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Dream on!

Well, the election is over, all the dust has settled, and pre-election verbal froth dispersed. Our new First Minister is in place and her cabinet has been appointed. Good to see a even balance of gender in the new government, but perhaps one of the most significant appointments has been that of our new Minister for Education. He is a former primary school headteacher, and had led a number of schools during his previous career. The First Minister had indicated during the election, and in her party's manifesto, that education was to be one of her main priorities, were she to be successfully elected. Of course all party leaders had made the similar promises but the voters had believed many of her's and particularly the one to 'make our education system truly world class and to support our teachers and school leaders to provide the highest quality education for everyone of our learners.' She had also been true to another promise which was 'to appoint an education minister who understood schools, understands learning, understands leadership and, most importantly, understands how to use evidence and research to bring about meaningful change and build on our successes.' In the appointment of her new Minister for Education, she seemed determined to honour he pre-election promises to the electorate.

We knew that something different from the norm and a different approach was in the offing following the new Minister's first short speech after his elevation to the cabinet. 'I wish to bring a fresh approach to education from this government and my department. Generally, governments and Ministers are not experts on education.' His opening sentences immediately pricked the attention of his audience, consisting  of school leaders and teachers, as well as drawing a small ripple of applause. Quite a few of us had been to events like this before, and so were a tad weary and wary of what governments and Ministers said and did around education. We could see a few of his 'advisors' looking a tad uncomfortable at the side of the stage as he continued. ' As you know, I was previously a school leader for quite a few years. I experienced the highs and lows of that role, but I would say straight away that not many of the lows were attributable to teachers or learners, though both could offer their own  challenges to what we were trying to achieve. 

No, a lot of the lows were to do with interference by others outside of school, including we politicians, who all thought they new better than the professionals we had trained and employed, on how to improve our schools. Then there were all the accountability processes and procedures that were put in place because politicians didn't trust the professionals to do their jobs properly. So many of these were introduced that, at times, it was impossible to get time to spend on the things that we knew really made a difference for all our learners. Add to that the fact that we have been testing the joy for learning out of our learners for many years, and as soon as they enter our schools, and you have some the reasons for some of the lows I experienced as a school leader. However, I do not want you to think that my previous working life was dominated by lows. It wasn't. I had the honour and the privilege to work with hundreds of unique and special individuals. I am talking about all the learners I have met and worked with, as well as all the fabulous teachers, support staff, colleagues and parents I had the pleasure to work with and support during my career. Never a day went by without me experiencing highs by simply getting into classes or through working with highly professional and committed colleagues.

I think it is time we reframed our attitude to education, schools, teachers and their leaders. Every high performing education system across the world values, respects and trusts its teaching professionals and their leaders. We must do the same. Never in the history of education have we had a teaching profession so highly prepared and trained as they are today. They receive a world-class training experience in our universities ahead of entering the profession, and their professionalism, knowledge and commitment is second to none. On entering the profession they commit to making a difference for all and to a career of continuous professional development, focused on improving what they do. They do this not because they are not good enough, but because they know they can be even better. They are led by committed and professional leaders, determined to help each and every one of them, and each and every learner, to reach their potential. I want our government, and my department, to commit to supporting our schools in ways that those same schools will identify as being useful and effective. I want all our agencies charged with the support and challenge of our schools to concentrate more on the former. I believe we have schools, teachers and leaders who are already committed to challenging themselves and what they do. We need policies and structures to support them to do this, then we need to get out of the way and let them get on with it! I want to develop these policies and structures in partnership and collaboration with our professionals. I also want to give them access to world leading academics and researchers, many of whom are already working here, to help inform them and support them with the changes they wish to make. No longer do I wish schools to have to dance to the tune of the latest fad, trend or guru identified by ourselves or a Director of Education looking for a one-size-fits-all solution. I want them working with respected researchers and universities to help them grow and develop, and to support them in providing an ever improving experience for all our learners,  which is grounded in their own context and point of development. I wish them to deliver a broad educational experience that equips our learners with the skills, aptitudes and knowledge that allows them, and therefore our country, to thrive and be successful. In my view, and experience, the way we will keep improving our educational system is to keep working with and supporting all our professionals who are working to that end. We have for too long focused on a top down approach, heavy on accountability and testing, despite country after country demonstrating that this is not an approach that works. It has opposite effects. This has to change. I believe in our schools, our teachers and our leaders, and I want everyone else to believe in them as strongly as I do. 

I will conclude by saying I want you to judge me on how successful I am in increasing trust in the profession, in creating the conditions for all to thrive and in supporting our schools and their leaders to deliver the very best outcomes for all our learners. In our young people I believe we have the most precious resource to equip this country to punch above its weight across the globe. It is our teachers, schools and their leaders who will unleash this potential and provide us with learners and citizens we can all be proud of. Let us all commit today to supporting them to achieve this in any way we can. We owe it to our learners and our schools to do nothing less. I wish to stand alongside our professionals to achieve all we can and I implore everyone else to do the same. I cannot deliver what we all wish to achieve, but I can commit to create the conditions that will allow you to have the greater chance to succeed. I recognise our challenge is not easy and will not happen over night. But I believe through mutual support and collaboration we will get where we want to be, together. Thank you!' 

Before he sat down the audience erupted into sustained applause and quite a few cheers. At last it seemed, here was someone  who could give us hope for a different approach that could lead to deep and sustainable change for the better. Of course, words are cheap and we really do need to judge people by their actions, not their words. But first we need hope.  

I had tweeted on election night that I was going to bed a little worried about what the new government held in store for the direction of our education system. Now I really could go to bed and dream on. Please don't wake me up!


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