Primary schools are used to change. A brief reflection on the last few years of initiatives reads like a litany of pedagogical change: national strategies; synthetic phonics; MFL; 5 hours of sport; embedded ICT; Healthy Food; Every Child Matters; the creative curriculum… and so on. As a result, we can do change: we have become masters of change management.
Many colleagues that I have spoken to over the past few months have been elated/devastated (delete as appropriate) by the pace and scope of change that we are experiencing in all education sectors at the moment. The extremes in responses are not, I suspect, just due to political allegiance but rather are a consequence of uncertainty. Up to this point in time one of primary school leaders’ key strategies to managing change successfully has been to anticipate it, yet at the moment reliable anticipation is in short supply. In the absence of such strategies, we are faced with the situation that Professor Seymour Papert summed up portentously: there is only one 21st century skill and that is the ability to act intelligently when you are faced with something you have never seen before.
This may offer little comfort to some. It is all well and good urging intelligent leadership in the face of unprecedented experience. What if that experience is trying to reconcile a staffing profile constructed in times of plenty when now we face a time of unprecedented cuts in school budgets? Or aggressive union representatives agitating for workers’ rights? Or colleagues meandering aimlessly through their curriculum now that QCA and the Rose Review have been shunned? (The Cambridge Primary Review received a much better hearing from the new Government than it initially received from the previous administration and so will have increasing influence on the direction learning in the primary sector may take. I will post on this development in the near future). Or parents worrying about the pros and cons of academy status? Or child protection cases mounting in the context of city councils’ repeated inadequate social service reviews? Or…, well, you get the idea. Facing things that we have never seen before, at a pace that we have never endured before, with an accountability that we have never answered to before mitigates against our ability to think at all, never mind clearly or intelligently. For many of us, survival from one day to another is achievement enough.
However, clearly that isn’t enough. Our children deserve better and goodness knows, given the messes we have created economically and socially during our tenure as guardians of the globe, we really should give everything that we have to enable our children to make a better job of facing unknown 21st century challenges than we have. But how?
You will be disappointed to read that I don’t know. But I know a woman that does, and probably a man too. Never has there been such an important time for a primary network as ours. Whether you are in a rural Kent village school, an inner city Birmingham academy or a Blackpool Children’s Centre, I need you. I need you because you hold at least part of the answer to the problems that I face. Nor should I feel belittled by such reliance, because I, in turn, hold some of the answers to the problems faced in Exeter, Sheffield, Pluckley or Tiverton. Indeed, wherever my partners in this network find themselves. Seymour Papert was right, we are going to face situations that we have never encountered before. But we don’t have to come up with our intelligent responses alone and in fact if we want to deliver the best possible life chances for all our children rather than just a select few, we mustn’t come up with our best responses alone. For me, there are two key 21st century skills when faced with the unprecedented: to act intelligently AND collaboratively.
I look forward to receiving your thoughts on the way forward, because I believe they will help to bring me clarity. Please feel free to respond via my blog at neilhopkin.wordpress.com
Dr Neil Hopkin
Chair of the SSAT National Headteacher Steering Group for the Family of Schools Primary Network