Principal's Blogs September 2017 - July 2018
1 September 2017
“If we cannot change the World ourselves, we might by creating leaders who can through education” Kurt Hahn.
As I look out of my cabin window where I sit writing this first blog of the new academic year it seems summer and autumn are battling to see who will prevail as the day feels like any traditional summer’s hot day in July but the dead leaves from my Siberian birch are all over the lawn and most plants are now beginning to die back ready for the change in season. It definitely is the first of September. In Russian and Eastern European countries, this day is celebrated as the “Day of Knowledge” and is a great way for students, educators, schools, parents and entire communities to recognise and acknowledge the vital importance of education not just for the future prosperity of those societies but it is about empowering the next generation to pick up the baton and carry it further forward. I am speaking at an international education conference in Poland in a couple of weeks’ time with the British Council on the themes of global learning, educational leadership and influence/impact in the classroom. I have thought all summer about what I am going to say to this prestigious audience about the impact and influence of beliefs and approaches of education on our students in the UK, Europe and across the globe as they step up to take their roles shaped by these systems and philosophies.
I was reminded of the torch being passed onto former students of mine when an old IB student and now a very successful vet got in contact recently to offer her assistance with current students who may be looking at going down the veterinary science route. Another former IB student of mine contacted me at the start of the summer to let me know he had been awarded a place at a prestigious forum this autumn to represent young business leaders at an international conference looking at the knowledge and skills needed by young leaders as the challenges of the 21st century continue to unfold and a common and global approach needs to be devised. As I reminded him, not bad for a lad from Mozambique who barely made it through the school gates for the first three years of secondary school, written off by so many of his teachers until he took the IB and now he has a phenomenal career at Apple. What these two former students epitomise for me is what I have known for my entire career to date, 24 years this year as an educator, that there is a natural cycle to education which is about people who do trail blaze putting something back to ensure there is a solid conveyor belt moving forward but more importantly to inspire the next generation onto greater ambition. And this goes way beyond the dogmatic narrowing of the curriculum and the slavish adherence to exams that so many schools have chosen to focus on. I have mentioned it before here in this blog but it is worth mentioning again as I seem to be behind the same bus around north Bristol this summer; Sidcot is an IB school in Somerset and they have the very simple but thought-provoking message for their open day advert for this month “We are more than just an exams factory”. Summing up a simple but brilliant holistic approach to educating the whole of the individual so that they are not just leaving school with relevant qualifications but also skills ranging from critical thinking to resilience that will help them navigate their next stages and life. There is something about a holistic educational approach that a few schools are still brave enough to offer despite the onslaught of the current education ideology and the students leaving these schools have far better well-being and a growth mind set to cope with the challenges and complexities of this globalised world. All education should be about this and all educators should have this in their core beliefs about why they want to work with young people.
This August my colleagues, students, parents, governors and our local communities got to celebrate again the remarkable achievement of the A Level, BTEC and GCSE results at Wyedean. I will never lose the sheer emotion of these two days as students (and staff and parents) nervously anticipate and find out their results from their hard work for over two years. This August the two cohorts were the guinea pigs of educational reforms in qualifications and curriculum dreamt up by a secretary of state long gone from the scene but schools are coping with the legacy of the sheer amount of reforms across the whole of education impacting so many areas with such a short time of implementation. My colleagues have been nothing short of heroic in their determination and resolution to ensure the students have not suffered in all of this. I look at the challenges for the new academic year and the crisis in school funding fills me with trepidation as a principal. Knowing what my school has had to do attract increased numbers, develop a broad and unique curriculum, retain the best staff and deal with ageing infrastructure because of public finances and the wider crisis of the domination of the Brexit decision at the heart of current national governance.
So as I watch the autumn creep slowly across my garden on the sunny 1st September, the Day of Knowledge, and I finish my “state of the union” address to deliver to my colleagues this coming Monday I look very inwardly at finding the optimism as a school leader to be able to look to better times and to make sure the new academic year is rich in what we want for our young people to nurture them and for our young people to enjoy and experience a year to make sure their lives are better permanently for being in our educational care. It’s the tough challenge of anyone in education and the reason why this job is a vocation. I would like to add personally though I never really expected the sports car or the playboy lifestyle when I picked up my first piece of chalk. I will tell my colleagues on Monday what an incredible job they did in the academic year 2016-17. I will share with them the success and the moments we create and celebrate daily at Wyedean with our community. I will tell them categorically that all school leaders are the lightning rods and it’s our job to soak up the fads, directives, whims and whatever else gets thrown at us to ensure they can do their jobs educating our young people for the future. I will make it clear that we will continue to develop a World Class 21st Century learning holistic learning experience anchored on creativity, digital and global learning because the century is going to need our young people to be able to adapt and change and think and reflect and build a better World for the future. And as this is the celebration of the Day of Knowledge I am going to quote a Victorian Headteacher who was way ahead of his time and still stands true when the point of education is in question. Dr Arnold said education was an introduction to the very best of what has been said and thought. We need to remember that in a globalised, technology complex world the need for knowledge and wisdom has never been more to tackle the laziness of “google information” on the individual. Today the great Anthony Seldon, one of my heroes, urged school leaders in the TES to be even more ambitious and make their schools even better as centres of education.
“Leave our 19th-century schools system behind – we should all be teaching entrepreneurship and exposing students to the arts, creativity, sport, adventure and challenge In 25 years’ time, we will look back at schools today and ask ourselves if we were stark raving mad to have let them be so narrow and so low-achieving. We need schools for the 21st century but we have a school model designed in the 19th century…”
This may be hard for individuals who have received for several years now nothing but below inflation pay awards, reduced resources and expectations of further bureaucracy and empty judgements from a creaking system but it is one challenge we must find a way around as educators this coming academic year. The quote from Kurt Hahn, has always been on my classroom and study wall throughout my education career because if I do need to dig deeper inwardly to find optimism to motivate my colleagues as their principal on Monday morning then I need to think about the likes of my two former IB students that contacted me this summer. I need to think about their incredible contributions, and countless others because of the influence of decent hardworking educators, that these former students are making to a better society thanks to their education and compassion. That is the educational challenge always and it’s not for the faint hearted or the lover of the cheap and quick reward. Hearts and minds the clarion call on Monday, like every year.