Possibility of Change

In a recent blog, the entertaining and erudite author and blogger, Tom Bennett, wrote the phrase “the possibility of change”, in the context of the remarkable improvement in state education in London over the last 10 years. Indeed, there has been a remarkable improvement (apparently; I don’t have direct experience, having moved away from London over 30 years ago), and no one’s actually sure what has caused the improvement. Lots of stuff has happened to actively attempt to improve things, but too many things have been tried all at once such that unravelling them to arrive at the key changes can’t be done. (Probably there isn’t one or two key changes).

I’m interested in the phrase. “The possibility of change”. Mr Bennett used it right at the end of his blog post, suggesting that the example of the London improvement shows the possibility of change elsewhere (a beacon of hope, perhaps). But, it struck me that whilst this is true, it is also probably true that once it became apparent that there was a possibility of change in London, then the weight of initiatives that pointed to this possibility started to gather belief around them….and change started to happen. Because, hope of change is a powerful thing. In almost all circumstances. I think that the Arab Spring demonstrated that, and the Fall of the Iron Curtain. The reverse, the belief that nothing can ever change, is very, very debilitating. If people can see a chink of light at the end of the tunnel, then they can often summon up the hope required to make an attempt to bring the change about. That’s why charismatic leaders can often catalyse such change. They see the possibilities and communicate the hope.

In the liberal democracies of the West, change must always be a possibility, surely? The change seen in London can be brought to other areas of England, even if we don’t know what the key aspects in London were. The possibility of change, actively believed, is the chink of light at the end of the tunnel.


9 thoughts on “Possibility of Change

  1. ijstock

    Nicely said. However when it comes to the London example, I’m curious about the terms in which the ‘improvement’ is being couched. I admit I haven’t looked at it closely – but it would be interesting to know whether it is simply change as reported by Ofsted and exam results – or whether there has actually been a material transformation in the educational experiences of London children.

    One would hope that the two are closely correlated in any case – and the types of change that would be officially reported are not insignificant in their own right. However, I am still sceptical about the relationship between actual on-the-ground experiences and what is officially reported, not least because the latter tends to be aggregated information.

    It’s pleasing to note that several people have picked up that this may be the result of changes implemented quite a while ago rather than the latest quick-fix – but is it still too soon to know whether it is going to have a real impact on people’s lives? Or is it just about institutional improvement?

    1. chemistrypoet Post author

      I was quote shocked when I first heard about the improvement. Up to about 2 years ago I had assumed that the situation in London, and especially Inner London, was similar to when I had been to school there in the 70’s. Some of the Secondary schools had very bad reputations, and it would have been difficult to think that new teachers would have chosen to work there. On this basis alone, it would appear that some sort of dramatic turnaround has been effected. Education in London feels different (at least is now projected differently in the press). However, none of this is evidence. (Sanchia Berg (@Sanchia7) tweeted a reminder of her piece from last year about the difference now between London and other big UK cities, which implied that now expectations are high in London and the ambience in London schools was much more conducive to individual good progress than in other places). The buzz is with London.

  2. Mr J Dexter

    Like you I am not sure of the reasons that a) ‘London challenge’ seemed to work and b) What people actually mean by “worked”. You make a very interesting and I think important point about ‘hope” and this sort of gathering momentum. It’s a situation I have sometimes seen with individual pupils and staff too – I’m not sure quite what should be done but the offering of hope and purpose can somehow lead to progress and betterment.

    I am interested in the London Challenge as locally Nottingham was blitzed by Ofsted in the autumn of 2013 and the LA set up a Nottingham challenge board as a response. Be interesting to see how it works and if it works.

    1. chemistrypoet Post author

      Thank you John for your comment. Do you know yet what ‘initiatives’ the Nottingham Challenge board is considering implementing? (My impression is that Nottingham is a very dynamic place, and that with the right lead the population of the city are likely to get behind any concerted, serious, credible effort to improve educational outcomes (?).

      1. Mr J Dexter

        Not really able to comment there. I am involved in one area concerning employment planning and prospects. As a school in the City, perhaps oddly perhaps not, we are not further involved; not sure if they are publicising widely or not. suspect in some ways it is early days for the challenge board if not for the schools under Ofsted pressure.

  3. Ed Cadwallader

    I disagree that we can replicate the success of London schools and so solve the problem that bedevils our education system (the link between social class and achievement).

    Let’s say we could magically make all schools as good as King Solomon Academy so all schools in poor areas got 90-95% A-Cem and nationally the rate was 95-100%. What happens next? 5A-C stops being a marker of good performance, schools are judged on 5A-B and we’re back at sq 1. This is already happening in slow motion w C equal to grade 4 and the new good pass grade 5.

    You improve schs you improve them for rich and poor alike. The rich have the resources (financial and cultural) to ensure their kids come out on top. As long as Education is a competition to see who does best academically the middle class will win.

    1. chemistrypoet Post author

      I think there is much truth in what you say. Whilst achievement is measured by a system that deals in relatives rather than absolutes, it is impossible for all to do well. I guess I was thinking more in terms of absolutes…..all children can read to a high standard, all children are intellectually challenged, all children reach their full potential……..which would not mean that all people would do the best that they could possibly do once out in the world as adults, where there will always be competition. But, a big step towards equality of opportunity with respect to education, anyway.

      1. Ed Cadwallader

        I think you’re right, its certainly not the case where a cohort can leave school all having learned the same amount with the same level of understanding. However I think the goal you outline is impossible within our system because as primates we care so much more about relative positioning than absolutes. So for a kid at the bottom we’re saying ‘work hard and we’ll reward you with a grade that proves you’re worse than everyone else’. It’s not surprising few take up that deal, or that many object strenuously to it.

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