An eminent colleague I chat to every few months dropped me an email suggesting I might enjoy a brief chat with Liz Robinson and Peter Hyman of Big Education. I must admit I had never heard of Big Education but, in order to keep my eminent colleague happy, I agreed to chat virtually to Liz.
There are times when you start chatting to someone and it all sort of flows. That isn’t to suggest that you agree with everything they say but you are aware that you have much in common and are generally in agreement. The chat with Liz went along these lines. She explained what Big Education was trying to achieve and how its origins were interlinked with a relatively small multi academy trust in London and that it was trying to help senior leaders get to grips with delivering a different sort of education. A bolder, more expansive and inclusive approach that was driven by ‘head, hand, heart’.
Liz made clear that, in her opinion there had been too much emphasis on the academic element of education policy in recent years and that other, vitally important aspects, relating to skill, emotion, creativity and enjoyment had sadly been driven out by various governments. Spookily, I was halfway through reading David Goodhart’s excellent book called ‘Head, hand, heart’ and was finding much that I agreed with. Anyway, the 30 minute initial chat grew to an hour and we agreed that I would consider approaching individuals and groups I was connected with to see if they were interested in a chat with Liz.
I’m not a great salesman so I was nervous about approaching some of the colleagues. I had not been involved in the programme personally so I would not be able to offer much background other than having an interesting chat with someone I had never met in person. I found that when I spoke to colleagues in the North of England there was a real appetite for a different, more collaborative approach that was not driven by central government. These colleagues, many leaders of outstanding schools had grown tired of ‘silver coated southern bullets’ as one of them put it fired by the DfE. They were keen to discuss how they might be able to collaborate with like-minded colleagues across the North using the Big Education framework.
Following these initial discussions, I was invited by Liz to be a panellist at a major virtual event last week involving many North East school leaders and academics. I wasn’t quite sure what to expect but once again I found myself surrounded by educationalists committed to collaboration and equity. I haven’t viewed the recording of the discussion yet, but I do recall saying something like ‘we have created a web of failure’ within the system when I tried to explain how it must feel for students unable to achieve the Grade 4 in English and mathematics. At a time when the country requires everyone to pull together, we have established an examination system that syphons off many young people into inappropriate study and career routes simply because they may have missed an examination grade by 1 point. Crazy!
I am keen to try and establish a cohort of Northern colleagues who are keen to embark on a Big Education journey. I should add here that I’m not paid by Big Education or seek any personal benefit. I am just enthused by their approach and believe others in the North will be as well.