My 100th blog as BaldHeadteacher has surely to do with Brexit. For it was the referendum in 2016 that started me off. It wasn’t really the European Union part of it, but the wider reasons behind it that I had perceived in the years and months that preceded it. A harsh, unforgiving and individualistic atmosphere which, of course, I had seen develop in education, and is still there to some degree.
As a headteacher in the north (albeit a staunch Labour area), I felt that the reasons were far bigger than simply anti-EU sentiment. I am no liberal, by the way, and not a People’s Vote person, but I am vehemently opposed to Brexit and always will be. It is a heartfelt and passionate view, not related to trade deals or sovereignty. For me, the 2016 vote was a setback for concepts of collaboration and community, about sharing and mutual support, about the common good. Yes, I know people will say that we can still have all this when we leave, but I don’t buy it. At best it’s going to be ‘community-lite’.
The vote in 2016 was about people, not simply a European institution. It was about the wasteful, incompetent, dismissive and vacuous people, yes, leaders, that have had too much influence on our society. People had enough. Pathetic targets, a disregard for working-class commitment and communities, management nonsense-speak, a disregard for fading, worried communities (especially in the north), an obsession with paperwork, surveillance and evidence gathering. I could go on. In that it had something to do with Europe, it was that there were many equally non-descript managers blocking up their system too.
In education terms, it was also about the national disgrace where hundreds, maybe thousands of average people had engorged themselves on public money in the name of academy chains or free schools, where avaricious chancers had exploited the ‘free markets’ in education, where change upon change had left local communities discombobulated. We are now left with a growing ‘tail of underachievement’ in our system; things are more divisive that ever. The haves and the have-nots.
People were fed up, and voted out.
Of course, the greatest irony is that the stewards of all these so-called ‘reforms’ have been elected back in with a big majority. And so it is that a vote to try and relieve us of wasteful, incompetent, dismissive and vacuous people has left us with a load of even more wasteful, incompetent, etc etc. This says more about the woeful state of the Labour party; it is not a ringing endorsement of the current incumbents.
Brexit is, and will be, a disaster for everyone bar a handful of hedge-fund managers and speculators. It will adversely affect our pupils and students, our teachers and our school leaders. Its folly is colossal.
The nastiness, division and individualism is still there, all around us in society, and it does affect us on the ground. It pains me to say it but I think it is worse now than in 2016. Many of my contemporaries are moving on, aghast at what has happened.
My blogs have intended to show that education is about the opposite to the niggliness of Brexit – it’s rather about collaboration, tolerance, forgiveness, trust, compassion and community. The six Derek O’Keefe stories, hidden in the 100, are an effort to satirise the educational climate – I may try to continue these in some form or other. And of course there is so much great practice out there. There are many, many fabulous schools doing remarkable work in spite of all the…spite. So I may not blog much from now on, but I hope these common threads come through many or most of them:-
- The value of the right people coming into the profession. And the right people freed up from unnecessary managerial tasks to lead the next generation of pupils and teachers.
- The importance of compassion, integrity and trust – so important. ‘Schools with soul.’
- That we should bust a gut to celebrate and promote true comprehensive schools, with a diverse mixture of children – background, ability, race, belief.
- That teachers require far more time to reflect, plan and collaborate. They do it in the rest of the world, so why not here?
- That a school curriculum has to be broad, rich and exciting for all pupils, not just for those at fee-paying schools.
- That, in particular, we need a more equitable settlement for children with special educational needs, and a far greater recognition given to those schools who go the extra mile to include these pupils.
- That education needs to retreat from individualism. Schools have a vital role in shaping whole communities, not building their fences ever higher.
Brexit was the stimulus for the blogs, and now at the end of this month, Brexit is really, really, really going to happen. The symmetry is right for this, possibly my last blog
Brexit may certainly be happening, but I for one will plod on putting the case for something different.