I am writing this post because some people have asked for clarification of some of the quotes in the recent Guardian article by Richard Adams on Michaela.
First the context: the journalist sat in on half a day’s tour and talk with 17 visitors from the Middle East. Some spoke good English, others did not. I had to explain my thinking in many different ways throughout the day. Because their guide from the British Council had chosen to show them Michaela, (rather than take them to a school that was more representative of a normal school) I had to explain how different we were to other schools in general, either in Britain or elsewhere. I had to explain how we were trying to ‘escape from old ideas’. This does not mean that we are the only ones doing this, or that we have nothing to learn. We change our minds about things everyday because when the facts change, we change our minds.
To my surprise, they asked why we didn’t have collaboration, group work, ICT lessons etc. I had wrongly assumed that in Abu Dhabi, traditional lessons would be the norm: not so. I had to explain in very basic terms (English being an issue) what I meant when it comes to the normal discussions conducted on edu-twitter daily.
Can I remember precisely what was said over several hours? No. Did Richard Adams deliberately look for the most salacious things said to quote out of context so as to get a rise from his readers? I just don’t know.
All I can do now is say what I believe to be so.
IF people are interested in what our school believes, then they will listen. If they are not interested in our real beliefs, then they will continue to obsess about our school and the beliefs they would prefer we held. Having said that, some teachers have embraced some of our ideas and are in regular touch with us to say how much they feel some of our ideas have helped them to develop their practice.
The idea that I would suggest that we are the ONLY school on the planet doing anything is just absurd. Mind you, I’m not entirely sure Richard Adams is saying this, but certainly some people are interpreting his article in this way. If Richard Adams believes this, I wish he had asked me for clarification. I did think how funny it was that he should point out that other schools do some of things we do and then in the same breath talk about our line in the carpet down the corridors. Yes Richard, I know that they do. That line idea comes from KSA (King Solomon Academy). So does our family lunch idea come from KSA and our Appreciations come for Dixons Trinity in Bradford. Our corridors are silent because we got the idea from Mossbourne and right now we are implementing another one of their ideas where groups of pupils should never be larger than 4 at break time. This is an example of us changing our minds about something, given the good practice we saw at another school. Some of the ideas we are going to use for our Sixth Form come from St Thomas the Apostle in Peckham and so many of our back house ideas come from various schools, whose Heads have either been kind enough to invite me into their schools to learn from them or whose Heads are my friends. As schools have graciously allowed us to steal from them, we have opened our doors for people to learn from us.
Do I think that in most schools in the UK it is possible for every teacher to ask every child to pick up other children’s rubbish without fear of the reaction? No I do not. Certainly there will be some schools where this is possible. I do not believe they are in the majority. Though whether you agree with me on that point or not is not really the issue. The more interesting issue is whether it is necessary to teach ‘picking-up after others’ skills to children, or whether they will do it naturally. Is it necessary to create an environment where to do otherwise would be unthinkable? I believe it is necessary. I understand that not everyone will agree with this. And guess what? That’s ok.
The other issue about which people wanted further explanation was the comment on pupils knowing as much as their teachers. Of course I don’t think teachers think this! What I do think is that there is a pernicious culture in our schools which suggests this is the case: that pupils and teachers are equals. So that when teachers need backing over behaviour, they do not get it, because they are not considered to be ‘an authority’ and when they teach, they are under pressure to entertain and be facilitators, instead of just being teachers.
Some teachers say this environment does not exist in their school. Great. I do believe it is prevalent in our schools and you might disagree with me. And guess what? That’s ok.
You could say that it is just the experiences of all of my staff, without exception, in past schools and in the schools of their teacher friends. Maybe all of these schools are exceptional and are not representative of the norm.
But I don’t think so. I think we have a real behaviour problem in our schools that has resulted in one third of new teachers leaving the profession in the first few years. It is partly responsible for the situation where 20% of our children leave school functionally innumerate and functionally illiterate.
But I could be wrong. I am wrong about much every day. And the day these facts change, I will change my mind. Until that day comes, we at Michaela will continue to seek to escape from the burden of old ideas. Some of our new ideas will come from other schools, some of them will come from our staff, but I believe all of them are worth listening to and giving a chance to, instead of rejecting new ideas simply because they fly in the face of what we have always believed.
Sometimes what we have always believed to be true is wrong. I once believed in all of the progressive ideas that Michaela now rejects. Life taught me I was wrong.
When the facts change, I change my mind. What do you do Sir?
Happy New Year!