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April 28th 2017

Headmaster's Blog: 'The times they are a-changing'

News Article Image   Headmaster's Blog Speak UpIndeed “The times they are a changing,” as Bob Dylan wrote. It is all go. I am starting to sort of get ready to shuffle off the Cobham Hall part of my mortal coil, so big changes for the School and me coming up, but also of course it may be all change for us all at national level. In common with many others, I feel it seems like only yesterday I was being asked for my vote in umpteen different elections and now we have more looming. My polling card for the local elections has been sitting on the kitchen table for some time and soon it will be joined by one for the General Election on 8th June.  Who says democracy is not exciting?

Already we are being told the elections are all about securing the future of the country. I seem to recall I was told that about the recent referendum as well. At the same time I have, of course, been thinking about my personal future and what that will be. About eighteen months ago I took part in another election, this time as a candidate, and ended up being part of the Council, the governing and decision making body, of the Association of School and College Leaders or ASCL for short. This professional association represents the leaders of a whole variety of schools and colleges across the country and I have thoroughly enjoyed contributing to debates and the forming of policies concerning all aspects of our education system. At about the same time I also joined a group of educationalists from schools, colleges and universities who are concerned about the current state, and future direction, of our education system as a whole. We have met several times and begun actively lobbying government and the like with some of our ideas for the future. Post Cobham Hall, I intend continuing to work with both organisations and maintaining my interest in, and hopefully positively contributing to, broader aspects of education.

The reasons for becoming involved in both are multiple and varied but for some years now I have been advocating the need for a national level debate on the purpose of our education system. My educational background is in Mathematics not History but it seems to me more than a century since we last had one. The world we are educating young people for (if indeed that is what we are trying to do) has changed a bit in that time. It may be as Mr Zimmerman sang that it is time to:

“Come gather 'round people
Wherever you roam
And admit that the waters
Around you have grown”

Things indeed are not what they used to be. Pressures on young people (and older ones too), political and social unrest, the speed of technological change, threats to the environment; apparently all have never been greater. Political parties, however, are still producing manifestos. In the same spirit ASCL has produced one of its own and sent it to all the leaders of the main political parties. Essentially it asks for five matters to be given priority in national education policy;

  • Provide sufficient and fair funding
  • Improve teacher recruitment and retention
  • Ensure education policy is based on evidence
  • Commit to curriculum stability
  • Develop a long-term, shared vision for education

I support all but it is the last I am particularly interested in. Decades of governments of all political shades have tinkered with types of school, styles of examinations, even methods of teaching. I have written and spoken about this before and how it seems “the only constant is change”. But until we know what aims we are trying to achieve, it strikes me as difficult to know the best type of institution, best method of assessing whether the aims have been met or not and the best way to achieve them.

It is my belief that their pupils’ best interests lie in the fullest possible development of every facet of each individual and that the best way to achieve that is through a wide variety of meaningful experience and challenge. That is what I have tried to achieve at Cobham Hall. I am waiting to see if any of that and the points above will feature in the election material we are no doubt going to be bombarded with in the coming weeks. I am not holding my breath but a change is needed. Back to the 2016 Nobel Laureate for Literature,

“Come senators, congressmen
Please heed the call
Don't stand in the doorway
Don't block up the hall
For he that gets hurt
Will be he who has stalled”


Written by Mr Mitchell

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