Apparently our schools are so rubbish that Tesco supermarkets are having to come to the rescue. According to Sir Terry Leahy, who is not only the top man of Tesco – Britain’s largest private employer – but also an education adviser to the prime minister:
we depend on high standards in our schools… Sadly, despite all the money that has been spent, standards are still woefully low in too many schools… Employers like us … are often left to pick up the pieces. From my perspective there are too many agencies and bodies, often issuing reams of instructions to teachers, who then get distracted from the task at hand: teaching children.
Naturally, the government disputes his view.
I was chair of governors of a voluntary controlled primary school during the 1990s. As a governing body we frequently objected to the rate of initiatives pouring out of Whitehall, the forests of paper pouring through our letter boxes and the deluge of regulations that were demoralising teachers. These were the nadir years for many teachers who felt de-professionalised, despised and demotivated.
But all this would change when New Labour got in and concentrated on education, education, education – wouldn’t it?
Well, again, some strides were made, but the deluge of initiatives, paper and policies got worse. I was relieved to leave behind being a governor and having to cope with the sheer weight of paper and pace of ‘change’.
So, will anything change next time? Will teachers be trusted to teach and specialists be funded to advise? Or will we face another bout of endless change, initiatives and paper? Because I can’t see any new government leaving things alone for a while without wanting to change it all again. And that will mean more paper, more initiatives, more bureaucracy. And, if conversations with educationalists yesterday are anything to go by, funding will be cut, governance will become more difficult (the demands on voluntary governors are ridiculous already) and schools will continue to be a political football. Will any party prove me wrong?
So, I was really pleased to be in a Church of England secondary school this afternoon where I met highly motivated, really articulate and very pleasant young students who were leading the drive for greater student involvement in their local community in Croydon. It was the students (supported and encouraged by staff) who were driving their colleagues into taking responsibility for changing their community by serving it. It was very impressive.
And this is not the only school in Croydon doing such things.
But what really encouraged and challenged me was the imaginative way the school is tackling its engagement with daily worship. Many schools find the concept of daily worship embarrassing and difficult and I understand the reasons why. But here at St Andrew’s School they have devised a way of bringing assemblies alive in tutor groups by providing simple, creative and mind-teasingly stimulating resources for group reflection and conversation. It is web-based, is called Soul Food and is projected in tutor rooms onto the interactive whiteboards.
Based on their website www.andyblogs.co.uk, Soul Food is used daily to enhance the spiritual and social side of the school. It is designed to encourage students to think about the world around them and the part they play in it – using the Bible as a springboard for discussion of everyday issues. It includes pictures, videos, music and youtube clips as well as text. The structure is simple: (a) introduction to the theme, (b) the Bible bit, (c) the thinking bit, (d) the activities, (e) a prayer. Students and staff can then leave comments and offer feedback on how it went for them or their group. This is, of course, in-house.
But the school has also created the andyblogs.community at www.andyblogs.com and this is open to the world, linking school to church to community and wider world. This is all very imaginative and excellent stuff, superbly managed by an art teacher at the school, Elysia Willis.
This is a creative approach that should be copied by other schools which are looking for simple and engaging ways of creating material for assemblies. Is there a ‘resource bank’ for such material/approaches anywhere?
Perhaps Sir Terry Leahy might pay them a visit and see where his criticisms don’t apply – in an urban school with a commitment to growing young people as whole human beings: body, mind and spirit.