It’s a long weekend. A bank holiday in the bank holiday season (Easter, May Day and Whitsun all bunched together). There are differing reasons for the bank holidays; in the main for historical religious reasons. Most people won’t recognise that, and probably don’t care that much, as long as they get the day away from work, school or college. This May Day Bank Holiday recognises international workers day. Those of us of an age will remember the impressive and frightening May Day parades in eastern Europe, before the fall of the Berlin wall. It sometimes feels different these days, sometimes it doesn’t.
The May Day Bank Holiday marks for us in schools and college the start of the exam (or SATs) period. We rev ourselves up in support of our children and young people. We know that we are getting near to the end of the period when we can offer an input and we move to the period when we can only offer support, an ear and an occasional shoulder to cry upon. Not this year! For those of us in the secondary and post-16 sectors we are entering an intense period of assessment, marking, review, moderation and the up-loading of assessed grades. We will continue to work through those processes carefully and professionally. We will continue to offer support and challenge, as and when. We’ll do all that whilst doing all else that we would usually be doing at this time of year and whilst continuing to support all of our other pupils and students.
We’ll have a different process for holding schools and colleges to account as a consequence of these processes. And we also, at a national level, have an opportunity to re-shape what accountability looks like for schools and colleges and, as a consequence, we can then in turn re-shape our education system – for the better.
In a world of instant information or knowledge we need to re-look at what education, and the system which supports the wider society, is here for. We need to understand that pure knowledge, information or facts in themselves do not make an education make. Children and young people understand much better than we do (as older people) that everything they may need to ‘know’ is at their fingertips. What they need are the skills, training and confidence which comes from those skills and that training to evaluate, to assess, to review, to challenge, to comprehend, to manipulate, to question and then to dismiss or accept.
For me these things that cannot be tested through the high stakes accountability structures of yesterday’s educational system. Exams, as they have traditionally been constructed, in themselves don’t do it. We can take this opportunity, this moment, to pause and reflect. Can we create an education system which seeks to give our children and young people the tools to think for themselves, to challenge the accepted orthodoxies, allows them all to develop the ability to make good decisions? We should be preparing our children and young people for life and a life which can be well-lived.
That’s not to say that we shouldn’t be inspiring our children and young people to aspire. We aren’t in the business of teaching our pupils and students to ‘accept their lot’. In preparing our children and young people for life we are giving them the tools to go as far as they want to go; on their terms and in their way. And in turn changing what accountability looks like for the system. How about no more comparative league tables? How about no more short stay and high stakes Ofsted inspections? And what about Ofsted existing to challenge and support? Can we create a system where inspectors work alongside leaders to lift the performance, to share the best practise, to drive improvement through collaboration rather than all too simplistic and narrow inspection judgements?
‘We know what we are, but know not what we may be.’ William Shakespeare
‘Subtlety may deceive you; integrity never will.’ Oliver Cromwell
We’ll continue doing what we always do. We’ll continue to do the right thing by and with our community. Together we will get through this and get through this stronger, not weaker.
Let’s hope we have some May Day sunshine to bring a warmth to the weekend.