Matt Coleman is proud to be the Director of Primary Education for the Nene Education Trust, which comprises seven schools in East Northants. Matt is also the Education Lead for the Northamptonshire Schools and Business Alliance.
“It was the best of times, it was the worst of times, it was the age of wisdom, it was the age of foolishness, it was the epoch of belief, it was the epoch of incredulity, it was the season of Light, it was the season of Darkness, it was the spring of hope, it was the winter of despair, we had everything before us, we had nothing before us.” Dickens: A Tale of Two Cities (1859)
How paradoxical do things feel at the moment? How contradictory do we feel, and have we felt over the past seven months?
Some of us, whatever business we are in or whatever our role, may have felt incredibly useful and influential. Others may have felt nearly useless and of little significance. We may have experienced anger, fear, sadness and perhaps some joy; the four fundamental human emotions swirling around our insides and outsides in these most uncertain of times. But does uncertainty breed opportunity? For our education system, I would like to think yes…
I worked from home for several months. I’m used to basing my day around the school timetable. I rarely set foot in the provision that we had running, non-stop, for our key workers and vulnerable young people. Do I sometimes feel guilty for this? Yes. Should I? No.
But I am human, and I have a conscience. I have worked hard, ridiculously hard. I have been useful, but at times have also found myself feeling thoroughly insignificant. Weird emotions in a weird time. None of this has been fair on anybody. At all.
I am incredibly proud of our team of colleagues who have come together and pulled off a superb project management victory, against the odds, despite flawed and unrealistic government and DfE guidance all along the way, working long hours with the pressures of high demands and short deadlines.
And let’s not forget, we have achieved all this and more, despite the fact that we trained as teachers and we are only used to working 9am to 3.30pm, with 13 weeks holiday each year.
We did good. And we are still doing good…
But what now?
As our schools have opened up to all our children, we are finding that they look nothing like they did pre-COVID. Operationally, this is widely reported – the tabloids have a field day on this. Everyone has a view and people like to judge. The operational running of schools will continue to change and adapt, that will get boring, so what’s really next?
Here’s the opportunity that uncertainty has brought about. It follows on from something I wrote a couple of months ago…
We need to be courageous in our eeducation system, that’s my view. Courage is contagious. We need to work on caring for those around us and connecting to them like never before. For school leaders, teachers and all of us working with young people, this is not rocket science but it cannot be left to chance. How do we make sure that connecting with others – adults and young people – is at the heart of what we do? Let’s park exam grades and school league tables and expected standards blah-blah for now and focus on what really matters – what our young people need. Let’s break away from the Victorian-esque, backward-looking system that stifles us and our young people. Let’s stop killing their creativity. I wonder – is time for change now?
Is this now our chance – more so than ever before?
How many young people in schools (be it primary or secondary) wear armour? Are guarded, closed, afraid to let their barriers down? A lot, too many, but this level of self-protection may be the only way to survive in their lives. And just recently, this armour has probably grown thicker and could last longer.
As Brene Brown says in Dare to Lead: “What we can do, and what we are ethically called to do, is create a space in our schools and classrooms where students can walk in and, for that day or hour, take off the crushing weight of their armour, hang it on a rack, and open their heart to truly being seen.”
For school leaders, I would like us to let this be our focus. My goodness, more so now than ever do our young people need it. And they deserve it. The world is a scary place; there are a whole heap of unknowns; the pressures are real; our young people are less and less mentally healthy. Recent events have not helped…so now is the time for us to view our education system differently. Let’s have the courage to fully focus on letting the young people in our schools, whatever their age, be allowed to be truly seen.
Because, as Brene says: “We should never underestimate the benefit of a child having a place to belong – even one – where they can take off their armour. It can and often does change the trajectory of their life.”
The Nene Education Trust is a multi-academy trust in East Northants. NET’s schools include Windmill Primary Raunds, Stanwick Primary, Newton Road School Rushden, Raunds Park Infants, St. Peter’s CE Junior, Woodford CE Primary and Manor School Sports College.
For further information about the Nene Education Trust,
To contact Matt directly, email firstname.lastname@example.org