“Better to remain silent and be thought a fool than to speak out and remove all doubt”. Abraham Lincoln
“A fool thinks himself to be wise, but a wise man knows himself to be a fool.”
William Shakespeare, Touchstone, As You Like It
‘That, of course, is the great secret of the successful fool – that he is no fool at all.’
Isaac Asimov, Guide to Shakespeare.
Are Teachmeets all they’re cracked up to be? Buzzwords abound around their ‘grass-roots’, ‘bottom-up’, ‘trailblazing’ and ‘ground-breaking’ nature. Big claims are made for their potential to transform or even revolutionise education. My sceptical instinct is to see them as the froth on the surface of the ocean, while far below the surface, deeper currents drive education forward.
The Brighton teachmeet last weekend, run by the Education Foundation and Labour Teachers, was the first one I’ve attended. A ceremonial first XI team of top education bloggers was assembled by Ian Fordham & Ty Goddard: John Tomsett, Tom Sherrington, Ros McMullen (all headteachers from the Headteacher’s Roundtable), David Weston (CEO, Teacher Development Trust), teachers Chris Waugh (founder of blogsync), Janet Colledge, Emma Hardy, Ashley Harold, Joe Ambrose and Mark Anderson – the ‘glitterati of the Twitterati’ brought together by (and including) Labour Teacher founders John David Blake and John Taylor. Anonymous bloggers Andrew Old, Tessa Matthews and Redorgreenpen stealthily located themselves in the audience, with less anonymous edublogger Kris Boulton alongside. Shadow Education Secretary Stephen Twigg attended and surprisingly spent almost three hours listening to teachers and headteachers. All this seemed like a golden opportunity to test the idea that education bloggers might in any way affect education policy.
So here is a one-sentence summary of what was suggested.
Ty Goddard urged teachers to seize the mantle of innovation in education.
Mark Anderson evangelised about ICT and social media, telling us that not a day goes by where he doesn’t learn something new on Twitter, and that teachers can learn much from the experts – their students.
Ros McMullen diagnosed the problem as a broken exam system that will remain so, as long as we continue to confuse the two purposes of assessment: mastery and differentiation.
David Weston showed us how ITT is prioritised over CPD, and that collaborative practice, standards, career progression ladder and peer observations are the paths towards improving teacher quality.
Helene O Shea and Kev Bartle opened up the black box between accountability and autonomy, mentioning alliances research and CPD, as well as exam boards, PRP and OFSTED.
Emma Hardy urged teachers to look to each other, but that to be innovative, extra unnecessary testing needs to be removed from primary schools.
John Tomsett said Twitter and blogging have the potential to engender an education spring, a civilization of the mind in cyberspace; and that policy-making from the bottom up is gaining traction, as the story of the Headteachers’ Roundtable shows.
Janet Colledge said that education is about two things – how to make a living and how to live – that we should all know that you can get a University degree from an apprenticeship – and urged us to get work experience back into Key Stage 4.
John Taylor suggested three policy proposals aimed at tackling the gaming of admissions, increasing the quantity and quality of applicants in to teaching and narrowing the gap in University admissions.
Tom Sherrington said that an English Baccalaureate to match the IB is within our reach, both affordable and doable; he has launched a trial in 13 schools.
Chris Waugh gave us a glimpse of what he does when the government isn’t watching: innovative technology combined with student speaking and listening.
Joe Ambrose suggested a policy caucus of grassroots teacher groups and asked what the point was of learning facts when we could teach information literacy.
Ashley Harold used the analogy of Plato’s Cave for school leadership, and said there was no universal correct way to teach.
I then foolishly spoke against the grain about how knowledge, memory and practice could improve the curriculum, assessment and teacher training.
John David Blake asked what happens next and urged us to shape and guide education policy; he introduced Stephen Twigg and said he was listening to the profession.
Stephen Twigg talked about the tension between change and stability; he was asked a question by Emma Hardy (amongst others) on PRP, and replied that he was not against it full stop, but that we needed a proper national framework and flexibility.
I spoke to Stephen Twigg briefly afterwards. I should have asked him whether he read any education blogs. The current education secretary does, mentioning several education bloggers in his speeches, from Tom Bennett and Andrew Old to Daisy Christodolou and Matthew Hunter. Next time, I will ask Mr Twigg this question. Until both education ministers and shadow education ministers read education blogs regularly, I think it unlikely that education blogs will influence policy in any enduring way. But I do hear the message from John Tomsett and blogging and social networking has the potential to change teaching.
As for the chances of teachmeets affecting education policy, I remain sceptical. The final match result of the first outing of the select first Twitterati XI was 0-0, a goalless draw between teachers and politicians. Man of the match was Tom Sherrington for making a concrete proposal that he is piloting across schools. And there was at least one spectacular own goal, though as it was 0-0 it must have been disallowed by the referee.
For my part, teachmeets still feel a bit liked pooled foolishness. Then again, when the status quo is quite so foolish as it currently is, perhaps there is some wisdom in holding a mirror up, and seeing just how foolish we are. And just as fools have a role to play in foolishly speaking truth to power in Shakespearian theatre, perhaps we have a role to play in foolishly speaking truth to power in education, too. That, perhaps, is the secret of the successful fool.
I have been to a few teachmeets (non political). I even presented at one (Heresy, I know!).
I think they do serve a purpose in terms of shared knowledge.
Not as long as an INSET day programme/workshop but long enough to spark curiosity and seeing teachers take away some good stuff to help with their teaching.
Does it affect educational policy? I never ever saw it that way.
As part of CPD? Well some of the presentations I saw around behaviour, teaching and learning were priceless even for me as an outside educator 🙂
Hi Joe, you say, “My sceptical instinct is to see them as the froth on the surface of the ocean, while far below the surface, deeper currents drive education forward.” Yes. The Govt. listens to the Teacher Voice, but takes no notice. It is therefore better to go forward relentlessly keeping to our philosophy about what great education is – any minister who has read any Deming books or subscribe to Vanguard/Systems Thinking and continues to plough their target-led culture is misguided and lacking in any creativity to change the status quo. If OfSTED were to visit the DFE it would comment that there is too much DFE talk at the teachers and not enough group work to enable the teachers to learn for themselves. Thanks.
“Teachmeets still feel a bit like pooled foolishness”. What? From a representative sample of one? Or do you specialise in generalisations?
Joe. Not trying to be negative but…..that wasn’t what I’d call a teachmeet actually so perhaps you should simply call it what it was: a politically motivated chatroom which will not change a thing unless they speak to both sides of the argument and dump Fiona Millar and the other Guardian ‘experts’ who are using them to snipe at the Government. Funny how so many parents agree with Mr Gove….
A teachmeet is teachers sharing good practice, things they do and have seen in class which they think will help and enthuse others. A party rally such as this appears to be doesn’t enthuse nor does it add to the learning as real teachmeets do.
I attended one last Wednesday as part of the Scottish Learning Festival. we covered everything from S1/2 Literacy for Boys (Year 7/8), software to help planning, audio websites, the Cambridge Tutorial (which helped a failing student teacher succeed), Open Badges, child poverty and how students created films to highlight it in their schools, film clubs for helping literacy, copyright and digital leaders. Phew! 70-odd teachers gave up their Wednesday night (not all were at the SLF anyway) and having also had roundtables discussions about curriculum, English set texts etc They went away enthused and the feedback has been great. A BIG difference to the party rally? Regards. David
Go8English – actually I don’t think it was a party rally at all. I was there in my PX hat as part of he Labour fringe and was worried it would turn out to be like a meeting of the old and the cynical from the party and / or a lot of agitators. Actually I can away really inspired. And more to the point, I agree with what an awful lot of speakers (including Joe, but also Ros and both John’s from Labour Teachers) said – so hardly a left wing rally!
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I am genuinely surprised that such strong comments have been made on a movement based on what appears to have been a fairly unique Teachmeet. Particularly when Teachmeets are taking place in so many different ways and using different formats.
I have attended some which have changed the way in which I have approached my teaching, others which have given me reason for deep thought and others where I have been fortunate to meet people who challenge my way of working or point me in the direction of research or new ideas.
I was surprised that the Teachmeet was described as such when I read much of what was being said but to use that event as a chance to criticise the whole concept seems disingenuous and agenda driven.
Thanks for the post Joe it was great to see you involved!
I agree with the above comments about representative samples. As we’ve seen with the “introduction to the bell curve” posts recently, you’d find that the Labour TM was some significant standard deviations away from the mean. I prefer to think of teachmeets as being the “Do you know what Gove? We’re gonna do this whatever you say….” kind of event and whilst not by themselves being ‘the change’, they’re certainly part of a catalyst for change for our profession, sanctioned by Whitehall or not.
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