Being a Headteacher of some twenty-five years standing I have seen government initiatives come and go with a seemingly viagra induced rapidity. Having been a disciple of John Abbott for many years and a supporter of the 21st Century Learning Initiative for many seasons I read John’s new book Overschooled but Undereducated with such joy. It succintly puts together the vision he has been evolving for many years. I found myself repeatedly expleating “Yes” at the end of each page.
Given that stories are the best way to learn I want to share one with you now. I will leave you to reflect upon the implications. It is, of course, completely true.
Ofsted and the Magic Bean Stalk : Why not to be afraid of Giants
Once upon a time, many years ago, there was a headteacher who found himself sitting in a hot and stuffy conference centre listening to someone saying something important and which even made sense! (As you might imagine this was a very radical and new experience, directly equivalent to that delightful moment when Jack was given the Beans for the Magic Bean Stalk.)
John Abbott was the speaker and he said cunning and tricky things like, “children are individuals, learning has many styles, you should make it intrinsic and fun” Then, as full consciousness returned the Headteacher said to himself ,”What is the National Curriculum doing for my school?” A tricky one this. Finally he arrived at the conclusion “not a lot.” Oh, unless you include taking away our individuallity, the power to think and the ability to meet the learning needs of individual pupils. Then he thought, “Is that really what the government wants?
I might be better off with some Magic Beans!”
Then, in a whirl of activity the Headteacher re-thought what he thought a school should be.
He even discussed it with his staff,
even the teachers,
worst of all he discussed it with the pupils and parents!
It seemed that some strange and new thing was beginning.
“Good those Magic Beans”,
“Male menopause,” someone observed sagely.
But this Headteacher was strangely in motion.
He wandered and wondered and wandered.
Up and down the school corridors,
In and out of classrooms
Up and down the internet.
And all the time mumbling to himself “Good those Magic Beans, just the thing……”
“I want children to have a say in what they do,”
“I want them to be immersed in work, like a hobby”
“I don’t want to call it work….I want it to be more like play!”
And he didn’t stop saying it.
And it wasn’t male menopause (necessarily)
and he wouldn’t retire.
“We’ve got to fix this,” he said, spade in hand and looking for fertile soil.
And the strange thing was that many on his staff began to agree with him. And they too had the magic beans and the spades.
“Why can’t we have fun as well?” they asked. “Let’s be like children and play at our learning and be brave with exciting new topics.”
“You can!” said the Headteacher, realising that they now had as many Magic Beans as him.
“Will there be check lists and targets?” they asked darkly.
“Only if you want them” he replied in a strange and wistful way wondering if Leanardo Da Vinci had a learning objective for when he invented the parachute.
Anyway, just thinking it meant that Leonardo’s Bean Stalk was growing right down to the present. That was quite a bean.
After many trials and tribulations, (and lots of fun and thinking) a new school was born. It was still in the midst of an area of social deprivation. It was still made of the same bricks. The teachers looked much the same, and so did the pupils and parents. But there were green shoots everywhere, and rainforest leaves translucent green overhead. And there were magic thinking beans in every nook and cranny. Even in the staffroom. Even in the Loo where teachers were found discussing learning theory.
“IMD Group 4” warned those from outside who knew about the magic spells of ‘Raiseonline’ and ‘Panda’ and ‘Performance Review, ‘ and the dreaded ‘Ofsted Monster.’ But not about how faerie stories really do come true…if you want them hard enough.
The new school shunned the National Curriculum with its closed questions and rigid expectations. “There’s no space for children in this” everyone said. They found something called The International Primary Curriculum. A curriculum full of excitement and practical things to do. They learnt about the Circus. And then one came to their field. MAGIC!
“Amazing what you can do when you think for yourself “. said the caretaker. “You should be a senior advisor” said the Headteacher. “No” said the caretaker, “I like working in education too much.”
Year 4 found out about the planets. A topic on Chocolate followed. Then one on Transport where the children turned the school hall into an airport lounge and all went on holiday. (they were back in time for the parents to pick them up at three!) What a good day that was!
And so it was that many children wrote things, and painted things and made things.
One glider went the length of the school hall. “Don’t fly it! It might get broke” one little girl warned. “But flying is what it’s for” said the teacher. “Like thinking is what your brain’s for” observed Megan our eight year old philosopher.
“Magic Beans, Magic Beans,” murmured the Headteacher just as the hot air balloon nearly carried him away…
It was all so exciting. All the children came to school every day. Even when they were ill they bullied their parents to let them come in. “oh just for the afternoon..oh go on mum”. Kids today…I don’t know.