The M6, School Collaboration, and ‘Papering Over the Cracks’.

Firstly, our visit to Somerset on Thursday to see @oldprimaryhead1 and the staff at Brookside Academy School was a treat – a great example of collaboration between schools nationally and internationally (a group of Hungarian students were also there). More on that at the end.

But the key point of this blog is to highlight the continued predilection we have as a country for burying our head in the sand and papering over the cracks. Driving up the M5 and M6 is never great, but on Friday it seemed worse than usual.

Now I know the M6 is to become a smart motorway and all that, but do policy-makers understand that once an extra lane has been opened, then more traffic will just fill it? People on the ground will not really notice anything different. The traffic will intensify, more maintenance will be necessary, and stress levels will continue to spike amongst motorists.

And away from the motorways, potholes will be repaired (£420m worth of them) only to reappear as our weather becomes even more unpredictable. Cue a further one-off £420m in five or ten years time.

I’m not a transport expert but surely something greater than filling in a load of potholes is required to reinvigorate our infrastructure?

Where I do have more expertise, though, is in education. Here, the heads of policy-makers are already submerged in the sand.

The general secretary of the Association for School and College lecturers, Geoff Barton, wrote an article a couple of days ago in the Times Educational Supplement. He centred his piece on the impact of social problems on schools and the impossibility of resolving them unilaterally. Schools can help, and most do. They can provide local leadership too, and many do through heroic displays of discretionary effort. But through no fault of our own, they are also papering over the cracks.

For reasons of confidentiality, I cannot go into individual examples from my own experience, but suffice to say there is a multitude of deep, deep problems that we deal with week in week out. These are multiplying exponentially.

And what is the response? A ‘times-tables’ test for nine-year-olds from 2020. Now multiplication tables are important but I don’t know of any school who actively ignores this basic skill. I could understand if it was being ignored, but it just isn’t. But at the same time, and keeping the mathematical theme, we have a multitude of social problems that are affecting children’s lives deleteriously. Where is the sense of proportion? Are we focusing on the small gain and forgetting the huge elephant in the room?

(As an aside, the times-table check provides yet another unhelpful opportunity for competitive headteachers to plaster banners around their school saying things like ‘we’re the most improved school in England at the multiplication check.’ Yawn.)

Similarly, the whole trad/prog debate pales into insignificance when confronted with some of the societal problems. For many children, a warm, kind teacher is what they need and it doesn’t really matter whether they’re trad or prog or rock or pop – just that they’re there every day as a constant to guide pupils through the turbulence.

So please, some long-term, joined-up thinking on this.

Surely what’s required is a major shift in the way we do policy – a ten-year programme of national unity to address these issues holistically and without the corrosive competition I talk about in this and other blogs. And if ever there was a week to provide some positive visioning for the future of our country, it’s this one.

A government of national unity would really help, rather than the pathetic in-fighting we currently have.

Back in Somerset, we asked the children to consider their thoughts about the future, their prospects, their similarities and their differences. They were great. Our Apprentice Brass Group played a flawless repertoire and, as usual, music provided the basis for shared joy and fun. Schools as communities – that’s the way forward.

National unity, a ten-year plan and a period of civic renewal. Easy really.

Oh, and a clear M6. Maybe not that easy.

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