I went to the theatre last week. As a birthday present my friend had bought tickets for Future Conditional, a new play about the British education system showing at the Old Vic in London.
At first I was dubious. You can’t do my job every day without picking up on the many flaws and idiosyncrasies of our education system, and I wasn’t convinced I wanted to spend the night before my birthday watching these issues played out on the stage. Couldn’t we just go for a glass of wine or two instead?
The play’s writer, Tamsin Oglesby, certainly didn’t shy away from the injustices of education in Britain. In a promotional piece in The Independent, for instance, she describes an education system full of contradictions and “distractions”, which seems at times designed to increase the social gap rather than close it.
For her, it’s a system where public means private, and where academies, free schools and “coasting” measures are creating ever more faultlines in an already strained landscape. Occasionally, politicians have appeared confused about the geography of the country they’re running, never mind the hard-to-pin-down definitions of key education policies.
No wonder, says Oglesby, that parents are unsure about what’s best for their kids.
Thankfully, however, it wasn’t all doom and gloom - the play was also hilariously funny at points. An excellent cast of young performers was topped with comedian Rob Brydon, whose exasperated responses to an invisible class of unruly teenagers (“Yes, Jordan, you will need a pencil”) will be all too familiar to anyone who’s ever stood at the front of a classroom.
As well as providing some great comic moments, Brydon’s infinitely patient Mr Crane also represented the play’s central, uplifting message: that regardless of policy twists and turns, the single most important part of any education system is – and no surprises here – teachers.
That same conviction has been at the heart of The Key’s #CelebrateMySchool campaign these past two weeks. We’ve heard from Rob Carpenter, executive headteacher of two primary schools in London, about why he loves his job, and many more of you have joined in the conversation on Twitter.
It has really made me smile to see teachers and school leaders excited about the new school year and the challenges and opportunities it will bring. As the initial flurry passes and teaching gets properly under way, let’s keep celebrating the fantastic work you’re doing.
My friend and I did have that bottle of Bordeaux (just the one – it was a school night, after all). And instead of moaning about the many and varied injustices of education, we spent the rest of the evening reminiscing about our own teachers.
They ranged from an elbow patch-wearing geography maverick, whose erratic cane waving taught me more about the world than any BBC documentary, to the German teacher who gave me the confidence to move to Austria and do some classroom teaching myself.
All were inspiring in their own way, and I am grateful to every one of them for giving me chances (and telling me to shut up when it was needed, too!).
There are hundreds of teachers and school leaders doing all this and more for the pupils in their schools right now. As Tamsin Oglesby writes of the teachers in the play, and in the real-world classroom: “There should be plenty of reasons for optimism here.”
Check our blog and @TheKeySL for posts that will hopefully re-inspire and remind everyone just how great teaching and leading a school can be. Read this post to get up to speed.
As the challenges of the new school year get under way, why not take a look at our article on improving staff wellbeing? (Log-in required).