“The individual has always had to struggle to keep from being overwhelmed by the tribe. If you try it, you will be lonely often, and sometimes frightened but no price is too high to pay for the privilege of owning yourself.” Friedrich Nietzsche
You are looking at a picture of the sun setting. At first glance all appears to be normal. The sun is present, there are some clouds in the sky and yet something is not quite right. You look again and notice that there is no colour. The picture is a contrast of dark and light greys. The vibrancy of the sun has been replaced by a dull grey. The landscape looks bleak and the clouds are a drab colour. There is detail within the picture but the beauty of the moment is lost.
This picture represents the Governments view of education – learning that can be brilliant and vibrant is replaced by a diet of almost exclusively Maths, English and SPAG. A diet lacking in diversity, richness and full colour. If it were a sound quality it would be mono when it could be in full dolby stereo sound. The core subjects are important and indeed vital for children in the future but they are not the only thing they need to learn. There is so much more and yet there is a problem. Many schools are paralysed by a fear to conform and in following the Government rhetoric they are doing a huge disservice to the children who attend them. Education is not about tests, it is not about stuffing children with information, it is not about getting things right all of the time, it is not about SATS (and retaking them in Y7 if you ‘fail’ them in Y6), it is not about a fronted adverbial. Education is about taking risks, failing, learning from mistakes, trying new things, gaining experiences that you wouldn’t normally, stepping outside of your comfort zone, developing resilience, developing character, achieving more than anyone ever expected you could, and above all is else it is about being excited to learn.
Education is currently at a cross roads and we can go one of two ways; we can follow the safe path which is the Government line and implement everything they suggest in just the way they want or we can take the other path. The other path is much riskier. It is a path of non conformity. This path means that we disregard the Government stance on education because we know it is wrong and instead follow what we know to be right and yet we also acknowledge that children need to meet certain standards. Personally, I went into education to help children become brilliant and talented adults who do not worry about fitting a social stereotype but set out to create their version of the world in whatever way that looks like. To do this children need to be exposed to the wonder of learning. They need to know that they are all talented at something. They need to know that things they find challenging can be things that they succeed in if they work hard enough at them. They need to know that there is no such thing as failure if you learn from where you went wrong. They need to know that some of the most successful people in the world ‘failed’ at school and yet were still huge successes and this was because of their mindset.
I am fortunate enough to be the leader of a school with a remarkable group of staff who believe in giving children vibrant learning experiences that will stay with them for the rest of their lives. There is a culture of non conformity where staff and children break the rules and takes risks because they know this leads to great learning. We want children to be different and not the same. Every child at Robin Hood Academy, from Nursery to Y6, learns Mandarin – we could teach easier foreign languages but we believe this one sets them up best for the future. We open the school up to all parents for the first half an hour of the day in what we call ‘Independence Time’ – why keep the parents out when they can come in and learn with their child? We spend thousands of pounds each year working with Birmingham Rep because we know that a child performing a play or script gains so much more than just reading it. We’ve had the Mona Lisa in school and it was stolen! Ok, it wasn’t the real Mona Lisa but the children thought it was (we even had security guards guarding it) and the writing opportunities that came out of that were incredible. Our Y4 children were learning about the Viking diet and, rather than just reading about it, our creative teachers made up some Viking faeces (which included peas, fish bones and other items) and the children had to wear gloves to dissect it. That is real learning because no one remembers a boring lesson but who forgets the day they dissected a Viking turd? Our Y5 children were learning about space and rather than reference books and the internet alone, the staff wanted to push the boundaries and so they sent a weather balloon up to the edge of space with a rocket on it which was designed by our children and built using a 3D printer – we also put all the children’s photographs into it so that we made them all astronauts (for more information on this read here).
The point I’m making here is not that Robin Hood Academy is perfect because no school is but at a time when school’s are restricting their curriculums we are rebelling and growing ours and we are only at the beginning. I am not interested in the term ‘outstanding’. It is a term bounded around by OFSTED. I want Robin Hood to be a ‘flagship’ school which means that it is at the cutting edge of education and trying things that others deem not possible or too risky. That is what education is about. It is about doing what is right and more than ever we need schools to trust in themselves, cast off the shackles and actively rebel. Leading a school into non conformity is a risk but it is a much bigger risk to follow the same old trodden path and do nothing to engage our children. If we want to show our children how to succeed then we need to model taking risks ourselves.