Better start now

This happened about two weeks ago. I get a phone call from my wife a few minutes after she left home on her bike. “I was hit by a car. The guy just didn’t see me.” My heart sank. 

This was the third time in the past couple of years that someone very close to me had been in a cycling accident. Luckily, my wife, my sister and my best friend all survived and are doing fine.

Moments like this have reminded me: whatever I really want to do in life, I better start now.

I left my job at Teach For All in December. In many ways, I had the best job you could imagine. Together with an awesome team, we were supporting the professional development of teachers and school leaders around the world. We were making a difference, and we had fun. My colleagues were some of the nicest, smartest and most hard-working people I’ve ever met. Plus, I was able to travel the world, visit some pretty incredible schools in about a dozen countries. A couple of months ago, we were in Shanghai, the world’s top-performing school system. I’ve been to some really innovative schools, in places like the US and India, showing today what the future of education will look like. As well as many amazing schools up and down the country here in England. I think I learned more in my previous job than I could have done anywhere else. 

(Here are some of the schools I have visited in the past 5 years.)

So why leave a fantastic job and jump into the unknown, by starting a new education charity? Is it because of the freedom that being an entrepreneur gives you (being your own boss!), or the hope of making a mark on the world, or making more money? (Just for the record, I have taken a big pay cut and don't yet have a secure salary for this year.)

I think most importantly, it’s about seeing a need and feeling that something can be done about it.

Every morning I hear news about South Sudan, or youth unemployment in Europe, or the popularity of Golden Dawn in Greece. Which makes me wonder: how will our complex global and local challenges be solved if the next generation is not smarter and more creative than we are?

I’m thinking about all of my friends in education who are working really hard, many of them making huge personal sacrifices. They're making a difference, no doubt about it. But despite their best efforts, the challenge of improving the quality of education is still huge. Across the OECD, more than one in five 15-year-old students have not mastered basic skills in mathematics. Fewer than one in ten can understand and critically evaluate an unfamiliar text (PISA 2012).

So what can I do to support schools and help make learning more effective? What would help improve academic achievement while ensuring that students are learning the knowledge, skills and personal attributes they most need for life? Can this be done without expecting a super-human effort from teachers and school leaders?

There are no magical solutions. However, as Professor Robert Coe explains in his excellent essay (text, video), high quality professional development for teachers can make a real difference on student learning. A CUREE / Pearson report on research evidence highlights the sort of professional development likely to improve student outcomes: it needs to be collaborative, supported by specialist expertise, focused on aspirations for students, sustained over time and exploring evidence from trying new things.

At Creative Generation, we will be piloting a new, intensive professional development programme for teachers. 10 days per year, 4 teachers per school. Engaging with education research, trying out new practices, evaluating how the new teaching approaches have an impact on student learning, reflecting on what works (or doesn't) and why. Over time, supporting the professional development of colleagues in your school.

I decided to leave an amazing job and start a new education charity to tackle a really complex challenge. And, of course, because of the prize. Seeing students fulfil their potential and become positive contributors to the world. Seeing a new creative generation emerge.