Teacher Scott Charlesworth blogs on leadership

Posted on 10th June 2016

At the ‘Liberating Leaders’ conference recently held at Bedales, Chief Inspector of Schools and Head of Ofsted Sir Michael Wilshaw lamented the lack of maverick leaders in state schools, and called for more flamboyant, colourful and slightly strange characters. In the face of an inadequate education system this is little more than papering over the cracks, argues Bedales chemistry teacher Scott Charlesworth in his latest blog for the Huffington Post.

‘Liberating Leaders’ was staged as part of the Bedales series of ‘Leading Independent Thinking’ events. Two years ago the subject was innovative education, whilst this focused on leadership. These are the two most important issues that the sector needs to address in the early 21st century, says Scott, who believes that traditional educational models are breaking down and that the authorities appear unwilling, too slow, or unable to make the necessary changes.

‘Liberating Leaders’ extended education conference norms in that it was designed for both education professionals and students. For example, later in the day the students took part in dedicated student leadership workshops before rejoining their adult peers for the closing session. One speaker pointed out that this was the first such event she had attended that involved students as well as teachers.

Following Sir Michael Wilshaw’s keynote address, delegates heard from two scholars from the United States. MOOC pioneer Barbara Oakley talked about her inspirational story in education and ‘learning to learn’, before Danielle Harlan shared some entertaining anecdotes on the licence she was given as a young teacher and how this helped her to become the leader she has since become.

In the afternoon session the conference heard from maverick pioneer and founder of the Expansive Education Network, Bill Lucas, and three maverick headteachers – Geoff Barton and Mike Fairclough from the state sector, as well as Bedales’ own Keith Budge. Geoff Barton, who had previously described Ofsted as ‘a monster’, made a compelling argument about the problems with Sir Michael’s framing of leadership, and with Ofsted’s model of inspection and what he sees as the constraints it places on school leaders. Mike Fairclough then explained how his school makes educational use of a farm and an adjacent Bronze Age settlement, where the students make arrow heads, paddle boats and learn country management skills. Scott explains: “What really brought a tear to my eye was the fact that this was done for the benefit of kids from a local council estate, a demographic for which education is known to fail.” Keith then described the process by which Bedales introduced BACs (Bedales Assessed Courses), its own alternative to what he described as dull and uninspiring GCSEs.

To close, there was a panel debate involving Geoff, Keith, and four students – two each from Bedales and Geoff’s school, King Edward VI in Bury St Edmunds. Says Scott: “It was a fitting way to close the day, and it reminded me just how lucky I am to be able to work in an institution that creates free, open-minded and independent young people.”

He continued: Overall, I got the sense that Sir Michael Wilshaw’s idea of a good education is very different to mine, and that of others. For him, it seems, a good education is about tradition, deference to authority, and GCSEs and A-levels. I would class him as a traditionalist who uses unorthodox measures to achieve orthodox aims – whereas I am one who believes current education is inadequate and we need major changes in line with the demands of the modern world. I would say that their questions throughout the day confirmed that delegates tended towards my interpretation.”

Scott Charlesworth blogs regularly for the Huffington Post. Click here to read his blogs.

Copies and videos of speeches from the ‘Liberating Leaders’ conference are available here.