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Policy Pincers: effecting change in our systems

This has been growing in my head for far longer than I had intended. I was going to write this up the day I got home from the most amazing experience at Cambridge University at the Diverse Trajectories Workshop. It was a multi-disciplinary, multi-professional, collaborative workshop to explicate what it means for each child to flourish and how that can be captured within policy. It was a privilege to have been invited and to have met all the different people that I did. And I think there will be some amazing developments following on from the work we did those two days, in due course.

Off the back of the workshop, I had a lot of thoughts – tricky to believe but sometimes there is active grey matter lurking inside my headbones – and there are more coming I’m sure. But one thing that really struck me more than ever after the workshop was the vital place of policy work being a two-pronged approach: structural change in the form of top-down laws, guidelines, physical changes, etc and then on the ground, grass-roots, at-the-coal-face changes in how the people who enact policy work in their settings. I talked about the Cambridge thing to a student I work with; they’d noticed that I wasn’t at home in our session and asked what I was doing there. I said I’d tell them more when I’d done more so the following week they asked. They’d had a tricky old week in school and so the discussion about how we might be able to support them moving onwards touched on the system. The student nailed it and said that the system is totally unfit for purpose if people whose lives are a little complex, or who are less academic don’t perceive that they a pathway forwards through school.

The student was scarily bang on the money. If a year 11 student’s lived experiences are not considered, and we are having to hold workshops with amazing multi-disciplinary teams to make changes to a system that, in 2014, was supposed to revolutionise/simplify/improve provision and outcomes for young people, something has gone horribly wrong.

The pincers of policy seem to squeeze people from all angles in the current system: from above high-stakes accountability is causing an exodus of teachers from the profession, from the ground, confusion and fragmented provision means that provision for children in schools across county-boundaries can vary astronomically.

The thing with pincers and calipers though is that when used effectively and carefully, they are really powerful things. They set things right and make sure things fit together. Or they can squash people and that is what is happening in education at the moment.

WE need to do better with good systems in place from ‘above’ in government,  and people on the ground who are free to enact policies effectively in the spirit that they are intended, because they are intended well. A good set of policy-pincers is what we need.

Maybe I should be in charge- what could possibly go wrong?!

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