By | June 26, 2018

Last week I attended the last session of this year’s A New Direction Advocates. This programme supports teachers of the arts to lead learning in both their own schools and across the system. As this group of Advocates – some of whom I had the privilege to have worked with for 3 years – presented their work I was struck by quality, passion and impact of their projects.

There is a lot of debate in education about who should shape the policy and practice agenda. Concerns that the conference circuit is dominated by non-teachers (consultants, charities and school leaders) has led one classroom teacher to set up a new conference with inputs from classroom teachers only and there are lots of discussions about what being ‘teacher led’ means in terms of research and practice.

In truth most agree that it takes a combination of voices and inputs to support every child to their best possible outcomes. But nobody can argue that the voice of the classroom teacher isn’t an essential part of that.

The Advocates were sharing their work: Paul Morrow outlined his work setting up the Cultural Inclusion ManifestoShermaine Schlocombe  her work on arts and well-being; Kerri Sellens on her work with Whitechapel Gallery, Matt and Fiona with redesigning a community art space; Laura Nichols on setting up the Southwark Arts Network. Presentation after presentation showed how teachers can shape agenda in their school, their community, nationally and even on the international stage with work in Gambia and Nigeria. For more see the work of all of the Advocates on the A New Direction website and apologies for those I have not listed!

It was powerful.

But – being the system change geek – it is worth reflecting that this didn’t happen by accident. Its been just over 3 years since LKMCo did a report for A New Direction on how they could use the school led system to increase reach beyond the ‘superserved’ schools. This report formed the basis for the first cohort of Cultural Leaders. In this programme we unashamedly pulled on models such as London Leadership Strategy’s Going for Great using peer learning to build the capacity of leading practitioners to share learning beyond their own schools. And we drew on the skills that many charity leaders use daily; influence, entrepreneurship, fundraising, connecting, measuring impact.

The first year was very much focused on skills development – how to use social media; running events; speaking at conferences and developing and writing research. This latter area, supported by Dr Franzi Florack, resulted in the (free to download) Cultural Capital book and set up a core group of people with confidence and links to start operating at a system level.

This mattered. Many of us in education and charity had to stumble our way through our first speaking engagement or social media storm. But that shouldn’t be necessary and if we truly want teachers to shape the debate we need to skill and empower them to do so.

Year 2 of the programme brought in the fabulous Nimble Fish to support a new Cultural Learning Community while the Advocates programme continued with a skills route but also moved more into ‘action’. Supporting Teach Meets and their own projects the Advocates both became an extension of A New Direction’s own team but also a core group taking forward their own interests.

Over year 3 this group has grown and management of the group has moved from external support to a light touch within A New Direction – providing both CPD but also support and small funding for continued system leadership. And it was this year where these wonderful system change projects started to take on a life of their own.

This model – of skilling teachers in the same way charities have been skilling their own staff for years – is one we adopted for the SEND community and last year’s SEND Advocates drew on a similar approach. Over 2018/19 AKN Consulting are looking at how we can support the existing SEND Advocates to both continue their work and to run new Advocacy programmes across SEND and other fields.

And there are other models. Voice 21 have an exceptional Oracy Leaders Progamme.  The Primary Science Teaching Trust has over 200 Fellows – classroom teachers – to share learning and make their projects a reality.

All have in common a framework for professional development that matches pedagogy and professional practice development with wider skills for system leadership. Building – yes – on school to school models with learning from Teaching Schools and Specialist Leaders of Education; but also moving beyond state badging into creating communities of practice with skills of influence, policy and voice that can move beyond the views of the government de jour.

Not every teacher wants to work outside of their classroom or school. But for many the opportunity to do so is career enhancing, rejuvenating and, for those many teachers I speak to, a key factor in their ongoing retention in the profession.

But to do it well takes investment. And it takes time. However – if we are serious about teacher input – then the benefits for the individual, for the school, for the community and for the system are clear.

And so – 3 years on – much credit to A New Direction for making the investment and supporting our teachers to drive some amazing practice cross London. It’s been great to have helped shaped the journey.

And to Advocates across all the areas that I have worked over the last 3 years – thank you for teaching me as well as the children in your care. The system needs you.

Closing date for AND 2018/109 cohort is 2 July – take the plunge!