#WomenEd

And still we rise 

‘And still we rise’ was the theme for #WomenEd’s third Unconference and we heard from two Northern powerhouses doing exactly that.
Counsellor and cabinet member, Jackie Drayton, our first keynote speaker inspired us all with her story as did Doncaster’s Chief Executive, Jo Miller; part of the only female elected leadership team in the UK.
Some themes emerged between these two female leaders which included strong role models and community activism. The stories spoke of women who understand their communities, are invested in the people they serve and want a better life for the next generation. Jackie Drayton reminded me that it is this type of campaigning, often unpaid, which can be the trigger for change in a society.
Both women talked about being influenced by those who did not have the privilege of being born into the advantage which supports success and scaffolds individuals when they falter. A school system wanting to improve social mobility is a worthwhile desire but how should this be done?
I was criticised earlier in the week for tweeting ‘Draconian behaviour policies are the new brain gym’ alluding to the ‘No excuses’ ethos taken from the US Charter schools and plonked into communities around the UK by a number of Multi-Academy Trusts (MATs). Like some sort of educational colonialism.
This is the opposite of community activism. Rather than building a culture change from within, an imported system is being imposed on schools which has no appreciation of context. The defence of Charter schools is that schools are in chaos, parents and communities are judged negatively and need to be told what to do. 
Lately, there has been a school which has hit the news for implementing a very strict policy but it is the community activism which comes from this which interests me. Some parents felt strongly enough to hold meetings, write to their MP and campaign for what they feel is wrong for their children in the local school. Granted some of the community might welcome a new system wanting what they believe will create better results for the next generation but creating conflict in a community is divisive and not a positive outcome.
How much more productive would it be I wonder for new systems to embrace the community rather than criticise it? The efforts shown in recent news by parent activists appealing against discrimination and unfair rules could have been channeled into improving the school from the ground up.
Jo Miller talked about context and making an impact with what you have through connection and collaboration. The time is over, she told us, for command and control. But I wonder in this new educational landscape if in certain areas of the country, at least, the latter is more the case.
In a community, Trusts should be finding the activists and encouraging a school to rise up from their own ashes not from the ashes of a system who communicate their values as ‘be like us’ rather than ‘let’s see what we can become together’.

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