Nothing Else MATters

This week I did something awful.

My body clock woke me up in a blind panic on Friday, and I had dreamt I was late for work so in the instant I woke up – in a cloud of delirium – I ran to my housemate’s bed, got her by the shoulders and said

“Quick, it’s 7:20!”

She did a slight scream and then literally vomited in shock. Actual vomit came out. She grabbed her phone in a panic, saw the actual time and told me it was 5:15. I apologised and immediately returned to bed, ashamed and aware of how much penance I would need to show in the morning.

What is the link between this sorry domestic episode and the title of this blog? Well when I heard about universal academisation I felt much like my housemate did at 5:15 on Friday: blindsided, aghast and I done a (metaphorical) sick in my mouth.

Tory has become the new neutral, it seems.

Academisation, started by Labour yes, but in a much different incarnation, is to become the compulsory norm. The forced option. The choice that isn’t.

My values and vision in education are not at a ‘system-level’ – I believe in schools creating critical informed citizens who leave with a sense of hopefulness about their capacity to work hard and make society better, through curiosity, collaboration and commitment. The curricula, pedagogies and values that would bring this about could be fostered in a comprehensive, an academy, a private school or a free school.

Whilst I am not pro-Academy, I saw a lot of good at Wroxham Academy and King Solomon Academy, and whilst I am not pro-Free Schools, I see incredible work going on at School 21.

At the same time though, I have an inborn aversion to the looming presence of market forces in education; whilst I am not blind to the fact that schools need money, I always have in the back of my mind the awareness that businesses – as corporate entities – can only function effectively through making some kind of profit. So whilst I don’t doubt, for example, Lord Harris’s personal commitment to education (much), the fact that his commitment take on the form of an ever expanding mega-trust leaves me in a state of eyebrow-raisedness.

Where MATs are mutually-supportive local schools working collaboratively to pool resources, advantages, knowledge and expertise, that could work I suppose. Like an Local Authority, almost… Or like Teaching School Alliances, which already exist, also.

When MATs are like watching this week’s top dog swallow its neighbours, until the seemingly inevitable fraudulence/finance/governance/outsourcing scandal hits, the lead school has a crap Ofsted and then everyone is back on the Tarmac looking out for the new swaggering vultures to give them a right royal pecking … that is not sustainable or good.

When MATs are a conduit for egotistical CEOs, pulling out their heaving schools portfolio in the way I used to whip out my massive block of Pokemon cards or my enviable cadre of metallic Pogs, I can see how teachers, pupils, teaching and learning could get lost in the equation if leaders get carried away with the whole ‘we are business people’ thing.

This is only an issue for me because, like my vomit soaked housemate, I have been caught dramatically off guard by something I find objectionable and annoying.

I am but a teacher, an easily replaceable and relatively cheap part of the new MAT machine. I am a wing mirror, perhaps – I can be fixed up and plastered if I am a bit broken, easily replaced if I get too smashed up, and the car can keep on going without me. But when we understate the importance and the role of these tiny things, like indicators, teachers, windscreen wipers and pupils, we put the whole vehicle at risk of collision. Into a tree. Into a brick wall. Into another MAT. Slapbang into a Regional Schools Commissioner.

I am not SLT and I don’t need to make any of these quasi-decisions about which position I wish to be put into by Nicky Morgan. I am not particularly business-minded at this point in my career, so it is perhaps a good job. Or… I offer tentatively … perhaps many of our own school leaders are tiptoeing into self-governance in the high-stakes minefield of universal academisation without the requisite business acumen to get by?

After decades of feeling under-respected as professionals, some might jump at this hastily packaged gift of autonomy, but should they? The ‘teacher’ part of ‘headteacher’ is seemingly less and less central to what school leadership is becoming. To lead an academy chain, as many have seen on Twitter, is a ‘No Experience Necessary’ role when it comes to school experience. How many headteachers, who have climbed the ranks from being class teachers, are ready to take the plunge into being responsible for EVERYTHING, in the role of the CEO?

It is good to climb the professional ladder, but we need to make sure it is leaning on the correct wall before we start our ascent. This calls for schools making the MAT decisions to talk not just of strategy, money and logistics, but of vision, values, community and of children and teachers.

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