The Education Landscape

“We trained hard, but it seemed that every time we were beginning to form up into teams, we would be reorganised.


Might this quote be from a hard pressed worker in the NHS? Someone in the local council? A Manchester United player under van Gaal?

It is none of those. For years it was attributed to ancient Roman soldier and it would have been wonderful if that were true. In fact it was actually found written on a World War Two barrack room wall, a wry comment on the tactics of the Generals. Whatever the origin the quote captures wonderfully a universal truth about society. And it could not be truer than when applied to education today.

In the budget George Osbourne announced that every school will become an academy. The clear implication is that this reorganisation of the system will, in itself, be a good thing. And, of course, that must be wrong. There are great academies and great Local Authority schools right here in Bolton and across the country. There are examples of failed academies and examples of failed state schools as well. There are not many examples of Primary School academies and yet the proposal is that all of them will be. The landscape will shift from local authorities being the map of education to the ‘Regions’ of the school commissioners, the areas of the Teaching School Alliances and the reach of the multi academy trusts. There will be a huge reorganisation and then, when the teams form, presumably it will be reorganised again.

This would be harmless, if somewhat annoying, except for the fact that some involved really do believe that reorganisation, in itself, will drive improvement. By distracting from the main issues in education it is actually quite dangerous. The real issues are teacher recruitment, retention and professional development. They are a stable, reliable and relevant examination system. They are creating diverse qualifications for different needs, rather than setting too many up to fail. They are helping schools address the needs of young people.

Every now and again successive Governments have grappled with replicating the ‘DNA’ of what they see as the hugely successful UK independent schools. One lesson they have overlooked is that such schools do not reorganise all the time. The certainly adapt within an enduring ethos but they don’t adapt to the latest whim. Perhaps if all schools were able to allow the teams to form and actually get good at things rather than implement the next reorganisation, all schools would be as good as the best.


This blog first appeared in The Post, a weekly free newspaper distributed in the Bolton area under the auspices of  The Bolton News

About Philip Britton

Philip Britton is Headmaster of Bolton School Boys’ Division. He was brought up on Tyneside, took a first in physics at Oxford and did teacher training at Cambridge. He worked as physics teacher, Head of Physics and Deputy Head at Leeds Grammar School before moving to Bolton in 2008. In 2010 he was awarded an MBE for services to physics and is a Fellow of the Institute of Physics where he has been much involved in physics education, encouraging teachers to encourage the next generation of physicists.