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The hitchhiker's guide to initiatives

Goldfish

Deciphering the ins and outs of Government initiatives is easy once you understand the language, says Rupert Tillyard.

Initiatives are an inevitable part of the huge and hungry DES, DfES, DCFS, LSC, LEA, LA, DIUS etc. There will never be an end to them. They will frequently be contradictory. Previous initiatives will inhibit new ones. Stop worrying. This is how to deal with them.

When a new initiative arrives do not, even for a moment, think it will help. That way it will be a pleasant surprise if it does. And remember just because an initiative is absolutely vital and crucial to children's ability to progress or succeed in any way doesn't mean it won't be completely ditched in 12 months time (eg key skills).

Many initiatives are old ideas repackaged with a yellow cover and a status. If you have just had an inspection and are not due for three years or so, place the initiative box, folders, DVDs, guidelines, inserts and letters on a shelf with a sticker with the date of its arrival on it and two years later put it on the top shelf.

If you are due for an inspection, ask someone to read it and produce a summary (do not send them to an LA course on it or they have no chance of understanding it), then form a working party to look at it. Ask them to do an audit of the school's work.

Hold a subject leaders' meeting and invite comments on (ie objections to) the ideas. Make an especially careful note of reasons why adopting it will damage present success. Stick a copy of these ideas in the folder.

When conducting this week's discussion with a SIP, visiting HMI, LA officer or link adviser and the initiative is mentioned, ascertain the person's view. Look for one of the following reactions:

a) God knows how they're are going to backtrack on this (eg voluntary MFL; AS levels)
b) Least said soonest mended (three-part lessons)
c) Roars of laughter (NOF training)
d) We're not too sure what's behind this (Leading Edge)
e) This is really a continuation of the previous idea (applied GCSEs, AVCEs, TVEI, CPVE)
f) Embarrassed sigh (Connexions)

If any if these occurs, you are okay to rubbish it to your heart's content. If you get the following:

g) Have you any good ideas on this (extended schools)
h) Look, sorry, I have to give in a report on how this is going (literacy). Then you can have a council of war together about how best to present ideas.

Watch out for the following:
i) We think this is going to be really helpful (SEAL)
j) This is very well embedded in some areas (work-related learning)
k) This will transform learning (AfL)

These reactions suggest the person is really keen or has to pretend to be - or is very new. For these cases wheel out your working party report, audit (say audit a lot), ask for case studies, nod, and mention a website (made up if need be).

In extremis say "Mrs X has really started working on this, you should talk to her", make a vague appointment and when it's firmed up send her on a course.

If you are struggling to find anything at all you've done or have never heard of the thing (Study Plus) then sigh heavily and say: "The trouble is all our energies are in getting through the Gateway/ changes in KS3/changes to AS and A2."

Previously you could have said: Vocational Toolkit/Review of Curriculum 2000. And in the future you'll be able to say: the diplomas relaunch/specialist subject teaching in KS3/University entrance baccalaureates.

There are, however, some exceptional circumstances. If an initiative is a new, useful idea that you think will help (introduction of GCSEs, Local Management of Schools, Dearing Review) or there is lots of money available (enterprise) you will want to discuss ways and means.

Or if the initiative happens to be something you wanted to do anyway, then you need a staff meeting, a Powerpoint and a serious voice to make it clear that this is something we have to do and will be inspected on and the senior team/governors/parents/sponsors are very keen to see it happen.

These tactics should leave you time to organise your budget; employ and develop good staff; arrange the curriculum to enable students to gain the qualifications they need and want; talk to the staff about their teaching; keep in contact with businesses, HE, and parents; and try to provide the pathways pupils need to live happy and useful lives.

Finally, when the initials signifying the ministry change again, ditch anything with the set of initials before last.

Rupert Tillyard is an assistant head in Yorkshire.


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