“Something is . . . different. Anything different is good.” – Groundhog Day
Taking part in the London Festival of Education gave us opportunities to listen to respected educators discussing a range of issues – the importance of leadership, how to make the Gove imposed National Curriculum relevant and compelling, how neuroscience should become an integral part of the dialogue on education, how to tackle tricky behaviour, and so forth.
It was an opportunity to greet old friends, to make new friends, new alliances and contacts and to meet our cyber contemporaries – Twitter and blog colleagues who, like us, share ideas and learning on a daily and weekly basis.
The profusion of choice was both invigorating and frustrating, but the quality of the talks and discussions made it a very positive day indeed.
There was, however, a certain nagging feeling of déjà vu.
We’ve been here before – listening, learning, participating and then doing what? How much actual change do these ‘festivals’ really inspire?
There have been plenty of changes in the wild world of education since the inaugural London Festival of Education in November 2012. But where has our learning from our fellow professionals taken us in the intervening years between these two London Festival of Education days? What have we done with our learning? Why aren’t there more schools employing more formative approaches to assessment or using the national curriculum as a framework rather than a straightjacket? Why are we still listening to politicians saying what they will “do to” education after the General Election?
Groundhog Day was shown on television last weekend. The lead character, a bored TV weatherman, goes annually to the small town of Punxsutawney, Pennsylvania, where a mass of townsfolk and visitors gather to find out what the weather will be like for the oncoming spring – based on whether the groundhog emerges from hibernation in cloud or sunshine. February 2nd is Groundhog Day.
The tedium of attending this annual ritual feeds into Phil’s habitual cynicism. However, Phil wakes up the following day to discover that it’s again 6 a.m. on February 2nd – and he has to go through the whole process of reporting on the groundhog again…… and again…… and again. Every night he goes to bed. Every morning it’s back to the same thing.
Phil tries to shape events in various different ways, at first positively, and then turning to hedonism – stealing money, bingeing, seducing women – living in the present without any regard for the future, because there is no real future.
He feels trapped in time, unable to break free, unable to change the perpetual status quo.
He does, however, learn about the people of the town – amassing information and then using it to good effect – saving the life of a down and out, helping a young couple resolve their relationship difficulties, etc. He learns to speak French, sculpt ice and play the piano – admittedly to impress his belle, but nonetheless he uses his time productively, constantly learning with the aim of making a difference to himself and to the lives of the people around him.
A short quote from the film:
Phil: “What would you do if you were stuck in one place and every day was exactly the same, and nothing you did mattered?”
Ralph: “About sums it up for me”.
We may frequently feel in a rut, unable to do anything with our learning from events like the London Festival of Education, which can lead to despondency.
How many times will we listen to inspiring speeches by the likes of Pasi Sahlberg about the importance of addressing inequality and trusting teachers? How many times will we watch Sir Ken Robinson’s TED Talks before we actually choose some of the creative options that he’s suggesting? How many talks from Sue Cowley or Mike Grenier or Tom Sherrington or Sue Roffey or Alison Peacock or Martin Robinson or Peter Hyman can we listen to without uniting as a profession to collectively implement the changes that so many of us want to see?
How many wonderful Festivals of Education, at the Institute of Education and at Wellington College in the summer, will we attend – listening and learning – before there are fundamental positive and progressive changes to the organisation and aims of our education system?
How many groundhog days will it take to harness and use this important learning for the benefit of all learners?
For those who obsess about facts, there are plenty of facts that we learn on days like this – at Festivals of Education. This isn’t simply ideology and hypothesis. There are hard facts about the negative effects of inappropriate schooling on our children and young people. There’s a wealth of evidence about the negative impact of the GERM mentality. There’s evidence galore that shows that addressing the wellbeing of students empowers them for living and learning. There’s factual knowledge about the effectiveness of a creative curriculum and the impact of a values-led approach to learning, and whilst there are plenty of practitioners who are indeed putting all this learning to effective use, there’s still that nagging feeling of déjà vu – that we come, we listen, we learn, we return to our places of work and individually try our darnedest but still we haven’t really started on the revolution or reinvention of our system of education.
We support the aims of Slow Education, but we’d like, for the sake of this and the following generations of children, a sudden and swift enlightenment based on the knowledge and the experience of educators who have the wellbeing of children and not the artificial test targets of politicians and the league tables in the forefront of their thinking.
What we all do as an outcome of attending these festivals of education can matter. What we do collectively matters even more.
One of the first things we can do this year is choose who to vote for in the General Election, based in part on the policies outlined in the party manifestos. Some of us have even tried hard to work collectively to influence what goes into those manifestos.
Who knows? By the time we meet up at Wellington in the summer Gove and his legacy might have disappeared into obscurity. The new Secretary of State might have been persuaded that teachers know what they’re talking about, and we can be left to use the many valuable inputs from Festival Days to good effect – for the benefit of our children and young people.