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The Rising Meritocracy

02 November 2014

Here's a thought: wouldn't it be nice if each head teacher was brighter and more enlightened than their deputy, each deputy more so than their assistants, each assistant than each head of department, and each head of department worthy of respect by each teacher they lead.

Wouldn't it be nice if schools were a meritocracy?

Wouldn't it be nice if head teachers were such learn'd men and women that when faced with inaccurate Ofsted reports they were able to shoo them away and support the good work of their team. Wouldn't it be nice if each head teacher was a powerhouse, a towering intellect, someone of ability who was able to take a position based on evidence such that they could merely ignore most policy whim.

Wouldn't it be nice, when told that one's lesson was not up to scratch, if the person judging was able to point a way forward, to dig deep into the learning process and help one to move on. And wouldn't it be nice if you knew that person's comments were founded on their own proven ability.

Instead of this meritocracy, England's schools are more often shaky dictatorships, ruled from a point of deep insecurity. Rather than a head teacher who can listen to objections in staff meetings and have open debates because they are secure in their knowledge and experience yet always willing to learn more, we have the situation where it is more likely a head teacher will play passive aggressive, where a deputy will bully in case they themselves are found out to be lacking, where a senior management team are withdrawn to a bunker.

I know some great head teachers – really bright, wonderful people, deserved of the position they hold.

But in a system of 25,000 schools, it is sadly the case that there is nowhere near the number of talented head teachers required to run but a handful.

In a system that so often rewards incompetence by promotion, a system that uses elevated job titles to remove damaging people from the classroom, what hope is there of creating a structure based on merit?

What hope?

I think there is hope. There is a glimmer in recent years. A growing movement who recognise ability and intellect as qualities to be admired. A growing movement of head teachers who are standing up above the parapet and being proud to be researchers with theories. I could name many, but will avoid doing so to spare blushes.

New scholarship (the ability to publish one's own work to wide readership, social media, blogging etc) is seeing the influence of the small group of apologisers, who have for so long made schools places where incompetence is okay, weaken. It is notable in recent years to hear a Secretary of State quote jobbing teachers, who would never have been on the radar of the tiny club around Westminster, and to see head teachers through their blogs rubbish some of the drivel that has taken hold in schools. It is notable that teachers are coming together to form large scale networks and taking ownership of defining educational research.

So there is hope, I believe.

Wouldn't it be nice if teaching – that profession so focused on learning – became itself one populated by intellectuals and researchers.

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