Tim Brighouse

Sir Tim Brighouse gave the 3rd Trustees’ Education Lecture on Wednesday 13 January 2016 at Islington Arts and Media School entitled: ‘What do schools do when governments want the world?

Sir Tim Brighouse is a British educator-he was the Schools Commissioner for London between 2002-2007, where he led the London Challenge

Sir Tim Brighouse gave an inspiring, informative and witty presentation to 150 guests by reflecting on his career and giving insights into his philosophy on teaching and learning. The Trustees Education Lecture is an event that refreshed everyone’s commitment to education, the arts and ‘finding the song’ in every child.

In his lecture he talked about the five ages of education since 1944 and in the second part of the lecture he spoke about five measures that schools can make- this included eight processes for effective school improvement.

This is a shortened transcript of the speech that he gave:

‘What do schools do when governments want the world?’

In one sense a responsible democratic government has every right to ask its schools to deliver the world. And in an ideal world, schools would be only too happy to respond to their lead. Moreover successive governments have toured the world in response to declining scores in international tests such as PISA to find out what works. But as I shall argue that is part of the problem since in education contexts differ and what works in one place may not work in another. I shall also argue that there needs to be a UK – wide debate, leading to agreement about the purposes of education.

The years since 1944 have witnessed what might be called by historians distinct ‘Ages’ with different characteristics.

First an age of ‘Optimism and Trust’ lasting till 1968 – this was characterised by a general agreement that education was a good thing.

The second age was one of ‘Doubt and Disillusion’. Starting in 1968 – the year of campus student unrest at all the universities, it encompasses the publication (1969) of the so called ‘Black Papers’ polemical leaflets written by gloomy reactionaries who claimed pupils weren’t being taught properly or the right things, the collapse of a Primary School William Tyndale, pursuing so-called play methods, and the death of a comprehensive school, Risinghill, not so far from here , both school failures occasioning great and disapproving publicity. The disillusion culminated in Prime Minister James Callaghan’s Ruskin speech of 1976 which epitomised the ‘education isn’t working’ theme of the age of ‘Doubt and Disillusion’

Mrs Thatcher ushered in the third age of ‘Markets and Managerialism’ the tail-end of which we are living through even now. It started in 1980. It has been punctuated by White Papers – followed by Acts of Parliament- with mantra words such as ‘choice’(for parents) ‘diversity’(of provision and types of school) ‘autonomy’ (for schools)and ‘accountability’. It stemmed from a belief in market forces and competition as a means of finding a solution to most problems.

And that brings me to the fourth age – the Age of Confusion in which we now live.
The future will be an age of ‘Ambition and Partnership’.

So what can schools do now until that happens and as they remain under the cosh for a narrow range of outcomes?

There are five measures they can take.

First they must at all costs avoid isolation both for individual members of staff and for the schools as a whole. Isolation is the enemy of learning. So schools need to be in partnerships for the twin purposes of (a) Continuous Professional Development (CPD) or Professional Learning as some call it now and (b) School Improvement whereby in sharing data, professional practice and expertise they come closer to meeting more of the needs of all their students.

Secondly they will adopt a shared language of school improvement. For me, that shared language has involved over the last 40 years learning ever more about eight processes as follows.

  1. Leadership…in the classroom, among pupils, in the department or phase, in the school as a whole, in contributing to the wider community;
  2. Management…doing the right things in the right way, among staff, in the classroom and the wider school;
  3. Review…of all aspects of school life and in a way which collects evidence, speculates about other practice elsewhere and is based on ‘learning ever more on how to get even better at what we do’;
  4. Creating an environment fit for and conducive learning in every corner of school life behaviourally, visually and aurally – from the way children are greeted as they enter a classroom, through the way the walls educate the child, to the place of music and silence in learning;
  5. Focusing on learning ever more about teaching, learning and assessing
  6. Always promoting staff development and learning. Making sure that job descriptions highlight responsibilities for leadership, that staff work in an environment where they can take risks, confident that they can do so without blame and that they will have new experiences.
  7. Involving students in every aspect of school life
  8. Involving parents and the community. Of these, the last two are the most neglected and underdeveloped.

While all are important, I feel the most liable to receive insufficient emphasis at this time of financial cutbacks, is ‘staff development’.

The third way in which schools can make progress towards education for a broader purpose is to agree five or six ‘experiences’ which are guaranteed to all students. It is for then to decide what they are. Both in Birmingham (through what we called ‘Guarantees’ for the ‘Early Years’, for ‘Primary’ and for ‘Secondary’) and in London (through the Student Pledge) we had a very tentative attempt at that. Surely this is something which IAMS could persuade Islington to adopt form its own model. Involve the parents. It would be wrong of me to prescribe what they should be but I would be surprised if you didn’t decide that taking part in a ‘residential’ should be one, especially after the Hamlyn report’s research backed the efficacy of ‘residentials’.

Fourth I believe that schools need an explicit ‘second time-table.’ At present all schools take students on day-trips, subscribe to the Forest-school movement, run residentials and many have the occasional days or weeks for intensive accelerated learning. It is time to leave this not to serendipity but be part of a thought-through rationale for the ‘Second Timetable’ justified not by chance but by deliberate thought.

Fifth and finally – a simple thing. Let every school have a wall devoted to pen-pictures of the achievements of past pupils as well as those here now. Let every school be proud of the achievements of those who have ‘been this way before’ and whose achievements may bring within the grasp of those present pupils, ideally all of them, who wish to reach for making a contribution in later life and be rewarded in so doing.

In these five ways schools now can anticipate what our politicians will eventually realise as important in schooling when we have teachers trusted, all schools aspiring to excellence with no artificial limits on how many that should be . It will be an age of ‘Ambition and Partnership’.

You can download resources from the lecture in PDF format:

  1. Sir Tim Brighouse’s Speech
  2. PowerPoint Presentation from the lecture