It is nearly forty years ago that, as a newly appointed Head, an older colleague gave me a piece of priceless advice. “Divide the morning’s mail into two piles, the urgent and the important. Immediately deal with the important and leave the urgent until later in the day when you will probably find that somebody else has sorted it out.”
That advice has guided me ever since. It has never been easy. Too often people in authority, including Prime Ministers and Headteachers, crave the publicity of the gallant trouble-shooter rescuing a venture at the last moment, while most often the problem would not have arisen if he or she had earlier concentrated on rectifying the root causes of the difficulty.
At first the telephone, then the fax, and now emails give us a continuous flood of messages and it is hard to put them in some kind of order. The ability to decide what is important and what is merely urgent becomes an ever more pressing problem. Not just for teachers, of course, but even more so for politicians as we get closer to the Election.
In August of last year the Initiative published a Briefing Paper for Parliamentarians on the design faults at the heart of English education, as a means of testing politicians’ policies in advance. The Paper concluded with Ten Actions that would need to be taken. They were:
One Parliament must take the lead in showing the country that the task of education involves far more than producing pupils able to pass exams.
Two Under too much pressure to improve examination results schools tend to develop superficial “quick wits” rather than the more robust, long-term “hard wits” which breed flexibility and adaptability.
Three How we are treated as babies and toddlers determines the way in which what we were born with can turn us into men and women capable of doing new things well, not simply repeating what earlier generations have already done.
Four Legislators must appreciate the evolutionary significance of adolescence, and provide opportunities for young people to extend their learning in a hands-on manner.
Five A far less content-prescriptive curriculum emphasising such skills as the ability to think, communicate, collaborate and make decisions is required.
Six Quality education is everything to do with teachers, not much to do with structures, and very little to do with buildings.
Seven While Britain prides itself on being a democracy it frequently forgets that such a fragile concept cannot flourish unless each new generation is well-nurtured in the affairs of the mind, and appropriately inducted into the responsibilities of adulthood, and the maintenance of the common good.
Eight It is not more money that is needed to transform English education, rather it is to reallocate those funds that are being spent now in ways that should go with the grain of the brain so as to radically enhance the quality of education, the life of children, and national well-being.
Nine All-through schools from 5-16 should be based on an extension of present primary school practice so as to restore the balance between school, home and community.
Ten For a democracy to be fully functional, the state cannot simply be defined in terms of a government that makes and administers laws in which individuals are then free to do their own thing. Just to live within the law means very little; but to live within the law and have a sense of civil society, is to create a great place in which to live.
Do the candidates in your constituency recognise that these are the important issues, on which future policies have to be based?