CEO’s Blog: “The Shape of the Spoon”

As we move toward the end of the term, and the end of the calendar year, we will all be taking some time to reflect on what 2020 has meant to us.  Writing in a personal capacity, as I do for these blogs, there have certainly been many lows as well as highs as I am sure you, my reader, will have experienced also. 

One of the most positive aspects of 2020 has been the near-exponential growth of independence and resilience of learning among children across our schools.  They are upskilled technologically, engaged intellectually and challenged academically in ways that are profound – by staff who know that all of this is only really effective when children and young people can connect emotionally, feeling safe and valued.  Through their professional expertise and their personal kindness, they have helped and supported our children and young people through what has been a school year like no other, and they continue to do so.

E.M .Forster once wrote that “Spoon feeding in the long run teaches us nothing but the shape of the spoon.” He was right.  Eventually, if we believe that the purpose of education is to help our individuals and societies be resilient, innovative, sustainable and adaptable, we need to recognise that none of these attributes are supported by provision that is more directive and structured than the absolute bare minimum requires. 

A much-respected and experienced Deputy Headteacher with whom I served used to present the parents of a new intake with a slide at the Year 7 Induction Evening.  It read simply:  “Do not do for your child anything that they can do themselves.”  She elaborated that, once shown how to pack their schoolbag, sort out their equipment for the day, lay out their uniform, check their stationery etc., it should become their responsibility.  As a parent, I must confess that I haven’t always followed this advice to the letter myself, despite nodding approvingly in the school hall when she delivered it.  Sometimes we cannot help ourselves and become involved, not least when there would be a negative consequence to any mistake or omission on our child’s part, but I do try to allow my children that space to grow and learn.   I know many parents feel the same.  Striking the balance between support and independence is something that schools and parents must continually try to get right – and it is far from an exact science!

As we move towards the end of the year, I want to thank all those associated with the John Taylor MAT community for their support, kindness and generosity to me and to each other, and to those beyond our family of schools.  It is a privilege to be alongside so many amazing people who give so much.  The famed basketball coach John Wooden wrote that “things turn out best for people who make the best of how things turn out”, and during these times I’ve seen that sentiment played out hundreds of times across our fourteen schools and beyond. 

So to close, I will return to E.M. Forster, whose work I wish I had discovered a long time before I actually did.  In ‘A Room with a View’, he wrote “Life is easy to chronicle, but bewildering to practice.”  As only an occasional blogger it would be more than a little inflated to describe this as a ‘chronicle’, but I can concur with the latter part of his sentiment!  2020 has, at least at times, been somewhat bewildering.  I’m sure you will join me in wishing for greater clarity, and happier times, from 2021.

As always, thanks for reading.  Wishing you a restful and safe festive period, a Merry Christmas and a Happy New Year.

Mike

Our vision for Fradley Park Primary Free School

John Taylor Multi-Academy Trust wishes to build on the success of the existing primary schools within its MAT and use their expertise and educational leadership in the area to copy many of the key areas of the curriculum.

The Trust will encourage a wide range of groups such as scouts/guides, sports clubs and community groups to use the school facilities to enable all age groups to come together.  The Trust will facilitate summer schools, weekend activity courses and some learning opportunities for the local community.

The curriculum will mirror many of the successes of the broad and balanced curriculum on offer at our Primary Schools and build on the Ofsted-praised ‘STRIPE’ (Self Manager, Team Worker, Reflective, Innovate and Create, Participate, Enquirer), skills curriculum that enables young people to become independent learners with excellent attitudes to their own learning.

The new primary free school will follow and further develop the high quality pupil leadership programmes at all levels. The new Fradley Park Primary School will work closely with our ten primary phase schools.

The Trust already has strong relationships with business, universities and is the host school of the National Forest Teaching School Alliance and the Staffordshire Research School. We will use these relationships and expertise to enable the Trust to push all pupils, whatever their background to achieve their very best.  The Trust has already been praised for its work with disadvantaged pupils and intends to develop this strongly in the new primary free school.  As with all primary schools within John Taylor MAT, Fradley Park Primary School will feature in the admission arrangements for John Taylor High School as a contributory primary school.

The school will:-

  • Have an inclusive approach.
  • Be non-selective, welcoming of children of all faiths, social, ethnic and cultural backgrounds.
  • Offer a broad, balanced, high quality curriculum underpinned by exceptional support, care and guidance.
  • Be a learning hub for the wider community, seeking to contribute to cohesion in an area of new housing development with limited alternative local amenities.
  • Work effectively alongside neighbouring schools.
  • Equip its young people with the knowledge, experiences, skills and attributes to enable success beyond school.
  • Further the innovate heritage of John Taylor MAT, through the extension of its founder school’s strengths; the achievement and progress of the most able, the acquisition of key learning skills, and the development of leadership attributes and experiences – both within and beyond the taught curriculum.

CEO’s Blog: “We have done so much, for so long, with so little, we are now qualified to do anything with nothing.”

Readers of my blogs will recall that earlier in the year (March 2020) I drew my inspiration from Michael Palin’s “Pole to Pole”, a book I had chosen to read during the most restrictive phase of our initial Covid-19 lockdown. 

For my blog this month, I return to Palin but this time via his earlier journals from “Around the World in 80 days.”  Restricted to travel options that did not involve flight, much of his time was spent on merchant ships as they traversed the world’s oceans delivering and collecting cargo.

Naturally, with such protracted periods of time at sea, Palin became very well acquainted with many of the sailors and other crew members aboard ship.  In the final chapter, a sailor left him a message in his cabin.  It read as follows:

“We the unwilling, led by the unknowing, are doing the impossible for the ungrateful.  We have done so much, for so long, with so little, we are now qualified to do anything with nothing.”  This quotation, attributed to politician and historian Konstantin Josef Jirecek, is something of a mantra for the crews of the merchant navies of the world.

Being a merchant sailor is a hard life.  It has dangerous at times, and monotony at others.  With such a sentiment, the question begs as to why they still do it?  The answer lies in the worth of the job.  The cargo is precious, and those who expect to receive it will suffer if it does not reach its destination. 

Those of us working in schools may, at times in our career, have felt similar.  There have certainly been times during the last six months where I have heard and seen such a view expressed, often forcefully.  And yet, we’re back in September and working as hard as ever.

We do so because of our ‘cargo’.  Schools and their staff bring learning, opportunities, experiences, friendships, personal growth and collegiality to all within their communities.  The impact of us not carrying such precious cargo would be devastating on those who rely upon it.  Perhaps, after months of remote learning, creative solutions to providing support, and working differently in many areas where orthodoxy seemed to dictate our practice, we really are “qualified to do anything with nothing.” But let us all hope for calmer waters and more favourable tides than those we’ve encountered most recently.

Thanks for reading.  Take care, and stay safe.

Mike