Five positives from 2015 and five wishes for 2016.
1) I wrote lots of pieces which were published this year. My writing appeared in the Guardian, the TES and Schools Week. The first Guardian piece I wrote was shared 26,000 times, which was tremendously gratifying because the main idea I put forward – that schools are a very thin layer of icing on a very, very big cake, and that teachers teach, but children are ultimately responsible for what they learn – was the reason I started writing to begin with.
The response to that Guardian piece was also the first time I’ve really had chance to understand that as a writer, once your ideas are out there, you are not really in control of the response to them. Many of the hundreds of responses to that piece were supportive, many critical. I didn’t respond to any, because once people started to discuss things amongst themselves, I was almost incidental to the process. This is, I’m beginning to see, what any writer should aim for – to start conversations which you don’t see happening elsewhere, and to let other people take them in new directions.
As an aside, it was also revelatory to see what people assumed about me as the writer, and the difference between those who engaged with the argument and those who attacked their perception of me. This year has made me even more reflective about an author’s power – and powerlessness.
2) My first book appeared this year. Well, it wasn’t mine exactly, but it was the first time I could pick up a book and say, “I wrote that”. I wrote a chapter which was published as an appendix to David Didau’s What If Everything You Knew About Education was Wrong? Being able to give my parents a copy was one of the most satisfying professional and personal moments of my life, for reasons any writer will instantly recognise. So much was wrapped up in that moment, I practically burst.
David has been an inspiration all year, pumping out ideas and winging around the country speaking to all and sundry. I can’t thank him enough for all his support, and I’ve been extremely grateful to him in 2015. I owe you a beer or two, Mr Learning Spy.
3) I met lots of people I wanted to meet. The list is very long, and I’ll miss off lots of people I really shouldn’t, but meeting Twitteratti such as Emma Anne Hardy, Andrew Sabisky, Becky Allen, Tom Sherrington, Doug Lemov, Hey Miss Smith, Eric Kalenze, Nick Rose, Carl Hendrick and many more was a joy. I’m really enjoying meeting those who write about education even – almost especially – when we don’t always see eye to eye.
4) I was asked to write a book. And not just a chapter, either. I was approached by Sage Publications, who wondered if I’d like to write a book about data in schools. I did, and I do, and I am, and it’s due in Spring 2017. My Mystic Meg award for 2016 goes to Leon Cych, who suggested I write something way back in February 2014. Data Busting for Schools is keeping me busy, and I’m really enjoying writing it.
5) Lots of other stuff happened. You know, family, health, job decisions, kittens, growing family, life and stuff. Compared to many people, it's been a good year. I'm simply happy with that.
Five wishes for 2016
1) I want to ensure that people keep questioning numbers in education. I think I’ve seen more discussion of this, and I’m fairly certain that Sean Harford at Ofsted has taken on board much of the criticism that I (and others) have levelled at the Inspectorate. I’m hoping schools take on my ideas too, which seems to be happening. I’ve been pleasantly surprised to find that my writing has been shared all over the place – the first school at which I taught used one piece I wrote as a Staff Meeting discussion starter, for example, and I hear from lots of people who have shared my work with their leadership teams. As I said in Get Your Voice Heard, that’s the power of social media and writing about education.
2) I’m looking forward to having more time to write, and to visit more schools. Having been teaching five days a week, my ability to get out and about, as well as to write, has been fairly limited. I’m aiming to be in school three days a week fairly soon, and I’m looking forward to the opportunities this will bring.
3) I hope to encourage even more parents, Sixth Formers and non-teachers to share their experiences. As I wrote last year, the more we hear from non-teachers affected by test-focused education, the better. I managed to encourage at least one voice this year, and I hope we hear from more in the future.
4) I’m looking forward to seeing what the new year brings. In 2014, I ended up writing a great deal about the effects of Ofsted’s very narrow interpretation of the Pupil Premium. In 2015, I wrote a lot about pay progression, and the peculiar interpretation of legislation which has been foist upon schools, particularly those serving disadvantaged communities. 2015 also saw some development in the campaign against the ludicrous use of tests of statistical significance in RAISEonline and elsewhere. I’m also aiming to complete Seven Fallacies about Teaching.
5) I’m looking forward to making a mark as a school governor. I volunteered as a Local Authority governor in November, and having found a school in need of lots of governor support, I’m really enjoying the challenge. It is fascinating to look at a school from a very different angle, and something I’d urge anyone who has the time to do.
Finally, I’d say to anyone who is contemplating a move out of classroom teaching – it is possible to be involved in teaching without the stresses of an all-encompassing 60-hour-a-week role. I took the plunge two years ago and I don’t regret it for a minute. Sometimes, when the job you love becomes the life you hate, you have to take a sideways step. The days of a lifetime in the classroom seem to be over. We should probably simply acknowledge the fact rather than fight it. Leave it to the young and the child-free, and find another way to make a difference to the next generation. I’ve stared into the abyss and jumped. It seems to have worked out for me.