers, other school leaders weighed in with their thoughts and opinions. They will be familiar to you.
- They told me that we have a genuine funding crisis in our schools.
- They told me that we have an ever shifting assessment framework that is actually working against pupil progress.
- They told me that we have a data culture that is dehumanising the craft of teaching.
- They told me that there is a very real crisis in recruitment and retention
You now have an opportunity to challenge all of this.
At this election, you could reject political dogma and trust the professional commitment of those who themselves, demonstrably, have the best interests of the nation’s children at heart – this nation’s teachers and headteachers.
You could give them proper control of the academic curriculum. You could make assessment be once again about charting children’s progress and informing future learning, not about creating league tables of schools. You could commit to resourcing schools fully and fairly. You could help to assure the wellbeing of our nation’s children through funding sustainable access to really great co-curricular education, to sport, to opportunities to give service to the community, to make and listen to music, to take part in drama, to appreciate fine art. You could set out a long-term national strategy for recruiting and retaining staff in schools. You could ensure that schools get really great health and social care support – at a price that isn’t punitive. You could find ways of holding schools accountable to their communities that are fair and that don’t pitch professionals against one another.
Humility sits at the heart of what the leaders of our schools want to do. They should have the opportunity to be the voice of servant leadership, because that voice has been practised and honed over generations. They want the best for children.
It is time, truly time, to meet the challenges our schools face head on. To allow our teachers and headteachers to create a culture that is fairer, more equal, more kind, more effective and better performing.
It is time, harking back to that Year 7 assembly… time for us all to climb out of the saucepan.