A well-respected Scottish headteacher recently managed both to shock and amuse me.
We’ll call him David.  I’m certainly not going to name him or his authority.
David received a call from education HQ.  “We don’t have a copy of your Learning and Teaching policy.”
David’s reply was a serious sounding, “No, no, you don’t.  By when do you need it?”
The tolerant official didn’t want to break David’s back.  “Is the end of the month all right?”
“No problem!  I thought you might need it immediately.  You’ll have it at the end of the day.”
Bemused official responds: “How can you do that?  Is it almost ready?”
“No,” said David.  “I’ll Google  ‘policies on Learning and Teaching’, find the best one, change the badge and the name of the school on the cover to ours.  OK?”
This showed admirable contempt for managerial box-ticking.  David assumed that the local authority having every school’s policy statement on Learning and Teaching (or Behaviour Management, or School Self-Evaluation or whatever was flavour of the month) was no more than an audit exercise and that the document would lie unread on a desk somewhere.    He understood that most such policies, across schools, are largely the same things said differently.
Above all he demonstrated confidence that his school’s Learning and Teaching was exemplary and that if the school were to be judged on what happened in reality, rather than on the paper statement, it would not be found wanting.  I’m certain that was so.
He also told me that his annual Improvement Plan was largely a rehash of the previous year’s but, each year, in the middle of a different page, he inserted the sentence, “Immediately you read this sentence, please phone David on ……” and attached the school telephone number.  He’s never had a phone call and therefore assumes  that no official ever reads his Improvement Plan.
Now, lest it be thought his time is dedicated to iconoclasm, David is a superb teacher committed to raising ambition and aspirations among his students by building confidence based on successful learning.  He makes challenging demands of his teachers and his students.
I rarely had the  chutzpah to challenge my managers in quite so cavalier a fashion.  Nonetheless, David has a powerful point.  People, not policies, transform education and committed, reflective, innovative teachers who relate to learners, transform learning.
David however may now have gone over to the dark side.  He has accepted a senior local authority management post.  But if he can walk the corridors of power, the system has not been totally refashioned by bureaucrats who plague schools with calls for policy papers, statistical returns and risk assessments.
Let’s celebrate David’s appointment and adopt at least some of his strategies.  Put teaching, learning and relationships first; put reports, statistics and procedures well down the priority list; and articulate that vision to anyone willing to listen.
Let’s also trust that the machine doesn’t suck David into its box-ticking mindset.
 
The above article was first published in TESS on 4 October 2013

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