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Changing the Conversation

As it is the summer holidays for us teachers, I’ve managed to catch up on some reading, and in particular some of the excellent stuff being produced by various think-tanks and their associated academics. Not all, I should add, but enough to be able to severely pare down my favourites bar and those ‘Likes’ on Twitter that have been accumulating for some months now. Useful as this has been (it really has), a few things kept cropping up that lead me to think about what I think would help shape new perspectives in education policy discussion. There is always risk here – it can certainly come across as telling cleverer folk than oneself how to suck eggs – but it is not intended that way; more that I wonder if policy discussion can sometimes become a bit singular in its approaches, and might occasionally need a gentle reminder to consider others. Anyway, here they are, in no particular order.

  1. Talk more about students and less about teachers. Ultimately, it is the children who are underachieving. Or indeed, being successful. Too often we overplay the significance of the teacher in this. Teachers are of course important, vital even, and I can be as boisterous as any in reasserting that fact. However, the move toward technocracy and the rise of the celebrity teacher is injurious. Not only has excess focus on the teacher created a perverse accountability scheme which makes teachers responsible for things well outside of their control, it has also served to downplay and sometimes outright ignore those wider issues – primarily social and/or economic – that inhibit educational success. The chest-beating idealism of the those who will insist every child can be dragged into academic success if only our teachers were better provides a useful political narrative, but it ignores one important caveat – it’s rubbish. More than anything else, the educational achievement of parents is the key signifier. Throw in stability of home life and poverty, and you have a mix that serves to limit educational success more than any other factor. Of course some can overcome this, and do – bell-curve distribution is a bit like that. But most don’t. Our focus, then, must take into account that contextual detail. This might help us approach the question of educational underachievement from a more profitable perspective – the root of educational underachievement in the North, for example, is not simply that all northern teachers are rubbish. If that explanation is the best we have to go to, then that disadvantage will remain for a long time to come.
  2. Avoid the ‘Outstanding Teacher’ fallacy, which is to think that to simply have more Outstanding Teachers is sufficient, and that it is possible to simply have more Outstanding Teachers, enough indeed to turn around a whole system. It is very easy to say and delivers nice padding for speeches, but it is not where our principal challenge lies. Truth is, there is no special breed of people called ‘Outstanding Teachers’ and, even if there were, there wouldn’t be anywhere near enough of them to solve our system-wide problems. Life is messier than that, and outstanding practice (and otherwise) is a sliding scale which we all move up and down, the more/less so dependent on the school context, quality of leadership and myriad other factors. Transforming and transformative education is of course driven by recruiting and keeping good teachers – but what we really need is to think of how we best empower and enable the ‘ordinary teachers’, that being what the vast majority of those toiling away in the education system are (I blogged on this here). We might use a footballing analogy here: a manager might long for that one special player who can produce that ‘moment of magic’, but he is unlikely to then demand 11 of them. And even if that ideal were possible, it wouldn’t be scale-able across a whole system – instead we must create an environment where all can perform; for every Mahrez, there are a handful of Danny Simpsons and Robert Huths whom we also need to perform. Long-term sustainability and whole-system improvement demands that we instead focus our efforts how to create the conditions for that success, rather than over-concentrating on unearthing diamonds (many of whom might leave the profession anyway).
  3. The Intangibles. Not easy, of course, because they are, well, intangible. However, bracketing this out of our conversations about schools and school improvement is to declare our analyses spiritually impoverished, neglectful of the beauty and soul that comprises an excellent education. In other words, it is to declare our analyses insufficient. Sometimes, then, we need to take a step back, look at the bigger picture, and recognise the importance of those things which cannot be easily measured. In schools this can be a huge variety of factors, some of them hyperlocal, others more systemic, but all of which nonetheless need parsing. A small example: rural and provincial schools often have serious difficulty in providing their students with access to high culture. This is important. This has an impact. And yet it too rarely features in discussion about raising standards. It should do. It has to.
  4. Tempting as it might be, don’t build a case around data from Ofsted. The validity of their gradings is little trusted in the profession, not least because it too often contradicts our own experiences of the reality on the ground (we all know a school whose intake locks in the highest Ofsted grades, but whose practice and behaviour we know to be less impressive than the allegedly poor school down the road). In addition, anomalies are copious – note the confusing discrepancy between primaries and secondaries in the North-East, for example, an inconsistency that ought to lead one to wonder whether our accountability systems are quite the objective process they claim themselves to be (a point of order Sir Michael Wilshaw chose to acknowledge but not pursue in his speech on northern education). Indeed, Ofsted’s incoming director has shown herself open to abolishing the Outstanding grade, both for reasons of reliability (testing has suggested both ‘Outstanding’ and ‘Inadequate’ grading has the whiff of the arbitrary) and because of the impact it has on the system, including a concern that there is a system-bias against disadvantaged schools in grading. Thus, proceeding from statistics about how many Outstanding schools there in London compared to the North-West is likely to fall flat.

For Us or Against Us

If you pride yourself on rejecting a wider culture, where do your benchmarks lie? If you boldly proclaim to be doing something different, to be rejecting the ‘blob’ of education culture which has failed children for decades, if your crusade consists of ‘cocking a snook‘ at ‘edufashion’ and ‘edubabble’, what compass exists to protect you from ethical solipsism?  What keeps your righteousness righteous?

It is not impossible, of course, though it is a lot of pressure to put on oneself, to reinvent an educational culture. We might structure our pedagogy around evidence, that has bones, but what of our ethics? Appeals to the educational culture of prior eras might hold substance, but they do not hold immediacy – almost inevitably, the recovery of a past tradition from a ruptured history requires contemporary re-invention. And sometimes, we being human and fallible, this can misfire.  Worse, it might not always be immediately evident what constitutes a misfire.

In a culture war, the other side are just wrong. The temptation is to slide into rejectionist politics, to define oneself against the other, to use difference as a distinguishing feature. They believe A, we believe B, and because they are wrong, B must be right. Only sometimes that hits up with reality: sometimes they’re not wrong, we are, but in assessing our righteousness through our difference, we already rule out one important way of knowing it. When elevated to the status of cultural significance, the lines become inflexible –the crowd, participants in the battle, beneficiaries of the status it provides, rarely provide perspective.

worm-with-or-against-usThis phenomenon is particularly prominent in politics. Politicians, surrounded by sycophants and bathed in a narrative of delivering the right and the good against the hostility of a misguided (perhaps even malign) foe, can lose critical perspective. If your decision-making is defined against Them Lot Who Are Wrong, and your check-systems are all supportive because they, too, sign up to the same battle, then you have the recipe for an intellectual echo-chamber which raises ends over means and justifies egregious behaviour in the name of the good.

And so, over the last 48 hours, we have a situation where people who want Michaela to fail jump on a piece of evidence to bolster their cause, whilst those who want Michaela to succeed refuse the legitimacy of such allegations because the people making the case lack neutrality. The point at issue, that Michaela employ a policy of isolating children for non-payment of lunch fees, has been lost as two sides of a wider cultural battle face-off, with one side screaming evidence and the other demanding context, and both questioning the partiality of the other. And, somewhere in the middle of the two, a chunk of people with a multitude of biases though with no particular axe to grind, who just think the policy wrong. An ethical statement, not a political one.ClFFiHJWQAAzkKc

I am not sure advocates for Michaela (of whom I count myself) aid their cause by adopting a kind of educational clericalism which rejects missteps by appeal to the wickedness of their foes and an appeal to all the other good things they do. It might sting a bit – nobody likes giving ground to someone whose motivations one questions – but Michaela the institution has little to lose from it. Hands up, acknowledge, move on.  Framing the response in an ever deeper descent into culture war is risky (the reaction is the result of middle-class, liberal guilt, apparently – one thing I have never, ever been called is liberal: perish the thought!). Planting the flag might rally allies to the cause, but it can also inflame a minor issue – either a misguided school policy or a poorly drafted letter from a deputy – and nudge erstwhile allies toward becoming opponents. Righteousness might make us combative, but wisdom should temper our pugilism.

I want Michaela to succeed, in the same way I want Hyman’s School 21 to succeed, and UTCs, and free schools, and SEND schools, and church schools, and community schools, and everything else besides. The mainstream needs alternative models of success, institutions which embody particular virtues and turn them to an educational good. And if they work, all of us are the richer for the success of it. But not every step along the way can be a sure one. There are bumps. I hope Michaela, with its excellent staff and undoubted commitment to the children in its care, can soon overcome this particular bump in the road, and get back to serving its community, showing the rest of us the values and virtues of its own model of educational excellence.

Losing the Working Class

Re-posted from the Catholic Herald blog. The original can be read here

It wasn’t supposed to be like this.

Labour is the party of the working class. We weren’t supposed to end up despised by them. We weren’t supposed to end up despising them.

But here we are. After decades spent embracing the creeds and infrastructure of liberalism, we are at a juncture which threatens our very existence. Labour’s doctrines have delivered a fractured civic space – we can no longer build coalitions, for where we once saw comrades we now convince ourselves there are only villains.

It is the startling descent into misanthropy and insult which hurts most.That moment when Gordon Brown called Gillian Duffy a “bigot” was but a scratching of the surface. The demographic most enthusiastic about voting Leave have been dismissed as racist or xenophobic for years, but it is only in the last few days, following the referendum, that I have seen the very legitimacy of their suffrage questioned – the prosperous, well-educated liberal left, summoning Victorian-era paternalism to question the wisdom of giving votes to the ill-educated.

Of course, this chasm between party and people is of surprise only to those cloistered away amongst the like-minded. Much has been made of the demographic divide between the two competing mindsets prior to the referendum. But turning this into one-dimensional face-off between the haves and the have-nots presumes an irresolvable conflict. That’s too pessimistic: there is a way out of our current malaise.

But we first need to understand what has gone wrong. It can be summed up in a word: liberalism.

This has been the central insight of the movement that coalesced around the name Blue Labour. Building upon foundations laid by Phillip Blond and his Red Tory analysis, its central claim was clear: to use the succinct words of Maurice Glasman, ‘Liberalism is alive – and it’s killing us.’

Blue Labour provided an account of the impact of liberalism upon our relationships, from the economic to the social to the romantic to the filial.  Liberty defined over and against the duties and obligations we owe one another, we contended, served only to loose the ties that bind our futures together. In a barren, empty landscape, free of obstructions, cold winds blow unfettered – and it has been the poorest who have felt the chill most keenly.

In a world in which our futures compete and do not cohere, we have found it difficult to forge a politics for all, since we have convinced ourselves that not all have a place in our politics. Labour embraced the new liberalism more keenly than any, first socially, and then in the realm of economics, in so doing surrendering its conservative defence of the family and society against the excesses of market and power.

Offering to patch up the victims with state largesse has proven insufficient. People want livelihood, stability and dignity, whilst all we offer is low-grade subsistence delivered with a slight sneer at a class of people quietly deemed unfit for this newly globalised world. It is quite an irony: in proclaiming “diversity”, we have become homogenous, no longer able to even understand the language of our comrades, let alone speak it.

Until it boils over. And then everybody has a theory about what has gone wrong and why. Most of these analyses consist in reinforcing much of that which has brought us to the precipice. Those who presided over the years in which Labour became so very distant from its core communities are now the ones seeking to lay all the blame at the door of its current leader. By trying to make this about Jeremy Corbyn, Labour are leading themselves away from a truth they must confront: this is about Labour.

And so the gap lengthens, and the people have turned from exasperation to active hostility. And we, as a party, have made ourselves unable to respond. Whatever happens next will be historic in the future of Labour. If, after whatever happens next, we still have a party called Labour. Either way, one thing is certain. There is a new politics. One wonders if a new party might be needed to meet it.

#IVotedLeave

What follows was originally intended for publication on the TES website. Following concerns about the phrasing of a particular paragraph, specifically the comments of Ann Mroz at the TES Awards evening last night, this did not happen. Whilst taking on board those concerns, I have decided to publish here the final draft suggestion as it stood, in addition to the original comments to which a modification was offered. Whilst I accept that there is ambiguity, I also maintain that my paraphrase is broadly justified. I will also post the video of Ann’s speech below – please do watch and form your own judgement. If, in time and with further reflection, I come to the view that I have indeed misinterpreted or misrepresented comments, I will happily amend accordingly.

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Great Yarmouth, 71.5%. Middlesbrough, 65.5%. Blackpool, 67.5%. Blaenau Gwent, 62%. Thurrrock, 72.3%. The North East, the North West, Yorkshire and the Humber, the East Midlands, the West Midlands, the South West, the South East, the East, even Wales.

This is not some rump. This is a majority, spread across an entire country.

The reaction of some amongst the teaching profession has been disappointing. Racism, xenophobia, Leave voters as thick, or deluded, or misled – nothing has been off the table. For some, there evidently exists the belief that only they can see through media spin and cast their vote rationally, an act beyond the abilities of the poor dupes voting Leave. One need not dwell too long on the dangers inherent in such thinking: the demonization and viewpoint delegitimisation of a whole swathe of people is probably not a value that, in our more sober moments, we would seek to pass on to our students.

For some, it is worse still. Alongside the various proclamations that teachers must now work to (re-)educate our students to eradicate such impulses from our schools, I am also told that [edited out once the video became available] the opening of the TES Awards included suggestions from the editor of this publication that teachers must address the kind of thinking that underpinned the arguments of Leave it was the responsibility of teachers to counter the kind of thinking that could move someone to vote Leave. The motivating factors, it appears, could only have been malign. Like a real-time exemplification of Haidt’s Righteous Mind thesis, that there might exist a worldview, indeed a value system, that might hold legitimacy beyond the majority mindset of the teaching tribe, is clearly anathema to some.culture-war1

On one level this might not be surprising – EU support correlates strongly with educational background, with a strong majority of graduates in favour of Remain, and teaching is of course a graduate profession – though the ferociousness of the reaction is nonetheless an issue of concern. Look at those figures for Great Yarmouth again – are we, as a profession, comfortable in being so far distant from those we serve? Might there be dangers in it?

Of course this brings uncomfortable questions. Does this political chasm between the teaching profession and those we serve point toward a bigger phenomenon? Does the (I would argue) liberal uniformity of the teaching profession sit well with the socially conservative values and worldview of large chunks of those we serve? Might we need to consider if this latent orthodoxy has shaped a school culture and values system that is not only alien to some, but might even alienate? Might we see some potential new perspectives for that stubborn underachievement of the ‘white working class’?

One might also urge caution for more pragmatic reasons: there is every chance a majority of parents in our school communities voted to Leave the European Union. It would be unwise to so publicly dismiss and disparage such a large group, whilst refusing legitimacy to alternative viewpoints might just reinforce that sense of dislocation. As the dust settles, more sensible minds will urge that we come together and seek to find a way of healing the social and cultural wounds that this referendum has laid bare.

Politically, this is already happening, even if it has not yet taken hold – speaking for my own party, the work of Jon Cruddas in seeking to understand the different political tribes, and what motivates and enlivens them, will no doubt prove invaluable, whilst Blue Labour has long narrated this disastrous socio-cultural disconnect and what it means for both Party and country. As the excellent John Harris recently wrote in the Guardian, ’what is now happening elsewhere in the UK underlines a tangle of other stuff – to do with culture, belonging and community – that is going to require a completely different level of response.’

ClqVA1IWEAEz32Y.jpgPerhaps we in teaching might also need to undertake a little of that self-reflection. Explaining the current milieu away by appeal to the superiority of the educated over the vices of the masses is unlikely to prove fruitful. Before we rush to judgement, we must see that those who tread different paths to the ones we walk nonetheless have legitimate concerns and arguments too.  And indeed some of those arguments – for democracy, perhaps, or sovereignty, or subsidiarity – hold intellectual legitimacy and appeal across the social and political spectrum.

Again: this is not some rump. This is a majority, spread across an entire country. We have a duty to engage with it.

 

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*I should also add there has been one small modification – the changing from Moral to Righetous, when referring to Haidt.

The Myth of Maximal Efficiency

The ambitions of what might (very) loosely be referred to as ‘traditionalism’ in education have certainly changed over recent years. What was once a principled defence of an educational philosophy against those who would refuse it legitimacy, seems often now to refuse legitimacy to anything else. It is in this context that the argument for maximal efficiency is often to be found – why waste time, we hear, doing those things which are least effective? The poorest, we are told, have no such time to lose. Who could deny them, it is demanded, the very best possible education?

In other words, do what works best, according to the desired outcome of immediate knowledge transfer, and don’t waste time doing anything else.

Of course, one might find it hard to argue against such an instinct. It is certainly compelling. And in its intellectual tidiness does its immediate power lie.

But one might yet quibble. After all, the idea that every moment in the classroom has to be maximally efficient can exclude from the educational encounter those things which are not so readily expendable.  It might well be hard to argue with pious appeals to helping those who struggle, but this need not lead to an embrace of the language and logic of manufacture, as if this alone were sufficient explanation for what happens in the classroom, an educational aetiological fallacy that negates competing claims for educational flourishing.

It is in this narrowing that one might take issue. Because at heart, education is about relationships – a blindspot of the educational revolution which I have previously criticised – which means that it is not always efficient. Indeed, it is sometimes messy. And it is in this messiness – the complex interconnected web which confound the calculations of technocrat and bureaucrat alike – that one can, and indeed must, find learning. And of which those philosophies which direct everything we do in the classroom must take account. In other words, our education must be human.

Education, then, can be as much a group walk as a singular sprint. One might roam through a curriculum, not to idle, but because to frenziedly press one’s nose firmly to the grindstone might mean the beauty of the wider world struggles to enter into sight. Sometimes this means learning things in different ways, not because research suggests it has greatest technical efficiency, but because it offers an alternative angle from which to approach and absorb what might otherwise be obscure. Every second in the classroom does indeed count – but it is an unwarranted logical jump to so firmly wed this to isolated task efficiency.

This is not to say that the lesson must always to bend to the will and whim of the student – the teacher is the principal agent. But neither must it require one to reject a holistic account of what it means for humans to learn, together. In other words, sometimes the teacher might choose an activity not because it is the single best strategy for knowledge transfer at a particular point in time, but because it is an effective wider strategy for creating the environment in which that knowledge transfer can effectively happen. No particular strategy should be judged from within a vacuum, but from within the wider scope of the learning milieu. The cultivation of a group, of an individual, of learning, can legitimate an approach because the whole really is greater than the sum of its isolated parts. Think of the sports team trying to address poor form with a team-bonding session at a local paintball centre, and we’re getting toward the point I am trying to make.

As for what this means in the classroom, this could be something a teacher has found to quickly settle a class into learning, or something which allows learning to proceed when her kids are tired at the end of a day, or just something which she happens to be able to deliver very successfully, through her skill and experience, irrespective of how others might struggle to do the same. It could be something which the teacher thinks will raise the mood, to improve the learning enthusiasm of the students, or because the teacher judges that this complex social organism that sits before her might just need to let off a bit off steam by trying something different.

And we could go further: it might even be something which she herself enjoys doing, to occasionally break up the monotony, and to give her the necessary boost to crack on during those bleak times of the year when teaching really is very difficult and those little boosts really aren’t luxuries. And that’s ok too, because as much as some would like pedagogy to be entirely child-centred, the well-being of the teacher is not irrelevant to the discussion either –the desire for fulfilment and the need for free-agency, within reasonable limits, are not optional extras but the very heart and soul of being human – and an effective teacher.

Perhaps, then, discussion of pedagogy, which for most teachers is a fringe issue, might begin to take account of wider realities. To say group work should never be used because it is not as effective as direct instruction is a little like saying that since fruit and vegetables are best for a healthy diet, therefore we should never eat chocolate – it is replicate in the realm of pedagogy that puritanism so triumphant elsewhere.

In other words, it is narrowing, and excludes from view the richness of life, the depth of what it means to be human, and the complex milieu in which a teacher must exist. So that, perhaps ironically, it is in the quest for maximal efficiency that one loses sight of what, in the final analysis, might be the most effective approach to teaching and learning.

Catholics, Academies, and Catholic Academies

Since academisation has taken on an air of inevitability, I thought I’d offer up a few thoughts about what this could mean for Catholic education. Whilst some are instinctively opposed to the changes, below I offer some reasons why this could present an important opportunity for us to improve our educational offer, as well as offering up a few caveats. I should add, I’m no expert on these things, and just offering a few first reflections – for any basic mistakes, blinding omissions or searing naivety, mea culpa

Structure – Catholic schools, unlike many, are not organised through catchment areas. Historically this has meant Catholic schools have had quite diverse intakes, with students coming from all over town, whilst also being culturally diverse, particularly as immigration patterns have brought with them new communities of Catholics. Freedom from catchment has also meant there is geographic diversity with regards feeder schools, particularly in rural areas. This can lead to a certain atomism, particularly within a system where each school is encouraged to look only to its own affairs. Even within cities, there can be a dislocation between primary and secondary, and indeed between primaries themselves, so that feeder and fed have not always worked together as effectively as they could.

The new academisation programme, and the MAT structures that will emerge from it, gives an opportunity to bring coherence and a more collaborative culture to our educational offer. It could help move our gaze away from supporting individual schools and their fairly loose relations with one another, toward a holistic perspective which starts with the question: ‘how do we provide a joined-up Catholic education from 3-18?’ This will bring new perspectives but also new priorities, looking toward a Common Good rather than our current archipelago approach – and perhaps with it a new era of reciprocity and achievement.

Governance – whilst we are used to hearing that schools need to attract governors with greater expertise and skills, those who make such lofty submissions do not always appear well aware just how difficult a task that is. Not all schools have available to them the local pools of expertise that might exist in abundance in the big cities, so that attracting governors with the desired skills can be quite challenge. To then find amongst that limited pool enough candidates willing to give up their time, for free, in a role that has become increasingly demanding, only serves to restrict recruitment still further.

The MAT structure could allow schools to come together under one governing body, diluting the challenges of attracting skilled governors and enabling stability across all sites. Indeed, it could also transform governance from an isolationist to a collective perspective that might seek to share resources, staffing and practice in the belief that, just as a rising tide can lift all boats, so a broad-based approach to governance can be for the benefit to the wider community of schools.

Curriculum – one of the most exciting and potentially transformative freedoms of academy status is that of curriculum. A new academies structure offers the possibility of developing the kind of holistic, integrated Catholic curriculum which serves students best. It could allow us to progress beyond the secularised model of learning, and the inflexible tramlines of subject departments, and put in place a philosophy of learning which supports our primary intention of forming both person and intellect.

Independence – whilst Catholic schools work closely with their LA, they also collaborate with one another through the diocesan education structures. This has been fruitful and allowed the sharing of expertise and viewpoint across diverse regions. However, it has not always been as effective as it could, especially since so many schools are in entirely different LAs, indeed entirely different socio-demographic or cultural situations, and are thus often ploughing different fields.

The development of deanery-based MATs could offer an opportunity to usher in a new era of collaboration and, importantly, allow diocesan education services an enhanced role in overseeing but also directing those schools. Whilst schools have historically worked with LAs for improvement and development, this could (and should) now fall to diocesan education services. This might represent a capacity increase that not all education services can currently meet, but exciting possibilities present themselves for those who would grasp them – alongside Section 48 inspections, an opportunity for more direct collaboration and oversight between cathedral house and schools arises which, whilst bringing with it a heavy responsibility, can provide an opportunity for taking a more prominent role developing the Catholic ethos and academic excellence of our schools.

Conditions – there is a genuine and entirely understandable concern from many quarters about what academy status means for terms and conditions of those who work within. There is a danger I am being overly optimistic on this, but academisation could allow Catholic schools to lead the way in showing others how we believe schools ought to be run (I think of one MAT not far from me which abolished Performance Related Pay), and put in place our own vision of management and accountability that better reflects our concerns with the welfare of all those who contribute to our education offer. We are a pro-family and pro-life faith – could academy status allow us the power to witness, so far as is possible, to those two things in a way that had not been entirely possible up until now?

Leadership – it is difficult to find leaders in Catholic schools due to the limited pool of eligible applicants. Whilst in some places this might be because those who are eligible simply never receive the kind of training that could prepare them for leadership, there are other places which do not have enough suitable candidates to train up even if they wanted to do so.  MATs could offer a streamlining of leadership structures within a certain locale, sharing expertise and training opportunities across a group of schools. This could improve succession planning and staff development, ensuring we have a pool of well-trained future leaders to call upon when required.

There are, however, some challenges to be acknowledged:

Ghettoisation – a collection of Catholic MATs, which seem to be the most natural forming for our schools, could risk isolation from the wider educational community. It would be vital that Catholic MATs were important voices in their local educational contexts, alongside their collaboration with one another. We are, and ought to be, an outward looking institution – we need to ensure our schools would continue to do the same. A case of both/and rather than either/or.

Leadership – Whilst the presence of good leadership could be used to improve a wider variety of schools within a MAT structure, this can go both ways. At the moment, poor leadership in one school need not impact the chances of another school down the road. Within a MAT, the potential impacts of poor leadership can be magnified, trickling down across a broader number of schools, thus drawing a whole cluster of Catholic schools into a negative spiral. This would not be good for the children in our schools, or the reputation of Catholic education more generally. Diocesan authorities and MAT governance would need to be vigilant here, and willing to be involved to ensure no such outcome could be allowed to occur.

Conditions – as above, it could go the other way. Concerns about staff welfare and working conditions, and the new powers academies have which might further erode these two things, are entirely fair. Faithful MATs, and possibly also diocesan educations services, would hopefully recognise management and leadership to also be opportunities for witness, and have in place floor standards and levers that can be pulled when it is deemed a serious issue arises.

Supportit might well be the case that many diocesan educational services do not have the personnel or the budget to be able to provide the level of support which a properly reformed and unified MAT structure might demand. Indeed, some other dioceses may deem that such an enhanced level of support is an investment that cannot be justified in straitened times, when the Church takes on so many other responsibilities alongside education, each with their own competing demands on time and resources. Should this be the case, then a gulf could open up between those dioceses than cannot or choose not to support a reformed model, and those that can and do. From a wider Catholic perspective this is clearly less than ideal, and would do little to challenge (and might even entrench) the already existing divide between different dioceses and their schools.

One for the Dads

Sometimes one hears recycled the kind of slogan that has become normative within political circles but which, on reflection, does not bear much critical reflection. One that has cropped up again over last few days is the suggestion that women have to make decisions about career and family from which men are immune. The first of which I am not seeking to deny, but the latter of which I can absolutely dispute. It is lazy cliché more than malicious slur, as if males throughout the land are but unreformed cavemen, each of them their own Wolf of Wall Street refusing to let minor matters like love and commitment inhibit their own sense of career progress and achievement.

Which is nonsense. Fathers love their kids too. And their wives. And they make sacrifices to be the kind of father and husband that they feel they ought to be. Fathers, too, are faced with difficult decisions about career and family, and will opt to postpone personal career ambitions for the sake of their loved ones. Sometimes this is leaving work; sometimes it is going part-time; sometimes it is foregoing a tilt at promotion; sometimes it is simply trying to keep a healthy balance between work and family life, such that one is de facto ruled out of the promotion field anyway.

And others try to juggle both. To ‘have it all.’ We work hard because we want to provide for our family and make them proud, and because we feel compelled by the same call to service, the same guilt, and the same determination to do well for the kids in our care. And then we come home and put in a shift there too. Before starting all over again and working late into the night ready for the grind to begin again in the morn.

We do this not because we want a medal, or special praise, or think it makes us any different from anybody else, but because it is both our duty and our calling – we love, too. Because we love, we care. Because we love, we make sacrifices. And it is in these sacrifices we feel we are really being a man.

If some make different choices then, male or female, that is their call.

But I know one thing: if ever the day arrives that I choose to leave teaching, it will be because the current workload and job demands turn me into the kind of individual that cannot also be the father and husband that my wife and children have every right to expect.

In other words, juggling a career and bringing up a family is not a challenge exclusive to women. It hits us men too. This is not to say that it does not affect women more acutely – one can quite believe it does – but there is no need to question the commitment of fathers in seeking to right that injustice. If women are discriminated against because they are women, then we should be exploring that with a view to eradicating it. But one needn’t make the case by talking down the sacrifices men make, too.

Because we are parents too. And that impacts upon us, too. And it means we often have difficult choices to make about our careers, too. But I reckon it might just be that little bit easier if we all stood together when declaring that any job which puts us in such a position in the first place, male or female, is the real problem.