Why I want to be a Headteacher – part 1 – my values
My natural father had a problem with alcohol and a propensity to wreck lots of things in his life.
When I was 30 and tracked him down living in New Hampshire, that was his excuse for why he ran away in 1977 when he found out my Mum, an 18 year old girl, was pregnant.
I grew up believing my Dad (for I have always and always will call him my Dad, rather tautologically because that is what he is) was my natural father until my Mum told me at the age of 9 that he wasn’t. I can’t say it bothered me too much because I was living with Mum and Dad. When I was a bit older, I checked with Mum that she hadn’t been the victim of rape, and then I left it. My Dad had adopted me. He is my Dad. My brother and two sisters are my brothers and sisters. I didn’t think about it because there was nothing to think about.
Until I was 30.
At that age I was on the Leadership Team of a school and I had started to think about having my own family, and hence the intense responsibility that brings. I was and am acutely aware of the statistics that show that children from broken homes don’t do as well. Children who are looked after do even worse. Children who are not provided for, either culturally or through living in poverty are also at a severe disadvantage.
I think that’s why I contacted my natural father then. I was curious as to how he could have left me to battle those things. Or rather why?
I’ve discovered since that those momentous decisions aren’t made with extensive thought. I don’t really blame my natural father, because I know that far-reaching decisions like that are made without creating a balance sheet.
Nonetheless it’s clearly unfair that the poor achieve far worse than those who are well off, and the achievement gap between those from poor backgrounds and those from affluent backgrounds is ridiculous in the United Kingdom.
I’m not having it.
I’m not having it that on top of this unfairness, schools unintentionally exacerbate this gap. I’m not having it that working class kids get a less academic curriculum just because of their expectations, their parents’ expectations, or the schools’ expectations.
I’m not having it that the emergence of parental choice in schools (something I agree with) has led to an apartheid of schooling, with affluent parents choosing good schools via housing, information or even by setting one up themselves.
And I’m not having it that if you are born into poverty, or you’re adopted, you have minimal chance. And granted there are exceptions, but the problem is that exceptions by definition are rare.
My values? Forget plural. The value that drives me is equality.
I don’t mean that everyone should have the same. I mean that in theory in front of the law we are equal. In theory we have equal access to opportunity. I mean that in theory we have an equal say in the direction of our society via democracy. And yet in each of these cases we’re not really equal at all. In particular, we know that we don’t have equal access to opportunity, and we know that we don’t have equal means to influence or change our society.
I really believe that people, and hence young people, have the capacity to change the world for the better. I really believe that young people should have the opportunity to realise their ambitions. To realise their ambitious visions for themselves and their society.
“Democracy is the worst form of government, apart from all those other forms that have been tried from time to time” (Winston Churchill, House of Commons Speech, 11th November 1947)
Those that are most able to change things are those in positions of power. Those in positions of power (members of parliament, judges, lawyers, and even journalists) are predominantly from private schools. So those that are able to change things are often in position due to having drawn a lucky ticket.
I believe in equality because I believe in allowing people to make a difference to society. By society I mean our community. I mean our nation and I mean our world.
The conversation of mankind
Michael Oakeshott wrote about the “conversation of mankind”. He was referring to the knowledge that human kind has built and handed down throughout generations that we need to induct people into in order that they may participate in the different arenas.
You can place me into the most well resourced chemistry laboratory in the world and tell me I can do what I like and in reality, because I haven’t been inducted into that conversation, I’m not really free at all.
Take that metaphor and extend it to participatory democracy. This principle involves us being free to choose our leaders, and free to have equal say in how our society is run. Equality and freedom are bound to each other. We are told we are free in this democracy, but in reality we need to be educated to be free. We need knowledge in order that we may be educated some more. And that access to knowledge is the induction into Oakeshott’s conversation. The purpose of education is to induct children into the conversation of mankind.
The facade that things change because of the ten or twelve crosses each individual gets at the ballot box is just that – a facade. If one doesn’t know how democracy works. If one doesn’t know how things really change, including but not constrained to via our political system, one is cut off from making a difference. In other words one is cut off from one’s potential to realise a fulfilling life.
It’s not acceptable that depending on where you live, or an accident of birth, you may not be inducted into that conversation. That you may not have the opportunity to meaningfully change the world for the better. It’s not acceptable that your life chances are minimal before you are born. It’s not acceptable that if you are in that situation you have to be the lucky 1%. The exceptional 1%. The rare 1%. It’s not acceptable.
I’m not having it, and that’s why I’ll fight it. The best way I have to fight it is to lead a school that will aspire to close the achievement gap and educate all students.
That’s my ambition. That’s hence my contribution to changing the world for the better. I was inducted into that conversation of mankind. I’m still learning, but I was very lucky. I was lucky I was adopted by my Dad. I was lucky my Mum had the fortitude as a single parent teenager in 1977 to raise me alone (and later, with 4 kids and again as a single parent when I was 12 [there’s a whole personal story there], go back to university and become a teacher herself). I drew another lucky ticket there.
Now I want a good school for those who aren’t so lucky. I want a school that delivers a broad liberal academic curriculum, that believes children can become smarter, that aspires to send students to university while giving them the cultural capital to become decent well rounded citizens, and I want a school that believes that our children can change the world, even if they were born poor. But I’m not going to want. I’m going to lead such a school.
My values? They’re all bound up in a sense of equality that we don’t yet have in the UK, but which I strive for.
Because I’m not having it.