Back in my days as a science teacher I recall a lesson when I asked if anyone had a £2 coin in their pocket and could read the message around the rim. The class discovered the phrase “standing on the shoulders of giants”. I was about to discuss the methodology of science, how Newton referred to himself, in a letter responding to Robert Hooke after Hooke wrote to congratulate him on his discoveries and his published scientific paper. “Yes, yes Sir” said one enthusiastic teenager “it’s an Oasis album”.
Wherever the phrase is used, the meaning suggests that creativity, developments, even innovation in science or other areas is often about picking through other people’s ideas and discoveries – that’s what I’ve tried to do across a fragmented and challenging educational landscape.
I have come to the end of my time at NCC this half term and since 2017, have been privileged to work with many “giants” of education, of teaching and learning, governors, and support staff, NCC colleagues, TU and the voluntary sector, heads and CEOs – in Nottingham City and regulators and wider services. Anyone working in schools in recent years has seen the value of unsung giant heroes like the cleaners not only keeping a place clean and tidy but safe from a virus; catering staff working out how to get meals to FSM children in a pandemic or suddenly during a lockdown holiday; reception staff having to ring home (yet again) and explain a class bubble has burst or a pupil, a teacher has tested positive; teachers who have had to replan delivery models, find creative solutions and look out, even more carefully for children and young people; heads who never anticipated reading or writing so many risk assessments alongside leading a school, senior leaders bouncing from issue to issue, discussing health more than teaching; governors wondering what on Earth they volunteered for ! So many “giants” and many amongst NCC staff too; giants trying to ensure clear guidance for safe working; giants trying to help admit a child mid year; giants working out how to help a SEND child unable to get to school or support a vulnerable family; or reach out to those vulnerable unaccompanied asylum seeker children and many just trying to keep a service alive like the swimming services and Councillors under fire from every direction but staying focussed on priorities, even busy MPs stopping by to thank local heads during the height of the pandemic.
I reflect on my four and half years ( since writing “Why be an education Director?” ) and it has been a privilege of seeing and hearing many colleagues in their work and working closely with some Nottingham “giants”. It has seen the LA world try and improve communications and create flexible systems to support schools and academies in the mission for the 48,000 Nottingham children and their families, who we all work hard to serve and educate. We have tried to be creative and innovative to find and offer opportunities, to listen to partners and try and bring an effective engagement together. There is a great strength in partnership, a great strength in working on the significant areas we have in common. There is an importance to listening to the voice of children and young people ( and their parents and carers) and shaping the offer to raise aspiration, ambition and outcomes in an early help, inclusive City.
Nottingham now has almost 90% of settings good and outstanding and recently a very positive report of SEND across the whole provision in Nottingham City. Those who work hard every day to deliver and raise standards are amongst those giants. During my time the pandemic has been a massive trauma for the workforce and significantly for very many families, touching us all sometimes in hard and very sad ways. Overcoming that deficit and disadvantage will need more ‘standing on the shoulders’ to look for solutions but I have every confidence that working together progress can continue to happen.
Children and young people playing sport, or involved in an outdoor education activity or taking part in a concert, a play, a show, in any communal activity even solving problems in lessons, these pupils each make their contribution but the result is always greater than the parts. This brings an added joy, an uplift and a lesson for cooperation, collaboration, and partnership and that’s a way forward for the wider collaborative work in the City.
So thank you for making my time in this role so rewarding, for the times of working together to solve problems and find acceptable solutions, for creating an inclusive culture and for being a “giant” in the City. Thank you for your hard work from Early Years, Primary, Secondary, AP, Special and Colleges and my very best wishes for the continued success of your organisation and for you personally.
I am hoping to blog a few more posts now as I reflect upon 40+ years in education; 26 in classrooms delivering ~ 26,000 Chemistry and Science lessons, as a school leader and head and in helping an LA.