Anne Browning/Don Ledingham

I was at a dinner recently where people were talking about writers who tried to write from the opposite gender’s perspective, i.e. a man writing as woman or a woman writing as a man.

It reminded me that it will be nearly two years since I created a fictitious blog under the name of Anne Browning entitled the Dominie’s Chronicle 

I wanted to examine how our education system might respond to an outbreak of H5N1 (bird flu) and was particularly interested to find out if the system could maintain itself against a backdrop where the bureaucracy and management structures were destroyed.

Without planning the story I let it unfold in a series of almost daily posts where I imagined myself as a female teacher in Edinburgh – I’d selected a female character as I didn’t want anyone to guess who was behind the project and also to try to explore the situation from a completely different perspective. At its height there were over 300 people a day logging on to follow the story but I eventually ran out of steam .  Looking back I don’t think I carried it off very well – some of the scenarios and actions were dubious to say the least.  Nevertheless, some of the things I explored about shared management, the role of schools in our communities, and trying to think from a woman’s point of view all made quite an impact upon me – even if my writing was a bit “clunky”.

For a three month period in my life I lived another identity and tried to imagine what it would have been like to live under such circumstances

You can perhaps imagine my reaction in April of this year when I opened a newspaper in Hong Kong on my way to New Zealand to find out that the flu pandemic had actually started.  Now that was definitely a case of having too much knowledge!!

Time: the final frontier?

Space:the final frontier. These are the voyages of the starship Enterprise. Its five-year mission: to explore strange new worlds, to seek out new life and new civilizations; to boldly go where no man has gone before.

So said William Shatner’s voice over introduction during each episode’s opening credits stating the Starship Enterprise’s purpose in the science fiction television series of Star Trek.

Yet in our world of education it’s not so much a matter of “space” being the final frontier as opposed to “time” – or should I say the lack of it.

It’s perhaps fitting here to quote Parkinson’s Law, – an adage first articulated by Cyril Northcote Parkinson as the first sentence of a humorous essay published in The Economist in 1955:

Work expands so as to fill the time available for its completion.

I’ve been thinking about this a great deal in recent meetings with teachers who complain that their time is taken up with trivial and meaningless bureaucratic tasks.  Perhaps it’s time to step back from our practice and reflect – with some rigour – upon the way in which we conduct our business? Many of the tasks and jobs that we all have to complete have been layered – one on top of another – as one initiative goes and another one comes in – yet the associated practices which came into practice with each initiative remain. 

At a time when we are looking for efficiencies in every walk of life we need to challenge anything we do which does not add value to the central purpose of our job – in our case to improve the outcomes for children and young people. 

Here’s my poor attempt at  rephrasing Captain Kirk’s mission statement.  I’m sure others can come up with something better.  I’ll include the the best in my next article for the Times Educational Supplement:

Time: the final frontier. These are the voyages of the starship Education. Its mission: to allow young people to explore new worlds, to seek out new ways of doing things; to boldly drop any practice which wastes our time.

I found an excellent resource entitled Bureaucracy Cutting Toolkit which might prove useful for those who are interested in cutting down on the burden of bureaucracy.

Curriculum for Excellence – what’s it all about?

Here’s what we are trying to achieve through Curriculum for Excellence in East Lothian:

Long term outcomes:

1. To contribute towards the creation of a more successful country, with opportunities for all of Scotland to flourish, through increasing sustainable economic growth.

2. Improve the achievement levels of all children and young people in comparison to national and international standards

3. Reduce the achievement gap between children of different backgrounds within schools.

A Curriculum for Excellence – what will it mean for my child?

1.  We will give your child the best possible start by working in partnership with you to develop their enthusiasm and confidence as learners, e.g. pre-school, nursery, and early years of primary school.

2.  We will work together to ensure that your child is literate by the end of P6  (if a child can’t read by that age their ability to access the rest of their curriculum is severely limited).

3.  We will ensure that your child develops confidence and competence in numeracy in all parts of their curriculum.

4.  We will maintain a strong focus on your child’s health and well-being throughout their school career.

5.  Your child will get the chance to personalise their own curriculum to enable them to follow their own interests and passions.

6.  We will recognise and encourage your child’s wider achievements – both in and out of school.

7.  We will create a secondary school curriculum that builds upon your child’s primary school experience.

8.  The first three years at secondary school will focus upon ensuring that your child has developed a set of skills for life, work and learning which will make them “employable”.

9.We will create an upper secondary school curriculum which will enable your child to have a much greater chance of maximising their success in formal qualifications, preparing them for further academic work, or leading them directly towards employment.

10. We will ensure that your child’s upper secondary school experience is “outward” facing to prepare them for joining society, their local community, higher/further education and the world of work.