When thou buildest a new house, then thou shalt make a battlement for thy roof, that thou bring not blood upon thine house, if any man fall from thence.
Had Balfour Beatty employed an Old Testament scholar, we would have been spared last week’s added excitement.
I’m experiencing the annual conference of the Association of School and College Leaders, online. This is usually a jamboree in Birmingham involving two of my favourite things: train travel and a hotel bath. Sorry, did you expect me to say ‘networking with other professionals’ or ‘listening to the Secretary of State?’. This year the sessions are spaced out so I can be mildly annoyed for ten days rather than furious for two. A diversion has been the same question asked of each speaker: ‘What are you doing for your own wellbeing?’ The President keeps chickens, the Secretary of State has a dog (I hope he’s got someone else to train it, his bizarre instructions would scramble the most patient hound); Her Majesty’s Chief Inspector isn’t coping very well at all but walks a lot and talks to her children whether they want it or not. I’ve observed before that she’s a fidgeter. The Interim Chair of the Ofqual Board is following the government’s instructions about exercise, diet and sleep. Yes, yes, we’re all trying to do that. Me? Jazz, Scotch and detective stories. He may be right.
We’ve been getting a bit shirty aboard the Ark Tallis. What with the return and the testing and the mixed messages about assessment, teachers are tetchy. The best of us are inveterate planners and we like nothing better than having everything under control and the year’s work planned out carefully in advance. This stop-start online-real life malarkey is the very antithesis of what makes for a settled school experience. We are quietly and privately beside ourselves, though generally with a smile you understand. We are also asking each other ‘what are you doing, for your own wellbeing’. The answer? Just about coping, until the roof fell off.
I exaggerate for effect. It didn’t actually fall off. There was a high wind, a funny noise and on closer inspection, large bits of metal deviously working themselves loose three stories up. When suitably equipped folks went to look, they discovered the problem foretold in Deuteronomy so the repair would have to be effected by the equivalent of standing on a step ladder. This couldn’t be done until the wind dropped, und so weiter.
I hate closing – and we’d only just got open – and the testing meant that some children were having other days still at home – but really, this didn’t take any deciding. You can’t risk lumps of metal falling on children no matter how deeply you’re into conditional verbs and screen printing. We declared Monsoon Rules to the irritation of the young who could see that it wasn’t raining and set about getting them home. Everyone was magnificently understanding, thank you.
Unlike Dominic Cummings, who obviously hopes that chucking blame about like a gibbon will distract us from his single-handed undermining of the first lockdown. I like to follow his rantings because I used to work with his mother, and I know the roads well along which he ranged with unchecked eyesight. Deuteronomy is also pretty fussy about people telling the truth in court, and he was brought up in a religious family, so I hope he’s taking note.
Cummings has this week described Whitehall and the Cabinet Office as disaster zones and the Department of Health as a smoking ruin. These are odd metaphors, best used after a catastrophe and not while people are doing their best. He tells us that the outfit he set up, the Advanced Research and Intervention Agency (ARIA, opera lovers everywhere) will both be much more effective and apparently have a ‘higher tolerance for failure than is normal’.
I’ve got a higher tolerance for failure than is normal. We just won’t get some things done and my obsession with keeping everything within tight timescales is having to work a bit loose, like the roof. I’d have liked to hear that Ofsted will have a higher tolerance for failure than is normal when the nation’s schools start being inspected again, but that wasn’t divulged this week.
Most of all, we hope that young people’s efforts will not be condemned as failure when we start getting assessment going. Wouldn’t it be great if as well as rethinking the smoking ruin that is the broad and balanced curriculum, and the disaster zone of ‘fail’ to which we condemn a third of grades at GCSE we could also rebuild trust in teacher judgement?
However, the youth are fully on top of this. I followed two year 13 boys along the corridor yesterday and one was explaining a major breakthrough to his chum. ‘You know, the best thing about having timetable for the assessments is that you can, like, revise and stuff?’
Enough talk of tolerating failure when it’s your idea but insisting on it for the nations bewildered young. Mr Williamson, you had nothing of any note to say this week, but let me suggest something.
When thou buildest education anew after these sore trials, then thou shouldst make a battlement for thy children, that they may succeed and not bring shame upon thine house, by being made to fall from thence.
Or in the modern idiom, rethink assessment, please.