I am a product of social media. I’ve been writing this blog since June 2011 and whilst this pales next to the senescence of veteran edubloggers like Old Andrew and Tom Bennett, it does mark me as a comparatively old hand. When I began, my blog was intended simply a means of recording reflections on my classroom practice, but as I realised there was an audience out there I started to grandstand and share my views on any and every aspect of education that popped up between my crosshairs. I started to realise that not only were teachers implementing some of my ideas in their classrooms but headteachers were basing school policies on posts I’d written. Increasingly, I had direct access to people in positions of power, people who previously would almost certainly not have given me or my opinions the time of day.
Over the years, the education blogosphere has changed. The landscape is a lot more crowded these days and while I’ve only read a tiny proportion of the education blogs available, there are some really excellent examples out there. Excellent and, increasingly it seems, influential. I’ve been unofficially aware for some time that DfE insiders were reading some of the stuff I wrote, but last weekend saw the first official acknowledgement from Nick Gibb, minister for schools. In his speech at researchED he said,
According to the veteran teacher blogger Old Andrew, there are 1,237 active education blogs in the UK and many of them, I can testify, have directly influenced government policy. Education provides a case-study in the democratising power of new media, providing an entry point for new voices to challenge old orthodoxies.
He then cites What if everything you knew about education was wrong? as an example of the way in which classroom practitioners are leading the “challenge to the prevailing education orthodoxies”. Later he spoke about the way Ofsted in particular, has responded to criticism from teacher-bloggers:
Recently, I was reminded of Ofsted’s reign of error by David Didau’s new book. Buried in a footnote, Didau provides a remarkable anecdote about this period. He writes:
“Once in an exam analysis meeting, a school leader who taught in a particular department said that the reasons the exam results of that department were so poor was because of their outstanding teaching. They concentrated on independent learning and refused to ‘spoon feed’. This obviously meant kids did less well in the test.”
You do not have to be George Orwell to recognise the double-think contained in that story, or the assault on the very meaning of the word ‘outstanding’ that Ofsted created. For so many schools, the means of pupils working independently became more important than the ends of pupils actually learning.
To their credit Ofsted has worked hard to eliminate this kind of ideological idiocy. The fact that I was consulted on the wording and content of the July 2014 version of the Inspection Handbook still amazes me and I’m glad to see that even though the Handbook has undergone several updates in its seeming permanent state of perpetual revolution, my suggestions and advice have remained a constant and abiding presence.
Times have changed. Blogging and other forms of new media have become an incredibly efficient mechanism for communicating teachers’ on-the-ground reality with policy makers and politicians. If you want to find out what teachers really think about curriculum changes, assessment practices, workload, or anything else, read a blog. If you want to communicate your reality to the apparatchiks, policy-wallahs and SpAds with the power to do something about it, write a blog. And if you want your voice to stand out from amidst the multitude, write it cogently, consistently and persistently.
Every now and then someone pipes up with the criticism that people like me wield a disproportionate influence. I’ve been described, not without some justification, as an edu-celebrity, as part of a clique, an in-group with the power to amplify or silence other voices. To the extent that this might be true, I do take some care to moderate my interactions, but I’m also at pains to make the point that it hasn’t happened by accident. If I have any influence at all, it’s due to my own efforts, hacking out post after post in the hope rather than expectation that someone would be interested. Blogging is truly democratic and meritocratic. If folk don’t like what you write, the won’t read it. If what you have to say is uninteresting, confused or wrong, the good citizenry of Twitter lose little time in letting you know.
You too can have a voice, but not without effort and never without criticism.