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A Primary Principal’s Response to the English Symposium

Published on 18/09/19

Tanya Blake, Principal of Stradbroke Academy, reflects on her experience of attending the Curriculum symposium.

On the 29th of June 2019, the Inspiration Trust ran the event ‘English and Knowledge: A Curriculum Symposium’ (#inspiredenglish) where colleagues gathered to discuss and share work on developing a knowledge-rich English curriculum. Tanya Blake, Principal of Stradbroke Academy, reflects on her experience of attending this symposium.

A Primary Principal’s Response to the English Symposium

As a primary practitioner it is difficult to have the necessary knowledge in every subject, to teach all of the subjects, to the level of excellence, that we would wish for our pupils. If you are lucky as a Head you will have a variety of subject expertise within your staff group. I am lucky, but it is still a challenge.

It is even harder to have the confidence to work alongside secondary colleagues who have more subject knowledge. However, I found this to be both inspiring and thought-provoking. What struck me most were the similarities and layers of connection rather than the differences.

The difficulty with English is that part of the development of the knowledge, is learning the technical aspects to enable us to have that ‘living conversation’ which Summer Turner referenced in her keynote. Whether this is orally or in writing, primary and secondary colleagues clearly struggle with this in similar ways. Separating the subject into ‘literacy’ and ‘literature’ helps to some extent and identifying the best pedagogies to support this does too. However, to become ‘excellent’ it is necessary to develop a synergy between the two and clearly secondary and primary colleagues both struggle and succeed to do this for their pupils, reflecting in similar ways on their practice.

The experiences that inspire us to pursue further and deeper learning in anything, seem to come from finding that connection with what we are learning; that spark that ignites the passion and drives us. As with the whole of our lives it is the interconnections between ideas and the context of the knowledge and the context of the learner, which gives meaning to our learning. This is why one size never fits all, whether at a trust level, school level or class level. It is dependent on the collection of individuals involved in that moment in time. My experience today as both a ‘teacher’ and a ‘learner’ was coloured by the context and by the interrelation between me and the other individuals I listened to or spoke to.

Listening to the panel discussing ‘Diversity in a knowledge-rich English curriculum’ made me rethink my own responses. What I have also thought of, on occasion, as ‘male, pale and stale’ was put into context by people more qualified than me to judge. It is just as incomplete to offer a tokenistic approach, which is so hard to avoid. Getting that balance right between sharing the ‘powerful’ knowledge and enabling pupils to see themselves in the curriculum is difficult and there is no easy answer. This was revisited for me at various points in the day. It is that ability to make a connection for our pupils to the knowledge we teach that lifts the impact from just learning ‘stuff’ to inspiring a true thirst to learn more and a joy in the pursuit.

My ‘learning’ today was coloured by my current context of leading a school and so the things that resonated deeply with me were the things that related to the challenge of leading teachers to achieve excellence in their teaching - not just of English. How do I help teachers attain the level of subject expertise and confidence necessary to deliver a truly excellent knowledge-rich curriculum that still has meaning to both them and their pupils? Clearly subject communities and events such as this one are a part of that process. If this is the case, how do I ensure that teachers are given the thirst to do this with passion and joy? How do I ensure that they have the energy and time to attend? What other choices in my school will this impact on? These are questions I cannot as yet answer, but I must if I am to inspire primary teachers with differing interests and strengths to have the breadth and depth of subject knowledge to teach a truly excellent curriculum.