First bite

Published on 7 Jul 2014

There are a whole set of exhortations and expressions which effectively demand the same response from us. From Carpe diem to “seize the time”, we are challenged to take control and make a difference for ourselves and others.

It is encouraging that so many people do, but in learning, some of us have become caught up in a culture of “fear the time” and “yield the day”.  There are plenty of other people highlighting the culture that we have of undue accountability. Critiques come from Paasi Sahlberg, the Finnish educationalist waging war on the GERM, as he describes it. They also come from Independent Thinking in the UK, an organisation with an outstanding range of speakers and trainers who regard themselves as a resistance movement to  the policies of the current education Minister. The list of opponents of what is perceived as overweening accountability is extensive and their comments are generally greeted with warm applause and yet…

I think that we either fear too much or find it easier to comply than challenge, because we are not consistently offering the sort of learning experiences that our children need. We know that a changing world demands the ability to learn far more than the quality of being learned.  We know that an uncertain world demands creativity.  We need to feel that we cam make and shape our lives and we learn to do that through being engaged in making and shaping.  We need the resilience and inventiveness that creativity brings, but, too often, we settle for the scores and grades that allow passage to another stage.

I was using the image this week of some schools being obsessed with giving young people the keys that take them through doors, but not preparing them to switch on the lights in the darkened room that they are entering. I think that it is a valid one.

We worry so much about attainment that we narrow experiences and seek shortcuts that we think will guarantee it, trying to give our learners the prefabricated answers that they might need, forgetting that the true test is what we do when the prefabricated answers run out and we still have questions to tackle.

Do we give our learners the resilience and creativity – two qualities closely related in my view – to handle these last questions. If we do, we are giving them the ability to handle any question provided they have the knowledge. I often refer to Richard Gerver’s books , Creating Tomorrow’s Schools Today – Our Children – Their Futures and Change. Richard describes the process of taking over a failing school and earmarking two years to build a climate for learning before embarking on raising attainment  in year three.

The first year was filled with innovative and creative practice and attainment improved. The second year saw the same commitment and, again, attainment improved. By the beginning of year three attainment was already exceeding the targets that would have been set. Creativity is not an alternative to attainment; it might even be a guarantee of it.