Conference: Creating happy, productive schools

Henry Stewart's picture
Imagine a school where staff are energised and motivated by being in control of the work they do. Imagine they feel valued, in the school and beyond, for their professional expertise. Imagine they are trusted and given freedom, within clear guidelines, to decide how to achieve results. Imagine even that they are not snowed under by workload but have a decent work-life balance. Wouldn't you want to work there?

This has not been the direction schools have been going in. But perhaps, with the election looming, this is a time to say that another way is possible. As my colleague Fiona Millar has written, perhaps the education issue should be Trust.

Next week we are holding a conference for school leaders, with the Guardian Professional Network, to hear from inspirational headteachers who believe that the culture of schools can be different:

Creating happy and productive workplaces in schools

Friday 13th March, 9am-1pm, Kings Place, London. More here
And its free!
To register, contact: great.workplaces@theguardian.comYou must register in advance to be able to attend

Speakers include Tim Brighouse, Fiona Millar, Tom Sherrington, Chris Holmwood and Sir Alisdair McDonald

Can we create a democratic school culture, based on learning and reflection rather than an autocratic one, based on teaching and direction? How can we encourage creativity and innovation, and step away from a top-down approach? How can we create the schools we believe in rather than those we bleive Ofsted want to see? How can we build an educational cultures based on collaboration, trust and support?

What do teachers think?

A survey of over 5,000 teachers in advance of the event found widespread dis-satisfaction:

98% agree that students learn better if teachers are happy
- but only 39% feel happy at work

97% believe their teaching is better when they feel trusted
- but less than one in three feel trusted at work

Is it time for change? Is it time to move away from a focus on school structure and prescription and towards creating great school cultures, to enable the best possible learning? Feel free to come and find out how. Let's try to change the nature of the debate around education.
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Leah K Stewart's picture
Fri, 06/03/2015 - 09:40

Hi there, I can't attend but I do have something I'd like to say to the teachers who do attend and I've posted it as an open letter on my blog:

The underlying message is that students need teachers to put themselves first. I've also asked a few questions about what would happen if the things causing stress for the teaching profession and students (party politics, ofsted, qualifications) disappeared tomorrow. Are we prepared with an alternative?

Would love to hear thoughts and I welcome guidance from this network.

Roger Titcombe's picture
Fri, 06/03/2015 - 17:36

Leah - I wrote my book, 'Learning Matters' partly to try to answer your questions. Part 5 is called, 'What is Good Education and how is it different?'

What all the sections in this Chapter have in common is the need for a culture like that that which Henry sets out in order for them to work.

The following is a short extract from Section 5.9, 'Individual Personal Development not a Tyranny of Testing'.

" Local Education Authorities should be re-established, liberated, educated, empowered and encouraged to promote cognitively stimulating learning in all their schools. London Mayor Boris Johnson has stated he wants control of the London education system. He is right to recognise the need for locally administered schools. The Learning Trust in Hackney provides an example from which a start could be made.

The few remaining ex-LEA Education Department staff with knowledge and experience that have survived the era of ‘Children’s Services’ reorganisation and the current cull of public sector employees should be attached to local school consortia to facilitate such shared work with more such experts trained and recruited.

The disbanding of the Academies and Free School Division of the DfE would result in a multi £billion saving to the taxpayer that could be redirected for support of locally managed school improvement within a reformed culture.

University Schools of Education should again take a leading role informed by truly independent research. With competition between schools replaced by co-operation across schools (as has begun in Hackney) a start could also at last be made on restoring the sadly lost professionalism of teachers, which must be rooted in an appropriate degree of peer moderated classroom autonomy with regard to teaching methods, rather than ‘operative’ type ‘delivery’ of externally imposed initiatives.

Only this, not performance related pay or ‘fast tracking’, will attract top graduates from the best universities back into a teaching profession with the necessary restored status.

Craig Hewitt's picture
Fri, 06/03/2015 - 17:01

Sounds interesting Henry and I'd like to sign up but the link doesn't seem to be working

Roger Titcombe's picture
Fri, 06/03/2015 - 17:45

Fiona's article is excellent. You are right that a fundamental culture change is needed. It will be interesting to see how much agreement will be found at the Conference. I suspect it will be a lot, once again pointing up the disconnect between the current political paradigm with its uncritical reflection in the mainstream media and an emerging consensus amongst teachers and educationalists.

This is another powerful argument for establishing a National Educational Commission to take politics out of the nation's schooling.

Henry Stewart's picture
Sun, 08/03/2015 - 19:21

Craig. Great to hear from you. Apologies about that. The link should be working now.

John Mountford's picture
Fri, 06/03/2015 - 22:15

Excellent, a really thought-provoking piece throughout. Well done Henry for kicking this off, terrific article from Fiona and very interesting links and comments. Taking Henry's final point, "Let’s try to change the nature of the debate around education." I'm beginning to feel that this will not take place until teachers take greater responsibility for their profession. Leah expresses something similar when she says, 'teachers need to put themselves first.'

What may be missing in the debate about education is an acknowledgement from politicians that schools (like all places where people congregate with mutual intent) are made or marred by how effectively leadership builds trust and nurturing relationships in a respectful environment. But they will not come to this without help.

In a Sutton Trust blog, 'Trust me, school culture counts,' Lee Elliott Major, referring to the Sutton Trust's report, 'What Makes Great Teaching', mentions the fact that the website received 50,000 hits following its publication. He suggests this might be because the report has "tapped into the huge appetite among teachers to reflect on the core business of improving teaching."

On reflection about the task of creating a culture of trust, Major says, "What I don’t know is how from a national policy perspective you enable this to happen across an entire school system, and particularly for schools in the most challenging circumstances." Teachers will have to play a significant part if this is to happen.

I am confident we can make the most promising start to achieving this nationally and creating for teachers a more propitious environment going forward by transforming the governance of education, see Roger's comment, 06/03/15 at 5:45 pm.
And -

But I fear teachers will not be able to play their full part until the representative professional bodies do more than they are at present to unite in calling for an end to the present political manipulation of education policy. The official opposition, Parliament itself and the media are all failing to stem the rot of mistrust and accountability fever. Maybe if teachers' leaders created a new 'culture of trust' for their members, they would find the courage to resist in sufficient numbers and ways to bring this debate to the public's attention. Maybe, Leah, if this were to happen through an alliance with students, it would turn the tide. Now, there's a thought!!

Leah K Stewart's picture
Sat, 07/03/2015 - 16:12

Be careful about putting hopes on student support so early in this game. Teacher's have not yet got allies in the student body. This is because, for too long, students have been forced by teachers into doing what teachers themselves don't believe in. So students shoot the messenger and teachers bite back.

If it's teacher exhaustion that's stopping this from beginning then sort this one out first. Start with individual teachers going as far as they can to reduce time spent on anything they don't truly believe is in-line with why they teach. Change takes strength, strength comes from good nights of sleep. This, I would suggest, is the starting point for any teacher interested in being part of this movement. Students will turn a wave into a tide, but they'll skate all over a frozen lake.

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