How education has changed in the past twenty years

13th Sep 2018

The National College for Leadership of Schools and Children's Services recently published its list of the top ten claims about successful school leadership.

What struck me most clearly was the focus on soft skills, people management and empathy.

I started my teaching career nearly 20 years ago and in that time the profession seems to have undergone a transformation in the value it places on standard business practices like HR, strategy and operations.

I can distinctly remember trying to persuade a Head some years ago of the merits of running an annual appraisal system or, heaven forbid, termly lesson observations. At the time it was shrugged off as not in the interests of the children but secretly I always wondered whether it was just not in the interests of the staff.

Today the education sector understands that getting the most out of teachers is the primary way to improve outcomes. What teachers are also realising is that working in an environment that cares about your personal development, prioritises training and develops systems which underpin all of this also makes the job of working in a school more fun and rewarding.

In some ways what is even more remarkable is that the whole industry was capable of such change in a relatively short period of time.

The late Hans Rosling's outstanding book, 'Factfulness' shows just how values and beliefs can change in a short period of time. Most of us have no idea that the big wide world has been undergoing something of a seismic shift in the past twenty years. Extreme poverty has fallen significantly, the ranks of the middle class have risen rapidly and, of most interest to me, education is booming everywhere from Manilla to Kampala and most places in between.

Values and beliefs are often thought as being 'set in stone', they are the immovable glue which binds society together. But what if we could stand back and watch those same values and beliefs evolving over the decades?

It wasn't many years ago that teachers were encouraged to prioritise the safety of children in schools above everything else, now safeguarding and child protection are considered the norm.

Equally, the quiet shift from collective identity ('my school', 'my family' and 'my village') to individual identity has been underpinned by new technologies like video on demand. How many times in the last week did the whole family crowd around the TV to watch something at a specific time?

School leadership has therefore tended to lag changes in society by several years, if not several decades. Heads today are still grappling with the challenges of the mid noughties without fully understanding that parents and students have moved on. For example, it is amazing to think some schools still allow mobile phones in lessons despite the overwhelming evidence that they are detrimental to learning.

Returning to the National College, their first claim seems to be the one which has stood the test of time, that Heads are the main source of leadership in their schools.

Obvious but true and one which any aspiring Head should consider carefully when planning their own professional development.