Developing the ability of teachers to think creatively has become a financial necessity for schools. In the face of real-term cuts and a continued drive to raise standards, school leaders cannot, and should not, rely on flashy “off -the-shelf” educational products but rather on the innovation of their own staff.
Recent years have seen the rise of a marketplace that readily feeds off the highly lucrative, publically funded education sector by peddling the idea that innovation is a product that can be bought and sold. Budget holders are susceptible to the allure of products that promise an improved Ofsted grading; a closing of the attainment gap or a silver bullet for socio-economic inequality, but these, of course, come with a hefty price tag. As a serving head teacher of a multi-academy trust, I am often left feeling like a judge on “Dragons den”, fielding upwards of 40 emails a day from education ‘innovators’.
Despite the cascade of commercial options, I am left with the simple truth that in the current economic climate, I am increasingly asked to provide more for less. This means that rather than opting for the enterprising entrepreneurs, as a school leader I must look inward for the creative solutions to the challenges my schools face. Necessity, it seems, is indeed the mother of all invention and facing lack of money and seemingly unattainable targets the the successful school leaders will also be the innovative ones. Those willing to invest in the ability of their own staff to take part in the sort of “no-thrills” innovation that in reality typifies excellence.
Ten years ago educational innovation could be likened to the view from a telescope: far-reaching, with grainy detail compensated for with imagination. Now, educational innovation is entering a new phase, doing away with the telescope in favour of the microscope. While, for some, this seems less exciting, it has the benefit that we know exactly what we are looking at. We are looking at the same old challenges (The child who cannot read or struggles with their disability) in far greater detail. School leaders who provide their staff with the opportunity to meaningfully engage with these challenges and to test and trial new approaches to them will be rewarded with the sort of innovation that they were previously buying in. Not only do you make a financial saving but you also make a significant gain in the form of a cadre of expert teachers who feel valued. Teachers who will remain in their jobs for the long term.
Educational innovation is entering a phase of non-commercial simplicity, whereby the professional judgement of teachers will prevail, rather than more indulgent, if flasher, external options. Successful schools will embrace this change while unsuccessful ones will continue to rely on the latest expensive gimmick.
Robert Litten is an Executive Headteacher for Wittlesea Learning Trust and a member of the RSA’s Innovative Education Faculty.
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