Curriculum Principles

Find me the teachers who went into the profession for the joys of bureaucracy. Find me the ones who entered the classroom excited at the prospect of ticking innumerable tracking grids and marking hundreds of books every week… Find me the ones.

With so much talk – and often noise – about the purpose of education, I’m led to agree with the growing group of teachers and school leaders who are challenged by the often too-narrow nature of our education system. Too narrow or, as many have told me, not enough focused on why we do what we do? Too often, in my experience, schools can tell you what they do, how they do it, but when it comes to justifying their reason for doing what they do, it becomes less clear.

Don’t get me wrong, there are some amazingly-driven schools whose visions are remarkable. There’ll be some too, however, that believe that the system we’ve created is fine, in spite of the growing number of teachers leaving the profession.

There’ll be many schools craving  for change; some that will increasingly find reassurance in the fact that an education of the Head, Heart, and Hand, as Peter Hyman and Liz Robinson call it, is (re)surfacing above the sea of nonsense our education system has become.

Teachers go into teaching to change lives. I certainly did. Exams and results – even Ofsted inspections – have their place, some will argue. They help, in some ways, to raise standards. They help children navigate through a system which is organised in a way whereby you’re more likely to thrive – at least at the moment – if you go to university or access a higher-level apprenticeship programme.

Are we, though, really going to enable our society to thrive if we only focus on that? Are we fully doing this when, day in, day out, we are confronted with political apathy: an apathy that leads us to be on the receiving end of society when, in fact, it should be part of our DNA to shape society for what we, collectively, believe it ought to be.

In spite of the political nature of many of our ‘dissatisfied’ discussions about the world we live in (whether it be on twitter, at the pub, in our staffrooms, etc.), it is clear that a large majority of the decisions which affect our lives are not decisions we made. Key decisions are made by others – call it the Westminster bubble, the ‘system’, the state, the market, or otherwise. You choose. As we’re not in charge – or believe we’re not in charge – we end up moaning and then giving up. What’s the point?

As a school leader, I often argue that the fact we don’t feel we can decide for ourselves, mostly, is because most of us – and therefore, in turn, most of the children we teach – have never won a campaign which has directly affected us and/or the lives of those who live around us. We therefore switch off. We don’t know what it’s like to be political and exercise our sense of agency. Sometimes we feel we have the energy to start something (like hashtaging an airline company for yet another delay, or baggage loss), but it ends up being a rant, not much else.

At my school, children often say that, in society, if you don’t know what you care about (the Heart), you won’t be called to action. If you don’t know how the world works (the Head), you’ll quickly be dismissed for not knowing what you’re talking about. If you don’t know how to shape a project and be tactical/pragmatic about what change(s) you want to see (the Hand), you may as well blow some sand against the wind but be sure that the wind will blow it back at you.

We need to learn to win. We need to teach our children to win.

If I had to stick my flag into the ground and claim what one of the key purposes of a good education is – however utilitarian it may sound – I’d say that ‘every child, by the time they leave school, should have worked with others to craft, and win, a campaign that has made their life, and that of their community, better.’

We’ll often say that it is a generation’s job to leave the world a better place for the next. And that means fighting the injustices we face in our lives, at local level, at a level we can actually influence directly.

I’m inspired by the young #Climate4Impact campaigners who’ve taken to the streets over the past few weeks but I’m worried that they’re not really thinking beyond their Hearts; they’re not really thinking about their campaigns strategically (Head and Hand). How does power work? How do exciting systems function, and who should we target, and how? These are questions which often remain unanswered, blurred by a sea of colourful banners and flags (see here for some similar thoughts).

An education of the Head, Heart, and Hand is an education which gives hope to our teachers and students. Furthermore – and perhaps most importantly – it is an education that is rooted in a clear understanding of our sense of place, our sense of agency, and the tactics that are needed to turn hopes into a reality.

Neil Jameson (who pioneered modern-day Community Organising here, in the UK), once said that it is not hope that leads to action; rather, it is action that gives rise to hope.

For this to work, action needs to be rooted in an understanding of the world we live in, its intricacies, its dynamics, and, more than often, its well-kept secrets. Without a clear understanding of the world we live in, we’ll never be able to be a world as it should be.

One of the purposes of education should be to teach our children how the world works beyond the secrets that are kept from us. It should be to enable our children to understand how things work so that they can have a real go, realising what victory tastes like, and passing on to others that appetite for change which, deep down, we all have.


This blog was inspired by Peter Hyman’s blog here.

I’m aware that I’ve generalised quite a few things here, particularly in terms of the reasons why teachers become teachers, but hey…