And still we riseĀ 

‘And still we rise’ was the theme for #WomenEd’s third Unconference and we heard from two Northern powerhouses doing exactly that.
Counsellor and cabinet member, Jackie Drayton, our first keynote speaker inspired us all with her story as did Doncaster’s Chief Executive, Jo Miller; part of the only female elected leadership team in the UK.
Some themes emerged between these two female leaders which included strong role models and community activism. The stories spoke of women who understand their communities, are invested in the people they serve and want a better life for the next generation. Jackie Drayton reminded me that it is this type of campaigning, often unpaid, which can be the trigger for change in a society.
Both women talked about being influenced by those who did not have the privilege of being born into the advantage which supports success and scaffolds individuals when they falter. A school system wanting to improve social mobility is a worthwhile desire but how should this be done?
I was criticised earlier in the week for tweeting ‘Draconian behaviour policies are the new brain gym’ alluding to the ‘No excuses’ ethos taken from the US Charter schools and plonked into communities around the UK by a number of Multi-Academy Trusts (MATs). Like some sort of educational colonialism.
This is the opposite of community activism. Rather than building a culture change from within, an imported system is being imposed on schools which has no appreciation of context. The defence of Charter schools is that schools are in chaos, parents and communities are judged negatively and need to be told what to do. 
Lately, there has been a school which has hit the news for implementing a very strict policy but it is the community activism which comes from this which interests me. Some parents felt strongly enough to hold meetings, write to their MP and campaign for what they feel is wrong for their children in the local school. Granted some of the community might welcome a new system wanting what they believe will create better results for the next generation but creating conflict in a community is divisive and not a positive outcome.
How much more productive would it be I wonder for new systems to embrace the community rather than criticise it? The efforts shown in recent news by parent activists appealing against discrimination and unfair rules could have been channeled into improving the school from the ground up.
Jo Miller talked about context and making an impact with what you have through connection and collaboration. The time is over, she told us, for command and control. But I wonder in this new educational landscape if in certain areas of the country, at least, the latter is more the case.
In a community, Trusts should be finding the activists and encouraging a school to rise up from their own ashes not from the ashes of a system who communicate their values as ‘be like us’ rather than ‘let’s see what we can become together’.


Moving on…

I’m leaving my dream job. 

Literacy Co-ordinator for DASP (a partnership of 12 first, 3 middle and 1 upper school in the Dorchester Area). 

Running an alternative curriculum for students who come out with me on Tuesdays.

Teaching yr 9 mixed ability English. 

SLE for the Dorset Teacher School Alliance.

And base leader of our specialist, LA funded, provision for students with speech and language difficulties. 

I love every element of my job, the comprehensive, Thomas Hardye School. the staff and the students. 

Why am I leaving? I said to the Head recently that I was having cold feet and how I wasn’t sure I’d made the right decision. He wisely told me that staff who felt like this were usually the ones who had done the right thing and that it was the teachers moving on with no mixed feelings he worried about more. 

But, the nearer to the end of term it becomes, the sadder I’m feeling about saying goodbye to the students and staff. I am also realising however that I have made the right decision. Much as I adore my job, I spread myself thinly and never quite feel I am doing any of my roles justice. I now know from my involvement with #WomenEd that I can strive for more, that I don’t need to think ‘it would be better if…’. I can dare to keep searching until I am in an even better job. I wanted to be able to focus on a single idea without distractions; I wanted to make a national impact rather than just a school one and I think I’ve found the place to do that in. I have dared to say out loud exactly what I want to achieve and not be concerned that I may sound arrogant, or listen to the voices in my head saying ‘who do you think you are?’. I’m done settling for ‘pretty good’, I want ‘nearly perfect’.
I was invited to join an expert advisory group scrutinising training materials for The Driver Youth Trust (DYT) and was struck by the insistence on including SEND alongside literacy. Their non-profit making values which had one aim; to improve education for children with poor literacy made me want to work with the DYT  as I knew I could have an impact.

After Easter I begin my new role and it’s very exciting. I want to empower teachers in mainstream to support students who have literacy difficulties and get the message across that some simple adjustments to classroom teaching can remove complex barriers to learning. 

The Driver Youth Trust provide free resources on their website. I know as a teacher that ‘free’ is a welcoming word so please take a look. Let DYT know what you think and if there are resources or advice you need, contact us. We’re listening.