Whilst I have been working hard to not spend unnecessary time and energy around debating the pros and cons of our new national standards, it seems that it is a hard topic to escape from. I have been in 3 principals’ meetings this week where it was the only subject of discussion and visitors to our school today asked me outright for my opinion. So what do I think?
As always in debates such as this one, there is merit on both sides of the coin. While I join with many of my colleagues in my nervousness about the consequences of such a system, in my own personal experience as a school principal the concept of standards (or a more favourable word—expectations) has actually resulted in overall school improvement.
Yes it is true that the experiences in the UK and the US are not great and all of us should take heed of the lessons to be learned. Yes it is true that the standards will not be totally valid nor 100% reliable—this is exactly why they should not be called standards. However, having lived with our own school-based expectations for the past 10 years and having reported using a 5 point scale, based on these expectations, I would have to say that there have been some positives around this practice. While our own system was definitely not a “pure science”—it did trigger 2 positive consequences—the simple act of naming where each child was at, sharpened each teacher’s practice and the use of the generated data affected the manner in which school-wide decisions related to resourcing and funding were made.
If only a version of this experience could occur across the country, then all of our children would be better for it. However and this is a big however, this would need to occur within an overall positive learning community, not one where all of the participants are polarized around opposite points of view. What a shame all of the various stakeholders across our very small country could not have got together to work out a way forward. Let’s hope that there is still space for this to occur.