Tuesday, 7 July 2009

Raising and Redefining Achievement

I have always had respect for Michael Barber's approach to education, and his ability to make genuine change happen. However his piece on How the school system should respond to a shrinking budget shows that he might have hung round politicians too long. He uses two political devices.

Device 1: Invent extreme-viewed enemies that don't really exist

Tony Blair used to do this all the time; I doubt he was the first. Here are three of Michael's examples:

"Many still cling to the demonstrably false view that creativity consists of each teacher making it up in the classroom. This is not creativity, it is betrayal."

"the widely held but absurd view that because some things can't be measured, we should measure nothing."

"There are many educators and leaders who simply don't believe that successful change is possible."

Where are these people? I have weaved my way round the education world for years, and never seem to meet them. Yes, there are those of us who, backed by evidence, believe that we focus insufficiently on the creative development of our children; that our assessment system is no longer fit for purpose; that change is rendered difficult by societal factors beyond the school walls. But nobody I have met ever takes these views to the extremes that Michael claims. By turning them into extremists he denies the validity of these concerns and closes down debate.

Device 2: Make it sound too simple

His 'systemic solutions' are faultless: train and develop great teachers and leaders; ensure teachers develop their pedagogy with regular opportunities for collaboration and feedback; devolve power and budgets to schools; ensure that data about school and student performance is rich, accurate and transparent. As an education system, we have made progress on all of these solutions.

Here is my additional solution, more messy and complex, but one which could move us on at a time when 'performance' appears to plateauing. Talk about the outomes. As an education system, we need a robust discussion, a new consensus, and finally (and most challenging) a degree of local flexibility about the outcomes we want for our children and young people. Despite the tinkering from government, and braver moves from others, including the RSA's Education Charter, politicians tend to close down discussions about outcomes before they have really begun.

I once claimed that the aim of Creative Partnerships was to raise and redefine achievement. Raising proved much easier than redefining. I hope that the new 21st Century Learning Alliance has more joy. Standards Are Not Enough (worked out the acronym?)

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