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Turbulent times

24/2/17: This week we welcome our Deputy Head (Academic), Dr David James, who explains why we are hosting our inaugural Education Summit later this year.

We live in turbulent times. Every day seems to carry a strapline of ‘what fresh hell is this?’ And the politicians, who are charged by the public to provide answers, seem at best stunned into inaction by the speed of events or, worse, actively conniving to make things more chaotic. WB Yeats’s lines from The Second Coming seem especially apposite at this moment in time:

The best lack all conviction, while the worst

Are full of passionate intensity.

It is easy to see how prosaic matters, such as education, slip down the Government’s To Do list. But I have argued elsewhere that, for schools, there is only one thing worse than a busy, conviction-led Secretary of State at the Department for Education, and that is not having one. And there is no doubt that ever since Michael Gove was defenestrated by a Prime Minister who wanted to win the last election, schools occupy fewer headlines, and probably take up less discussion time in cabinet, than they used to. 

This can lead to drift, and drift in turn can lead to uncertainty, which in turn can store up problems for society in the future, because the issues affecting schools (such as academic underachievement or poor behaviour) are rarely contained behind the school gate. There are worrying trends developing in the maintained sector: it is estimated that four out of ten newly qualified teachers leave the profession within their first year of teaching; at the other end of the career ladder there is a retention crisis, with record numbers of headteachers stepping down, or taking early retirement. With so much talk about the crisis in the NHS this winter it is understandable that the challenges facing schools are overlooked, but they are there, and this is something that the National Funding Formula seems to be exacerbating, with some headteachers warning of a ‘bleak’ future for schools. 

You will no doubt have noticed that I have decided not to discuss new GCSEs, with their still-to-be understood new grading system, as well as the death of AS examinations and the new, more rigorous A level with high-stakes terminal examinations that nobody, including our more selective universities, has total faith in. 

It would be easy to be cynical. But of course there is much good happening in schools: students continue to excel beyond their own expectations, and regardless of what happens to the courses they study, or how they are assessed, thousands of inspiring, committed teachers will continue to do their best for the young people they teach. Public trust in teachers is second only to doctors (and considerably higher than politicians and estate agents, which is reassuring). To paraphrase George Eliot, it is because of the ‘unhistoric acts’ that teachers do every day that the ‘growing good of the world’ is added to. Or I like to think so anyway. 

In such a climate we felt it appropriate to run an event that addressed some of the major issues facing schools today. And so, on 7 June, Bryanston is hosting its first Education Summit, which will bring together some of the most influential and knowledgeable voices in education today. Among those speaking is Lucy Crehan, whose book, Cleverlands, has been rightly praised as providing us with a startlingly clear insight into how teachers in other national systems achieve outstanding results with their students. It has been described as ‘audacious’, but mandatory reading for all those designing future education policy. Other contributors include Professor Dylan Wiliam, a seminal figure in education, consulted by leading companies, universities, and governments. There are few who know more about teaching than Dylan. And he is joined by Professor AC Grayling, one of this country’s leading intellectuals and academics. Toby Young and Claire Fox are also going to be asking difficult questions, and no doubt provoking strong responses. Other confirmed speakers, such as Ian Fordham, Microsoft’s Director of Education, will be focusing on the role of technology in the classroom; and others will be discussing the importance of partnerships to schools, and new developments in teaching and learning. 

Why run an event like this, especially at the end of a tiring term? Because we believe that by bringing people together from across the education sector, to establish new connections, we can begin to find solutions to issues that affect everyone involved. It would be easier to not do this, to sit back and passively accept the slings and arrows hurled at us daily by opinion-formers and policy-makers, or to hunker down, and retreat into a bubble, hoping that the changes happening will sweep over us, leaving us untouched. Both approaches are unwise, especially as there are challenges and issues for all schools, including those like Bryanston. Both are also inimical to Bryanston’s ethos which actively promotes in its pupils an active engagement with the world around them. It is better to shape the debate than to be talked over and ignored.

This is not an event for teachers only: it is for everyone, including parents, who are interested in education today. Do join us, and take part in the debate. 

For more information visit www.bryanston.co.uk/educationsummit.