• Phoenix Education

My Open Letter to the Education Committee

I think there is little denial that there considerable struggles with the education system in England. Rising exclusions, increasing number of parents having to resort to tribunals to have their children’s needs met and increasingly diverse approaches to how to manage this. Simultaneously, there have been many claims that we are currently in the realms of a mental ill-health epidemic and I argue that this epidemic is having a fundamental impact on the lives of the children we work with. Behaviour is seen as being poorer with a culture of disrespect between teacher and pupil, on-going tensions between parents trying to fight for the needs of their child in the mucky world of SEN and people questioning how schools individually deal with misbehaviour.

In a recent edition, Schools Week published an open letter to the new members of the Education Select Committee. In the spirit of this, I (ask for this to be) published in the same vain, and I don’t necessarily agree on a number of fundamental points.

“People have bypassed the high priests and gatekeepers who previously preserved access to power and knowledge for themselves.

Whilst there have been growing interests in grassroots movements of teachers getting together to discuss education (BrewEd, BuffetEd, BrewsAP and a whole host of other hashtags to help you on your way) there are still significant issues with what is meant by knowledge and power. Yes ResearchEd has provided a platform for researchers to talk about research informed practice but alongside this is the distrust of research academics with the continual reiteration that they aren’t teachers. Additionally, whilst hold power and knowledge is all well and good, this is along the backdrop of less financial input for schools to be able to effectively managing resources in the education sea of diminishing monetary support.

I’m sure you’re all committed to diversity, but all too often it’s been easy to rely on the usual sort of unions, academics, business groups, quangos, charities, etc. They have the time and money specifically to employ people to do this, but there are so many more out there who have different views on things and are doing a great job. They don’t have the cash to employ lobbyists, or they’re too busy actually making a difference with kids to get in touch with you

Education is a vital part of our social system, and thus we must seek the views of many. That includes unions (aren’t they about employee rights?), academies (aren’t we talking about research informed practice?) and yes charities too. If we block out the voice of one group then we risk further marginalising those we are meant to support. Additionally, surely this is the way of bypassing the staffs of the high priests and jumping over the gates to have our voices heard?

It is no surprise that what I struggled most with the opinion offered here;

“You can also immunise yourself against the well-meaning but damaging ideas that abound in child development circles like “attachment theory” and “trauma-informed practice”

The opinion piece then goes to identify a number of books that the Education Select Committee should read. I don’t disagree, read, and read widely. Please read Tom Bennett’s work on Creating a Culture, whilst you are there join in with the #PRUbookclub where we have read the (evidenced based) The Boy who was Raised as a Dog by Bruce D. Perry and Maia Szalavitz. You will be most welcomed and will be joined by researchers, teachers, psychologists, doctors and other esteemed colleagues that want to learn more. Don’t immunise yourself against a range of ontologies, embrace them.

But beyond reading, make changes. Teachers are tired, head teachers are tired, parents are exhausted. Changes may make the fundamental difference in how our children achieve. Narrowing your perspectives by limiting your understanding of education and immunising against other approaches will only do your constituents, your communities, a disservice.