Maybe it was the sunshine. Maybe it was not feeling queasy for the first time in a week. Maybe it was the chance to work alongside John Tomsett for whom I’d happily lie down in the middle of the M1, but I made my way to York for ResearchEd on Saturday morning with a smile on my face. And I was not disappointed. It was a lovely day. There were some significant improvements on the first ResearchEd that made the event seem more balanced, inclusive and rooted in teaching. Perhaps starting the day with a key note from someone who has dedicated their whole life to educating young people made all the difference.
I learned that if you do or say something to irritate John, he’s not likely to argue with you, get angry or vengeful. But he’ll wait a while and then gently tease you. His gentlemanly and subtle ribbing of Ben Goldacre’s frankly rude responses to his requests for information were hilarious. Similarly, his subtle juxtaposition of David Didau’s statement that “compromise is the last refuge of the unprincipled” with his own leadership ethos rooted in humility, flexibility and understanding (often involving compromise) exposed the folly of that statement without having to attack it at all. When it comes to choosing someone to negotiate the Palestine/Israeli conflict I know which of those two I’d send in.
John has clearly set up an ethos and set of values in his school where human development is seen as a right of all – staff and pupils; where high levels of challenge are balanced by an attempt to, as far as possible, bring about success within a low stakes culture. Removing fear, said John, is essential if teachers are to improve. It was an example of how humanity and kindness can sit in an easy and productive relationship with rigour and improvement. A compromise one might say.
So I was bouncing with optimism as I went off with @emmaannhardy and @heymisssmith to the next session – with lead Ofsted inspector Mary Myatt.
“No-one” said Mary “ever sets out to do a rubbish job and they should never be put down.” I wish she were our Ofsted inspector thought everyone in the audience. Well if she was, you’d better be on your game! Mary is humane, empathic and sharp as a razor. She took us through what she called the importance of ‘micro-research’ in schools and classrooms without once relying on notes. “Great leaders”, she said “notice things” and so do great teachers. Mary argued for the importance of being attuned to what is taking place in the classrooms. To act upon what is noticed. To ensure that your time is not wasted writing the same things over and over and over again in children’s books. What are Ofsted looking for? Feedback that is being acted upon. Pupils premium money having an impact. High levels of challenge in classes and deep understanding, which “must trump content coverage every time.”
Mary is funny – “what we do is not brain surgery and no-one is going to die so let’s lighten up a bit” but not frivolous. She is smart “we should pursue counter-intuitive lines of inquiry” but not patronising. She goes into schools all the time and picks up on energy and she was keen to point out that in schools in which there are staff rooms full of people having expansive conversations about education, there is good education being delivered. (Take note all you heads who are thinking of getting rid of staff rooms – encourage more collaboration not less of it!). It was a heartening talk and reassuring to note that there are people like Mary IN the tent….
Martin read a beautifully crafted and carefully prepared speech which showed an impressive level of erudition. I’m almost frightened to quote it, so particular is he about detail and you can view it online so I’ll focus instead on what I heard. Which of course is what I remember. Which of course is what I wanted to hear.
Standing at the exact mid point between myself and Old Andrew/Andrew Old/ Andrew Smith (depending on whether you encounter him on twitter, at conferences or on Radio 4), Martin showed himself to be that most unprincipled of men – one who has found a position of compromise. The small cross on the floor his refuge as he took up a central position, arguing that education is not a suitable subject for science; that when Art is looked at objectively, it ceases to be Art and that education above all is about humanity – “from the shit on the sole of your shoe….to God.” Whoop whoop went the progressives.
But. “I’d rather my child was taught Shakespeare than One Direction” he said (so would I actually – is that a compromise?). And he doesn’t give a stuff whether she can tick off a box that says she’s a team worker (which is not the same as not caring whether or not she can work in teams of course). He was disappointed that she came home worried about climate change without knowing what a climate was. And in this example, he outlined the importance of embedding knowledge FIRST. Whoop whoop went the traditionalists.
This was such a clever and engaging talk that did make nonsense of the position that there is no mid position to be had. It drew on such a beautifully wide range of sources that in itself it exemplified the joy of knowledge. It was a pleasure to witness. I have only one observation…
If education should embrace the shit on the shoe right up to God, then we might have to scrape One Direction off our soles and pop them in the curriculum.
“Whatta man whatta man whatta man whatta mighty good man…”
I first heard David speak at an Independent Thinking Big Day Out event a couple of months ago and left with tears of laughter and sadness staining my cheeks. So I knew I would be in for a treat. Here is one of the biggest problems in education – not David himself – but the vapid disregard we have for wisdom and experience in our education system. In him and others like Mick Waters and Tim Brighouse, we have wisdom and insight beyond belief. They have seen and lived through and influenced cycles of change that we could all do with understanding and it infuriates me that these voices get sidelined and replaced with new, “fresh” voices, straight from universities and think tanks every time there’s a new general election. It’s time we listened.
David understands children. He understands and loves them. How quaint. And this understanding has led him to create curriculum models that have conscience, happiness and yes, knowledge at their heart. Here again, we see a man who is educated – as comfortable quoting Camus as Salt ‘n’ Peppa – AND humane. He is wise. He is angry AND funny. He is uncompromising in his disbelief that compromise is ‘for tossers’ as he summarised the Didau position. I want to be in his gang. He makes my heart sing.
I heard she had silly shoes on.
There was a conversation on twitter last night which went like this:-
Chas : Did you go to see @debrakidd
Andrew: No – she was on at the same time as @tombennet71 and anyway, why would I?
Debra: I liked Andrew’s.
I am unprincipled in my willingness to compromise. And I always at these events try to seek out an alternative view in order to challenge and develop my thinking. I always learn something and believe that it is a position of untenable arrogance to assume that this is not possible, even from people with whom I have deep disagreements. So I went to see Andrew. Glued to his chair, he proved that it is possible to engage without bothering to move – perhaps this is why twitter suits him so well. He can be funny and is good at finding a sharp quote or aphorism to prove a point. My favourite was “if there is no such thing as truth then the statement that there is no such thing as truth cannot be true.” Which is true. And funny. His talk was called ‘What we can know about teaching” (I think) but it was really “How I argue on twitter” – one rule of which was to engage “kindly” which surprised me as I have definitely seen an unkind side to Andrew’s debates. But there is no doubt that he is a thinker (if not a mover) and I enjoyed what I heard. I didn’t stay for the whole, and as Andrew moved between fallaciousness and fellatio showing a clip of Bill Clinton, I left. I was desperate to see Alex Quigley and so I shot off there for the second half and was glad it was streamed so that I could watch the first later.
You can see Alex’s speech on the live stream and please do – here is a teacher bringing together the physical, cognitive, emotional and intellectual in his teaching so beautifully. From Goldin-Meadow to Lakoff, it is clear that he reads widely and that what he reads is applied to his thinking and his practice. What a lovely partnership this school has in Alex and John. I hope those children know how lucky they are.
It was, as I said, a lovely day. I met people I have long admired – both speakers and tweachers. I learned a lot. I compromised. I laughed. And I’ll return – to the next northern version at least. And now I’m so looking forward to Northern Rocks. Though I won’t be catching any slow trains!