Leader magazineASCL - Association of School and College Leaders

Smooth operators?

Beware of the curlers and sweepers in your schools and colleges, says John Morgan.

Winter overstayed its welcome this year. Yes, it provided us with a picturesque Christmas and New Year. And once the worries leading up to the decision to close the school were set aside, for many there was the added bonus of a day or two more away from snowballing students.

But enough was more than enough. Therefore, it was with a wry smile that we watched as the Canadians transported snow by the truckload onto the ski slopes above Vancouver in order to stage the Winter Olympics.

Try though I may, I am always unable to resist the draw of curling, the ice rink's answer to shove ha'penny. I fear this may presage a retirement playing bowls rather than golf! And it is the sweepers who really grab my attention, as they brush the ice ahead of the stone, smoothing its progress towards the target, resting when all seems well, only to return to sweeping with renewed vigour should momentum be lacking or direction need adjusting.

Beware the 'curling' parents, who believe that they are doing their very best for their offspring by trying to ensure that all obstacles to a smooth and happy progress through life are removed. They are able to glide effortlessly to their target, often chosen by same curling parents.

To be fair, most parents have a better grip on life's realities than this but the minority who don't can certainly make up for the majority's good sense. We all welcome and value parental involvement in education, but not when it is one-sided and blinkered.

Beware also the 'curling' teacher: I fear that we have all developed an element of this. With an education system possessing a level of data on its learners, schools and colleges which is the envy of the world - and an over-elaborate testing and examination system to provide most of that data - is it any wonder that we are guilty of doing everything we can to make sure our stones reach their individual targets, our teams their collective ones?

Find me a staffroom where there has not been voiced the concern: "I am just spoon-feeding my students through to A level."

But there is hope. Personal learning and thinking skills are finding a place in many a school's reshaped Key Stage 3 curriculum - and in some it is a central one.

Although still early days, and paused in some cases because of the political uncertainties, there are a growing number of examples of students enthusiastically engaging with the principal lines of diploma learning, enjoying the flexibilities and flourishing in problem-solving teams.

The extended project is being welcomed right across the sector, not so much for its grades and UCAS tariff points but for its process, adding a new and much-needed dimension to students' development.

But please, let us not be tempted to 'curl' these vitally important skills. Higher education and employers are crying out for creativity and imagination; for energy, enthusiasm and adaptabilty; for problemsolvers and teamworkers.

The danger is that politicians may wish to measure these outputs and, rather than give professionals the space to develop them and trust us to know when we have done so, they will be tested, examined and graded and we will all be rushing for our 'sweepers' again.

John Morgan

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